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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

28 comments:

  1. Great job! You are indeed a woman of many talents, and don't let your overactive brain tell you otherwise. :)

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    1. Hee, thanks - someday I'm going to be the boss of my brain (insert brain laughter). It was also nice that Pete is dark brown!

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    2. Ha! I should have you draw Vannah for me. She's all white ;)

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    3. I'm open to commissions, LOL! I've done a palomino, I don't know that I've ever done a white horse, that would be an interesting challenge!

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  2. Great job. Woman of many talents, for sure!

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    1. Thank you much -- although I put myself in the same category as Encore: plenty of talents, but they are rarely synonymous with "useful," hahhaa!

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  3. Hey!! This looks really good. One of my goals this year is to learn to draw better. I can't really draw well at all.

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    1. Thanks, Julie -- the pics didn't post very well, I might have to add a better one...when not using my own interwebz data, hee. Definitely have fun playing with drawing!! There's really no such thing as wrong unless you're not enjoying it. I've never been very good at working in colour (mixing oil paint was like alchemy to me), but I started playing with it again about a month ago -- I googled a few tips (no Google back then, LOL) and then just messing around, am learning all sorts of interesting things (who knew blue was not actually a primary colour...srsly, google it, hahahaha).

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  4. Thank you all very much for your kind words! <3 If you'd like your own copy of the incredible "Football Geese," it's on sale for a limited time only!! XD

    But I enjoyed the process so much, I've missed it, but art's a funny thing -- you can't MAKE it happen, you have to wait around until the vibe is flowing. Although chocolate helps, heehee.

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  5. AM sending chocolate!! altho' not today.... Gorgeous job...

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    1. Well, it won't melt, haha. Yum, thanks, I used all mine up, but it was fantastic. ;)

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  6. Replies
    1. Thank you -- it is a little more public friendly than one of my other talents for saying exactly the wrong thing very loudly at exactly the wrong time, LOL.

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  7. Wow - amazing job! I miss art and sketching...I was never that good though!

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    1. Don't worry, there are lots of absolutely butchered critters -- the worst are people. I cannot draw humans to save my life!!! Stick people all the way!

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    1. Thanks - love your jump pic in your avatar!!

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  9. Wow, impressive work! I love the detail in his face. What a special gift!

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    1. I did have the most fun with his face- he's so freaking cute anyway! He has crazy thick hair though - I did several variations on that and I still will do the next one differently!

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  10. I have a modicum of artistic talent but THAT, my friend, is really something! I'm sure that Texas Pete's mom is absolutely thrilled. :) My dear friend lost her horse (who I often rode) last fall and I've thought about attempting a portrait, but I know I'd be in over my head. I never had any lessons, for one thing! Horses are literally the only things I CAN draw, though, and I'm with you - forget about people. Impossible.

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    1. Awe, I'm so sorry to hear about your friend's horse. 😞 If you have any clear photos, let me know if I can help! Here's to Stick People Not- Anonymous, hee. The horses are cuter anyway. ;-)

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  11. That is fantastic!!! Good job! For some reason I absolutely fail at drawing horses, which is weird since that's what I drew the most as a kid. I'm wondering if it's because I ingrained too many bad habits drawing them with no instruction lol. *shrug* You definitely have some muscle memory and a lot of talent. I love it!

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    1. Thank you! I still envy those people who can just draw amazing things with nothing to look at, I have to have a reference -- but when they turn out funny looking, you can always just say it was product of poor breeding, hahaha!

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