She dips her brush in a pool of color and sagebrush bloom; she dips her brush again and clouds gather in a west Texas sky. For American oil painter Katelyn Betsill, this is where her passion and purpose collide; here on the canvas with wide-open spaces stretching toward a horizon line as full of possibility as the desert beneath her feet.
Although Katelyn was born in Texas, she spent her younger years living in Maui until the family returned to Glen Rose, Texas when she was 12, where they run a small Angus cattle operation that continues to this day.
For college, Katelyn pursued a biology degree at The University of Texas where she also competed as a coxswain on the rowing team. She then moved to Maui and then to Philadelphia, and it was there that she felt the previously clear path before her disappear in the city lights.
“I moved back here [to Texas] to have a moment to be home, to be with family and kind of recenter myself. That was a time when I actually started painting a lot of scenes from west Texas because this endless desert is just so beautiful. I just really fell in love with the landscape out here,” said Katelyn. When her husband joined her, they thought it would be a short-lived relocation to their mountaintop adobe house near the remote town of Alpine.
“Now the longer we're here, it just feels more like home and we're starting to put down more roots. Moving out here was one of those experiences where for the first time in my life I was letting things happen rather than always trying to chase after something,” explained Katelyn. “And it's been a really nice peaceful phase of life. I feel very content with where I'm at and with how things are going. I think most people nowadays spend a long time chasing an end goal of happiness. ‘I'll be happy when I have this or this.’ But getting out of that and being here where life is so slow has helped me escape that mindset.”
As an artist, Katelyn doesn’t believe anyone is truly self-taught, and though her journey was devoid of a formal art education, it was her grandmother who first showed her the possibilities to be found in a watercolor palette. She babysat her grandkids with an easel and under her watchful eye, Katelyn found she had an artistic side.
“I never seriously considered it as a career. I think if anything, I was always discouraged from pursuing it,” said Katelyn, but with the rise of social media and the myriad of online platforms, it's much more feasible today to have an art career outside of the traditional art school to gallery route.
Back when she was a resident of Philly, Katelyn took a six-week oil painting class, which she credits for unlocking a potential future she hadn’t dreamed of … yet. “It was so beautiful. The colors were so vibrant and it just really pulled me in. I was hooked on the medium itself,” said Katelyn, who spent her free time when she got back to Texas painting more and more.
“That’s the beauty of being mostly self-taught, I think you never stop learning. My journey has consisted of simply dedicated time in front of the easel.”
Every fledgling artist needs someone to give them the push to take a leap of faith and see if their passion can become their livelihood, and for Katelyn, that person was her husband.
“Nobody has created a more lasting impact on me than my husband, he was the one that encouraged me more than anybody. He had full belief in me in the beginning, but more than just belief, he gave me tools that I needed to get this running.”
According to Katelyn, the hardest part of working for yourself is showing up day after day — a task that gets easier once you overcome “imposter syndrome.”
“It took me a long time to even just say, ‘I'm an oil painter. I'm an artist.’ Because for me, I didn't feel like I was worthy of the name. I think that imposter syndrome also affects how much time a lot of people will spend at their craft when they're first starting out. You almost feel like the craft doesn't deserve your time unless it's making you money.”
The best advice Katelyn received as an artist was delivered before she began painting, but one that has made an indelible mark on her work. As a coxswain in college, her coach repeatedly said, “You’re not good at this … yet.” And it was the “yet” that changed everything.
“‘We haven't been in the top 10 — yet’ meant that despite every failure, it’s something that we could overcome. Having that mentality, especially when I am struggling puts me on the right track,” explained Katelyn. “When I started painting clouds, I was not good at all, but I always had this mentality of ‘I'm not very good at clouds right now, but I will be one day.’ And now they're something that I'm beginning to be known for in my work.” Thanks to her rowing coach she knows that when you are bad at something, be ready to work hard to improve and have the mentality that it is something that you can overcome. You're not good at this yet, but you will be one day.
Landscapes will always be Katelyn’s one true love, a muse she describes as eternal and unchanging in its raw beauty. While her work has gravitated toward the Western genre, landscapes are what keep her tethered to her oils.
“I paint the same landscape over and over again, which is the view off my front porch. And I think I could paint it forever and never paint the same thing twice.”
While West Texas sparked her infatuation with the landscape, the American West is a full-blown wildfire of possibilities for Katelyn to translate to canvas. She has always loved traditional western art. Her firsthand experience in the Western culture, riding horses and raising cattle is where she finds the bridge to combining the two, but she finds herself drawn to a quieter side of the same coin, a more honest interpretation of life in the American West.
“I want to paint what's real. I spent a lot of time on horseback. I spent time working on a ranch, working with my family, working on a dude ranch and we would take crews out for weeks at a time. The majority of the day, you're just sitting on a horse, trying to keep yourself entertained because it's a lot of long, quiet hours in the saddle.”
According to Katelyn, western art is predominantly masculine, which doesn’t represent the whole story when it comes to western culture. This is why she tries to use the figures of women in her western pieces as much as possible. “I think cowboys are amazing. I have my dad, and a lot of role models that are cowboys, and I'm inspired by them just like everybody else. I just feel that people should see working women in fine art as well,” explained Katelyn. “I want to create beautiful, impactful paintings without having to make them rowdy and masculine. As I've been finding my own style and trying to make my own mark, I have gravitated to the opposite of those — I enjoy the calm scenes, the in-between moments.”
Her work is already finding admirers from around the globe. Katelyn was a featured artist and top 10 finalist in Western Gallery's “New Western Talent" in 2020 and was selected as an emerging artist in Fort Worth's Main Street Festival, ranked #3 nationally. But her adobe on the mountain is home to even bigger dreams.
“My day-to-day life is different every day. I am trying to find a balance between prioritizing my daughter, prioritizing being a mom, and prioritizing being an artist. Cause I want to do both and I want to be a really good mom and I want to be a really good artist and some days I think I lean one way or the other,” said Katelyn.
“I have had this really big goal to be known as one of the top Western artists in the country one day, and I’m not there yet. I'm just trying to focus on being really good and just showing up every day and being able to be the best I can be for a lot less time than I used to have."
Photos byScott Del Vecchio
Story byKatie Marchetti Hutton
FeaturingKatelyn R. Betsill
Produced byModern Huntsman
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