Lynn Brown has painted since her early teens, but she found her true niche in her 30s, when she painted the first of her collection known as “The Cowgirls.”
“I was going to an [art] show in New Mexico,” Brown says. “About three days before I left, I was looking through an old Western Horseman, and there was a story about old-time cowboys and cowgirls. There was a picture in there of an old-time cowgirl that really inspired me. So, I did one up really quickly, framed it and took it to the show. I hung her up and probably could have sold her 10 times. Everybody loved her and that was the starting point with them.”
Brown’s own experiences riding, roping and working on ranches have given her insight into the cowgirls she paints. When she was 6 years old, Brown’s father began roping. She loved all the action and took up barrel racing before joining her dad in the roping arena in her 20s.
“I try to show that [cowgirls] could do the rodeo events and be feminine at the same time,” she says. “I feel like I can connect with the old-time cowgirls. I am not anywhere in their realm of expertise, but loving the lifestyle helps me connect. Knowing what it means, it’s a part of you.”
To capture the delicate, almost dreamy femininity she likes in her cowgirls, Brown paints with watercolor. She begins by wetting the paper sparingly, unlike some watercolorists who wet the entire paper. She paints on an easel, which she can move to adjust the light.
“I personally like natural light,” she says. “It’s just the best. The only time I use artificial light is when I’m doing a pencil. But for me to really see true color and things, I need natural light.”
Brown looks through books of old West photographs for inspiration. Her eye for detail in both color and style is as accurate as that of any historian. Though the time period occasionally changes, Brown prefers to paint cowgirls from the 1920s to ’30s era.
“In earlier years, they wore split skirts, but I like the jodhpur look,” she says.
“With the big scarves and big bows in their hair, of course.”
Through her cowgirl paintings, Brown connected with a broad range of art lovers. For many years, she ran her own business and put her cowgirls on a variety of items, such as pillows, coasters, quilt squares and shirts. The series’ popularity led Montana silversmiths to use the images on a line of home products ranging from dishware to lamps.
“It was an honor to have Montana silversmiths use my [images] for a line of all sorts of products,” she says. “When I had my business, I put my work out there to people who wouldn’t have noticed it. I’ve had a lot of the different quilters send me photographs when [their quilts] were completed, and that was fun to see.”
With all the attention on her cowgirls, one might expect Brown to focus solely on painting them, but she continues to also paint in oil and to use watercolors to complete her collection of cowboys.
Brown’s oil paintings of Western scenes reflect her time spent in the saddle and working on ranches in Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas. Although she is influenced by the authenticity of Bill Owen’s paintings and Bill Anton’s impressionistic painting style, Brown’s style is uniquely her own. She never had formal painting lessons, but studies books of works from the 1920s and ’30s, and of the painters of Taos, New Mexico, for inspiration.
“Bill Anton once told me, ‘When you sell a painting, go buy a book,’ ” Brown remembers. “Books help inspire you and make you think. So, I have done that as much as I can.”
It has taken Brown time to adjust to a move from Arizona to Texas. The artist could easily capture the dusty hues of the Southwest, but in Texas her color palette has needed adjusting.
“I’m very inspired by the southwest. It’s what I’m familiar with—the light and the color,” she says. “It was quite a transition for me to come to the part of Texas that I’m living in now. I see more inspiration, though it has taken me a while to adjust and find the beauty in it, also.“
Green is a hard color to paint sometimes because you can get too bold with it, you have to back off and gray it some. I didn’t have to use that much green [in Arizona], and it’s been an adjustment.”
Her place in Texas is peaceful and offers Brown the tranquility and quiet she needs to work.
“I like it really quiet,” she says. “I don’t want music or TV on; I prefer natural noise. I don’t really have a routine, but, maybe as a woman, I must have my house in order. I have to have some order there before I start painting, and then I can relax and stay focused there.”
When she has trouble focusing, the avid roper and horsewoman can find peace outside. She says that getting on a horse clears her head. When painter’s block sets in, she’ll set a piece aside, then, after a ride, come back to it with fresh eyes.
Whether creating one of her famous cowgirls or a Western scene on canvas, Brown’s work shows her affinity for the Western lifestyle in which she is immersed.
“Painting brings me joy,” she says. “I want others to find joy in the works I create. That is what art is for, to bring pleasure to the viewer.”