Diane Williams

Alberta Artist Diane Williams photographs and paints the spirit of horses.

 In her Studio she works from images which also appear in her Sable Island book Equine Spirits of Sable Island link,

Diane teaches private Art and Photography lessons

 in the foothills of Kananaskis.   

See a short fun film of Diane painting in her studio and with her horses on Farm TV:



Photograph by Glenn Spencer

Spirit of play splashes colour on her canvas


 There is a lightness to Diane Williams’ art, like a lilting breeze that plays with a mane, or a spot of sun rippling over withers. It stems from her spiritual approach to horses, whether it be through prose or painting. Her horses may be running free — many of her subjects are the Sable Island horses — but they aren’t wild-eyed or fighting stallions.     

 Their eyes are soft, peeking through wind-tangled manes, inviting the viewer to get closer, to commune and to share their viewpoint.

  It is the dance between the human and the horse that fascinates Diane. She paints with  fluid motion, her backdrops, often featuring vibrant skies and brilliant brushstrokes, are without boundaries. Liberty is at the core of her work, and is the foundation of her own being.

  “Light represents the spiritual path of the horse, and I try to find the spirit, that inner landscape of the horse. It is their soul,” said Diane who studied at Sacramento’s School of Light and Color.

  She began riding at a young age, working at a barn for a buck a day, just to be around horses. She had her own horse at age 14, but two years later he died of colic.  While attending university, she suffered a mountain climbing injury that left her wearing a knee brace for two years. Horses became her healers, as it was now easier to ride than walk.

  Then came a big move, from B.C. to the Alberta foothills, west of Millarville. After 31 years of teaching art and photography, she yearned for adventure and an opportunity to paint full-time. Two summers ago, she travelled to Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, to photograph its wild horses.

  In her studio, Diane works from those images (which also appear in her newly released book Journey). She learned the importance of light from her father, a professional portrait photographer. “It’s in the shadow that the light becomes brilliant,” she said.

 Her palette does not include what she refers to as the dead colours — grey, brown and black. “I use pure pigment, the primary and secondary colours, and layer colours over colours. It’s mixed right on the canvas.”

 Like Picasso, oranges and yellows are used to portray brightness, joy, and harmony. She too has painted through a blue period, the hues reflecting her healing. Her Giclee called Blue Spirit hangs from the cabin walls on the set of CBC’s Heartland.

  The images — whether a portrait of a wild one with a wind-tossed mane, a herd of bachelors rubbing shoulders, or a trio of equines tracking across pale beaches — are loose, adding to the flow of lightness.

  They reflect Diane’s love of dance, and her sense of play. Her riding is a blend of dressage (often described as equine ballet), but not in a rigid sense. She rides her 23-year-old Amos, a Morgan gelding, bareback and with only a halter or string around his neck. “He just loves the music and begins to lift his legs high when he hears it,” she said.

  “I like to think of the art of riding. I tried to pick a discipline that expresses my painting,” Diane added. “It’s not hard-core dressage. It’s natural dressage.” She studied under trainer Jonathan Field, but also takes clinics with classical dressage rider Dominique Barbier. Her style is infused with a Spanish flair, an extension of her flamenco dancing. “I take flamenco into my riding. I play Spanish music, and I play with my horses through dance.”

 She attended the World Cup Dressage Symposium in Las Vegas, and was commissioned to paint Lusitano stallions. The Spanish and Portuguese horse is prevalent in her work.

  Waiting in the wings to be her next dancing partner is Lirica, a six-year-old Andalusian mare. For now, she frolics with her at Liberty Stables, where they can hear the music from Cavalia playing from her parked car. “We do this even if there’s six feet of snow.”

 Together, she and her horses are on a journey, travelling a healing path through dance and play, she said. Her paintings reflect deep emotion, where she and the spirit of Equus embrace as one.

Written by Wendy Dudley

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Diane's Bio 

All the Colorful Horses

The flowing, graceful lines of Alberta artist Diane Williams’ equine paintings belie an underlying power. The colors seem to dance across the canvas and her horses vibrate with a regal majesty. Williams, who has had a life-long love of horses, uses her brush to capture the essence or the inner-spirit of these powerful yet, gentle steeds. A seasoned rider, Williams understands the depth of the relationship between the horse and rider, and in her work, she invites the viewer to experience that relationship at an intimate level.

Williams’ life provided her the perfect backdrop for pursuing her passions for art and horses. Growing up in British Columbia, Williams father Norman, was a professional photographer and her mother Alice, was a stained glass artist and painter. Williams’ aunt, Karin Storey, was an artist and art historian at Douglas College. This rich artistic heritage provided Williams a fertile creative childhood.

“My father gave me my first ‘brownie’ camera (yes, it was brown!) when I was six,” Williams recalls. “He introduced me to the concept of the rule of thirds, teaching me to place my subject matter into the one third, not the middle of the photo. At that age, my cat Tiger, was my primary subject,”Williams laughs. Williams’ father made sure she received a rigorous training in classical photography, learning to focus on composition and the play of light.  As she developed her interest and skill in art as a child and youth, her passion also came into focus. 

From the time she was a small child, Williams felt a powerful affinity for horses. While many children are interested in the majestic animals, her enthusiasm for the equine went well beyond curiosity; Williams felt a deep, spiritual connection. In order to spend time with horses, at the age of twelve she leased her first horse by working for a dollar a day in a riding stable at Cultus Lake. 

