Not long ago I received a note from a young woman who found my work on the internet. She explained that she had taken a few art classes, was passionate about horses, and was now seeking guidance and instruction in equine art.
The sample Meredith attached was a watercolor (image below), and it was only the third horse painting she had ever done(!) Here was my response.
Copyright Mere Wynne, collection the artist
I was wondering if anyone ever went to the Horse & Hound website, I’m glad you did. I’d be pleased to offer you what I can, but by the look of the horse you sent me you’re well on your way. It appears to be a watercolor painting, and it’s lovely. The underlying structure is credible, the planes are well articulated, and that’s 90% of what’s needed to paint a handsome horse.
I too am mostly self taught, which has its advantages (not having to squeeze yourself into a suit of someone else’s making, free of shoulds and shouldn’ts, the joy of self discovery) and its drawbacks (no solid foundation, no warnings of where the thin ice is located, no immediate network of fellow artists and mentors). I’d say the single most important class I ever took was one term of human anatomy at the Art Students League, and I recommend it if you’ve not done so already. Learning to consider the underlying structure and practicing seeing it is a great foundational tool. Having studied human anatomy and having painted many faces and figures, the habit of looking for and utilizing the underlying structure defines how I approach everything I paint, whether it’s a horse or a dog, plant life, architecture, even a turbulent sea. It widens your view from the inside out.
What else I would encourage you to do is to un-fixate on the horse, at least for the time being. I’ll explain why. For a number of years I rubbed shoulders with a wide range of equine artists in group exhibitions, many of whom I greatly admired. I discovered that a surprising number of them couldn’t paint anything well except a horse. Their love of painting never matured but remained fixed on love of the animal, which is not only extremely limited creatively, but a rather small art world after all. It’s like the baker who bakes only cookies because that’s the only thing she likes to eat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But you see what I mean. Even in paintings that are all about the horse you might want to include a credible landscape, people that look human, breathtaking skies and waters… why not be master of them all?
So I have found that my interest in and understanding of all things visual begins with the object that is closest to me: the human form.
All power to your brush!