Judie Popplewell began her journey as an equine artist the way many artists — if not most… if not all — did, but her career flourished the way only a select few wish it could.
“I’ve always liked to draw… ever since I could remember,” Judie says. “And it was the same with horses… drawing and horses were always passions for me.”
It’s not so unusual a story for a young girl, except that, growing up in the heart of Canada’s “cowboy country,” Judie’s family wasn’t into horses. But she loved them still, and a neighbouring rancher provided Judie’s first horseback ride when she was still a single digit age. The love stuck.
“Back in the 1970s when the Stampede’s western art was showcased in the Big Four Building, I’d walk through there and thought, ‘This is where I want to be.’”
Today, some six-ish decades later, Judie credits the Calgary Stampede’s Western Art Showcase for being the forum where her passion and skill transformed from hobby to career… though it’s noteworthy that Judie’s professional artistic success really burgeoned into her forties. Judie’s had her original art in oils at the Calgary Stampede every year since 1995.
“I remember when I first submitted a piece for consideration for the Stampede auction,” recalls Judie, “And they accepted it! I was blown away! I was reluctant about my chances… I know how much competition there is out there… but I thought, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ That exposure has changed my whole career; it’s opened up so many doors for me. I’m truly grateful.”
Judie’s mom, still living in Pincher Creek where Judie spent her childhood, will occasionally run into teachers who remember Judie’s school notebooks crowded with horse drawings.
“All the margins of my notebooks were filled with horses, though I never thought about equine art as a career… I just loved drawing, and I loved horses, and those loves were simply things I enjoyed as pastimes.”
Eventually, Judie and her husband Jim and their children Debbie and Duane were living on a ranch east of Calgary where they boarded 100 head of horses.
“The two passions of mine were running parallel but they weren’t joining up anywhere. I was drawing a lot of horses but I always had in the back of my mind that drawing horses wasn’t really art, so I didn’t pursue it as an art form. Instead, I was creating landscapes, and pet portraits. I had taken some courses from different artists and kind of dabbled in acrylics, did some pen and ink, some graphite, some water colour… I experimented with all the mediums. I did quite a bit of pastel in the early 90s, which ultimately led me to oils. I loved oils — I’d found my medium and I never went back to any other medium.
“Then, I remember it so clearly: it was in 1991 and I was in an art supply store where I came across a magazine called Equine Images, affiliated with the American Academy of Equine Art! The entire magazine was filled with images of equine art — sculptures, drawings, paintings. This was before the Internet, mind you, so I’d had no idea there was this whole genre of equine artistry. Suddenly, my parallel passions had focus and credibility and I was so excited!”
Judie’s deeply rooted love for the landscape, history and the rural western lifestyle of Alberta, where she’s lived her whole life, shine in her intimately detailed representational paintings.
“There’s so much tradition that is still practiced today in the ranching life that looks exactly the way it used to look hundreds of years ago. I like to be around that tradition, in real life, and I love celebrating that in my art.”
To view more of Judie’s work, surf to www.judiepopplewell.com.