Amy Runyen is a contemporary painter who uses a collage aesthetic to create new creatures from human and animal parts. Her works explore human emotions and behaviors through her perception of the animal kingdom. She grew up in a rural area, riding horses daily and spending a lot of time with various pets. These early connections to animals fostered and interest and empathy for them that influences her work today. Amy’s fine artwork has been shown in galleries domestically and internationally. She has written and illustrated ten art educational books for Walter Foster Publishing. In the Pomona Arts Colony, she collaborated on the Envisioning the Future mural in association with Judy Chicago. She earned her BFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design and her MFA in drawing and painting from California State University, Long Beach. She is an Associate Professor at Golden West College in the Art Department. She lives and works in South Pasadena, CA.  

Original Art by Amy Runyen


The content of my work is driven by a desire to analyze and depict my emotions in a rational manner. Blending human, animal, and botanical parts is a way for me to compare behaviors between our species and others, much like artists have been doing for millennia. Creating work that addresses the commonalties our species shares with most of the other living beings on earth are my way to contextualize and understand behaviors to empathize with all living species. Shifting naturalistic colors to my subjective preferences personalizes and reconceptualizes my relationship to the subjects. Exploring hybrid constructions of humans and the natural world allows me to investigate underlying, universal themes like love, fear, desire, and anger. Becoming a mother myself has currently focused my interest on the shared experiences of all parents, human and animal alike.

Instagram: @amyrunyen  

Original Art by Amy Runyen

How has your relationship with art changed over time?

When I was a younger artist, I used to look to sociopolitical topics that frustrated me as subjects for my work. I felt like I needed to make visual statements on the difficult issues that vexed me. I thought that my art was a healthy place to put those feelings and make them seen. However, I am in a place now where I want to make work that contributes something positive to the world, a better vision, a way of connecting. I think this evolution reflects my maturity and personal growth. That’s not to say that I don’t still like the work of other artists who source their wounds to make work, but in my experience, I am finding far more fulfillment in exploring love and beauty than I do projecting the suffering in the world as I see it.  

Where do you find inspiration? What drives your work?

The human relationship with the natural world is the well from which I draw inspiration. Afterall, we’re human animals, so I like to explore the ways in which we are just like the other beings that share our planet. How can we gain deeper insights into our own patterns of behavior by comparing them to those of other animals? How can we see more beauty in ourselves and the world around us through appreciating botanical forms laced with our own? Since becoming a parent several years ago, I have focused those questions on the topic of motherhood and all the ways that role manifests in each of our lives. For example, one piece featured here, Tutela Mater (“Protector Mother” in Latin) depicts a human/cheetah mother scanning the horizon, looking for threats so she can protect her babies. For material, I spend a good amount of time researching animal behaviors, looking at nature photography, and looking at art of course. All those things get me excited to make work.

What is your favorite part of your process?

My favorite part of my process is having the studio time to execute my ideas! As a full-time art professor and mother of two, getting studio time is tough. When I can be in the studio and continue my thoughts to make a consistent body of work, I love to be able to flesh out the ideas I’ve hastily sketched down in a rush. I genuinely love the painting process in all its stages, so the simple act of painting is my ultimate favorite. Listening to music or a podcast and just laying paint to support is my happy place.  

What is one thing about your art and/or practice that our audience may not know?

I wish I could say that there’s some big mystery, but I don’t think that there is. Perhaps people may not realize that I use my own body as a reference for 99% of my paintings. I go outside in the late afternoon to capture good light and shadow shapes and I shoot a ton of photos using the timer on my phone camera. Often, I’ll have to reshoot again the next day because it’s hard to really see what you’re doing in regard to pose and composition when you’re the subject.  

What does your dream piece/project look like?

It’s pretty simple, I would love to have a solo show at a reputable gallery. I also want my pieces to grow larger and more complicated, with multi-layered painted planes protruding into space.

Amy Runyen