Alice Joy Murphy ‘Paints’ Horses and Pets with Pencils

Santa Ynez Valley Resident Finds Her Creative Passion

Joy Murphy will spend up to 15 hours on a single portrait using a tray of 72 oil-based pencils. | Credit: Courtesy

Alice Joy Murphy grew up in Hampshire, England. From a young age, she was in love with horses. Riding them, caring for them (her first horse was called Barbie), learning about them, jumping over things, and drawing them.

After two years studying art followed by a degree in equine business management, Murphy found herself in banking. An American husband followed, as did two children, and Murphy eventually relocated to the Santa Ynez Valley. Having not done anything art-related in many years, a chance encounter at a local moms’ group would set Murphy on a new path and a new career.

“A couple of women came to speak at my preschoolers’ group,” Murphy said. “They were artists. I saw their work and thought, ‘I can do that.’ So I went home, set up a canvas, and just started painting. I just went mad; it was just something in me. It just all came back, and I didn’t want to stop.”

Initially, Murphy was painting with acrylics on canvas. But as much as she was enjoying her new artistic freedom, something didn’t feel right. “I just wasn’t happy with my style; I just felt it wasn’t developing the way I wanted it to,” she said. “So I thought I’d play around with different mediums. I tried watercolors, and then I tried pencils, and it was like coming home — everything just fell into place. With pencils, what I could see in my head went onto paper in a way that it hadn’t done with paints, and it just totally and utterly flowed.”

Just a few years after her pencil discovery, Murphy has become one of the foremost equine and pet artists in the Santa Ynez Valley. With commissions from Australia, Europe, and all over the U.S., Murphy can draw just about anything she sees. “Most artists plan,” she said. “I don’t plan. I just get a picture and I get a piece of paper, and I go from there.”

Murphy will spend up to 15 hours on a single portrait using a tray of 72 pencils. Not just any pencils, but oil-based pencils that are “lightfast.” They don’t fade in UV light and can be layered up to 23 times. Murphy has been steadily building her portfolio and hopes to turn her passion into a full-time career. Her work can be found at the Outpost Trading Company in Santa Ynez or on her website at


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