Author Archives: jsundwall

About jsundwall

I am a professional oil painter specializing in portraits of people, horses and small animals. When I'm not painting the portrait or 'genre' subjects (paintings of people doing things), you'd find me painting 'other'. 'Other' is of course any subject that suits my fancy, but much of it is 'sporting art': equestrian related (fox hunting, horse racing and polo), lots of hound dogs, plus animal and landscape pictures. My intention here is to expose my work to new audiences, and to share my thoughts on art and the making of it. As I have been a student of eastern philosophy for the majority of my adult life (specifically Advaita Vedanta), I shall from time to time write on this subject as well; it's all related. Please enjoy.

On Equity

Ice Pops   Oil on Linen, 30 x 24 inches, private collection

There’s something special about this painting, what exactly that is I don’t know, but everybody loves it, even I love it, and honestly if I had the formula for it I’d be cranking them out as fast as I could (I’ll admit it: I tried).  I’ve given this some thought, and my conclusion is it’s never one thing that makes a painting hit the mark, such as the subject, atmosphere, color palette, technique or whatever, rather I’m thinking it’s more the effect of an ensemble performance by the selfsame players, a performance which mysteriously rates rave reviews.


To be fair, I should mention that the girls had an entirely different response to the painting, which is the story I’m here to tell.

The girls are friends of my brother’s family, and neither they nor their parents knew that I had done anything with the snapshots I had taken two years earlier.  I had been given permission that day to photograph them and spent about half an hour following them around the back yard while they swung on the swings, threw the baseball around, dug in the sandbox, and ran here and there just for the fun of it.  When we were done with all that, mom gave popsicles to the girls in thanks for their cooperation.  The camera came out again, too, just for fun.  The girls were fairly oblivious throughout the proceedings, still too young to ham it up, or mug or preen for the stranger behind the camera.

Before I had an opportunity to present the newly finished painting to the girls’ family, I had a postcard made of it which I sent to my brother.  The image was eventually shown to the girls who said upon first sight, in effect, ‘Hey, how come she got two treats and I got one?’ and, vice-versa, ‘Hey, how come I got two and she got one?’   Which is an angle I hadn’t considered whatsoever while doing the painting.  In fact there was only one popsicle split between them that hot summer day, and Madeleine was painted holding a second pop for compositional reasons and not as a slight to Anna, who anyway could have been holding her other half at her side behind Madeleine’s back, couldn’t she? if she also had two?  I mean, if we take the painting to be ‘real’?

Not to make a big deal out of it, but isn’t this a painfully familiar scenario?  Aren’t we always seeking what’s fair and square?  We people, we adults?  Isn’t that what we truly value?  Where there is equity the mind is put to rest, there is no wishing things to be different than they are because all is well: I got mine, you got yours: even Stephen.

Making Connections

Amelie    Oil on Linen, 18 x 24 inches

This work recently won a nice award for oil painting at the Ridgewood Art Institute (New Jersey).   A painting must stand on its own without the artist having to explain it, but how this one came into being is interesting to me, maybe you’ll find it interesting, too.


Several years ago I was commissioned to do a double portrait of Katie and her older sister.  They arrived at the photo session in undershirts, blouses, sweaters, and jackets.  As the shoot went on I began thinking that I might like to paint the girls in matching dresses with a lower neckline, so I got some Degasshots with necks and shoulders exposed.  Whenever I stumbled on these photos in the intervening years, the photo of Katie kept prodding me to some other image I couldn’t remember for the life of me.  Then last Fall I got it: her pose was similar to the pose in Degas’ sculpture ‘Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Anz’. Note  in the Degas how the model thrusts her head out with shoulders thrown back, quite similar to Katie’s pose.  Also unusual is that the young dancer (cast in bronze) is fitted with an actual tutu below the waist, which explains why a tutu ended up hanging on the rear wall of the painting.  The various fabrics in the costume were fun to paint, and I especially enjoy the small detail of the flower ornament on the tutu front being repeated in Katie’s barrette.

I decided the title had to sound French in a nod to Degas.

Richeson Small Works 2015

Catnip Madness    Oil on Linen, 12 x 12 inches

I was recently honored to win the ‘Best in Show’ award in Richeson’s 2015 Small Works competition.  Every couple years I do a series of cat paintings, and this is from the most recent.  Years ago I had a black cat named Murphy, who got that wide-eyed crazed look from her new toys and was the inspiration for this work.


If you want to see what the exhibit looked like, here’s the link:   Richeson75 Art Competitions

M is for Maltese

Remember When? (Portrait of Misha)     Oil on Linen, 18 x 22 inches

Early this year I received a call from a woman in central Illinois (my home state), who commissioned a portrait of her Maltese who died last year.  She found my website by accident, and fortunately when she looked around she saw an earlier portrait I’d done of the same breed of dog.


