sketching from life at the Charlie Longsdon National Hunt gallops in Oxfordshire
Equestrian Art

Equestrian painting from life and memory

Equestrian painting from life and memory. Summoning and catching emotion in the moment.

Written by Melanie Wright (Equestrian and Landscape Artist).

Historically there has always been a strong connection between horses and art.

The beauty, speed and power of the horse, its place in history and mythology and its enduring relationship with man, makes it a fascinating subject for the artist, and speaking for myself, the connection is both visual and spiritual.

The way a horse moves, the carriage of its head and the conformation of body and limbs is both a fascinating and challenging subject for the artist. Offering such a wide variety of shapes and movement, from the thoroughbred to the heavy hunter or cob. Each bring their own character to a painting. And the sheer power of a horse at full speed is awesome.

sketchbook studies drawn at a Dressage Establishment and at a Polo Match at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire
Sketchbook studies drawn at a Dressage Establishment and at a Polo Match at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire

My life drawing sketchbooks form an essential reference for the paintings. Growing up with horses playing such a large part in my life, gave me a valuable insight into this special connection, both in and out of the saddle.

Grooming and handling horses, provided an understanding of equine anatomy, and the feel and tactile quality of a a horses coat and limbs under ones hand.

The sound of a horse snorting, jangling the bit in its mouth, swishing flies away with its tail on a hot afternoon, or the thunder of hooves when playing as a group out in the fields, together with the sweet fragrance of a horses muzzle when feeding from freshly cut hay, or rich Spring grass, are all powerful sensory memories that both subconsciously and consciously come into play to enrich the purely visual response, when painting.

And the rhythm, stride and vital energy connection when riding, is something that I often summon from memory, when painting a horse in motion.

I trained as a Life and Portraiture Fine Artist, and while I painted people for many years, I soon found myself drawn back to my love of the horse and an intense interest in portraying and working with them has been both a joy and a fascinating journey.

Sporting art has these days essentially been superseded by photography, which though technically accurate, can present a rather soulless record of a given moment in competition or at an event from the sporting angle, but lacking in that fundamental soul connection that flourishes through sustained study from life. Equally, Super real equine portraiture is technically highly admirable, yet there is something vital that is lost in the result……

For the figurative artist, life drawing from the nude figure, is an essential and constant discipline. Life drawing for me in the equestrian field is equally essential, and over the years I have enjoyed maintaining this practice.

Photography as a source for equine painting images certainly has its uses, but nothing can replace the deep connection made through continual eye, hand, heart coordination drawing practice from the subject itself.

Particularly so with the moving subject. One of my favourite places to draw is in an indoor dressage school where the horses are taken through their routine and practice each day within a contained space, and I can sit on one side or in a viewing gallery and sketch their balletic trajectory across and around the arena.

sketchbook studies drawn at a Dressage Establishment and at a Polo Match at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire
Sketchbook studies drawn at a Dressage Establishment and at a Polo Match at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire

Working from a constantly moving subject like this, makes one look really closely, feel the rhythm, and note down quickly the essential lines and shapes of the subject.

Another great equine life drawing opportunity is at the polo ground, watching practices and matches during the summer months. Again, one is often simply making abstract marks that express the charge and flow of play, and marking the basic shapes of horse and rider, individually and as a mass.

Scale, rhythm and flow are key. And then when away from the fanfare and competitive Arena, to simply sit in a field, with a sketchbook and pencil observing a group of horses moving and grazing around me for a number of hours is one of the most rewarding and sublimely peaceful experiences of my equestrian art practice.

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