July 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog.  Charlie Longsdon Racing

Dropout Joe:

A  racing painting completed in time for the exhibition next month. An oil on canvas, featuring the fabulously named Dropout Joe.  I noted him with interest at the Owners Day Parade last year. A handsome chestnut, with distinctive white blaze, he is depicted in a loosely handled painting style, travelling full speed towards the viewer. Horses approaching the jump in the background are out of focus, rendered in broken strokes of paint, adding depth and vitality to the composition. This 'portrait' is all about movement and the vibrant orange and blue silks of the jockeys presented a dramatic dash of colour with a hot/cool temperature dynamic.

Cotswold Life Interview feature:

Delighted to have had the Artist residency featured in Cotswold Life Magazine in a follow up article to the one published last October when it all began. A big thank you to Assistant Editor Candia McKorrmack for her interest and support.

 

June 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog.  Charlie Longsdon Racing

I am now bringing together a body of work,  done over the last year, comprising sketches , watercolours, oils  and portraits, ready for the Residency Exhibition on Owners Day at the stables in August. Alongside the more formal portraits and large scale canvases, I have been taking advantage of the recent sunny weather and enjoying getting out into the fields at Hull Farm  to add some loose, informal sketches of the horses grazing, as they enjoy their well earned summer break. This photo taken in the studio, shows  some of these rapidly executed, on the spot sketches,  done as the horses move continuously around the field in groups, forming fluid shapes, patterns and compositions.

Next month, on July 30th, I will be tutoring a sketching workshop at the stables, with subjects ranging from horses on the gallops, to field grazing studies and equine portraiture back in the yard. Further information can be seen on the tuition section of my website.

 

May 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog. Charlie Longsdon Racing.

Leith Hill Legasi Portrait:

This last week saw the completion of a dynamic racing portrait of Leith Hill Legasi, commissioned by her delightful owners, Neil and Jane Maltby. This large scale watercolour shows the little mare racing at Lingfield last year. Stretching ahead over the jump, alongside larger rivals, she went on to win the race. This painting, whilst an accurate portrait of the mare and highlighting the distinctive orange and green silks of the Maltbys, conveys a sense of speed and endeavour and the thrill of the race itself!. The composition and placement of each horse and jockey within the group as a whole is key to the portrayal of what may have been a defining moment. as she took the lead.

 

April 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog. Charlie Longsdon Racing.

This month with the amazingly sunny and warm Spring weather, i have been enjoying getting outside once more with my sketchbooks. It is great to see the horses at Hull  farm turned out in the afternoon sun again. Together with sketching, I have also been working on a large scale oil painting showing Charlie's horses in training riding out on the gallops. In contrast to the usual speedy fly past, watercolour sketches i was painting last year , this larger composition catches the quieter moment when the long line of horses emerge in relaxed procession from under the dark trees at the top of the gallops and walk down the hill on the outside of the white rail, before turning to return at full stretch. It is a magical moment and a lovely scene. The pictures below illustrate the progression of this composition from an initial exploratory sketch in sanguine pencil, to a small oil colour sketch and finally the large scale composition in oils, showing the dramatic backdrop and light that plays out up there on such a morning. 

   

March 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

March has been an exciting month, with all the buzz of The Cheltenham Festival and new portrait commissions coming in as the season reaches its peak. . and winners accrue.  When not actually at the races, i have been glued to the fantastic Channel 4 Racing coverage for an intensive few days, enjoying the background stories and interviews and the spectacular races themselves. The  brave horses, and jockeys, the flashing silks, packed grandstands and concourse and the thrilling atmosphere created a memorable Festival and especially so with the fairy tale ending of Coneygree's win of The Gold Cup.

This month in contrast to the watercolours  featured in the February blog, I have been working up a couple of portraits in oils,  shown below. Both are Cheltenham pictures. The first is a close up composition of Noel Fehily riding Grandads Horse. A lively double portrait, capturing the dynamic directly after a race, when the adrenalin charged horses return back down the side of the track, all pumped up, nostrils flared and with heads held high. A dramatic sight of contained energy  in one of the less traditionally painted scenes. In the background i  have painted a suggestion of crowds and racecourse,  fading to the muted colours of Cleeve Hill in the far distance. The vibrant black and yellow silks together with the dark coat  of the horse are to the fore,  accentuating  the taut posture and expression of horse and jockey. 

