Members of his family said that Orren Mixer was "born under a wandering star." Mixer was born in 1920 in Oklahoma City, where his father owned an upholstery shop. At the ripe old age of nine, he began to travel around the state, living with various relatives, following the harvest or working odd jobs. Everywhere he went, Orren Mixer was around horses and cattle, the two things he loved.
Mixer dreamed of becoming an animal artist, but after the death of his mother, the dream seemed far away. He "reckoned what art school would cost and never could see any way to get the tuition paid. After finishing high school, he took a job lettering decorative signs for displays in shop windows. His dream of becoming an animal artist lay buried beneath the mechanics of making a living. "Then one of my teachers, Ruth Chadwick, got in touch with me. She had sent some of my drawings to the Art Institute in Kansas City, and they decided to give me a scholarship. At the end of his second year at the Institute, Mixer packed a couple of tin suitcases painted silver and hitchhiked to New York City, where he worked in a commercial art studio running errands and illustrating song sheet covers, making $5 a sheet He supplemented that income over his lunch hour by drawing on penny postcards.
In 1941, he hitchhiked back to Oklahoma City and married his high school sweetheart, Evelyn Leonard. The newlyweds made their way to California along Route 66. In addition to a regular job, Mixer took pictures of rodeo action on weekends. He sold the photos for a dollar apiece. That same year, Mixer saw his first magazine cover published. The April issue of Hoofs and Horns featured Mixer’s painting On Guard.
In 1942, Mixer was hired by General Dynamics, in San Diego, California, to draw designs for military aircraft; he later transferred to Fort Worth. At the end of 1942, he joined the U.S. Navy and was transferred to Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in the visual aids center illustrating training manuals. Mixer made his living by the military job he worked from 9 to 5, but he took every chance he got to paint pictures of his beloved horses, cattle and western lands. One evening, he and Evelyn took two oil paintings and one watercolor to the local Abercrombie and Fitch to see if they would sell. "I guess Chicago liked my style," said Mixer, "because we sold two of the paintings before we left the store…that’s when I decided I might make it as an artist." At age twenty-six, Mixer fulfilled his childhood dream and became an animal artist. Mixer’s celebrity as Western artist started during the 1950s and 1960s. Livestock, particularly horses, became his specialty, and his work graced the covers of The Quarter Horse Journal, Western Horseman, Cattleman and Oklahoma Today. Mixer painted many champions in the show ring and on the track through the years, and even painted three horses belonging to President and Mrs. Reagan. He made the frames for all of his paintings in a whood shop at his home, and each frame had an added touch.
In 1968, the American Quarter Horse Association public information committee commissioned a portrait of an "ideal" American Quarter Horse. Mixer depicted the ideal American Quarter Horse, Pinto, Paint, Palomino, Appaloosa, Buckskin and Pony of the Americas. Mixer’s paintings number in the thousands and are scattered all over the world. He even painted a portrait of famed Mexican singer and movie star Vicente Fernandez. A friend to horse and horseman, Orren Mixer was a man who just wanted to take pictures, and maybe get around to painting a few of them. He once said he didn’t want people to mourn him after he was gone. "If you come to my funeral, you smile, because I’ve enjoyed my life." Renowned equine artist Orren Marion Mixer, Jr., died on April 29, 2008 at 87 years old.
Orren Mixer didn’t earn his fame with a horse, but rather with a paintbrush.