I like to do as much sketching from life as possible because, although often imperfect, it helps capture movement and spontaneity. And I do find nature is a great inspiration.
Plants, trees and flowers are easiest, because they don’t tend to move around much, and humans can be persuaded to pose. Animals are a lot trickier. Dogs are best when they’re asleep, but mine sadly is so small and dark that from above she just looks like a black blob; I would need to get down on floor level, but, when I do, she wakes up and starts jumping around like a flea.
A nice field of cows having a siesta in the sun is not too bad, but horses are a nightmare. No sooner are you set up that they decide to come over and see what you’re doing, eat the paper, chew your clothes, etc. Even if you’re on the other side of the fence, you get a load of snorting nostrils, bug eyes and, if there’s a few of them, shoving. And then they gallop away…
The famous 18th century painter George Stubbs used to hang cadavers of horses in his barn to be able to study their anatomy. The smell must have been unbearable—and the flies! Ugh…
Nowadays we have manuals and photographs to study from, and videos that can be put in slow motion to break down movement.
Horses are fascinating, expressive creatures, so I’ve been making a whole series of paintings, incorporating my previous work with layers and collage. Under some of the paintings I used pages from an old book, primed with gesso—amusingly, the book is an old French manual of equitation (you can see it most clearly in the first painting.) I also used tissue paper, silver foil and eco-print paper for the collage, and charcoal, pencil, graphite powder, watercolor, and oil pastel for the images.
I did not aim towards photorealism, but made the horse the center of a dreamlike, abstract landscape. The background could be water, or snow, or an indistinct field, or clouds of dust.
Horses are prey—that makes them nervous and fleet, because of the flight response. However, when not threatened they are serene, and enjoy being in their natural environment.
I’m also drawn to horses of myth, who play a big part in many legends, and are especially prominent in Greek mythology. Immortal horses drew the chariots of Zeus, the sun god Helios, and Achilles in the Trojan war. They were gold-bridled, sometimes fish-tailed when they belonged to Poseidon, and often winged, like Pegasus.
So I had to have winged horses in my series.
And finally I added the human form, since men and horses have been linked since the beginnings of civilization. The painting below is entitled The Red Trousers. A girl on her horse, bareback and bare footed, standing in water.