The second oil is a small scale, generic Racing scene,  loosely handled in style and brushed on to linen. Here the location and atmosphere are as important as the individual horses. Cleeve Hill in soft tones forms a spacious backdrop behind the line of dark horses in silhouette, caught as they approach the start. They are viewed from a  distance, removing detail, forming an extended mass of limbs, heads and contained energy as they proceed forward to start.  I played down the individual colours of the silks, to achieve more tonal fluidity in  the scene.

 

February 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

This short month has rushed by and with the heavy ground and many cancelled race meetings, I have been based mainly in the studio. And working up some portraits of horses in training at the yard. Grandads Horse has caught my attention. He is a striking looking dark horse, and very popular at Hull Farm. I sketched him at Cheltenham earlier in the season and had him pose at the yard recently for his head portrait. The almost black depth to his glossy pre winter coat was transformed with the winter clip to a soft pewter. Lovely to paint, and with the low sun pointing up the reddish tint to his ears and warmer tones in his coat. His head portrait in watercolour and charcoal is completed, and I am now progressing with a smaller oil painting of him, being ridden by Noel Fehily, in the owners dramatic black and yellow silks at Cheltenham. Here, I catch the moment of him returning down the rail after the race is over, all pumped up, head tossed high, a close up composition to best portray both horse and jockey. And create a sense of occasion and setting, with the contours and soft winter colours of Cleeve Hill visible behind the stands in the background. This painting will be posted on the blog later in the season.

 

There are many ways in which to approach a racehorse portrait. Personality, spirit, speed and drama are what I most like to express. The classic head, as shown above, allows a close up more intimate study, particularly expressive of the eye which displays so much character and personality. An alternative idea is to paint a group of smaller 'vignettes' or studies together on a large sheet or canvas, affording a variety of angles within the one picture. This is what I did in the watercolour shown here of Ely Brown. The looser style conveys a sense of speed and space, with the focus on the horse in action. The rich colours of his bay coat and the owners orange silks are displayed against a suggestion of green course, without the distraction of a crowded field and a multitude of clashing silks to distract!. Multiple study Vignette portraits may include a series of studies of a particular horse on a particular race day. Telling a story in paint, starting with a paddock parade scene, then with the jockey on board, and during and after the race itself, providing a unique record for posterity.

 


January 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

Back to business mid January, and a busy studio! I spent the last month in Washington DC and Philadelphia.  And i must say, although this time,  a horse free trip, (bar the occasional sighting of riders on the trail in Rock Creek Park), I have returned  much inspired by some of the fabulous paintings we saw in the Art Museums, in both cities. Most notably at The Barnes Foundation. Also the Wyeth Art Museum near Philadelphia, where I had the pleasure of seeing a collection of  original watercolour paintings by Andrew Wyeth, at a converted mill,  by the creek, in the Brandywine Valley,

December was a busy time leading up to Christmas,  and saw the completion of several racehorse portraits.  This looks set to continue over the coming months with new commissions coming through, which is great.  With the National Hunt Season in full flow, it will be an exciting and action packed time ahead at Hull Farm.

Portrait of Tidal Way

I was commissioned to paint this stunning looking horse as a Christmas present for his owner, Harold Peachey by his wife Carole.  With deep grey, dappled coat and alert expression, Tidal Way was a delight to paint. I chose watercolour mixed with charcoal, a perfect  mixed media combination in which to convey his darkly dappled, marbled markings and also the detail in his eye, so clear in shape and expression against his lighter toned head.

 

Studio dynamic

At this time of year, with the intense cold and wet weather, I am rather more studio based, and this week have been sifting through all the sketches and photographs I have gathered at Hull  Farm and at the races, since the residency started last August. Plein air painting is on hold for now!. The collection of sketched material is full of interesting possibilities for potential paintings. It is exciting to see a body of work develop in this way, taking on a life of its own and suggesting new ideas, when viewed as a whole.  Also good to be  working on larger compositions at the easel, using my sketches as source material. New riding out scenes, painted  in oils, and racing compositions are emerging, alongside larger scale, loose, charcoal drawings. Here is a picture of a series of watercolours completed last year (one of which was used as the CLR Christmas card design).  Plus a snap of works in progress in a corner of the studio....

