In 1859, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was in Cincinnati that Farny received his first training in art. He was able to find work as an illustrator, but eventually moved to New York to work at Harpers' Brothers publishers as a cartoonist and a wood engraver. After an extend trip to Europe, he returned to Cincinnati where he devoted his time to creating illustrations for weekly magazines and children's books.
Farny's best known works took shape after a trip to the West in 1881. During three months in the Dakota Territory, he made sketches and gathered artifacts from the Native American people he met. Upon returning to Cincinnati, he began to paint the nostalgic images of the West that would define his career.
Farny traveled west again only a few times, choosing instead to work as an illustrator and continue his study of the American West through his paintings in Cincinnati. There he became an important member of the arts community and was the founder and director of the Cincinnati Arts Students League.