Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Yesterday I had a fabulous time painting horses at work, the finished pieces for which I will someday be able to post up here (in a humungoid art dump sure to come sometime after June/July). I do not have Corel Painter on my work computer, so I spent a little time developing a set of Photoshop brushes to mimic the hairy-oily effects I love so much in Painter, and those effects that have come to be essential to me when painting horses.

I'm not a very experienced horse painter. I've maybe drawn 100,000 sketches and doodles of horses, throughout my 25 years, but I've only recently begun to render them both tonally and in full color. I think now that it's not so much the anatomy of the horse that my professors tried so hard to make us all fear, but instead the play of light on the musculature, all tucked neatly under a thin, tight, glossy skin. Simple shapes suddenly become not-so-simple when you look at a photo or a painting of a horse's flank. Even the lighting on their barrel-shaped tummies is not how I would expect essentially a cylinder to be rendered. It's perplexing!

Enter George Stubbs, the quinticential painter of horses, in his time (the 18th c.) as well as today. Stubbs is maybe known better in the artist mainstream as the fellow who did those intricate anatomical plates found in quite a few animal anatomy books. However, he was also a very successful painter who was commissioned to paint the studs, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, and other shockingly expensive and high-bred horses of the English nobility. There are many of Stubbs' paintings that do not appeal - skinny, posed, wild-eyed equines, or horses that look cartoonish and fat. We must not forget the aesthetics of the time. When it comes to that lighting and the anatomy, however, the paintings are simply incredible. They are both strong and subtle, with perfect light and color. The horses may not look like *real* horses (as in a photograph), but they all seem full of personality, uniqueness, and as if you could walk up and have a conversation.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time with "Whistlejacket" (coolest horse name ever, btw) and "Mambrino" yesterday, and feel I've come a long way in the rendering of the horse for having studied those two paintings so closely. I still do not, however, have a firm grasp on WHY the light performs the way it does, so for my warm-up sketches today, I took a look at some basic musculature in the flank, and tried to deconstruct how exactly things connected, moved, and would be lighted. I've a long way to go!!
And in the spirit of coolness, I used my favorite "old paper" background. Enjoy!