Western Art

Valerie Coe Paints What She Sees

Valerie Coe paints in watercolor

California artist Valerie Coe reflects on how horses and ranching have influenced her life and perspectives as a fine artist.

Horses have played a prominent role in Valerie Coe’s life since she was young and continue to intrigue her not only as a horsewoman, but also as a ranch wife and Western artist. Coe and her husband of 26 years, Ned, used to run more than 600 cows in partnership with Ned’s father and brother. Through the years, they have downsized and now run a small herd of their own commercial cows in Northern California.

Coe and her artwork are featured in the September 2021 issue of Western Horseman, but here here she offers more about her life on their ranch outside of Alturas, California, and how horses and her husband influence her artistic endeavors.

Valerie Coe and her husband Ned riding and ranch in Northern California
Valerie Coe and her husband, Ned, run a small bunch of cows in Northern California and enjoy being horseback together.
Photo by McFarland Productions

What role does your husband, Ned, play in your art career?

I could not do any of it without Ned; he’s a great guy and so supportive. He allows me the luxury of not having to get a town job and helps me schlep things around to shows. He’s also my tech support and most honest critic. So many people say you shouldn’t ask your family’s opinion on your artwork, but Ned is brutally honest. There will be times I look at a painting and know something is off, but I can’t figure out what it is so I’ll ask Ned. For example, I was doing a painting of a mule awhile back and thought something wasn’t right. Ned spent a lot of time packing with mules and immediately saw the area around the eye socked wasn’t as pronounced as it should be on a mule. The minute I corrected that the painting was ready to go.

Valerie Coe works cattle
Coe enjoys riding her horses outside with the cattle.
Photo by McFarland Productions

How often do you and Ned get horseback?

We’re horseback working cattle once a week, and more in the spring and fall. We do all of our cattle work horseback; I refuse to learn how to drive a four-wheeler! I know to many ranchers who have been seriously hurt on four-wheelers. We have three horses, two of which we raised. The other one is a cutting-bred horse we bought as an un-started 5-year-old and had Jim Neubert start him. He’s actually a fabulous little horse and I can rope off him, but he’s a quarky little thing.

Boots made by Valerie Coe
Before becoming a fine artist, Coe was a bootmaker for 15 years.
Photo by McFarland Productions

How have horses influenced your life?

I was raised in a family that had nothing to do with agriculture. I begged and begged and was finally able to get a horse when I was 10. Then I showed horses in all-around events, chasing points, throughout high school and college. I was fortunate to get to attend Meredith Manor’s horsemanship program for one year. Then I came back to California and went to college at Cal-Poly.

I’ve been fortunate that the Neubert family lives up the road and starts my horses for 30 to 60 days, and I can take them from there. I enjoy just messing with them, teaching them new things and changing things up so they don’t get bored. Usually, I ride out and check the cows; I don’t ride much in the arena anymore.

I feel really blessed I’ve never outgrown my obsession with horses. I don’t thing there’s a more exquisite creature on the planet. I never get tired of staring at how they’re built, and I love seeing how light and shadows form on them. I feed my mare apart from the other two horses in the evening, and I sketch her feet while she stands there and eats. My husband teases me that I love anything that smells like sweaty horses or horse manure.

Valerie Coe paints in watercolor
“Watercolor is so exciting and surprising, and I love the detail I can achieve,” says Coe of her primary medium.
Photo by McFarland Productions

What do you enjoy about teaching watercolor workshops?

My background is in agricultural education and I was a 4-H advisor for six years. I really enjoy teaching, and I really learn myself from it. The most enjoyable thing about art is that you’re always learning to see!

What projects are you working on now?

I finishing three pieces to submit for for the Mountain Oyster Club show in November in Tuscon, Arizona. I’m also framing three pieces for the Trappings of Texas, which will be on exhibit September 16-November 6 at the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine, Texas.

For more on Coe’s artwork, visit her website, and @valeriecoestudio on Facebook and Instagram.

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