Beth contacted me requesting that I transform the vision she saw of her horse, River, into a painting. Initially I was hesitant because horses are not my expertise and I know there are many equine artists. She insisted that I be the one to paint her beloved River, because she loves my use of color and my other paintings. Not to be deterred by a challenge, I said, “Yes.” Living in the countryside of Colorado also helps, because I literally have horses across and up the street from me.
River left this earth in 2014, and Beth has commissioned me to paint the image she saw in her vision shortly after he died. In my process of creating custom paintings, I always conduct on in depth interview. This is essential for me and the client because it helps me to begin to envision the ultimate painting. Photo resources were collected and internet research to conducted to gather up images for me to use. Here is River looking out from his barn. Isn’t he a handsome dude? I understand he was quite the character as well.
As a result of the interview and photo references, my image of River started to develop in my minds eye. Once we agreed on the ultimate size of the painting, I then asked Beth to approve a sketch. It took a couple a sketches and then she agreed upon this one. The goal at this stage is to get the positioning, action and proportions correct. Other details will be worked out later as I paint.
The next phase in the development of this horse painting, involves transferring a 5×7 sketch onto a 18×24 canvas. I use the grid drawing system which has been around for centuries. First, the sketch has to be drawn in proportion to the canvas size. Then I draw in the grid lines. I should mention that Beth had approved the color palette I am to use and you can see it here. This color scheme was one I created based on our interview, River’s coloring and the spirit of the painting.
Before any paint is applied, I need to prepare the canvas. Three layers of gesso, which is similar to yogurt in consistency, are applied with a large palette knife. I do this because I do not like the mechanical texture of canvas and prefer a subtle organic texture.
I then screwed the canvas onto a piece of insulation board. Why? Because it is highly probable that River will be shipped before he is completely dry. I will explain how this comes into play in a later blog. Here you can see the canvas attached to the insulation, on my easel and ready for paint.
Okay, it is finally time to see this horse evolve into a painting! Before I draw the sketch onto the canvas, I want to apply the underpainting using acrylics. Here you can see my actual palette where I am just using red, yellow, blue and white. That is a 2″ wide synthetic brush and I use a butcher tray for my painting palette.
With my color palette in mind and knowing the approximate placement of River within the picture plane, I applied some soft yet vibrant colors. Notice that my brush strokes are diagonals (it may be difficult to actually see the strokes in the photo, but they are there). The diagonal line conveys energy and I want to communicate this because he will be cantering out of a cloud-like vision. In contrast, if River was to be standing quietly in a pasture my brush strokes would be horizontal.
Once this layer dried, I then used a pastel pencil to draw in the grid lines that correspond with my sketch. The gird lines serve as guidelines for drawing a line drawing of River onto the canvas.
How do you react to these colors? Did you ever think it took these many steps in the painting process before paint was ever applied to the horse? What are your overall reactions as you watch this horse painting of River evolve? Feel free to share this demonstration with others. Everyone is welcome to come along on this artistic journey.