Making art – what I have learned so far

As an artist who has worked for many years in several different media, I have realised that for me making art is a dialogue between artist, subject/idea and medium.  Each has its own dimension and language.  The subject can simply be an idea, the medium anything from a phone image/camera to elaborate oil painting or expressive charcoal drawing.  I like digital media because of the freedom and sense of play and exploration that they offer but my favourite media are more physical ones such as paint and drawing materials.  I feel more engaged with my body and whole being when using these traditional image making tools, which have their own language.  Each medium in fact is a language and it takes time to become fluent in any of them.  Personal preference, luck and natural skill comes into it, but practice and fluency is essential if you wish to create spontaneously and have a certain knowledge and control.

The subject can be a physical object or else a thought or feeling such as a memory, idea, concept or sensation.   Whatever it is, it is usually a complex source of investigation, requiring full engagement and knowledge.  Sometimes the artist will already have that deep knowledge from unconscious experience, sometimes a conscious learning effort will be needed to get sufficiently acquainted with the subject.  The aim is to know it so thoroughly that the artist can create and play directly and freely, maybe altering the subject according to how the work develops.

The third (and indispensable!) component is the artist, who always, as a unique human being, has something individual and special to say.  Together with subject and medium, the artist can express personal imagination, passion, curiosity and creativity. The more the artist practices, the more they will engage with and discover a personal language, which constantly throws up surprises and becomes increasingly compelling and satisfying.

My personal favourite subject is the horse.  I have drawn these creatures since I was a child, fascinated by their beauty, form and graceful strength.  There is something about the horse which is deeply symbolic.  Not only have they been an essential practical part of the human experience for millennia until very recently, but symbolically they represent another world, not only of power, speed and energy, but also as intermediaries with the spirit world.  Nowadays we can respect the horse as a companion and guide to a more insightful and accepting way of building our lives. Horses are often used to rebuild confidence and trust in those whose lives have been traumatised in some ways.

They are incredibly beautiful animals, too, and their complex form and dynamic movements make a fascinating and challenging subject for the artist.  This is all adds up to the horse as the ideal source of inspiration which already has engaged the passion of the artist.  But how the artist depicts the creature is entirely personal.  Some might be most comfortable in depicting every feature as precisely as possible in a precise medium such as pencil or pastel.  Others might prefer to express what they perceive as the inner nature and spirit of the horse, using a freer medium such as ink or charcoal.   But either way, a study and awareness of the horse, its being, habits and form is essential if the artist wishes to develop in whatever style. I personally find anatomy an indispensable tool for understanding the bones, muscles and dynamic of the horse, and I constantly return to this reference to refine and strengthen my drawing and painting.

I myself am an expressive artist.  The horse reflects and triggers something deep within me for whatever reason, and it is this personal reaction which is the real event, courtesy of the horse, my catalyst and subject, and the characteristics of the medium that I am using.  Each person has to find their (constantly shifting) balance between these three elements and their own inner artist.  Ideally, try to make work every day.  You will be amazed at how your ideas, intentions, engagement and direction all change.

As you proceed you may find that the work of other artists or teachers becomes relevant and fascinating to you.  My advice is to absorb, copy and then move on.  It is another thrilling step in your artistic development and the endless quest for your own inner truth.  These notes apply to any subject, not simply equestrian art.

Further thoughts:

Sometimes the inner artist needs a break and to let the media and the subject matter do the work.  One way I enjoy this is to copy an artist I admire or want to learn from such as Alfred Munnings, the equestrian artist.  All I have to do is copy and channel his existing decisions with no ego involved.  Delightful! The ultra expressive moments are pretty rare for me.