Strength And Glory
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“Strength and Glory” is the working title for the Percheron Horse Team (parade hitch) that I am currently painting. It is the complement to the “Power and Passion” painting of a Belgian team that I have just completed.
When beginning an oil pastel piece I first must have a complete drawing. This is different from my water soluble pencil work in that with the pencils I could draw in, change and erase as I pleased while working on the piece. Oil Pastel never really dries so it smears and the eraser bits will adhere to the pastels sticky surface. So most of my decision making needs to be done in advance. For my substrate I like to use 100% cotton rag board. I especially like it’s rigid surface for propping a piece up for viewing while working. Hot press water color paper also works well but it is not something I use.
Part of my dilemma for this piece is creating enough contrast between my black horses and their black tack. It is a struggle for me to create believable black horses without using black excessively. Also true black horses are a rarity in nature and so creating an accurate color as well as an interesting work of art is a bit of a balancing act.
I am still in the process of learning the ins and outs of oil pastels. The thing I most like about oil pastels is the depth of color I can lay down. I love color and the pastels let me feel more free to explore color’s nuances. The biggest downside is they are somewhat unforgiving. Once a color is down there is a small margin for changing it. Most shades have a staining effect on the underlying substrate. So to a degree I have to be pretty sure about the color before laying it down.
The other quality I really like in the oil pastel is the way I can lay down marks. Many of my images take on a realistic quality from several feet away but on closer inspection you notice it is a variety of several short strokes of different color laid next to each other. Overall up close, my paintings are quite impressionistic. When asked to describe my work I usually say I am a realist with strong impressionistic tendencies.
This painting is a series of challenges. The color I have already mentioned. There is also the details and intricacies of the tack which proves difficult when using a half inch crayon like oil pastels. In this new medium I am forced to work looser and to let most of the little hair line details be implied.
I am a sectional artist by nature. Meaning I prefer to work in small areas, completing them before moving on to the next. I think it is one of the reasons I am particularly drawn to animals with spots and stripes. It fits my comfort zone. My next step on this painting is to begin the neck. It is quite daunting for me because of the vastness of the area and the fact that it is all basically one color. I’ve been thinking of putting a sign over my drafting table saying “Be Fearless”.
One of the mottoes I live by in my art is, “When in doubt, add purple.” Which, by the way, this painting has many shades of purple in it from a wine color in the blacks to a periwinkle in the highlights. Purple has often been my saving grace when a painting just isn’t popping off the page. Used mostly in the shadow areas purple gives life to an otherwise dead black. It is especially good for shadowing ginger and reds. If you look close at almost every oil pastel piece I have done, you will find purple in one form or another.
It is a constant challenge to really “see” what I am trying to portray. In this case my reference material for this painting is several photos of a couple of different horse teams taken at different locations, times and lighting situations. My mind struggles with what I actually “see” before me in the photo, and with what I “think” the color should be. Then I need to decide what color to actually put down to make it an interesting painting. I like to deviate a little from what reality is. After all, if my goal was to produce hyper realistic artwork I would most likely become a photographer. I very much enjoy collecting the reference photos that I use. But for me it is the use of my senses to filter an image into a painting that makes it enjoyable.
Colorful highlights in mane
Detail of colorful highlights in Strength and Glory horses' maneI am working on the mane and having some problems getting the color to look correct. In reality the mane on my models is a true black with very light gray to white highlights. When I paint it like that, it looks all wrong color wise. So I introduce purples and blue grays from coloring used elsewhere in the painting and this helps but it is not the whole answer.
I must work at the concept of drawing what I see and not what I think I see. When you think of an apple or an elephant the image just pops in your mind. Learning to let go of what the object is in order to capture the correct shape and color is part of the frustration and enjoyment of my work. I have seriously contemplated changing how I do some of the things I do but for the most part it is the process I enjoy as well as the outcome. It is the challenge to get it right that is intriguing. That is of course unless I fail. I have more than one painting that I look back on and say it would have been better if…
First Horse is Done
My first horse is for the most part done. There is plenty of detail work left and I will go back and adjust the colors when I put in the number two horse and then again when I fill in the background. Because I work with my subject matter first and background last, I must consciously avoid a cut and paste look that can sometimes happen.
I work in this order because I always start in the same place, the eye. For most of my work the eye is the focal point of the painting. Also personally it is what gives my animals life. I may paint an orange and purple horse but if I get the eyes right it is a believable animal. If I fail to get the eye, the painting for me will seem a failure. So I start with that crucial part and work around that central point, filling up the empty space.