 

November 2014  - Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing

A quick sketch in the fields at Hull Farm

With late summer extending into the wonderfully mild first week of November, I took the opportunity to sketch outside one sunny afternoon, while the horses were turned out. The winter light cast long shadows and the horses illuminated in their pink winter rugs were enjoying the sun and fresh air en masse out in the long field. It was interesting to contrast their newly rugged contours against the sleek summer curves I had sketched back in August. I only had a brief window before they would be called and whistled in, but time enough to watch their movements, their altered contours, with the stiff rugs and the sharp difference in light from that of the hot summer months. I chose multiple, speed abstract sketching on one page to explore the atmosphere, light and compositions they displayed as they constantly moved around, grazing in groups. All too soon the lads had returned and were bringing them back in to the yard as the light faded.

 An afternoon at Warwick Races

My first visit to Warwick Racecourse and fortunately, as with Cheltenham last month, the light was ideal. I liked the smaller venue and friendly atmosphere both at the paddock and in the Trainers Bar where I met up with a few of the owners of the horse, Crack of Thunder, ridden on this occasion by Charlie Deutsch,  that Charlie was running that afternoon. Sadly he wasn't placed, but the afternoon was a most enjoyable one. I shall certainly return to Warwick to sketch again. Seeing the horses race silhouetted against a late  Autumn backdrop stretching along the hill and with a low slanting sun was memorable. And afterwards as I travelled back with Albert in the lorry, the sunset all along the Fosseway and through the Shipston Valley was amazing. A deep rose copper that seeped and reflected in purple hues  across the land and drenched the now almost denuded trees and hedgerows in a deep gold light. An awesome display of early winter radiance. I love this time of year when the sun starts to set early, then escalates and descends rapidly at the end of the day, with dramatic skies, making up for the loss of daylight hours. 

   


23rd October 2014  - Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing

Cotswold Life Magazine Article

Great to see the article about the residency featured in the November issue of Cotswold Life Magazine.  

A day at the Races : Cheltenham, October 17th

After a few weeks of sketching on the gallops and in the yard at Hull Farm, today I go to the races with the team to watch two of Charlie's horses in training run. It is great to be back at Cheltenham for the first meeting of the season, and this time with the specific purpose of observing  the day from start to finish from the CLR team perspective.  A day at the races is a wonderfully vivid visual spectacle. I know it will present a multitude of ideas and creative possibilities, but today, the first race day as Artist in Residence, I choose to narrow my focus to the two CLR runners and follow their journey.  

I join up with Albert and Jason at the yard first thing, and after loading the horses we set off for Cheltenham. It is a glorious Autumn morning and the drive through the Cotswolds landscape via Stow on the Wold and Ford is even more stunning when viewed from the high up cabin of the lorry. This would make a perfect mobile painting studio for winter landscape trips! With the trees displaying their rich array of autumn colours and the sun shining across soft plough and pale stubble, I couldn't have wished for more perfect conditions.  From the racing point of view, no matter how dry it is today, all the recent heavy rain has made the going heavy for the runners. On arrival i watch the lorries from various familiar training yards come and go, unloading their high performance, high value competitors. In amongst the prospective runners, my eye is drawn to a somewhat incongruous pairing. A handsome bay horse emerging from his lorry and being led away with his stable and travelling companion, a characterful skewbald Shetland pony by his side! With the horses unloaded and settled, Albert shows me the weighing in room where he signs in Charlie's runners and helpfully explains when and where the horses will be warming up before they enter the parade paddock prior to each race.  Frampton is running first, in the Novice Hurdle, followed by Grandad’s Horse in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle. Noel Fehily is the jockey for both rides. 

