From the desk of Lauren Palmer
Well, I’m going to need an art studio and a horse, thought portrait artist Christen Benat while gazing out at the expansive pastures Rich Benat, her soon-to-be-husband, showed her in Celeste, Texas. This was back in the early 2000s. The couple didn’t know it at the time, but the 100 acres of property in northeast Texas that Rich had owned since the 1980s, would later become the location of their dream homestead, The Circle B Farm. Today, a horse barn and pastures filled with 10 Arabian horses, and a compound-style house made of 3 separate buildings—one which houses Christen’s art studio—are all part of this picturesque property.
An artist’s life on a horse farm is a far cry from her upbringing in Dallas, her education at the Hockaday School and the University of Texas in Austin, or her career in New York as an advertising executive, or later working in visual merchandising for The Container Store. But, her love of art and horses runs in the family. Christen’s mother is an artist, and her grandfather in West Texas bred paint horses, which Christen remembers fondly.
Art lessons, crafting, and an interest in horses have been woven throughout Christen’s life since she was a child. She even remembers sewing a pioneer bonnet in third grade as a project inspired by reading Little House on the Prairie. Is it any coincidence that she is now living and painting on the North Texas Blackland Prairie?
While working for The Container Store and producing and selling hand-painted photo albums – a concept she created while living in New York called Memory Makers, Christen felt the urge to study fine art and signed up for continuing education courses at SMU including drawing, pastels, portraiture, and oils, and devoted increasingly more time to developing her artistic skills. Eventually she even participated in week-long portrait workshops with artists she admired including Kay Polk and Dawn Whitelaw.
Their first year of living at “The Circle B” was spent adjusting to being full-time care takers for the 10 Arabian horses that they raised, bred, and showed. “To be honest, farm life was overwhelming,” Christen told me. “The horses required so much of our time, and I felt confused as to how to start painting again in this new life that Rich and I were building together.”
Christen met local McKinney artist Silky Michero at a figure drawing class in Dallas who invited her to join the McKinney Creative Community. Being involved with this community inspired Christen to take part in daily 20-minute painting challenges, something that allowed her to remember that painting is something she truly enjoys, not something to be avoided until the timing is perfect.
Christen felt such joy to be making art again and was reminded how much she truly loved painting portraits, a path she has pursued ever since. Although Christen is a working professional, she considers herself to be a perpetual student. “I love studying, taking workshops, watching art videos, taking notes, and researching all types of art.”
Just wait until you see what this “art student” can do.
To learn more about Lauren and The Art of Living Beautifully, please visit our ‘about’ page.