Ever since visiting my cousin's Paint horse breeding farm a couple of months ago I've felt the urge to paint something equine. I rarely paint horses, though I have a deep understanding of their anatomy from spending my childhood and teen years filling the margins of my notebooks with them. Maybe it's the intimidation of having Michelle as one of my closest and oldest friends, but I think it's just that there are subjects I'd rather explore. Looking at all the photos I took in May, though, reminds me why they are as compelling a subject as birds: both species have a grace and fluidity that is hard to match. They are the Art Nouveau creatures of the animal kingdom.
I hadn't tried painting in oil on canvas yet (only panel) and had this 12" x 24" canvas I wanted to test drive, so decided to follow the muse and see where he leads. But first I needed the idea and the reference material. I wanted to continue with the use of corvids in my work so decided to set up a composition in which horse and crow could discuss their historical places in the art world.
After coming up with the characters and plot, I needed a setting. When I happened across this photo I took in Alberta, near Rosebud, two summers ago, it seemed perfect, especially as this is the place where James Wishart, my kids' great-great-(great?) grandfather, set up Rosebud's first homestead:
The hamlet was founded in the 1885 by James Wishart. While following the Gleichen Trail to Montana with his family, they awoke to the river valley covered by wild roses, Alberta's official flower. Wishart then reportedly said, "Here's the promised land, we go no further." The beauty of the valley has attracted many people throughout the years, from nature lovers to artists. Notable artists A. Y. Jackson and H. G. Glyde, members of the Group of Seven, spent a summer in 1944 painting in the area.
I am planning to change the details of the landscape quite a bit, but the essence of the place will, I hope, remain.
Next stop: picking a horse. I sorted through the photos I took at Windhorse Farm and settled on this one, because of the intelligent look in her eyes and the direction she was facing. Not knowing her by sight, I called her "Spotty" in my photos. Little did I know that this was Kari's amazing 18 year old showhorse and broodmare, Ima Special Angel aka "Abby", cornerstone of her establishment and a "cover girl" (Paint Horse Journal, sometime in the late '90s). Just looking at how she moves is enough of an indication of her quality. And better yet -- she's in foal!
Finally, I needed my corvid conversationalist. When I was in Penticton on the same road trip I took dozens and dozens of photos of one crow, picking up bits of food on the beach at Skaha Lake. She's been my model twice so far. But before choosing her, I did an acrylic underpainting (which, in hindsight, should've been a warm colour rather than blue, but live and learn!) and just blocked any old crow in with white conte.
Tomorrow I will show you the early stages of this painting, which is proving to be quite a challenge. If I actually nail it, it will be hard fought and nothing short of a small miracle!
PS I just looked at yesterday's blog post and recognized the connection. Entirely unintentional!