With a little time to go before the first race, I watch the growing swarm of visitors and admire this unique course setting. Cleeve Hill in the background creates a dramatic hillside vista that curves around the course. A group of stewards and Trainers are walking the course, checking the ground. Recent refurbishments have certainly improved the visitor experience, and the building work to extend the grandstand is now well under way.  I sit in the sun and make some rapid abstract colour sketches of the hillside view from the grandstand. There is nothing like painting on the spot to immerse ones attention into the scene and connect with the atmosphere, and this is the only sketching opportunity today that won't be dealing with a high motion subject! Other race goers meet, greet and mingle out on the green turf in front of the stand, sitting on the wooden benches, enjoying the warm autumn sunshine and the views out to Cleeve Hill. A peaceful and calm prelude to the thrill of the action to come. I make a mental note that on a future visit, it would be interesting to sketch the crowds, describing the abstract patterns and interesting compositions they form along the rail and packed in tiered rows up the grandstand. Colour, gesture and movement to describe the upbeat roar of the crowd as they watch the horses make their ascent through the final furlongs to  the finishing post. 

Forty minutes before the first race, Frampton, led by Jason, steps out looking smart, and calm, into the pre parade ring. This is a good opportunity for me to study him quietly from the raised viewing steps as he circles and then continues through to the main paddock where the atmosphere and visual dynamic changes dramatically.. A feeling of keen anticipation and tension predominates. Trainers and Owners in their racing best form close groups in the centre, while their horses are paraded. Then the jockeys emerge together from the weighing in room, always a great moment.  A visual explosion of high toned, brilliantly coloured and patterned silks and glittering whites enters the arena, a fabulous subject for painting. They greet the trainers, mount the horses and are exit the paddock. Noel Fehily is in emerald green and white silks and I take some interesting portrait shots of him as he waits with Charlie for Frampton to come alongside. As they are led away down through the arch towards the start, I dart around to the course rail to take some long distance shots of the start, a closer range first circuit and finally Frampton coming home in 4th place, having jumped well all the way round. 

   
   
   

Grandads Horse is next on my agenda... and this time Albert leads him into the ring, joined by Jason in the paddock. A large dark, strong looking horse with white blaze, he looks well in the parade ring and with a much larger field for this race, there is a palpable buzz amongst the spectators. Noel in black and yellow silks this time, makes a striking visual combination on the big dark horse. Once they are off, with 17 runners it is more challenging to track the individual, but the large grouping produces some fantastic compositions as they fly past. and away. Another respectable result ensues, with Grandads Horse finishing seventh out of 17 runners and qualifying in the process. Once again, I am drawn to the sight of the horses returning slowly down the side of the racetrack, sweaty and hot, their nostrils dilated, white foam at their mouths, ears pricked and with mud spattered jockeys. Job done. The talent of both horse and jockey, the sheer courage, stamina and hard work involved and particularly on such soft ground is admirable.

   
   
   

Back at the loading up point, I notice the dark bay with his Shetland pony companion again and have a chat with his handler. She tells me this racehorse is called Thomas Crapper and his little chum who he never travels without  is Tommy ... and is delighted that Thomas Crapper had a good race, coming in 3rd. We load up and drive back to Hull Farm, Albert is well pleased with the performance of each horse and after a hectic week, looking forward to some well-deserved time off at the weekend!

The horses will be let out in the field tomorrow to relax and recover their energy.  And my head is spinning with images of this stimulating day ... with sketches and paintings to follow in due course ...

23rd September 2014  - Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing

Early morning on the gallops

The shapes of the landscape are now softened and muted with the quieter hues of late summer. Across the valley a pale shaft of sunlight picks out the honeyed Cotswold houses and church of Great  Rollright. The grass is drenched with dew and the sun fades as rain clouds begin to form. Not ideal conditions for sketching or photographing form, which dissolves tonally in low light. I notice when the visual stimulation of contrasting tones and bright colour is reduced, the other senses kick in more powerfully. Today Rooks are flying over the nearby woods, their raucous calls drowning out the softer birdsong from nearby hedgerows. There is one persistent rook mobbing a buzzard noisily above the wood, in acrobatic display.

From where I stand , I notice for the first time a new perspective. Looking down the slope to the circular start rail, a miniature tableau of horses circle, before they power up the track and streak past in pairs. In the subdued light, each group displays a subtle variety of tones and markings, blazes and socks flashing up white highlights within a muted bay group.

Back at the yard

 

Today there is busy preparation for Owners Day, I chat with Sophie about preparations and a display of paintings . And sketch activities in the yard all morning, cups of tea are kindly brought at intervals, and promptly lapped up by Bramble, a busy little terrier who is always pottering around !. Becky, a young student, who is doing work experience rakes and shakes out the straw in the boxes, chatting comfortingly to the horses as she works, a great subject for sketching while I wait for the riders to return.