Maddie, my first Maltese portrait

The painting was originally going to be a surprise birthday present for her husband, but he was eventually let in to participate in our creative adventure.  And for those of you who haven’t commissioned a work of art, especially a portrait, it really is a creative collaboration.  And fun.

My patron emailed a number of snapshots and described Misha’s personality, energy, favorite activities, and what place she had (top of the pecking order) in the family of three dogs, a cat, and two mature adults.  Based on her input I did three compositional studies in oil for general direction of the work.

These are the three studies, each about 8 x 10 inches

These are the three oil studies, each about 8 x 10 inches, loosely based on images I received from the client

They chose the third approach (jumping up in the air to catch a butterfly in her mouth), with the image of the butterfly seen only in reflection in the water below.  The concept was simplified in the end to make Misha bigger on the canvas, a good decision I believe, more a combination of studies two and three.  Start to finish it was about 8 weeks in the making.  Thanks to Yvonne and Phil, my new friends.

The completed portrait, Misha leaping into the air for a butterfly.

The completed portrait.  I don’t know how I came up with this idea, but in general when I’m painting animals or people, the more different directions their bodies are going the more interesting the pose (in this case, Misha’s front legs are elevated while leaping forward, her head is turned left and pointed up).  The pose is full of enthusiasm, energy and curiosity, qualities that Misha had in spades.


Jessie Don’t !!!  Oil on Linen, 36 x 24 inches


Everybody loved Jessie, excepting the small animals that he regularly ran to ground (or tree).   A tall English Setter, he had the good fortune to have loving owners, a large family of friends in a safe community about a hundred miles north of New York City, and almost unlimited countryside in which to race about.

In keeping with his breed, he was a strong personality with a mind of his own and the energy to tear off in an instant.  Here he is at a moment of distraction: should he heed the voice of his master, or make a run for it?

I had so much fun piling the paint up to indicate the intensity of strong light pouring down on his coat.  It took me nearly an hour to decide exactly where to place the squirrel in that block of green, and how to make the squirrel look like he just realized he was in a heap of trouble!

Good Company

Several weeks ago an artist friend, Susan Donnell Budd, emailed that a painting of mine she owns is in an important exhibition of dog paintings at the Morris Museum, in Morristown, NJ.  Surprised, flattered and thrilled, I found more than 100 works on view celebrating dogs in art from the nineteenth century to the present day, focusing on sporting dogs and hounds, plus dog portraits.

Paintings by British luminaries such as Emms; George, Thomas and Maud Earl (a favorite of mine); Muss-Arnolt; Americans Osthaus, Ettinger and Megargee; among others; and a handful of contemporary artists are represented, including my friend Susan.

The exhibit advisor was William Secord, a NYC gallery owner who specializes in dog paintings and is an expert on the genre; the books he’s authored are must-reads for the dog lover and must-looks for the dog artist willing to learn a thing Imageor two.  My painting in the exhibit, titled “Something Only the Hounds Heard” (20 x 24 inches, oil on linen), depicts a tableau I witnessed one morning when out with the Essex Hunt Club (Peapack, NJ).  The entire field of over a dozen riders and 30-some hounds were resting at a crossroads after an ardent but thwarted chase through early autumn color.  The hounds were still pumped, and I enjoyed watching them mill about: athletes at halftime.  Then of a sudden all eyes and ears snapped towards a nearby wood, yet I hadn’t heard a thing myself (they hear four times as far as we do).  What a moment.  The next day I started sketches for the painting.

The Dog Show: The Art of Our Canine Companions
At The Morris Museum through December 14

Hey Horse Lovers

NJ Equine Artists Sixth Biennial National Juried Exhibition
“NJEAA Art of the Horse”

An exhibit of equestrian art opens today at the Farmstead in Basking Ridge, including 50 two-dimensional works and six sculptures. The opening reception is tomorrow between 2 & 4. I have two paintings in the show, pictured here.

'Somebody's Lucky Number', an oil 12 x 16 inches, pictures number eleven being taken out of the paddock area at Saratoga last summer.

‘Somebody’s Lucky Number’, an oil 12 x 16 inches, pictures number eleven being taken out of the paddock area at Saratoga last summer.

It may come as a surprise to know that though New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, there still is enough elbow room here for 83,000 horses!   No wonder there would be an art association devoted strictly to the depiction of same.  Nice show.  As for the info:

10/18 – 11/29 at The Farmstead
450 King George Rd. – Basking Ridge, NJ
Gallery Hours: 1-4 pm, Thursday – Sunday

"Bearing the Light", 28 x 24 inches, is an oil painting of a horse named Saint John, who I did a head and shoulders portrait of last year.

“Bearing the Light”, 28 x 24 inches, is an oil painting of a horse named Saint John, who I did a head and shoulders portrait of last year.

