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We Are Flying Solo

January 17, 2016

Would You Like A Portrait Of Your Horse?

I think of most us would answer yes to that question!  But when I decided to draw one for my friend as a christmas present, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.

Growing up, rarely a day passed when I wasn’t drawing horses with swirling hair & prancing legs (although I didn’t figure out how to draw joints until adolescence, so lots of Gumby-impersonators) in school notebooks, event bulletins, margins of coloring books, anything with a blank space.
The Not-Riding Lessons

When I was 13, mom started dropping me off at evening art lessons once a week.  My teacher, Anneliese, fascinated me:  a German artist, perhaps in her 60s, she had exquisite murals of horses & forests painted on entire walls of her tiny house in a tiny town.  A small room in the back, crammed with 3 rows of easels, her rolltop desk, & a large drawing table, was her classroom/studio – you’d never have guessed she had works hanging in the Library of Congress.

First drawing from class, 1991, "Football Geese," hee
She was a whole kingdom to a kid with an already over-active imagination, complete with royal commandments.  Her master brush was her sceptre as she enforced her edicts:
  • Thou shalt begin with the Strathmore Drawing pad, one Castell 4B pencil for base sketching (made in Germany…so also permissible for dressage), & two extra-sharp Eberhard Faber Ebony charcoal pencils.
  • Thou shalt complete the following subjects:
    • Landscape
    • Still life with fruit
    • Flowers
    • Birds
    • Linear perspective
  • If satisfactory, you may then choose your own subjects (asking “can I do a horse now?” every week will not speed up the process).
It may seem strict, but it was all mixed in fun with her big glass jar of German hard candies, a ridiculous little Maltese who made everyone giggle, her own easy laugh, & the class (nearly all adults, I was the youngest) who all helped each other.

Yes, Hello Kitty sharpener!
Anneliese passed away around my freshman year of high school.  I kept drawing here & there, took a few art courses in college, but life piled up.  So as I dug through boxes, unearthing the Strathmore, now old enough to vote AND drink in the US, it had been a decade since I’d done anything more than doodle on conference programs & meeting minutes at work.

Like Riding A Bike?

Art does have its own muscle memory, same as riding.  My hand & eye still knew equine curves & shadows, but I’d never attempted a portrait before.  Because they’re hard!

You’re not just replicating a horse, you’re trying to capture one unique horse.  Pencil had always been my wheelhouse & animals the subject I understood best, but infusing a drawing with a huge equine personality was a leap I hadn’t successfully made.  I did have a very helpful ingredient on my side:  love for the subject & his owner.

Gotta start somewhere...
Only one way to find out, though.  And worst case scenario, I could make a pact of silence with Mr. Shredder & no one need be the wiser.

So I took a deep breath & laid down some landmarks with the 4B.  Time for the moment (er, hours) of truth.

The heady mix of challenge, excitement, & even catharsis stirred up memories that smelled of graphite, turpentine, the wood-paneled studio walls, heavy archival paper.  You know how you can hear your trainer’s mantras in your head in the warm-up ring?  I could still hear Anneliese’s heavily accent in my pencil strokes:
  • You can always make ze shadows darker, but never sacrifice your highlights, nein.”
  • Pencils, they must never be allowed to get dull!  Sharpen!”
  • The eye, it is everything.  You finish the eye last.”
I’m pretty happy with how it came together – the hardest part was keeping the secret until I could finally pin down friend for the handoff.  I wish I could have framed it properly for her, alas, that always seems to require money!  But I at least found a mat & frame to hold it temporarily, to avoid smudging & so I wasn’t just giving someone a piece of paper.

Here you are then:  Texas Pete, compatriot & favourite riding buddy of Solo’s, a mischievous Polish Arab whom we suspect is actually a monkey with hooves.  Sorry that sucky people who steal things for money cause giant watermarks & low-res photos.

Forgot to take photo before under glass
Le Finale

January 9, 2016

She Moved To Texas But NC Wants Her Back

Belated yes, but I must share the fantastic-ness I got to meet, when Lauren of She Moved To Texas was kind enough to visit us recently.

In town for the holidays, she traversed the wilds of greater Raleigh-Durham to say hello to my two goofy chestnuts in person.

My unconscious motto?
Kudos & thanks to you, Lauren, for putting up with my rambling - my brain switched into OMG A FRESH HUMAN FOR STORIES mode, sigh.  But I think I can safely speak for all residents of Flying Solo Farm when I say that "pleasure" is not an apt enough description.

Actually, I'm sad now, because I want this kind, thoughtful, friendly, smart, creative, patient, funny, & pretty much 100x cooler than me person to move in next door!   (which of my fellow state employee friends do I need to bribe? ;P)

Simon is a very lucky pony & I hope I didn't crazy-scare her too much, as I'd love to do it again, ya know, when it's not freezing & mid-Great Flood with rifles blasting?  I vote riding & sunshine!

Tyrannosaurus Encore attacks Lauren's promising hands...
It's been a helluva...ugh, I don't even like to count time periods shit has been flying for so long for too many of us, thank you for bringing a bright spot with you.  May we all get a bit of breathing space & more good moments in 2016, to string together into a better narrative.

These meetups are one of my favourite gifts of the blogger community I stumbled into 6 years ago.  My life would be that much poorer had I not discovered people like Beka (um, if you haven't read her 2015 recap, go NOW!) and Jenn J and Erica and Amber and Meghann and Jennifer S and Lauren.

There are so many more, both online and (for the brave, LOL) in person, who make this circle of support, commiseration, laughter, & friendly madness of our shared passion so unique & wonderful.

Keep being awesome.  It matters.
"Stuff" optional