The horse are cooled off after the ride, in the carousel walker, with only their ears and the upper slope of their backs visible as they go round and round. Today some of them are put in pink rugs before being turned out. With the sun still shining, I return in the afternoon to sit amongst and sketch the large number of the horses now turned out in the top long field. Head Lad, Alan 'Rochey' tells me of friendships formed  within the group, how some of the horses bond, and how valuable it is for them to be outdoors like this,  before the autumn chill comes. They are happy horses....

Photo shoot for Cotswold Life Magazine

Early, up on the gallops and then back in the yard with Gavin from AIR taking photographs for the Cotswold Life Magazine feature  (November issue), and AIR website . Fantastic day for it, good light and some interesting shots. 

Owners Day

© Astrid Harrisson Photography 2014 www.astridharrisson.com  
   
© Astrid Harrisson Photography 2014 www.astridharrisson.com

Saturday 13th, and the sun is shines on Owners Day. The yard is spotless and the horses are beautifully turned out for the parade. We display a selection of my equestrian paintings and drawings around the lunch marquee, between the vibrant silks that dazzle on the rail. It is great to meet so many enthusiastic owners and syndicate members, chatting about their horses, discussing portrait commissions, (particularly for the winners!) and hearing historic racing stories. The perfectly organised parade of horses proceeds at 11am. Sketching from the back of the ring, i become lost in concentration as my pencil follows the hypnotic procession of over 70 circling horses having their star turn in the ring, Charlie gives an impressive commentary on the history, performance, future plans and hopes for each one. I am amazed at how he manages this without referring to notes!. A group of engaging young bays grazing in the field behind us line up behind the gate to spectate, wondering what all the fuss is about....an irresistible subject for a thumbnail sketch. Spectator owners create a picture too as they sit  behind the white picket fence, inspecting each horse and considering future prospects and purchases.... Artist  Jeremy Houghton who recently completed his own 'artist in residencies' at Highgrove and Royal Windsor, and has a retrospective exhibition currently showing at The Ashmolean Museum in Broadway, introduces me to Equine Photographer, Astrid Harrisson, who is photographing the parade. A more local subject for her than the international equine photography of recent years as seen in the stunning book 'The Majesty of the Horse'. A delicious lunch in the marquee afterwards rounds off a great day. 

Links:

www.jeremyhoughton.co.uk

www.astridharrisson.com

 

Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing 2014/15

This blog, updated once a month, aims to share some of my experiences  as  Artist in Residence at  Charlie Longsdon Racing, Oxfordshire, from August 2014 through to September 2015. It will be as much sketching with words' as a collection of photographs and sketches. Descriptive writing forms a key part of my practice and helps capture the essence of time and place, an invaluable accompaniment to drawn sketches.  I expect the first few visits and resulting blogs will be mainly observational, about immersing myself in the atmosphere, at Hull Farm, with sketching and studio work progressing throughout the year as I explore and discover what I connect with and feel most moved to paint. This is an exciting project, with access to the stables and gallops and days at the races providing inspiration for painting both on the spot and back at the easel in my studio in Chipping Norton.

Visitors are most welcome to come to my studio to see works in progress throughout the year.  Please arrange an appointment first!

Contact details are on my website:  www.melaniewrightartist.co.uk

Telephone: 07792 580788.

A meeting with Charlie and also Jeremy Houghton of AIR who organised the residency at Hull Farm kicks off the project. At this early stage I have visions of creative subject matter ranging from riding out scenes from the gallops to everyday activities in the yard, and of portraits of individual horses. First job however is to have the Residency details and equestrian artwork up and running on both the Charlie Longsdon and AIR websites.  

See:  www.charlielongsdonracing.com               www.artists-in-residence.co.uk

August 2014

With many of the horses away from the yard for their summer holidays, or resting before the national hunt racing season starts up again, August  is an ideal time to familiarise myself with  the layout at the yard and gallops and to meet  the team working at Hull Farm.