Advice to a budding equine artist

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

Dear Mere,

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!




Washington Slept Here

Whenever I have an opportunity to look at paintings, be they in brick-and-mortar or marble-columned establishments, in books, on the internet or in mind (seen once and not yet

Flash in the pan

‘Flash in the Pan’, 14 x 18 inches, oil on panel

forgotten), I am always fascinated by what the artist chooses to commit to canvas.  And as a witness to this ‘event’ happening in front of me that is a work of art, I wonder why it engaged me, what the effect of being drawn into it is, and how the artist was able to execute this feat of painterly magic, especially if it opened the heart at the same time.

Usually (and without thinking) we encounter paintings as relic – proof of a creative event that happened in the past.  Even artists forget that there is one key decision that always remains vibrant and inescapable in each work of art we produce:  What to paint?  Or maybe more to the point, Why paint this at all? 

Which raises the question of how I got into painting people and events as if we were still in the revolutionary era.

Washington slept here

But, so what if he slept here?  Before and after the great man took off his boots and lay his burden down in this rickety old canopy bed, others slept here, too.  Truth is, I’m not particularly interested in what happened long ago.  As a backdrop for a movie, okay, for the rare historical novel or the once-in-a-lifetime visit to (fill in the blank), great, but an historian I am not.

Yet last April I saw a sign in my neighborhood announcing the upcoming reenactment of The Battle of Bound Brook.  I’ve long been aware of this annual event, and on a lark decided to check it out.  As for the Battle itself, suffice it to say that the Americans were routed on 12th April and regained their ground on the 13th April, 1777.  This year they were routed yet again in clouds of acrid gunsmoke.  My hearing didn’t come back for days.

revolutionary soldiers

‘Eyes Left, Scotland’ and ‘The Patriot’, right. Both are 12 x 12 inches, oil on prepared burlap

What interests me most is what is happening right now.  And what appeals to me at these events are the everyday costumes, dragoons mounted on skittish horses, the encampments swathed in smoke from cooking fires, row upon row of unbleached cotton tents, clumsy troop gatherings, and the clash of colorful armies.  But more compelling than the spectacle captured in hindsight is the substance of the contemporary player-participant, the secret bit that one could say truly connects us all, vertically through time and horizontally in the present moment.  Their devotion to the spirit of the current (and orginal) enterprise and insistence on authenticity shines wherever you look, even if one hears a great deal of talk among reenactors themselves on how much authenticity is enough, and whether bearded actors should even be allowed to participate (Washington insisted on clean-shaven troops).

Picture of two sentries

‘Sentry Duty’, 16 x 12 inches, oil on panel

I’ve attended several historical events since Bound Brook, and as of this writing have completed a dozen works, several of which are shown here.  I’ll be painting more of them, anyway I’m pretty sure I will.  Ultimately we don’t know why we do what we do, we just make up stories to try to explain ourselves before and after the fact.  Perhaps it’s best to be as an actor playing a part in a play or, even better, someone in the audience: a witness to whatever happens, unattached and uneffected by however things turn out.  Sometimes the players win, sometimes they lose.

See more paintings at:

Acceptance notifications

Today I heard from Allied Artists that my entry to the 2013 Annual Exhibition was juried into the show.   The exhibit runs November 8 – 16 at The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, NYC.  Gallery hours are Mon. thru Fri.: 10-12 pm & 3-5 pm.  The gallery reception happens at the end of the show, Sunday the 16th, 1 to 5 pm.

“The Silversmith” Oil on burlap, 30 x 30 inches


I met this man last December at a swap meet in Quartzite, Arizona.  Next to his small motorhome he’d set up several large display cases crammed with his heavy silver jewelry.  Self-taught, he told me he worked the swap meet circuit (who knew there was such a thing?) which took him in a loop from southern California at the bottom to Minnesota at the top.  I asked if I could get a couple snapshots of him.  Though I prefer to do portraits directly from life, I found his sun baked face and glowing eyes to be good company for a few days early this spring.

For years I’ve been painting exclusively on fine linen, but recently I’ve been experimenting painting on prepared burlap for another series of paintings.  Though there is a coat of sizing and two coats of primer on the burlap, the surface remains very rough, but it suits the rough-hewn subject well.  What I especially like about working on this surface is that it forces me to be more aggressive, to use more paint in bigger brushes, and to work more broadly than I usually do.  Nice for a change.

Also today I received an email from the Richeson art people who have regular competitions.  The Figure/Portrait show is now online if you care to see it.  ‎

“Georgie”  Oil on linen, 24 x 20 inches


Georgie lives across the street from my studio in central New Jersey, and he has posed for several paintings.  The location is Montauk, Long Island.  The painting has been exhibited at the J.M. Stringer Galleries in Bernardsville, NJ and Vero Beach, FL.