KRae artwork: Outdoor enthusiast brings wildlife and Western landscapes to life
Three Forks, Mont. – Kelsey Johnson is a self-taught artist passionate about creating oil paint and graphite pieces for commercial, private and personal uses. Originally from Pennsylvania, she found her way West using inspiration from hiking, wildlife landscapes and visiting local ranches.
Before getting started with art, she attended Penn State University to study agriculture business. After college she started working in agriculture sales in Nebraska before making her way to Montana.
As a new artist, Kelsey started pursuing a career in art in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2021 when she started her business.
“I grew up with horses and competed in rodeo back East, but as I moved West, I was drawn to the lifestyle and the aesthetic of Western living and ranching and wanted to paint it,” she says.
She mainly uses a photograph from a figure as her starting point but mentions she will add in other elements.
“I primarily work from a photograph of a figure, but then, a lot of times I’ll piece it together if it’s a memory from places I’ve been,” she explains.
She notes her favorite piece of art changes every day, but currently one of her favorite paintings is a piece called, “Not on My Watch.” It is a painting of a rancher from Rosebud, Mont. sitting on his horse with a gun and coyote over the horn of his saddle.
Cover artwork: “Thirsty Work” and other pieces
The cover artwork for the Rocky Mountain Horse Edition is an oil on canvas and was Kelsey’s third painting ever, she shares.
“The guy in the piece is J2 Bridges from Dillon, Mont.,” she says. “He’s an expert bronc rider and an excellent rancher. His wife invited me to come out to their ranch.”
“Thirsty Work” is Kelsey’s first oil on canvas painting from the ranch, but since then, she has done several for the Bridges family.
Another painting she has done for J2 is an oil canvas painting called “Adrift.”
“I went out there to get a photo of him for a painting I’m working on right now, and he caught this younger horse that was giving him trouble while we were trying to set up this photograph, so, he actually jumped on and started to work with the horse,” Kelsey explains. “The photo was very fluid and I loved the movement so much I wanted to put it in front of a railroad track to enhance the movement aspect of the piece.”
“Red on Deck” is another oil on canvas painting from the Dillion, Mont. ranch.
“I went out there to get some branding photos, and my favorite moment from that day was watching this guy’s horse wait for him to get done in the chute,” she says. “I thought it was a very real, relatable scene.”
Running a full-time business
Kelsey just opened a gallery and studio in Three Forks, Mont. Her favorite thing to do right now is paint, she shares.
“My workspace is in a more professional setting where people can come in and have more of a community space to see my work,” she notes.
As far as advice for inspiring artists, she says, “Everyone’s path will and should be unique to their style and point of view. Be consistent, persistent and let your work be guided by your passions.”
Kelsey sells prints, custom work, merchandise and small works and studies. To purchase work or for more information, visit kraeartworks.com.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover art – “Thirsty Work” oil by Kelsey Johnson.