In recent times, replicating another person's artwork has become somewhat taboo, yet in the art classes I attended growing up, studying famous artists' work and trying to replicate it was encouraged. I believe there is no better way to learn anything than to throw yourself in at the deep end. No amount of books you buy or techniques you google are going to give you the muscle memory training that just getting stuck into something can.
I have always been fascinated by horses, they are such mysterious, beautiful creatures. Seeing one as a child was always something akin to a magical experience - the next best thing to seeing a unicorn! I have never ridden a horse or spent significant time in one's company, but if I ever get the chance to stroke one over a Yorkshire stone wall, I gladly take it.
The first piece of artwork I sold that wasn't a commission was a horse portrait. I was struggling at the time to convince people around me that drawing and painting all the time was a worthwhile thing and that I could learn as I went along. It was the first thing I did that wasn't paid for upfront and then a week or so after I had finished it, it sold. I was proven right and it's all thanks to that gorgeous horse.
After that, I became quite busy drawing people and dogs and I forgot about horses as I didn't see them in my everyday life very often. Then 2021 came around and I found myself living in a little cottage on the edge of the North York Moors where horses are often trotting up and down my road and I can usually see 2 or 3 in the fields behind my back garden. I decided it was time to draw another horse but I wasn't sure where to start. I knew I wanted to do something digital relatively quickly as I wanted this to be a learning experience rather than a finished piece, so I decided to find out who in history had created the most incredible horse paintings and try and learn from them.
Enter George Stubbs
"Whistlejacket" original painting by George Stubbs
The most famous painting of the horse in the world is "Whistlejacket" by George Stubbs, an English painter (snap!) born in the 18th century, most famous for his glorious horse paintings, most popular being "Whistlejacket". I loved everything about Whistlejacket, the movement, the olive background, the rich and shiny coat and the soft expression, but I decided to look through his collection and choose something that spoke to me a little more.
"Mambrino" original painting by George Stubbs
In the end, I chose the painting "Mambrino" of the beautiful horse that went by the same name and was from the same county as me, Yorkshire! I was drawn in by the colourful landscape in the background as well as the colours of the reflections found on the beautiful white horse. If you look closely you can see pinks, blues, greens and purples that add to the magic of the painting as well as showing off his glorious coat.
Horses are wonderful for portraiture with their lean and muscular bodies, expressive eyes and soft snouts. I wanted to know how to pose a horse for a painting, how to position him perfectly in his setting and what colours to use that would express the way I feel about horses. The colour palette was something really important to me as I wanted to learn more about colour palettes and am still discovering my favourites. This painting in particular jumped out at me for many reasons, but one of those was its lack of black. I use a lot of black in my work as I usually prefer images with strong contrast, and having little to no black in an image is a step out of my comfort zone. There is something calming about these colours, all nature-based but elevated to a point where there is little "earthiness" and everything is balanced and pleasing to the eye, whimsical and dare I say, magical?
As I am writing this, I look out of my window and see a view not dissimilar to the background of this painting and don't recognise a single colour that I used. There is a special light in the painting, it's bright but not overexposed, it's warm in its tone yet the blue of the sky balances everything perfectly. Everything is glowing from a source unknown, luminous in an ethereal way. There are no strong shadows, yet clear and obvious depth. I later realised that this painting must have used that special light that is only available at my favourite type of day and that is morning light. "This is something I can learn a lot from" I told myself.
There is a story to this painting, I want to see more. I want to step inside and pat the horse, and take a walk with him on this beautiful blue sky morning. He looks so gentle but powerful. What is he thinking about?
The whole vibe is very calming and relaxing and who doesn't want more of that in their life? I certainly do, and I want my artwork to have that feeling of relaxation and that is exactly what this painting gives me.
I have learnt so much about what I want to achieve in my own original paintings from this study and I want to encourage you to study others' work that appeals to you as often as you can. In selecting the painting that spoke to me, I now have a clearer vision of where my art journey is taking me and that's very comforting.