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!