My Artistic Origins as an Animal Artist

(Majesty by Vivian Olsen)

My artistic preferences are based on the kinship I’ve always felt about nature and animals. Growing up in the rolling hills of California, I had the run of the country to go exploring with my dog. Those early years instilled in me a yearning to always have that freedom as part of my life. That continued for me as an adult living in Idaho and New Mexico where I was still fortunate to live in areas of natural beauty and with abundant wildlife living around me. It was natural for me to blend my profession as an artist with painting animals that I love. 

My portraits of wildlife are designed to showcase each animal’s beauty, their unique personality and their natural habitat. As I paint I want to bring life to the beauty I see in them. I begin with studies, drawings of my subject as part of an exciting composition, then on to painting — using glowing colors, a play of accents and the drama of lights and darks. My preference is to paint with watercolors, but sometimes I vary my media by using pastels, oils or acrylics. My subjects range from the smallest birds to fierce-looking wolves — whether gentle or strong, prey or predator, they each create an excitement in me as I bring them — my artistic subjects — to life.

With two degrees, in art and biology, and years of living in wild country where I assisted a wildlife research biologist, I learned about endangered birds, spent a winter living with three moose in my backyard and daily watched our Sandhill Crane pet playing with my three little girls.

My artistic skills were fully challenged as I worked as a freelance artist creating illustrations for the Fish and Wildlife Service in South Dakota, and the Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Idaho. It was at that time when painting wildlife became the focus for my future as an artist. Eventually I became known as a wildlife artist with my paintings in several galleries in New Mexico, Colorado and Oregon. I also taught for many years as a high school art teacher in New Mexico, until I retired — as a teacher, but never as an artist of wildlife and nature.

Most recently, my love of beautiful animals and their mostly gentle natures, lead me to create a children’s book of animals with action-filled stories reimagined from Aesops Fables. This endeavor was a work of love, for the animal subjects playing their parts, for children who will enjoy the richness of the art and stories, and for myself. During the time (three years) while creating the book, I felt it was a labor of love because I enjoyed every moment I spent drawing, painting, writing, editing and finally publishing, The Good, the Bad and the Goofy — a collection of enjoyable stories and 15 detailed, colorful paintings of animals in action. 

I am currently working on a second children’s book — The Misadventures of Henri and Mac. This story is about a Yorkie pup (mine) and his best friend Rat.

Vivian’s professional memberships include: past president and member of both the High Desert Art League and the Plein Air Painters of Oregon. She is also a member and exhibitor in the Oil Painters of America and a member of the Watercolor Society of Oregon. Her artwork may be viewed at Hood Avenue Art Gallery in Sisters, and on her website at

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