“Holbrook Pools” by Ivon Hitchens

Here is a quick sketch started in the midst of a commission.  I want to develop it and am using Ivon Hitchens (above) as inspiration and guide.  He planned his apparently spontaneous and abstractish paintings very carefully, though in fact the actual painting, after much study, often took only a few hours, all in one session.  I like the spontaneity of my sketch but want to take it through a few processes.  At the moment I am drawing the subjects more carefully and considering how to translate the form into simple paint.  I have diverged from the paleish blue green and discovered that a deeper blue looks quite good.  But this is not enough.  I am thinking of taking this stage as the start of an abstraction, which might return to the original subject in a different way.    Today (20.7.21) I experimented further and decided to overpaint the two left-hand ponies.  Actually I am more interested in the right-hand one.  I have placed him in an enigmatic landscape as influenced by Hitchens  I am happy and relieved now that I have broken through the “reality” barrier to a place where this subject could generate much more.  Inspiration, you could term it.

It has been a few months since my last painting post and things have changed a bit.  I realised that I am an abstractionist or a free painter when it comes to using colour!  I also rediscovered acrylics and the possible effects.  It is so much easier than oil in terms of the surfaces it can be used on, the time it takes to dry and the ease of glazing.  I am doing a series of works on card, all about 120 mm square.

At first I was thrilled simply to explore the effects, then I started to think a bit more.  Actually, spontaneity seems to my approach, but it is helpful to look at other people’s images as a nudge.  Today I used a graphic from the front of a Guardian review.  I have been planning to use this as a background to the white horses picture, but started to use to kickstart my painting session today.  I am in no sense copying the image, just taking a few shapes and colours and playing with that.

An in-depth exploration of the anatomy of the horse’s head.   A big project which took me about four months of working several hours EVERY day 7/7, and which includes 45 teaching videos over 10 lessons.  I can highly recommend building an e course as a brilliant way of learning!  I now KNOW the horse’s head.  Sure, I might still need to struggle to get  a good drawing, but I have the foundations so that I know where to look.  Not only that, but I feel confident about making free interpretations and personal expressions.  Find out more:  “Drawing the Horse’s Head”

A thrilling experience to teach at the famous Munnings Museum, near Colchester.  This beautiful house was the home of Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) for much of his life, and when he purchased the house he actually physically transported the large studio by cart from his previous home in Norfolk.  This studio stands in the grounds and is open to visitors, so I could see his actual easels, his plaster anatomical casts of horses and horses’ legs, and his painting kit just as he left it (very clean brushes I noticed) at his death in 1959.

In the house hang many of his most famous paintings and absorbing examples of his energy and his extraordinary skill and ability in painting horses.  As a young man he bought and sold horses as models constantly, learning all the time how to show their form and the colours in their coats as well as their wonderful energy.  He had a wonderful and successful career which enabled him to live in some style.  He also had a house and studio in Chelsea, London, and his wife owned a cottage in Exmoor.

It was fascinating to see his work close up and study how he applied the paint, and most of all, the careful preparation of drawings and sketches before he made the final paintings, which lost nothing of the initial energy and inspiration.

My own class was for drawing only, and we worked energetically through the stages of mark making and proportional principles to memory and personal expression.  The following two days were a chance for the East Anglian painting group to work from real models, including Suffolk Punches and two driving ponies.  Their handlers were dressed for the part in Edwardian outfits.

I am returning to my studio after months of virtual but very real activity, constructing online shops and building an e course.  I am inspired by my trip to the Munnings Museum two weeks ago, where I was teaching a drawing class and then had the opportunity to draw and paint live models for the following two days.  I visited the museum, which has a large and beautifully curated collection of Munnings’ paintings and, this year, his personal letters.

I have returned with a determination to revisit my equestrian paintings started and left unresolved, beginning with this one which is an ongoing project that has baffled me for a long time.  Now I am really focused on understanding the drawing of the ponies and thinking every step of the way to review the colours and composition .

Drawing and painting require totally different parts of my brain, I realise. Quite confusing. For me it is a big leap from “knowing” (thinking hard) to “showing” (not thinking at all). Today did some absolutely necessary thinking with this pony to try and “show” the form of the legs better. Eventually this might translate without thought into paint. Also returned to original project, with slightly more knowledge. To be continued

April to July 2020 I constructed an on-line course “The Art of Drawing Horses” through a Canadian platform called coursecraft.

It was a big learning curve, first to get familiar with the platform layout, and secondly to become confident with using video.  There were more than a few stumbling blocks along the way, as I discovered that my local broadband speed was much too slow to transmit videos!  Many youtube videos later and with the help of a video artist in Edinburgh, and the postal service (yes I had to resort to pen drives to send him my videos) it was completed.  Now I am on superfast broadband, courtesy BT.

