Drawing and painting horses is a challenge. Horse anatomy is quite difficult.
One of the mistakes I always did was to make the neck too short and the body, or the flank, too long. Most important is to get the curves of the rear, the back and the belly right. Often, in landscape painting, the horses we paint are quite small so as long as it looks right, we’re good. It does not actually have to be right. There is a difference! I should trademark that..
As Richard Schmid rightly says, you don’t actually have to know anything about the thing you’re painting. But it is imperative to spend time observing and drawing it!
In the end, the only way to fully understand an object, whether it be a horse or a car, is to draw it many, many times.
Only then will we ‘get it’ and I am not talking about intellectually getting what a horse is all about, just referring to drawing skills here. Horses are more challenging to draw than cows, don’t you think?
I recommend charcoal drawing for the simple reason that you can take it anywhere you go. It doesn’t weigh much and it’s a great way to improve drawing skills. I use vine charcoal sticks and charcoal pencils by Faber Castell and General’s. They do come in different categories, from the super hard to super soft.
When painting near Los Olivos, we came upon this horse farm tucked in a hidden valley far off the beaten path. I was so psyched to paint there, I just drove right in. My painting buddy went ‘you sure you want to just go on their property?’ Of course, you can’t do that so we asked if we could paint near the horses. Unfortunately, the owners were nowhere to be found and the horse handlers felt they couldn’t make that decision.
Plus, there was a bit of a language barrier, because the modern day cowboy is, not surprisingly, a Mexican man! The only person who spoke perfect English was someone’s 15 year old kid who helped out!
Horse farms are definitely a subject matter that I want to explore more. I did this piece from a value study of the horse shoe barn (if that’s what they call it) and a plethora of pictures.
Notice how there is a unifying color to the work. In reality, the sky was a solid ‘Walt Disney blue’ and there were patches of super green, artificially looking English meadow here and there. However, I went with the colors of California hillsides which are a wonderful golden hue that is very unique to our area.
I think it’s important to remember not to copy the place as it is, but paint it in ways that makes for a good painting. Even outside, it’s all too tempting to copy what’s there and end up with an area of bright blue, and a squeaky green foreground with little or no color harmony. That’s not to say that color is bad, but just like everything else in a good painting, it should play a supportive role and not create sections of different colors, completely unrelated. Cartoons look like that!
For my color mixes, I use quite a bit of cadmiums (or the new equivalent of cadmiums, without the toxins). Cadmiums (yellow pale, med yellow, orange and red) are very strong, but when mixed with earthtones will give the punch that is necessary to make a statement. I try to avoid painting too wishy-washy.