92 Sally Lancaster

Sally Lancaster is an award-winning realist painter from the United Kingdom. She specializes in portraits of ballet dancers, horses, people and pets. Sally is a self-taught artist who started her career painting portraits of pets, before moving on to horses. These paintings earned her the Director's Award from Horse In Art Magazine, and both the Banstead Stud Prize and Best in Show from the Society of Equestrian Artists. Sally is a member of the South West Academy of Fine & Applied Arts,

Ms. Lancaster has been gracious enough to answer a few questions about her work and process, so I'm adding the transcript here:

1. Your work is highly realistic and you work from photos, as do I. Do you consider yourself a photorealist? I ask because I'm not sure the label fits your artwork, and I'm curious what opinion you have of the 70's photorealist movement.

"I don't consider myself a photorealist, but a realistic artist.  There seem to be different levels of realism up to hyperrealism but although my work is realistic, you can definitely still see that it's a painting with the brush strokes etc."

2. I've read that you're largely self-taught. I'm curious how you developed into such a skilled artist. When did it happen, and did it come with a series of revelations or realizations? And, what was your art program like at school? Was it helpful or worthwhile?

"When I left school, I went to work in offices doing admin etc..  Back in the early 90's art wasn't seen as a career, especially not in my family as most of my family are very academic (that skipped me!) so I just went and got any office job that I could.  But when I was 22 I went off to Australia for a year to travel.  On my trip back from Australia, I stayed with someone I knew in LA and she happened to be a pet portrait artist.  I'd never even heard of such a thing before so whilst I was there, I drew a cat from an image in a magazine, just to see if I could remember how to draw.  And that is pretty much how my art career started!  When I returned to the UK, I worked full time in offices and did a bit of pet portraiture part time.  Then, in 2005, I was able to start doing my art full time as I had the support of my now ex-husband.  I don't think my school art lessons were much help as I went to a very academic school that didn't have a very big art department, so I've taught myself different mediums over the years, starting out with gouache, then moving on to acrylics and finally taking up oils (they're not as scary as I'd been expecting!)."

3. You paint excellent portraits of both horses and ballet dancers in motion. Both of these series have so much detail, it must have been engrossing - did you notice any similarities in both these subjects? Anything that surprised you? There's so much emphasis on bone structure and musculature, of weight and balance and motion.

"I specialised in equestrian art for many years.  I used to ride when I was younger and adore horses, they are so beautiful and powerful.  About 5 years ago, I needed a change in direction as I had hit a rut, plus was going through a lot of personal changes.  I had always had an interest in painting people but hadn't known how to approach the subject, what to paint.  One day I saw an advert for a touring ballet company and they were coming to my local town so I contacted them and they allowed me along to their rehearsals so I could take some reference photos to work from.  And that's where my figurative art started.  To me it was such an obvious transition going from painting dressage horses to ballet dancers as they are both extremely talented, powerful and graceful.  I love capturing the muscle tone and forms as it's all fascinating to me.  My figurative work has developed on from the ballet dancers but I'm very grateful that I was able to start my figurative art with them."

4. As an art teacher, I'm curious if you find common mistakes when people draw horses? What should we watch out for? I've heard that when children draw horses they just look like dogs. You draw both horses and dogs so well, what do you consider the major differences? 

"The main mistakes that people can make tend to be leg related, not knowing how the anatomy works etc."


5. What do you think or worry about in terms of composition? What kinds of mistakes set off alarm bells?

"I tend to think that composition is quite subjective per artist and also depends on the subject of the painting.  When I was painting dressage horses, I used to like painting them from different angles, sometimes bringing them in from the edge of a canvas and this to me was to help with the motion of the image and to view them as still in the centre of a painting doesn't always work.  But I also tend not to overthink composition as I'm terrible at second guessing myself so tend to go with my first instinct."


6. Do you have any stories about one of your artworks you'd like to share?

"Sadly not, I'm not very good with stories!"

7. What do you believe a secondary arts education should focus on?

"To be honest, I don't know.  I don't have kids so am out of date as to what they might be learning at school in art lessons.  The business side of it is important to know about if anyone is thinking about having art as a career as marketing etc is a huge part of being an artist, so perhaps a little taste of that is wise!"


8. What do you tell someone who says art doesn't matter?

I'm not very good at vocalising how important art is so I tend to ignore them!

9. What's your opinion of the contemporary post-modern art scene?

"I don't really know what that is! . . . As I said, I'm not very arty and there isn't too much deep and meaningful with my art, I just like painting pretty things!"


Despite Sally Lancaster's modesty, I find depth and inspiration in both her subjects as they strive for perfection, and in Lancaster's approach to painting, as she strives for perfection with each brush stroke. None of this beauty happens by chance. It's a constant daily struggle, and there's a lesson in this for all of us.

'Sheer Blue'

'The Red Dress'



'Lee Pearson'


'Ask Dillon'

'HH Mohammed'

'B B'

'Golden Tones'



'Salcombe Sailing'


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sally is an amazing Artist. So good to read about your journey. A very real, insightful and inspiring article. Well deserved place on the 100 Greatest Women Artists list Sally!


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