Joseph Zbukvic once said that horses are the hardest things to paint on the planet. He was painting horses at the time so he may have been biased. They’re definitely not easy but this monthly challenge from wetcanvas.com was a blast.
Well here is the final thing. I think I’m pretty pleased with this although as always it has to sink in for a few days to know for sure. This has been the most complicated commission so far and was a lot of work. Definitely worthwhile though and now I can paint horses noses like a pro.
Let’s have a quick look back as to how I got here.
My first attack was just a quick sketch to see whether my horse drawing ability had improved :
Not perfect by any means but much improved from even a year ago. This encouraged me so I ventured into a color sketch.
Hmm. Not quite what I had envisioned. A bit too sketchy for a commissioned work I think.
How about if I include some background (straw clutching here) :
Nope. Back to the drawing board.
So let’s expand the subject matter a little I thought. Include a couple of extra riders and see how that works out :
Oh good grief no. I like the shadows on the white horse and nothing else. Let’s try something else. How about just a torso shot?
Ok so we’re going in completely the wrong direction. An intervention is needed here. This is obviously not going anywhere. Need to completely rethink and try and remember how to paint.
At this point I put down the brushes for a day or so and came back fresh. I decided to tighten up the drawing somewhat and go back to the 3 horses and riders. This started to look a lot better :
MUCH happier now. The drawing is better, the painting is better, the brushwork is better, and the horses really do look like horses. So what changed? One thing was I really took a lot of care over the drawing. Carefully observing all the shapes correctly and taking some time over it. This made it a lot easier to apply the paint and keep it loose knowing I didn’t have to correct the drawing at the same time.
But I still wasn’t completely happy. I wasn’t sure that the ‘three in a row’ look was the best so into photoshop (actually gimp) I went and played around with the arrangement. Pulling them all together in a clump felt a lot better so I went with that :
Yup. This is the one – let’s do this.
The final change I made was to increase the size of paper I was using. Everything up until now had been on 11″x14″ paper. I upped the size to 18″x24″ and made the painting portrait.
So the plan was :
– Careful drawing.
– Decide which edges to lose ahead of time.
– Be careful painting the horses heads and legs – these bits are the most important on a horse.
– Keep the faces recognizable as human but not of anyone in particular. When I’m painting from photos and haven’t met the people in person I find it very difficult to get a likeness.
– Make it look like a painting. Not sure what I mean by this but it’s basically to make sure all the shapes hang together and everything is part of a whole with no areas of the paper left out. This doesn’t mean paint on every square inch but rather that every part relates to every other part.
By this morning I was almost there. All the horses had gone in well as had the people. Increasing the image size had helped enormously and I was pleased with the final composition.
The very last thing was to put some bunting in across the top. It was actually quite tricky to keep this loose but flicking a lot of water about helped here.
Getting somewhere now. Decided on a bigger format and rearranged the composition.
Using image editing software I squished the horses together to make things a bit more interesting.
Finally getting somewhere with the horses. I went back to more of a contour-like original drawing which gave everything a bit of life. I don’t know whether this is the final thing yet but we’re close.
Some intermediates :
The drawing. Looks a lot better at this stage – I need to remember not to get too stiff in the painting.
I did the horses and riders one by one. First the central figure. The faces are so small it was impossible to get a likeness. This may be a good reason to do a larger version.
Second horse in. I’m feeling pretty good here. Thankfully I didn’t screw up on the third one.
I have a commission that I really want to do a good job on. Well of course I always want to do a good job but this one is, ummm, tricky. Horses. Horses with riders. Not straightforward and even Mr Zbukvic says horses are the most difficult things on the planet. So today was horse sketching day. Not fantastically successful but progress is being made.
And we have a video! First time doing a time lapse on the iphone. This was very professionally propped up on a coffee mug next to the water jar and came out well considering.
It’s very strange to watch this. It looks like I just draw things and then color them in straightforwardly. It is abolutely nothing like that in real life. It’s a constant stream of decisions, problem solving, mistakes, going over stuff. Also – next time shoot from the left hand side. Will have to get the tripod out.
Sometimes it’s good to look back. The sketch on the right is from
and the one on the left is me doodling at my desk just now. Not perfect by any means but gosh what a difference.
Had another quick go at the face.
After the badger sketches it was time for something a little more polished. Everything went very smoothly due to the preliminaries. In fact the most difficult part was deciding on the background. In the end I kept things simple and just put in enough to provide some contrast and color.
Very happy in the end. Will take him back across the pond and maybe put in some softening in the eye area before sending him to his final destination.
Onward through the master list. Today was ‘horse’ which (like yesterday’s car) is not one of my favorite things to draw. Joseph Zbukvic in one of his videos says they are the hardest thing on the planet to paint and I think he may be onto something. I’m not too unhappy – I tried to leave white spots on the horse to help indicate shape which I think has worked. The actual picture is a little bigger than this with some disastrous trees which I’ve cropped out.
photo challenge is not something I would have chosen myself but that is part of the challenge. Horses are hard and dressage horses doubly so. At the end of everything I’m pretty happy – if you look through the preliminary sketches below you’ll see it was an uphill struggle.
The first sketch – how hard can horses be? Very hard as it turns out – especially the human/horse size ratio.
A small watercolor sketch – can’t really put things off any longer.
Not too shabby! Clip clop!