I launched it in July and it was an instant success.  I had no idea what the reception would be and how it would work out in practice.  Would I be overwhelmed, and how would I communicate with the participants? Would it make sense to them? One of the main advantages of creating this course was that I had had to dig deep to understand my own process.  I worked through it all , making set after set of drawings, and filming myself. I learned so much about how to combine my energetic and expressive way of drawing with analysis, and then planning to create and select a theme or focus.

Now, nearly 3 months later, I curretly have 28 participants, some of whom have completed the course and sent me their inspirational drawings.   Others connect through the comments sections of the modules or via the group facebook page.  We are about to create a zoom group.

Below you can see something of the materials we used and the stages we go through from free mark making to careful assessment of proportional rules to combining expression and knowledge and drawing from memory to finding a theme.  My next e course is “Drawing the Horse’s Head” available later in 2020.




A new thread while I am working in confined space in my house.  As a follow up to the portrait class I did two weeks ago, I am having a look at the human head and closely studying the shape of the skull and how the features become part of that.

As I cannot go out to sketch people due the coronavirus restrictions,  I practice by pausing the tv when I see a head that interests me, and doing a flash sketch of it.  Practice, practice until it becomes second nature, then I might be able to start creating something.

I welcome the change in routine, it is making me think about what I do in a fresh way and prioritise the threads of teaching, horse drawing, design and experimental art practice differently.

1.4.20  I have made some charcoal drawings of myself and started to translate the tones and planes of my face into paint.  It is quite a challenge to see my face, or anything, in that way, especially when colour is the medium.   But practice is the key.  Also I am making “plane” drawings to help me be clear when I am painting.  But it usually needs a couple of days.




Got stuck while working from a photo, did the tried and tested grid close focus colour matching approach but alas, it did not work, though I did learn something as ever from the frustrating tussle (below left).

Next day looked again at my mentor, Ray Smith, and mixed up four tonal/flesh colours and had another go on different image.  Realised that attempting to capture the elusive flesh colours is impossible (for me at this stage anyway), and in fact as humans our focus on the face is so powerful that it will interpret the features with only a small hint.  Start in this way and build up the colours in relation to each other, going warm or cool or both, however you wish.



Come to a bit of a halt with the momentum of this.  But re discovered this portrait painter from almost 4 years ago, understand it better now



Starting on closer pencil drawings to try and get a likeness.  Here is what I have so far.  *hard work* and not like me.

Here (below) are four paint sketches done May-June 2020 before I temporarily stopped studio work for digital stuff.


Due to the coronavirus, I have moved my workspace to my house and it will take a different direction.  As I will be in a different environment which is less spacious and where I cannot have my current work to hand, I shall be focussing on working from life in the (self) portrait and on small scale studies.  This time will not be wasted and in some ways I am glad to take a break from constant striving and return to technique and detail.  Also I am freshly inspired by my course only a week ago with Alan McGowan.  But I hope this general situation will not go on too long and I will be able to return to my workshop.


Working in my studio is a continual search to and fro for threads and unexpected links which lead to new connections and new ways of seeing and thinking.  I have recently made copies of paintings by Alfred Munnings and now I am working on the amazing horse paintings by Christian Hook and Alex Kanevsky.  Having started a (incomplete so far) study of a Hook work,  I am fascinated by his beautiful energetic drawing and use of paint and colour, which echoes the way I like to draw and work with colour and markmaking.  It is so different from the  more traditional form of equestrian art (eg the Munnings, though he is a good artist)  and truly beautiful.  I am reluctant to show the Hook study in case it is an infringement of his copyright, but there is a rough sketch below which gives an idea.


I wanted to address one of my studies (the one above of the horses resting in a barn) in a similar free way and see what happened.  But this will have to go on hold just now.  I was beginning to see a connection between this “thread” and the drawings and paintings of trees – something about a link between the horses’ legs or lines of their bridles and the shapes of trees.





This was the first time I have worked from life for some time.  I am still in a place where I am experimenting with materials and getting confidence with the oil painting, so also thinking about the drawing and colour in a real life model is quite a stretch for me.  I found that I could sustain my current knowledge/level of expertise for about two days with two different male models, who I already knew, but by the third day I had run out of interpretative energy and the painting went flat.  I did not know the  models for the third and fourth day and also found the modelling of the face on these young female sitters more difficult than in the older male models of first two days. It was less about them as characters and more about their surface features for me.

I wanted to revisit my portrait painting, which I have worked with on and off for the past few years, and definitely felt less overwhelmed by preexisting ideas and the challenge of the live model this time.  I really appreciated these few days of focus on painting, supported by Alan’s expertise and ideas and by a pleasant and dedicated group of fellow painters.  Alan gave us lots of information about using paint and building a painting, and I appreciated his reference to other interesting painters such as Kanevsky and Muira (see below).  At one time these artists seemed a million miles away, now I have a bit more skill with paint, at least enough to try and make some sketches and copies to try and absorb their approach.  And from that to work out my own approach.




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.