With the fantastic weather, this is the perfect opportunity to walk the gallops, noting the best positions from which to sketch the early morning rides, once the horses return to work.  The setting is stunning, with big skies, golden barley fields, green woodland and tree lined hedges and the rolling terrain which gives the horses such a valuable workout, and the artist a spectacular backdrop of landscape scenery that will evolve over the seasons, providing a changing palette of colour and texture to the backdrop for the early morning rides.  At present, many of the horses are turned out together in the fields, with scenes reminiscent of some classic paintings by George Stubbs. I draw them grazing and resting in groups. There are some interesting configurations as i work  and it is wonderful to  see  the horses out loose with the sun glancing  off their gleaming summer coats. They are in the peak of condition.  I am intrigued by the repeated patterns in which they move around the fields in slow motion, with the odd burst of energy, and interaction within the group. Close observation of conformation, behaviour and movement   is a key part of my practice as an equestrian artist and these quieter mornings while the yard is less hectic a treat.

The Gallops

Today I have been up early at the gallops, with a camera and sketchbook. The horses start to ride out in groups from 7am. It is so peaceful up there, and the light is amazing. The early morning sun is bright and low, casting long deep shadows and intensifying colour. I sketch the landscape as I wait for the first group to appear. The anticipation is exhilarating. The farmland setting is agricultural, in contrast to the exposed moorland gallops of Middleham or the open Downs at Epsom, where I have painted Riding Out scenes previously. I scan the distant hedgerows where at any minute the riders will appear.  Then there they are, silent in the distance.... a gently bobbing line of riders' red and blue jackets and hats, just visible above the barley crop as they skirt the field, filing down towards the perfectly raked all weather track. The riders are chatting over their shoulders  as they near, and wave hello as they walk down the freshly cut slope, past the monumental rolled hay bales, illuminated against the dark woods below,  before circling at the bottom rail and turning for the steep ascent.  Then, up they gallop.... at speed... the power and beauty of the horses at full stretch as they pass is awe inspiring. Their musculature rolls and gleams and the thunder of hooves and snorting rhythm of breath adds to the drama as they fly past. Soon followed by the next group and the next...... I initially watch from the side of the track, where there is a gap in the white rails and then from  the rails at the finish to see them race up towards me and then turn to jog back down the hill. The compositional possibilities for capturing this in paint are exciting. The beat of their individual movement, the dynamic of the group and the rhythm of the repeated spectacle impresses itself powerfully. The coming towards and fading away.... this is something I hope to explore in my sketches.....over the coming months.

Stable yard scene

Early morning at the stables. I deliberately leave the camera behind. The discipline of not having it to hand, allows for concentrated sketched observation.  I am more present, see more clearly and I find, recollect the scene better later. I position my sketching stool carefully in the yard, so I can observe the horses setting off and returning from the gallops, as perfectly silhouetted shapes against the skyline, they descend in a snaking line back to the yard.  I sketch them being unsaddled and hosed down after their exercise and then led up to cool off in the carousel walker. Riders and horses create interesting compositions as they go to and fro, the sunlight casting purple shadows against the pale concrete ground. Most striking is the high gloss of running water on the horses coats as they are hosed down, pointing up the structure, brilliant colours and reflections.  I note their extended necks and gait as they relax and are led up to the carousel walker to cool down.

The riders are chatty and friendly and the watchful stable yard dog Squeak mingles amongst the horses, unperturbed. There is a timeless quality to scenes such as these.....

An Equine Drawing lesson at the yard.

I decided to take one of my young Drawing lesson students to the stables with me for some individual drawing tuition. Imogen loves to draw horses, but this will be her first experience drawing them from life and with the challenge of catching a moving subject!  What better than to be drawing the form of the thoroughbreds at Hull Farm. We have the morning, and start off sketching in the top field where two horses, Cross of Honour and Long Wave are turned out. They move around constantly, coming close to inspect us and then retreating, offering multiple angles and perspectives for sketching. Every so often riders pass by on the way back from the gallops and there is a volley of excited activity and greeting. It is a breezy day and we struggle to hold the flapping corners of large white sheets of paper still as they pass! We study the conformation and anatomy of the grazing horses, with particular attention to the shapes of their necks and backs. And when they are near, quick thumbnail sketches of the head. Imogen soon gains confidence and is drawing rapidly with multiple studies on a large page.  And for this lesson, she resists the temptation to develop a sketch once the horse has altered position, understanding that the they will in fact adopt the same or similar positions repeatedly if we sit there quietly for long enough. So then we may return to swiftly sketched initial marks and develop them into something more recognisable.  Before we leave, Imogen is keen to draw the shape of a horse’s eye. Back at the stables, many fine heads are looking over the loose box doors, happy to oblige. Then a quick visit to meet Fran’s two adorable young foals before heading back to the studio.

