No matter how much we love our heart horses, we only get so many years with them. We can’t change that. But Piper Talladay, a traditional oil portraiture artist in Tacoma, can immortalize your partner in a gorgeous painting that keeps his essence alive.
“For horse owners, it’s such an important thing because we don’t have them for very long,” says Piper. “Creating that memory of them through a portrait is so precious. I like to say it’s kind of like anchoring a moment in time. It’s a living memory that you get to have in your home. That’s what portraiture is for me.”
Horses and art have always been a part of Piper’s life. Growing up on land in New Jersey with six siblings, Piper says her older brother was to blame for the horses. “He got us all into it,” she says. “We all rode the same, very lame quarter horse — we didn’t know better. We didn’t even know what a quarter horse was.” Over the years, they learned a lot about horses and their care. They had many off-the-track thoroughbreds, Piper’s favorite, and many naughty ponies that nobody wanted. “I grew up in pony clubs, and our horses were in our backyard, so we learned how to care for them,” she adds. “They were perfect. It worked out great.”
As far as art, it’s her father who shares that passion. He does large-scale installations of sculptures for other artists. “I grew up around art,” she shares. “And it was always something that we did together.” But it was not an obvious career choice for her. “I had plans to go into teaching,” Piper shares, “so I ended up trying to go to school for education and just didn’t love it.” While in school, she was also taking art classes at The Art Academy, where the founder, Kevin Murphy, taught traditional portraiture in a modern way using oils. Piper ended up switching her degree from education to art.
Anchoring Memories with Oil and Linen
“I prefer oil paints,” Piper says when asked about her choice of medium. “I’ve played around with acrylics, I’ve tried watercolors, and I find oil actually to be one of the most forgiving mediums and one of the most versatile, so I think that it offers a really beautiful voice for the portraits. They’re a fantastic medium.” One look at one of her portraitures, and you can see why oil is her choice. The colors are so rich, you can almost feel the softness of the horse’s coat and, most important to the owners whose horse it is, you can see its personality in the eyes. The artwork seems more alive.
Piper thinks that part of this is because of the paint itself. “It has that really earthy feel to it,” she explains. “And that’s what oil paints are, right? They’re just oil mixed with pigment, which is essentially a type of dirt or some kind of earthy substance. So, I think that also gives it a lot of life and believability and realism because it feels like a more breathable, believable medium.”
Her works are created on Belgian linen over stretcher bars. This means they come ready to hang, or you can frame them, which Piper says many people do just because it’s a traditional look.
And yes, she just paints horses. “I have painted people,” she says, “but it just doesn’t have the same allure to me. Someone asked me once, ‘Do you ever get sick of painting horses?’ And I just don’t. I love it. I don’t mind painting horse legs day after day after day.” She did say she does paint dogs once in a while, as they are the next best companion after the horse.
When you are ready to immortalize your horse in oil portraiture, Piper has a process to make sure the painting is exactly what you want. She can make any size from 16-inches by 20-inches to life-sized. Currently, the largest Piper has done is 6-foot by 7-foot. If the horse is still living, she prefers to come out, meet them, and take photos for herself. “I am often looking for a different type of a photo since I am turning it into a painting than a regular photographer would be,” she explains.
She also likes to meet the horse so she can see their personality and make sure that the painting reflects that horse’s character. “I like to go see the horse and see their personality,” she adds. “We know our horses, and we know how much personality that have and how much character. I like being able to see them interact with their owners, and then when I’m working on a painting, I can refer back to that.”
Piper is usually working on more than one piece, as she works in layers, having to let each dry before she adds the next. One-piece usually takes her an average of 50 hours spread out over two weeks to four months.
She enjoys riding Henry, a five-year-old thoroughbred she leases at the Woodbrook Hunt Club when she is not painting. She hunted some as a girl and enjoyed getting back into it since she and her husband moved to Tacoma in 2019 due to his military job. They have fallen in love with the South Sound and enjoy the beauty of the area. She also teaches online art classes through The Art Academy.