It is a gloomy rainy day outside and my mood is in step with it. I have always been a creator when the mood, passion or muse struck. Having turned my love of animals and painting them into my profession has caused me to look at it all differently. I now must try to create most of the time. And when I do have some free time I feel pressured to get something out on paper. This proves most of the time not to be very effective. I know many artists who have a set number of hours to paint daily. It would be nice if I could get into that frame of mind I would probably be a lot more productive. Unfortunately it is just too rigid for me.
I only have an interest in painting animals. Long ago I did stray from this subject quite often to include landscapes, still lifes and an occasional person. Animals have always been the driving force in my work and in my life. My work is more about the animal than it is about the art. Though I do try for a balance.
So to keep the interest alive I change mediums occasionally. About every 10 years or so. Now that I am doing the oil pastels, I often get asked if I will continue with the water soluble pencil. If I follow true to form I probably will not go back to the pencils. I think I had used them for so long that they became stale. Not much left for a challenge. Most of the time I change mediums because I have become bored and feel that there is nothing new I can produce. I would like to think I may again create something with them. But when I switched from graphite pencil to water soluble I never did another graphite piece. Amazing since more than 15 years have gone by.
It is supposed to be a bit of a risk to change mediums, and more so techniques. People like an artist to be predictable. I gave it a great deal of thought before trying the pastels. Some people don’t like the new work. Some people prefer the new work and some people don’t seem to notice much difference. For me the change has been good. I feel energized to get back to creating. I find the challenges enjoyable and view it as an opportunity for growth. So changing horses mid stream may not look like the wisest idea but sometime to keep on with the journey it is a necessity.
Well I am almost done with “Strength and Glory” Just a couple more decisions to make. First the title, which I think I’ll keep. Next do I want to include the ribbons in the horses hair. I do have them drawn in and I like the height they add to the image. The downside though is I am not sure how they will work with my background coloring. Also they might affect the marketability of the image. I hate to give in to such thoughts but as a working artist who makes a living selling what I produce it realistically has to play a factor.
It is possible I will finish the piece today but more than likely it will be another day or two. I usually like to “live” with a painting for a week or two. I set it aside and just have it out to glance at occasionally. Often this helps me to see the piece with fresh eyes and make minor adjustments. I am on a bit of a deadline with this one though so may not have that luxury.
Ready to Start Background
Well I am at that point. That point where I have to screw up my courage, say a little prayer and begin the background. There are two major moments of fear for me when it comes to creating artwork. The first is that very first mark on a pristine white page. If I am going to mar it’s beauty and whiteness it is in hopes that something better will come of it. The second and by far greater is the moment I need to begin the background. I have occasionally lost a painting by messing up on the background. It is doubly frustrating because if I have gotten far enough along to get to put in the background it usually means I am at least satisfied with the progress thus far.
I had thought this time would be a little easier since I am simply doing what I did on the “Power and Passion” painting. Since they are a suite they will match to a degree. However I still wandered aimlessly around the gallery, played with the cat, ate some crackers and bugged my husband in the other room while he was doing color profiling on another image, all while trying to get enough confidence to begin. Eventually, I sat done and started my random scribbling for filling in around my horses. Something I also have to remember is there comes a time, there always comes a time, when I look at what I’ve got and hate it. I think for sure I have just ruined the piece. This also happens right at the beginning of laying in color. Since I am aware that I consistently do this I am usually able to just push on until I make it to a stage where I am pleased again with what I’ve got.
So my plan for today is to get the under painting in for my background. It will need to be refined but that will come tomorrow. I just need to get it to a place where when I look at it I can see that it will be a success with some work.
Completed Draft Horses
Well today the painting is officially done. I sent it off with Mike to be scanned for printing. I would have liked to have had another week or two to play with it but I have an event coming up that I needed to have it ready for. As it is I pushed it very close to the deadline.
I chose to keep the ribbons. I put them in and kept the blues subtle. Or at least not to eye catching. I do like the line and height they add to the composition.
In the end I have dark bay horses rather than black. I thought the blue gray highlights needed to create black were just too much like all the other blue gray I have in the piece. Brown warmed the horses up quite a bit and most black horses have brown highlights when viewed in sunlight. Overall I am pleased. But again would have liked to have the time to “live” with the painting for awhile. On the other hand sometimes it is good to be forced to let go in order to open myself up for the next project.
Text and original graphics copyright © Mona Majorowicz, 2000-2017.