 The more time Williams spent with horses, the greater her passion became and very quickly the horse became her primary artistic muse. Her connection with horses was one of mutual trust, emotional understanding and served as a creative ebb and flow. With encouragement from her family, Williams experimented with a variety of creative medium and developed her technique. Throughout her schooling she sought out art classes and was supported by her teachers.  In high school, Williams was privileged to study under the tutelage of Ellie Pucher, an accomplished artist from Vienna.  “I was slated for business school,” Williams says, “but Ellie Pucher encouraged me to become an art teacher instead. I followed her suggestion and changed direction to pursue a career as a high school art teacher.”

She went on to earn her master’s degree in Art Education from the University of British Columbia and embarked on a teaching career of over 25 years, teaching high school art and photography classes.

While teaching, Williams continued honing her artistic skills by attending extensive workshops through the Federation of Canadian Artists in Vancouver, BC and also studying at the Vancouver Academy of Art. Perhaps most influential, Williams studied for seven years at the Sacramento School of Light and Color, where she was instructed and guided by Susan Sarback, artist and founder of the school. From Sarback, she learned how to use full spectrum colors while painting en plein aire.

In 2011, Williams took early retirement from teaching and moved to Alberta, where she now lives on a 500 acre ranch with 35 horses. This dramatic move has permitted the artist to pursue her two great passions full time; art and horses. As testament to her passions, she published a soft cover book in 2013 called Journey. From its flowing script to its pastoral prose and photos, the book is a lyrical love letter to the Sable Island horses off the coast of Nova Scotia. Williams spent 10 days on the stormy sand spit that is home to over 500 wild horses.

Williams’ artistic style has evolved to allow her to fully express the energy, movement and spirit of her equine subject matter. Despite her training in photography, rather than trying to depict horses in a photo realistic or detailed style, Williams uses broad, energetic strokes and the entire luminous range of color from her palette.

“I paint using all the colors in a prism,” she explains. “I use blue, green, violet, purple, magenta and turquoise for shadows. This is a unique way to paint horses without brown, grey and black. The secret of her luminosity is in the first base layer of brilliant colors that shine through to the surface."

Open the Magenta Window  40x30  Oil on Canvas

Her work pulses with energy, color and light. Her true fascination is the dance between the human and the horse, which stands as the inspiration behind the movement and playfulness of each piece. She furthers, “I paint to show the horse’s spirit . . . so that the viewer can glimpse the horse as a soul.”

Williams’ love of dance and her sense of play are reflected not only in her art but also her riding style. Her riding is a mélange of dressage (often described as equine ballet) and dance. She rides her Morgan Gelding, 23-year-old Amos, bareback and with a halter or string around his neck. “He loves the music and begins to lift his legs (Spanish Walk) when he hears it,” she says.

She furthers, “I think of riding as an art. This discipline expresses my painting,” Diane added. She first studied natural horsemanship with the talented, Jonathan Field. She has since studied with Karen Rohlf (Dressage Naturally) and is currently learning from the classical dressage school of Dominique Barbier. Her style is infused with a Spanish flair, an extension of her flamenco dancing. “I take flamenco into my riding. I put on Spanish music and I play with my horses through dance.”  

Williams’ paintings have captured the imagination of viewers and collectors throughout Canada, the U. S. and Europe. Her work has been featured in solo shows throughout British Columbia, Alberta and at Spruce Meadows-Masters trade show. She was featured at the Las Vegas FEI World Dressage Final, where Robinson Lusitanos arranged to fly the artist and four large paintings to the show for their booth. Williams work was also featured at the National Lusitano Andalusian show in Austin, Texas and her paintings were chosen for the cover of their prestigious show program along with the cover of The Canadian Andalusian Festival in BC. She has been featured in the magazines Horses in Art, Horses All and Ex Arte Equinus 6. Her painting, “Blue Spirit” is on the set of the Alberta TV series, Heartland.

Although Williams is a horse specialist, she is continually called to the wild Alberta outdoors. Her piece titled, “Inner Workings” is a reflection of her love for grizzly bears. 

                                                         Inner Workings  24x36  Oil on Canvas 

Captivated by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies and its sacred spaces, Williams is returning to her roots in painting 

en plein aire to depict the inner vibration of her local landscapes.  

   Sacred Spaces ~ Square Butte, Kananaskis, Alberta  18x24  Oil on Canvas 

 As Williams grows and develops artistically, she feels blessed to have developed a visual language that allows her to share her vision of the inner essence of the horse. Throughout her work, light has come to play an increasingly important role. “Light represents the spiritual path of the horse and I try to find the spirit, that inner landscape of the horse,” she explains.

She continues to ride and develop a natural dressage style that mimics the movement of her work with free-flowing steps and fluid motion. This interplay between her art, riding and love of horses creates a harmonious circle of inspiration that drives her creativity and feeds her soul.

“I want my work to trigger strong, emotional responses,” Williams says. “For the viewer to feel as if she or he is entering the world of light the horses inhabit. I believe that these horses can help you heal or, perhaps, regain a sense of your inner exquisite self.”

Williams’ work is available online at: artincanada.com  and xanadugallery.com.

Written by Chelsea Koressel, Xanadu Gallery, Arizona.