 

 

Painting response while watching the pouring rain at King Stone Farm Approach (May 2013)

At this time of year the weather may be so mercurial that sitting and observing without committing brush to paper, for a long period is actually more useful than racing to keep up with the changes. One minute there is a stunning view to be seen and in the next it has completely vanished, shrouded in rain cloud with little sun breaking through. But as the showers pass the sudden reappearance of the light is a fresh revelation and the middle and far distance sits up once again… following the morphology of the land as it transforms itself yet again into a new arrangement of tone, colour and mark.. It is as if a theatrical or cinematic drama is being played out in front of me. An ever changing sky, shifting light, the subtle interplay of colour and shape, and the characters on the stage simply comprising a small dairy herd in the near field, straggling, silhouetted figures against a fantastically dramatic backdrop.

The colours that strike me as the rain passes and light streams down from the grey sky are Prussian blue and deep viridian, displaying all the subtle shifts of blue greens one could imagine, punctuated by the smoky charcoal passages of distant woods and boundaries. All this at intervals is startlingly pierced with the shock of Rapeseed crops, now making their unmistakable mark on the landscape, rudely unsettling the gentle modulations of tone we normally associate with the Cotswold hills. Yet at the same time, during such cold, wet weather, this vibrant chrome yellow introduces a not unwelcome hit of warmth and vibrancy to the land. It is on blue skied sunny days that the rapeseed appears so garish and out of kilter with its surroundings.

I let large amounts of water dribble from a generously loaded brush on to the paper and watch the dark grey washes seep into the vibrant greens of the ground, merging sky with land in a way that this weather shows so well. It is all painted rapidly and in one sequence, with a loose fluidity of medium and gesture. I aim to catch the feel of flickering patterns and transient light. Later, when the first washes have dried, glazed layers of thin viridian and ultramarine may be added in places to push the colour notes to a jewel like intensity. It is as much an emotional response to what I see as a purely visual one, and rarely topographical in detail.


A ‘Landscape with Horses’ Workshop at Taston (Late August 2012)

Jo Corfield who runs ‘Hope thru Horses’ has generously allowed me to run a one day workshop on the wonderful piece of land where she keeps her motley herd of horses and ponies at Taston, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire. Her herd consists of Welsh Cobs, retired polo ponies and Shetland ponies, amongst others. This is a treat, as both the magical landscape setting with trees, stream and long distant views,  and the horses themselves provide a wonderfully rich source of subject matter for the students.

First thing on the days agenda is to actually locate the horses in this tucked away valley. We approach through a side gate and stroll across to where the land slopes towards a stream winding through trees at the bottom. If the herd is not immediately visible, there is a ramble around the fields to seek them out. Today they are grazing at the far end and the alpha male Welsh Cob, Comet, is immediately identifiable from a distance by his bright bay coat and broad white blaze. This horse is a character and he loves to come right up to a group of students when they are set up on their sketching stools with painting equipment strewn around, and forage for biscuits and picnic lunches in their bags!. Another striking male Welsh Cob, Wynner, is also apt to joining in and  has been known to come and actually stand right behind me watching, when I sketch there alone,  I find myself painting, with his head overhanging mine from behind,  affording me a bizarre view of the  multi wrinkled underside of his lower jaw. He stands there, immovable as a sentry on guard, and only moves on when I do. These horses are inquisitive, but harmless, and any timid student sketchers unused to handling horses soon learn to relax in their presence.

Today there is the added thrill of a new addition to the herd. Bronwen, the dark bay matriarch Cob,  who has recently given birth to a stunning Arab cross bred foal called Julius. Jo has advised us to sketch them from a respectful distance. His little body teetering around on impossibly slender stilts is a delight to observe. And from time to time he lies down completely flat on his side in the long grass and disappears from sight. Then he will leap up and tentatively wander over to see what we are doing, before his mother gently diverts him away.

