Karmel Timmons | Winning Streak

By Wolf Schneider

At the Watering Hole, pencil, 17 x 23.

Purchasing a print wasn’t a problem for D. Wayne Lukas, one of the top trainers in Thoroughbred racing. “I was at an art show in Las Vegas,” Timmons remembers. “He came in and was wearing two of his four Kentucky Derby rings. I didn’t recognize him until I ran his charge card and then realized who he was.” Another collector is racehorse owner Bill Casner of WinStar Farm, who bought the original of HOPES AND DREAMS—a drawing of a young foal brimming with potential.

Timmons has hardly had time to adjust her lifestyle to her newfound success. Her studio is still in a corner of the bedroom—albeit a 600-square-foot bedroom on a six-acre ranch in Elbert, CO. She and her husband, Matt, plan to build her a studio, but there isn’t time right now. Each drawing takes about a month, requiring 150 to 200 hours of work. The detailed drawings range in size from 11 by 14 inches up to 21 by 28.

Wilbur, pencil, 15 x 12.

Timmons, who works from photos, says her drawings lean toward realism but are not photographic. “There’s a fine line and an artistic process,” she points out. “There’s so much more I’m able to add. I know most of the horses I draw, and their personalities come through,” says Timmons, whose drawings nearly always amplify the individual characteristics of her equine subjects.

She used to work in graphite, but now draws with charcoal-and-wax blend Nero pencils, using all five strengths the pencil comes in, from soft to hard. “You can get the real true black with the Nero. With graphite, when you go over it, it gets shiny and you don’t get the contrast,” she explains.

A mere 10 years ago, Timmons was working as a bookkeeper, and her husband—who now runs the sales side of the business—was a satellite communications engineer. The couple bought their first quarter horses in 1999, and Timmons remembers saying to her husband: “I bet I could draw this horse.” When he saw the drawing she did, he said “‘That’s it! You’re quitting your job bookkeeping, and you’re going to do art,’” she recalls. “Matt’s really the one who saw what I could do.” Awards and gallery representation followed quickly.

As for the quarter horses that were the catalysts for her drawing, she and Matt no longer own them. “Once I started getting into the art, I realized there was so much more to being a horse owner than just feeding them at morning and night. It was one or the other—I was either going to devote myself to the art or the horses,” says Timmons. “It was a no-brainer, really, because one makes you money and the other costs you money.”

But Timmons does not lack for equine models. Elbert County, just about an hour southeast of Denver, is pastoral countryside. “It’s ranch country out here,” says Timmons. “There are a lot of horses grazing in pastures along the sides of the road, and many of my friends have horses. Plus I take my camera when I travel to horse events around the country.”

It was at a ranch in Kansas that Timmons took the photographs that inspired RANCH HANDS, a moody portrait of two horses observed from the side. “That was kind of a rare thing—to get them not looking at me. It’s hard to photograph horses and not have them look at you. They’re usually curious about what you’re doing, so they’ve got one eyeball on you and one eyeball on what’s going on somewhere else,” Timmons points out.

READY TO WORK is a portrait a horse tacked up and saddled and waiting patiently for its rider. Timmons’ horses are almost always saddled and tacked with bridle and reins. “It’s all very specific tack,” she explains. “Watercolor artist William Matthews does a lot of the same subjects that I do. It’s California vaquero-buckaroo tack—very traditional, very cool, and a lot of people still ride that way. Everything on the horse is a work of art—the reins, the saddles, the bits.”

For a relative newcomer, Timmons has quickly become an expert on both horsemanship and art. Although she no longer rides—“I fell off my horse and broke my tailbone,” she confesses—she hangs out with the likes of top horse trainers Sheila Varian and Buck Brannaman, who was the inspiration for the movie “The Horse Whisperer.” Art-wise, she says she’s influenced by 16th-century equine artist George Stubbs (author of The Anatomy of the Horse) and the late western artist Maynard Dixon (for his Southwestern forms). But none of this was part of her world growing up.

Timmons was born in 1966 in St. Paul, MN. Both her parents were in the Navy, and she was raised in Japan, Guam, and throughout the world. When Timmons was 11, her parents divorced and her mom moved her and her brother to Utah, where her mother had family. “My mom wasn’t very strict. We pretty much just had to tell her where we’d be and we were independent. I have a daughter now who’s 16, and I just shudder when I think about what I was doing at 16. Not that we were bad. In Utah it’s very Mormon-influenced and it’s hard to be bad,” says Timmons. She took a few classes at Utah State University, then married at 19. She worked in retail, had a daughter, moved to Colorado, and then divorced.

For a while, she was a single mom working as a bookkeeper. Then she met Matt. On their first date, they talked about wanting to be self-employed someday. Today, they live in a forested part of Elbert with rolling hills and ponderosa pines. Timmons typically answers e-mails in the mornings and draws from noon to 10 or 11 at night. Seven days a week. Matt cooks the meals, and brings his wife coffee when she needs it. “Other than my husband and daughter, my life is pretty solitary,” says Timmons. “Social time doesn’t happen much.” Not that she’s complaining. “There’s nothing to be unhappy about! The financial rewards and recognition have been awesome!”

Timmons knows the entire household is depending on her, and she rarely takes a break from drawing—although she has stopped to watch “American Idol” on TV. (“I’m goal oriented,” she confides, “and to me it’s about watching somebody achieve their goals and have their best moment ever.”) She also watches the telecasts of horse-racing’s Triple Crown events. (“It can be magical as well as heartbreaking,” she says, referring to the recent tragedies involving Barbaro and Eight Belles.)

The horse world has now become her world. “I would’ve liked to have been a cowgirl, but I’m not really. I didn’t grow up around horses,” Timmons admits. “But I totally appreciate the lifestyle.”

If Timmons seems to be single-handedly bringing drawing back into the spotlight as a western fine-art form, she isn’t about to brag about it. “I would have never believed it would go this well. I’ve had some pretty lofty goals, but I still wouldn’t have believed this,” she says.

And the best and worst things about her equine subjects? “The worst thing is that my subjects are large, thinking, and breathing animals that in one moment can do some real damage,” Timmons appraises. “And the best is their beauty. To see a horse running or grazing in a field is just magical.

Featured in August 2008