The 2019 Western Horseman/Cowboy Artists of America Youth Art Contest winner heads to Fort Worth for the CA Exhibition & Sale.
It’s hard to get Reagan Stephens, 18, to state the best part about her experience at the 54th annual Cowboy Artists of America Sale & Exhibition in Fort Worth, Texas, November 1–2, 2019. She won a trip to the event when her painting Like a Boss was judged grand champion in the 2019 Western Horseman/Cowboy Artists of America Youth Art Contest.
At the sale, she met artists she’s admired for years, saw them at work in live demonstrations, viewed the exhibition and experienced the sale for its first time in Fort Worth. She was also honored at the CAA awards luncheon, and presented a $1,000 art scholarship by the Cowboy Artists of America Joe Beeler Foundation.
“[CAA member] Bruce Greene said, ‘You’re off to a really good start, you just have to make sure that you keep working at it, because the work is what will end up paying off,’” she says. “That was really cool.”
Reagan grew up in Weatherford, Oklahoma, the daughter of Brian and Michelle Stephens. Her grandparents, Bob and Lori Thompson, ranchers in Beckham County, Oklahoma, fueled her interest in horses. An active 4-H club member throughout school, she is now a certified 4-H volunteer and teaches riding lessons. She is in her freshman year at Oklahoma Christian University pursuing a biology degree, and she intends to go to veterinary school.
Grandmother Lori’s habit of sharing Western Horseman magazines with Reagan furthered her interest in art. A 2009 magazine story on young artist Tyler Crow (now a CAA member) eventually led a 12-year-old Reagan to enter an Oklahoma Youth Expo art contest at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, which she won.
Later, Lori spotted the very first Western Horseman youth art contest offered in 2015. Reagan’s oil painting, Friendship Forged in Iron, won reserve champion in the 14 to 18 age division that year.
In an art world full of abstract expressionism, Reagan appreciates these outlets for the traditional realism style of art that she likes and that embrace her Western horse world.
“These kinds of contests have always been on my radar,” Reagan says. “They have opened my eyes that I could go this route with my art.”
Reagan continues, “If I took nothing away from the experience but this it would still be worth it: The artists who were there who came up to me and told me I had a nice piece—like Bill Nebeker, Mikel Donahue, and Martin Grelle.
“If I had gone and just gotten encouragement from artists like that, I would have taken a lot away. The fact that they were so welcoming and friendly and supportive, that really helped me.”
Cowboy Artist Advice
Reagan has a favorite piece of advice she took home from the weekend:
“Bruce Greene came up to me and said, ‘I’m going to tell you one thing that a mentor of mine told me that really will shape your art and help you improve: Every day, take all your stuff outside and paint for 30 minutes, then pack it all up. Paint something new each time, and from life.’
“He said if you do that, you train yourself to accurately lay down color the first time. And accurately lay in the shape the first time. The first time you do it, you’re really not good at it, but you start to get familiar with how to do that.
“And you’ll start to really see the patterns of light and shadow in nature because you’re out every day painting them. It’s also a doable time, just 30 minutes. Go out and do nothing but paint.”
Check out the Top 10 pieces from the 2019 Youth Art Contest here.