Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Tip

We have kind of a long one this week! It's more of a food for thought tip rather than a how-to. It is my hope that this tip will help not only painters but those looking to be more educated about what's behind the horses they buy. Daphne asks:

You do a lot of intensively hair-detailed pieces, but not all of your work is like this. How do you decide when a horse is suited to such an approach, and how do you come up with techniques for such effects? (For example, you have Proxima Centauri, who is very hair-detailed despite being a chestnut, and then that dappled bay sabino mini Nahar, who I think was done with similar techniques. Then you have Dervish, who has a lot of hair detail done in oils. Other horses in similar colors, like your Rasam or Dinky Duke, are approached differently. What motivates you to do more or less intensive effects and how did you come up with the techniques?)

It's interesting that Daphne mentions those horses because several were experiments. Proxima Centauri and the bay sabino mini Nahar were both sort of the same experiment, meant to see what kinds of things I could accomplish with varying amounts of powdered pigment and pencil work to detail the whole body. With Dervish, I wanted to see what I could do with hair detail in oils after practicing at that so much with other more precise media. Horses like the Rasam and Dinky Duke in oils were the result of considering what I wanted to outcome to be. So much of the decision making around here - when it isn't experiment time - depends on what the piece tells me it wants to look like. And it all comes full circle, as the experiments really help to broaden my choices.

When it does come down to choosing which media I should use for a particular horse, the very first thing I consider is the actual surface. Does the horse have a rough or textured finish that excludes the use of pencils and possibly even powdered pigment (or pastel)? Rough surfaces like to catch more pigment in certain places, resulting in an uneven blotchy or speckly finish. Will wet on wet roaning turn out to be a muddy disaster when trying to get into crevices? The primary concern is using a media that won't require a battle because a) that's no fun and b) it probably won't turn out.

Next I think about what color I will be doing. Each media has its own look, and the same buckskin shade will appear different depending on what it was painted in. There are some colors that I nearly default to a certain technique with, such as starkly dappled greys. It has been years since I've done one in oils. While I'd love to try again with my new skills applied to oils, so far I have been using primarily pencil and powdered pigment, and occasionally acrylic because it is a reliable technique and a great look. On the other hand, there's just something about the amazing reds available in oils - the hues, the luminance - so spicy and glowing! I often default to oils for chestnuts, but I do enjoy a nice diversion in powdered pigment once in a while.

And then there are different techniques that can be used with the chosen media. Each technique can yield slightly or vastly different results! Combining media and techniques opens up an entire world of effects. After all these years I'm still experimenting and finding out what happens when I try a different combo or apply one media's standard technique to another media.

Sometimes if I want the horse to be a very specific color, I need to use a certain media because I can only get that color one way with my "toolbox". A perfect example is the Lonestar I have been working on recently. I had originally planned to do him in pencil and powdered pigment, but his leg color proved to be impossible to match that way. I knew I could match it in oils, so the direction of that piece completely changed. The change is also challenging me to try to achieve a pencil-like effect with oils, which is resulting in a fairly new style for me that I like very much.

Mostly when I am choosing media for a particular piece, I consult my mental library of effects, and decide what I feel will look most appropriate on the horse. Often the choice simply has to do with whatever vision it sends my way, and I pick and choose from my arsenal the things that will best accomplish the idea. Doing a lot of practice and experimentation will make the subtleties of each media more apparent and easier to choose from.

This is the thing I can't stress enough: always keep experimenting, because you won't grow as an artist without pushing yourself. Experimentation with other media and techniques is a great way to expand your capabilities and lets you think of the old in new ways!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Someone lost his head! This is all you get for now. ;)

Curly Week

I should have a large Friday Tip (or essay rather) up this week. I am picking away at it when I have time, but for now I am still busy trying to finish Curly. Another wrench was thrown into the works when I couldn't quite get what I wanted with his little freckle spots in oils. I decided to go and pick some spots out in pencil before going over him in oils one more time. Here are some pictures of the stages he's been in since the last photo update. You can click on any of them to see larger versions!

This is Curly all in oils. At this stage, his head has had two coats, his legs three coats, and his body one coat.

Head closeup so you can see the softer detailing of the oils.

Curly's other side, where you can see the same as the above photo of his left side, but with pencil speckling done on his head, neck and forequarters. The speckling fades as it approaches his barrel.

And last, but not least, a detail shot of the oil coat with the spots picked out in pencil. I finished up the pencil work today, and gave him another coat of oils on his head and body. I'll take a pic of that after he's dry and before I resume on him tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

More Curly Progress!

Curly has been a slow process involving quite a lot of thinking and planning. Sometimes horses work better if you just charge headlong into the project, and some, like this guy require a slower, more thoughtful approach. I had originally expected to finish him completely in powdered pigment, pencil and acrylic. I had wanted to do him in that media because doing a very subtly detailed varnish in oils is so difficult, and I also knew I had a track record of producing just the right thing in pencils. Oils can be a little more fickle! Unfortunately nothing I was able to mix up matched the real Curly's color just right. I knew I could get the color match perfect in oils though, so I girded my loins and got started!

I wound up buying some new brushes for the task, hoping I could get results as consistent as the pencil technique, and boy do they work well! They are the #2 white nylon scrubbers from Dan Smith. They work a lot like hogs bristle brushes, but don't shed! Thank goodness! And they're cheap too. :-D I like them so much, I'm going to go get some more to finish the job. It's always great to have extras around so I don't have to continually try to clean out brushes as they get more and more loaded with paint (and therefore less effective at crisp, non muddy detail).

So here is Curly now. At this stage, I've done one layer of oils on his lower legs and head. He'll need another layer there for mottling, to pick out some things and finish shading, and then he'll probably get one coat of paint on his body. I am trying to keep the oils to a minimum to let all the detail work of the pencils peek through as a nice hair texture. You can click on the pic of Curly's head to see a larger version!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Tip

A quick but handy tip for today. Foil (a nice thick brand) makes a great paint palette. There is no need to clean up, and you don't need specialized palette paper. You can even use a brush handle to write identification for the color mix on the foil in case you have multiple projects in progress. I like to roll out as much as I think I'll need lengthwise for the project. Then, I fold the foil in half along the long side to make it sturdier. Then it's just a matter of mixing the paint! When in between uses fold the foil over once again to make a "paint sandwich". Using this method, it will keep for a week or more, depending on drier usage.