Welsh cobs are lovely to paint. Their solid bulk and pleasing proportions together with their abundant manes and tails, which are characteristic of the breed, bring stature and movement to the picture. The condition of their coats in the summer is stunning and so highly polished that the cerulean blue of the sky is reflected on their broad backs. Having a foal present today is a great exercise in relative proportion. One of my teaching mantras is ‘to paint what you see and not what you think you know’. In other words, become completely present, look at length, and then sketch, without preconception. This is particularly helpful when drawing the spindly legs and compact body of a young foal, whose conformation at this tender age defies any preconceived ideas of equine structure. We approach the sketches firstly by looking for basic shapes, followed by line, tone, colour and finally creating a convincing relationship with their surroundings.

The dynamic of the herd offers endless compositions. Whether grazing in clusters, heads down, tails swishing, or bunched together, head to tail under the darkly shaded canopy of a chestnut tree, their hind legs tilted and merging together into one large shape, as they take a nap in the heat. Of course there is always a chance to sketch portrait studies if a horse is near enough. And so the day may unfold with a variety of approaches according to each student’s preferences. I take the time to demonstrate concepts and techniques, to the group as a whole and also spend time with each individual. I have had students book a workshop saying they only want to paint the landscape, not the horses, yet somehow they are seduced by the scene and before long the herd have made their way on to the pages.

Of all the equine painting I experience directly from the subject, sketching the herd at Taston over a period of hours is the most enchanting. The land itself possesses its own magic and a timeless atmosphere.  Observing the horses interacting with each other and their environment over an extended period produces an almost hypnotic sense of peace and wellbeing. The outside world has retreated, and if one has been lucky enough to be there, it is an experience unlikely to be forgotten and one I look forward to re-engaging with every Spring and Summer.

For dates and details of my 2013 sketching workshops at Taston please refer to the Tuition section of my website.

For further information about the equine involvement therapy work and related courses that Jo Corfield runs:

Website for Hope Thru Horses: www.hopethruhorses.com 

Sketching at the Beaufort Polo Club (July 2012)

Today I have been sketching at the Beaufort Polo Club. It is a midweek session off the main field. I enjoy these as there are few spectators and a more informal atmosphere to the big weekend fixtures. It is a stunning midsummer light, with the sun glancing off the backs of the ponies and players and mounts silhouetted strikingly in play against a low, late afternoon sun. I spend time strolling behind the scenes, and quietly observing it all from under the shade of the beautiful old trees on the farm. There is a timeless quality to the scene. I watch the dynamics that play out during the match and the preparation of the strings of ponies before action. Their polished coats smoothly, rich and reflective in patina as conkers and their braided tails pristine. They stand patiently in the traditional 'lines', tended by devoted grooms, many from Argentina. The ponies are immaculately dressed in fine tack, with ethnic blankets under the saddles, brightly coloured bandages on their legs and strangely eccentric bridles, waiting their 'turn' for a few frenetic turns in the spotlight, then retired, rapidly exchanged for another and dismissed back to the lines to cool down and doze. It is a fascinating and visually rich spectacle... and if the good light continues this week, I will be back again.

My sketching practice during play is to make multiple studies of the direction, dynamic and energy of the game. Working at speed and directly from life, as opposed to relying solely on photographic reference is what internalizes the scene in my memory. The hand/ eye/heart coordination is vital for me.  And these abstract squiggles and marks bring back the atmosphere to me, if working up more fully realized paintings later, in a way that photographs cannot begin to. I feel the camera acts as a barrier to ‘seeing’ in the way I need to in order to convey in paint or charcoal the feeling of movement and action that is my main inspiration. It is of course invaluable in other respects. As the players repeatedly cross the field horizontally, coming towards and falling away, abstract marks that suggest the angles of sticks, the line of play and groups and clusters are quickly put down. I look also at the relationship of rider to horse, with an awareness of them as a single extenuated entity. The swings, sharp turns and abrupt changes of pace, which may include charges at full stretch, or a ‘scrum’ trying to get the ball away, or a single player whacking the ball through the goal.. There is an endless variety of dynamic. Sometimes the athleticism of the riders in reaching the ball yet remaining in the saddle, is quite unbelievable and the speed at which the ponies travel while the rider takes aim astonishing.

 
 


© Melanie Wright 2016