2009 - The Whole Nine Yards
First published Saturday 9th January 2021
My favourite painting from 2009 is 'Allrounder'. Many people think that this is my horse, Atlas, but the model, Jester, belonged to Carly's mother and he was a small horse with a huge personality. Apart from his eye and attitude, this piece is noteworthy for me personally because of the paint handling. It was the first time I 'floated' colours into a watercolour flat wash - literally dropping colour in. You can see the effect at the top of his neck just behind the headpiece of the bridle. Allrounder was also when I felt I got to grips with painting (in this case rather complicated) tack.
I considered a print of this image, but I was never happy with the repographer's scan, and will not go ahead if I feel that the quality is lost. I spend a good deal of time with my paintings to get the colour and tonal balances right, and that is pointless if it is all destroyed in a poor quality reproduction. I did however publish a card of this painting form my own scan (not enough resolution for a print but fine for the smaller card). This was re-printed it a few years later as a 'valentine' version with one of the white areas behind his cheek digitally altered to a heart. Both versions have sold out, though I am considering reprinting the 'heart' version for this years Valentine's Day.
The start of my ninth year as an artist was, again, very wet and my first show of 2009 was literally a wash-out, when Chatsworth Horse Trials was rained off on the second day. As in this case, it is usually the lorry parks and/or public car parks that cause the cancellation, though at Chatsworth, even the temporary stables were flooded. Emma and I had to breakdown the stand and marquee in pouring rain, so we backed the horsebox up and dropped the ramp into the tent and managed to keep the paintings dry. However, in the time it took to dismantle and load the marquee, we were soaked to the skin. We drove home with wet clothes down to our underwear, only to then have to unload all the pictures at home so that they didn’t absorb moisture from the wet marquee (not good for watercolours). I then had to reload them to return them to the store the following day.
In 2009, we were all feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crash, but I was fortunate to have commissions to carry me through. Emma and I carried on with the shows at Bramham and Burghley, and Emma schooled me in ‘Long-View Marketing’. I have said it before, really Emma is more responsible for my business upcoming anniversary than I am.
One question that I was asked quite a lot back then was if I had ever done a painting for someone famous. Yes, I had and have again since, including paintings for people famous in spheres other than the equestrian world, but who love their horses and other animals all the same. Of course, some of my clients are identifiable from their paintings, but I take client confidentiality very seriously and, famous or not, unless they have given me a testimonial, and specific permission to publish (which includes my own marketing/website/social media etc) their words and/or the painting, then it is not for me to infringe on their privacy. I am happier talking about other aspects of taking commissions, and truthfully, I love to meet all such-adored animals and their humans, and it is a privilege to witness and reflect their characters and connections in my paintings.
Another favourite for me is 'Dexter and Pepper'. Whilst I rarely do pencil drawings as commissions (in any case, the drawings/ rough versions that the client gets to choose from (and keep) are just as detailed as this), Dexter and Pepper was a special instance.
It is a favourite because I was coming to realise that my biggest motivator and inspiration was not horses per se, but the communication and connection between animals or people and their horses.
When I started my business as an artist, there were quite a few things I did not expect to be a part of my work. The first time a client wept when I delivered their painting caught me off guard - I hasten to add they have always been ‘good tears’. While initially embarrassed, I came to realise that it was flattering for my work to prompt such emotion. Some funny stories have also arisen from what I term the ‘cloak and dagger’ part of commissioned work. A painting is often commissioned as a surprise gift. Carefully worded emails or texts, clandestine referencing dates, meeting for delivery of paintings on motorway bridges and disguised wrapping have all been a part of such work. I’m sure some ‘other-halfs’ suspect something entirely different!
The funniest example has to be from 2009, when I was commissioned by both a husband and wife at the same time with neither knowing about the other. I had to make two referencing trips and on the second visit their groom and I had to pretend that we had not met, and I had to catch myself to appear as though I didn’t know the way around – ‘not having been there before’. I also had to put off a meeting, when one party said it was safe for me to visit because their spouse was out for the day – yes, they were out seeing me to approve their painting! It all got extremely complicated, especially with me having to remember who knew what, when and why. In the end, due to a snowstorm; a delayed flight; a ‘keystone cops’ episode in an icy car park while trying to fit a large framed painting inside a sportscar; and a location where there was no phone signal, I had to deliver the completed works to the house and we all ended together up in their kitchen laughing about it!
My Christmas card in 2008 was ‘Who Snowze’. I had originally intended to publish a print of the artwork this card was based on, a pastel drawing titled ‘Old Hand’ and the drawing had been scanned before being taken to exhibit at Burghley. However, when the original sold at the show, the customer siad that they preferred it not to become a print, though they were happy for it to be printed in a single run as a Christmas card.
The designer at my printers added snow to make the design ‘Who Snowze’ (sold out and as per the agreement, never reprinted).
Footnote: In law (https://www.gov.uk/copyright) the physical original piece and the copyright of the piece are two separate things, with the originator (artist) owning the copyright of anything they draw or paint, even if it is commissioned. In practice I feel it is unethical to enforce my right to commercially publish works that have a personal meaning for commissioner or buyer, and even consult them before publishing on social media or my website. I occasionally ask someone who commissions me how they would feel about a print or card being made from their painting. These tend to be my favourites, so they are over-represented in this history and actually only account for around 10% of my published cards. Only about 2% of my commissioned work has ever been commercially published. I have only ever published a Print Edition from a commissioned work at the request of the commissioner. If I have already published an edition from an artwork that is for sale, then I inform the potential client (what, how many etc). If I have not published, but have plans to do so, then I would ask in the same way as for a commissioned piece, and abide by their preference.