Friday, February 24, 2012

Road Trip series #4 - grazing horse, oils, 6x6

Here's today's painting from the Hwy 160 leg of the series...

Open Range
6x6 inches - oil on 1/4 Sande board
© S.Johnson
Originally, I was going to stick with posting every other day, and to include up to two paintings.  But, with this particular painting, I thought I'd share a bit about my approach and thought process for it.

First off, here is the craptastic reference photo I used:

Certainly not a showcase of my photography skills, but when you're rolling along at 70mph, the opportunities to photograph things like a grazing horse are a  Anyway, there is something about the Rez horses that I find compelling, and I could do an entire series of them.

Despite my many years doing equine art as mixed media sculpture, I have to admit that I'm not a fan of much 2D equine art.  It can easily run off into the realm of kitsch or cloyingly sentimental, and honestly, I don't ever want to be accused of painting anything like that.

There's nothing cozy or pastoral about this scene, so I felt safe painting it.

As far as composition and design concerns go, I knew I wanted to do a square format.  I experimented with various crops, but decided there was something about having the horse heading out of the picture that spoke to me.  He is uninterested in human presence and is choosing to leave on his terms - not ours.

Since resuming studio work from photos, I've definitely moved away from faithfully following the reference photo.  So, of course, the ugly barbed wire fence and piled-up tumbleweeds were out.  More visible sand and a lead-in through the grasses to the horse was added.  However, sometimes, just by random luck, the photo has neat stuff that I keep.

Notice, for example, the distal mountains and how the line of the ridge almost follows that of the horse's back, and then curves down like his neck?  And that the slopes there all sweep towards the horse?  That repetition of line is a neat thing, and so I consciously kept that.

Anyway, I don't plan on going into such detail with each painting, I promise.  But, since there was a bit more to this painting than just a grazing horse, I thought I'd share a bit of the "behind the scenes" thought that went into it.  Because, well, I love reading about that stuff from other artists!


  1. I always like both your painting and your photos!

  2. Thanks, Helen - always nice to hear from you.

  3. I kind of think that craptastic photos are some of the funnest ones to paint from. :)) And I LOVE this painting. :)) You are so right about the curves of his back and the curves of the mountains mirroring each other. Very cool.

    And *gulp* I hope I am not guilty of cloying or sentimental or kitschy equine art. :D But ah well if I am cuz all I can do is paint the way I paint ya know? ;)

  4. Hi Crystal - oh, my "shot-out-of-the-window-of-a-moving-car" pics are definitely my faves to paint from, I think :D. Since you paint such awesome equine subjects, I'm happy you like this one!

    And, heavens no - your work doesn't fall into the kitschy or sentimental category, not at all. It's one of those "hard to describe, but ya know it when ya see it" sort of things. Which reminds me - I think you should consider submitting some of your watercolors to an AAEA juried show :). Have I suggested that before? Yeah, I think you should do that.

  5. I am drawn to the repetition of line and shape, too. It is so interesting to read about an artist's process. Thank you for sharing yours with us, Sonya. You did a great job interpreting and simplifying this scene. Well done!

  6. Thanks so much for your comments, Darla. Some paintings don't require much thought, as it were, to do, but I do like to try and push myself with things like this from time to time:). I'm glad you enjoyed reading about it!

  7. This change of pace is wonderful. I love the color you painted him. Leaving out the barbed wire and tumbleweeds seems to be a no brainer because now you can see him. He looks very happy grazing out there and that is actually a fairly nice picture for 70 mph. I've been there, done that and don't often get something usable. I look forward to a series of "wild" horses.

  8. Thanks, Ruth. I agree - it is good to switch gears, and I am enjoying working in oils again; they certainly challenge my painting skills. I think a lot of rez horses have tough lives, and many are probably half feral. This individual, however, looks very well-fed and content. I know I have some additional photos of horses taken along this trip that will show up as paintings...

  9. Wonderful job with the horse. Love the more "wild" feel. And I really like reading about your process and choices. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks, Debbie - the horse, as you can imagine, was by far the hardest thing to paint here ;). I'm glad you enjoyed reading about the process, too.


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