I am returning once more to this theme after a year (see blog dated 10th October 2020), as I work on paintings that form part of my Edinburgn exhibition scheduled for July 2022.

I am now looking at the subject in a different way, more abstractly, and/or an expression of atmosphere.   That atmosphere, the horses so still in the damp green field, was what drew me to the subject.  I want to do more than literally translate the photo into paint.  Here are some of the sketches, very early stages.  I like the final bright green one best, also I also like the black and white one.

 

Today I decided to work on fairly large sheets of ply (760 x 610 mm) which I had in the workshop.  This is the same size as the more colourful version below, so it will be a set of three paintings!   I used the black and white sketch to make a larger version and tried to get the same runny properties (below top right).  I am not sure if it is successful, the drawing might be wrong, but I quite like it.  I might have another look at it in my next studio session.

I worked very fast on that one, and also on the green one (below right).  It was great to be working on a larger scale.  I think the green one has worked well.  It is so simple and child like but I feel it contains the attitudes of the two ponies and satisfies what I wanted to say.

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This is the second thread on this theme.  It is on board and quite large, and has been in progress for quite a time, years in fact.  I decided to place it on an abstract background from another painting.  It is still unfinished (below left), but I think this could be the solution for the subject in this thread.  When I returned next day I was not happy with it after all.  I was not convinced by the abstract background, and I think the assymetrical position of the horses was a problem, so I altered that and then decided that it looked very cliched.  Eventually it became a complete abstract (below right) which still suggests horses.  So far I feel happy about this.  I would like to work more in this way.  Arrived at studio next day and was not happy with it.  I added a lot of pink paint and then the right hand horse started to emerge.  Let’s see what it looks like tomorrow.  I like the strong shapes and colours now.  I made it darker and emphasized the white horse.

                 

Later I scrubbed all of this out and am returning to original photo (cropped) with understanding that the key to this is not a focus on the horses so much as the whole context.

 

Above (left) is a photograph of the pony cob family in a field near me.  I pass them often in my walks and have a collection of photos.  In this post I describe how I developed the photograph into a more finished art work (right)

The challenge was not to copy the photo exactly but to really grasp the main shapes of the bodies and the markings.   Here are a few of the first drawings I made.

I then explored the shapes with different media  to see if I wanted to make this into an abstract painting

   

 

It was still difficult to get this simple enough, and looking at the drawing (above) with the yellow ground I decided I wanted to focus more on the softness of the horse’s hair and nose, at least for the one in the foreground (below).  I also wanted to bring some colour into it.  I definitely like this combination and the composition, but I still felt that I needed to do more with the horses in the background as I had not really understood either them or the nose.  So I did more  and also introduced a feeling of space by varying the tone of the ground.

   

 

This does work because I have grasped the stance of the two background horses and solved the problem of the overall composition better.  Most importantly, I am satisfied that I have understood the subject sufficiently to work from memory if I wish to.  Also, with time, I might simply work on one of the abstract pieces in itself, having left the original associations behind.  Also I might return to the figurative work after putting it aside for a while.

Painting #2

Now a week or so later I am going to do another of these paintings and hopefully do a series of three.  I started the second one, very similar to the first but with the emphasis on the young horses rather than the mare, and it feels much more straightforward because of my previous work.   Fingers crossed.  Quite nice to be back on figurative ground again after the abstract ones.   I move between the two approaches, different kinds of energy.  Then I moved to a more abstract approach based on one of the drawings. Here are the second and third.

“Almost every decision I’ve made as an artist is an outcome of my particular learning disorders. I’m overwhelmed by the whole. How do you make a big head? How do you make a nose? I’m not sure! But by breaking the image down into small units, I make each decision into a bite-size decision. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. It’s an ongoing process.  The system liberates and allows for intuition.  And, eventually I have a painting.” Chuck Close

 

Gradually capturing the precious moment when I can paint the horse as I want to – freely and strongly.  Here are some quick studies from photos I took in South Africa in February 2020.  I am looking at the main shapes and planes and trying to get the basic colours.  The great thing is that I am now aware of the underlying anatomy and somehow that frees me to paint or draw basic shapes and tones without being preoccupied by surface.  I am very excited.   I can hardly believe it.

 

It has been a journey to get to this point and it is still slippery. Old habits and preconceptions are tough to dislodge.  In recent weeks (below) I have been looking closely at the structure of the shoulder and chest and attempting to go beyond drawing and analysis into colour.  But it is a leap, not a literal translation.  Knowing the underlying form takes care of my anxious brain and allows me to play with the paint.

 

Now I am thinking about movement – how the muscles work in action.  I am starting by drawing from press photos, thinking less of the energy and dynamic and more of what is happening below the surface.

 

 

“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.