Equine Artist

A love of horses was the start of Nanci Fulmek’s career as a portrait artist.
Woodbury native Nanci Fulmek is a “classical realist,” painting portraits of people and animals which are sold all over the world.

Although Fulmek is well-known in Hudson, Wisconsin, as “The Santa Painter”—painting a series on Hudson’s longtime Santa and prints of her work are sold every year at the holidays—it’s actually her love of horses which kicked off her art career and truly remains her passion today. “As a little girl, I loved horses. I couldn’t have one so I thought 'I’ll draw my own,'” Fulmek says. “Instead of growing out of drawing horses as a little girl, it just kept evolving.”

In fact, Fulmek’s first sale was to a racehorse owner at Canterbury Downs when she was just a student at Woodbury High School. “I was 16 and was doodling at work, like you’re not supposed to do, and this guy said, ‘Oh you can draw horses.’ I flipped the paper over and said ‘No, I didn’t,’ like I just got busted,” says Fulmek, thinking she was in so much trouble. “And he said, ‘No, really. Can you draw my horse?’ So I drew his horse and he paid me a lot of money for it, which at 16 was amazing. That led me to believe I could actually do this.”

Even though she was selling her drawings at Canterbury Park, as a high school student Fulmek says she avoided art all together, taking business classes and planning for college and a career in finance. She held jobs in sales and banking, but she continued to consider art as an option. “In 2003, being a business-minded person, I thought I should learn this business of art, so I started working at Kelley Gallery. I needed to start hanging around art people to figure out how this thing works,” she says.

Fulmek eventually pursued formal training at The Atelier in Minneapolis, completing its five-year program, where today she teaches others how to market their art work.

She maintains a job in finance; however, she spends as much time as she can at local barns painting horses. “It’s an awesome job,” Fulmek says. “I get to play with the horses and I make money.”

Fulmek adds that horse people also tend to like dogs. “I get a ton of dog portraits,” she says. Pet portraits of a dog or cat start at a flat rate of $1,500, up to $10,000 if it’s a life-size head study of a horse. Fulmek has painted portraits as large as 40 inches by 60 inches.”

She can paint life-like realism to a style that’s more loose and painterly, depending on what the client requests. Her portraits take at least 40 hours of work to upwards of 200 hours. She paints from both live study and photography. “I do as much from life as I can. It might take 100 different photos to put together that picture of what a subject actually looks like,” Fulmek says.

Most of Fulmek’s artwork can be found at Kelley Gallery in Woodbury. The rest of her work is sold hanging at the barns and online.