I’ve watched Jan Lukens stick to his goals for years despite the many twists and turns his career has taken. We were studying commercial art and advertising design in 1978 when he took a job as an art director for an ad agency. In 1980, after working for a few agencies, he began freelancing as a graphic designer and then as an illustrator until 1992 when he left advertising after feeling burned out.
Lukens had an idea that people who owned horses would be interested in paintings of their horses. He called a dressage trainer who referred him to Parker Minshin, who not only invited him to her stables but also helped him select, groom and pose horses for his reference photography. “That was my first break, back in 1992,” Lukens said. “I did several spec paintings, framed them, printed up business cards and became a horse show vendor.”
Yet, he left his first two shows in Blowing Rock and Asheville with no commissions.
When Lukens visited his friend, Pattie Harris Boden, an art director who rode hunters (a type of horse in competitive horseback riding), she noted that few horse painters could paint people as well as he did and suggested he paint a girl with a horse. Minshin was happy to have him paint her 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer, with her hunter. This painting landed him three commissions at a Raleigh horse show and a new client, Joanne Boyd.
Lukens recalled the day he photographed Boyd with her horse, “she liked my work and said if I came to Birmingham, Alabama, she’d throw a cocktail party and invite her equestrian friends.” Three months later, Lukens left that party with 13 portrait commissions.
“That’s when I realized I could make a career out of this,” he said. “I owe my success in equestrian portraiture to a handful of generous, influential people who just wanted to help me succeed. Parker and Joanne were the first.” He added, “I enjoyed the equestrian community, painting portraits, and being outside with the horses. My new career really suited me.”