When Shawn Faust wanted to enhance his portrait studies in oils, the equine artist enrolled in a class with Daniel Greene, one of America’s foremost artists in oils and pastels.
“Daniel stressed the eyes,” related Faust, a fine arts graduate of the University of Delaware in 1990.
“He told us, ‘if you don’t have anyone to sit for you, go find a cow, a deer or a horse.’ I was a horse-lover since I was a kid. Here was my chance to get up close.”
After returning home Faust slipped notes into mailboxes at nearby horse farms around Chesapeake City, Md. He received a call from Richard Golden of Northview Stallion Station, giving permission to paint some of his thoroughbreds.
His first subject was White Ice Cream. She trailed Faust along the paddock fence, then stopped and posed. His camera clicked away.
“I was intrigued by the horse owner’s description: it’s a very attentive eye or a confident eye,” Faust said. “I began to see it that day.”
Golden loved the head portrait of White Ice Cream. Then he inquired, can you put the body on a horse?
Faust was commissioned to paint Polish Numbers that hangs along with others in the Golden’s Florida and Maryland homes.
“Shawn has always captured our horses' expression and conformation in the same way that we view our horses” Golden related. “His paintings make us feel like we are looking at our horses through our eyes and not how someone else pictures them.”
Stuart Janney III saw the Polish Numbers piece and commissioned Faust to paint Coronado’s Quest. So Faust traveled to Saratoga where he found Mike Smith, sidelined with injuries, and put him on the horse.
“From there I did standardbreds, quarter horses and some that had passed away,” he recalled. “My business just kind of took off.”
Nearly a decade later Faust has an impressive network of clients in the thoroughbred industry. To bring a horse to life, his brushstrokes develop multiple layers of paint to reach the final finished and detailed painting with just the right brilliance and balance.
Faust spends a month or two researching the look of the horse. Next he draws a full outline or silhouette. The painting process takes a full month.
“Everything from the head and the bone structure to muscle tone and weight distribution,” he explained. “I’m paying attention to every little nuance. I want to hear the owner say, ‘Yes, that’s my horse!’”
Faust’s grandfather, who painted as a hobby, hooked him on the art form at an early age. After college Faust worked as a freelance illustrator, and his natural talent was cut and polished through years of drawing classes that are the foundation for his lifelike paintings.
Faust was honored by the Portrait Society of America for his portrait of jockey Pat Day in 2002. The next year his “Seattle Slew” portrait won the Else Tuckerman Memorial Award from the American Academy of Equine Art.
He also earned the “People’s Choice” Award with his portrait “Outrider” from the American Academy of Equine Art last year. In an open competition to artists worldwide, “Outrider” was a Top Ten finalist selection by International Art Magazine. The publication was voted as the best art magazine in the world in 2007.
The artist and his wife Christy live with their two young sons in Bear, Del. In Faust’s studio currently Hard Spun and steeplechase star McDynamo alternate on his easel. Other recent pieces include jockey Ramon Dominquez and Derby champ Barbaro.
“I’ve done Mario Pino and Jeremy Rose, I want to do a series on as many prominent jockeys as I can,” he said. “Standing there watching them, they all have certain mannerisms. It’s a very classic approach that lets their personalities shine through.”
One of his most personal portraits is Barbaro. Faust tossed aside twenty portrait concepts before deciding on “The Look Back.” Faust has given Barbaro a “very gracious, calm eye.”
“We’ve all looked back with admiration on his racing career and how he battled for his life,” Faust observed. “Here, Barbaro is giving us “his look back” as a thankful gesture to all his fans and folks at New Bolton who gave him their best effort.”
“His look says, I feel no pain, I’m at peace.”