Realistic graphite portrait drawings
Barb Benstein, "Cowboy Ron," graphite on Strathmore bristol board, 18 x 14 in.

Meet this week’s top Realism Today Ambassador, Barb Benstein.

My name is Barb Benstein. I am a 29-year resident of Lake Zurich, Illinois. My love of art started at an early age and you could always find me sketching animals, especially horses. My mom says I was born with a crayon in my hand!

“Cowboy Ron” (above) is drawing of my dad. He had wondered why I wanted to draw him, with all his wrinkles, etc. because his face tells a story, and I know that story. It is a story of helping raise 7 children, loving the outdoors and missing my mom who passed away 12 years before. It is my most precious piece of art I’ve ever done.

Realistic pastel paintings of horses
Barb Benstein, “A Pony Known as Satan,” pastel on Wallis sandpaper, 16 x 20 in.
This is a young pony that was rescued from an abusive owner. He is slowly learning that not all people are bad. This painting is depicting the trust he is feeling with his new owner.

Mostly self-taught, I specialize in pastel and oil paintings of people and pets, as well as homes and landscapes. Since 2008, I have been teaching adults and teens at Mainstreet Art Center in Lake Zurich, IL.

There is a story behind every commissioned piece I do. Many times I find myself “caught up in the moment” when working on a painting. I think about why my client wants this painting done and put those emotions into the painting.

Pastel paintings of cats
Barb Benstein, “Cat Mom,” pastel on Pastelmat, 14 x 11 in.
“Cat Mom” is of my daughter holding her latest rescue named Kitty Foreman. I just love the lighting and the look of love and trust coming from both of them.

When I complete a portrait and show it to my client for the first time, the emotional reaction I get tells me I’ve done my job well. That is what I love about painting the most.

When I’m not painting commissions, I love to get outside and do some plein air paintings. I also explore different painting techniques, especially those outside my comfort zone. It’s a wonderful way to grow as an artist.

I have exhibited throughout Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida. I have private collections in the States, Germany, Canada and Japan.

Learn more about the artist at

Related > Browse portrait and figure workshop videos in the style of contemporary realism here.

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