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Eighteen . . . Firsts, Lasts, and Everything

First published Monday 18th January 2021


My favourite painting in 2018 was 'Breathe', of which there is also a Limited edition Print. The watercolour was one of the last painted in my first studio at Patrick Studios, as I again moved in March, to a studio with north light. For those who don't know, for artists north light is better than light from other directions as it is reflected light. While many think that south light would be better, in fact it has a yellow cast that can distort colours. I did not suffer that with Breathe (which was painted in west light) and this is a piece that really flowed when I worked on it.

Breathe was a piece I had thought about for a long time, and is indicative of why I paint horses, and why they are everything to me (though even I was not aware of why that was when I started as an artist). The title comes from something I have said many times. When I am with horses, I feel that I can really breathe fully, and let go of the stresses and crowding thoughts of life (for those who remember the old televison adverts: a 'horlicks moment'). It is a mindfulness and peace, that myself and others find in the connection with these beautiful creatures, and one that I was missing after the loss of both of our horses in 2016.

I missed the routine of care, even mucking out, mud and freezing conditions, but I really missed working with my horse in the school. That hour or so of total concentration, connection and communication (though sometimes miscommunication). I missed most, simply sharing breath with the horse each day. One day we will find another horse that needs us (and who we need desperately), but so far, as of this moment of writing, that day has not yet arrived.

Breathe is a piece that follows from Hawa My3a (see 2015) in a long running series titled 'Spirit Quest', and the series is an attempt to visualise the contribution that horses (and other animals, but for me predominantly horses) to human mental and spiritual health, and in some cases vice versa. It is a long running series, because it is a subject of such personal interest to me, that I keep returning to it time and again.

2018 started with a show in January, as I had been invited as an exhibitor to The British Equestrian Trade Association Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. My painting ‘Chuckle’ (see 2013) was also featured on the cover of the Equestrian Trade News Journal. Lauren Armstrong came with me to do the show, and we were given a huge stand right next to the talk presentation area, so were able to listen in to the very interesting presentations on all aspects of equestrian, country and business aspects of trade.

One of the requirements was that I paint on the stand, and I did so for the whole show. The first piece I worked on was admired and bought straight away 'off-the-easel', so I went on to paint 'Forget Me Not (Goodbye)', one of the Innocence and Experience Series artworks, and a study for a triptych that would follow in 2019. Remember pareidolia? Very fittingly, there is a face above the pony's head. I really did not paint it. Honestly.

As an aside, I have mentioned alcohol a few times, and you may be starting to think of me as a bit of a lush. While I was a hard drinker in my earlier, stressed and often unhappy, days as a Graphic Designer, I don't really drink much these days unless socially, and I have taken at least a month off alcohol starting from January each year since I was eighteen (If you are reading this in the USA, it is legal to drink in pubs in the UK from eighteen). In all that time there have only been two exceptions, and 2018 was one of them. I am afraid I need a glass of wine in the evening after a day at a show! In one fateful year I attempted to give up coffee too, and I can tell you that I am definitely more addicted to coffee than to alcohol. I lasted two, very miserable, weeks before breaking, and to assure myself that I was not a completely addictive personality I stayed off alcohol for three months that year.

Following my winning The Inaugural Chair Award in 2017, one of the sponsors of the award ‘The Artist’ magazine’s editor, Dr Sally Bulgin, had contacted me to ask if I would write another article, this time on drawing and painting horses in general, rather than a straight forward demonstration piece. I joked that those were each at least an article in themselves, and Sally agreed, so one article on drawing, and another on painting were published as a short series in the January and February issues. Actually, the January issue came out in November, and February’s in December of 2017, and were obviously also written in 2017!

In March I had work in the Association of Animal Artists’ Annual exhibition in Cheshire, and I also had another painting selected to represent England at Fabriano in Acquarello went off to Italy. This was the fourth consecutive year that my work was selected. Though I have never managed to include a trip to the exposition in my frequent travels, I should try, as there is a whole week of artists' events including workshops by many International Watercolour Masters.

This time, the painting was not a horse, but ‘Wings’ a limited palette watercolour painted from my ballet references in Reno in 2011, which I had completed during a short residency at Decoporium, Billie Ager Mills’ venture at Thorp Arch. This watercolour painting found its forever home, returning to the USA.

Also In March GDPR compliance for storage of data came into effect for any business dealing with the European Union, and a good deal of time had to be invested in ensuring that my business was compliant – as I have said before, it is not all painting away to my heart’s content, and while overall, about 40% of my time is spent in the administrative tasks of running my business, in certain instances, this can be 100% of my time.

2018 was a year of ‘lasts’. Lauren had told me that she was expecting a baby, and Leo was born soon after her last Bramham show with me. Emma Sharp also brought new daughter, Penelope, to see us on the stand that year, so there as definitely a baby theme that year! While we keep in touch, and Lauren sometimes comes to see an exhibition with me, I was back to covering all of the business side of my work myself.

In July The Art Show at The Great Yorkshire Show was Judy Packham’s last, as she handed over to new organiser Lucy Fiona Morrison. It was also the last Art Show in the location that it had called home before starting many years before, and the show moved to a new venue in 2019 where we were able to demonstrate within the gallery space.

In 2018 and in the years before, the demonstrations were done from a small tent outside the gallery, and my last demonstration there was painting ‘Memory Eye’. I knew that I could draw a horse’s eye without any reference, and had wondered if I could paint one from memory too, so me, being me, decided that a good time to try was in front of a group of people in a demonstration! Fortunately, there were no casualties!

The image shown here, also has my scribble drawing explaining the ‘core effect’ in drawing and painting, as the eye is simply a sphere set within the cave of the eye socket.

A further article of mine was published by The ArtistsNetwork, [sic] in August. The USA based on-line group commissioned an article on my Ten Approaches to Drawing, an idea I had developed for a workshop based around my Life Drawing experiences, but applied to drawing horses. Courtney Jordan of The ArtistsNetwork, asked me to revise this to any subject, and while the article obviously had a horse as one subject, it also covered drawing a cityscape, a chair and an orchid. Those who know me, know that I collect orchids, often saving ones that are deemed dead. I have no particular skill with plants, its just that orchids seem to be OK with total neglect in our conservatory.

Off on my travels again, I was back in the USA in August, returning to visit Tara Choate in Oregon. First, we were drawing with a group in Portland for three days, then Tara took me on a trip to the coast, where we stayed with her mother. I was entranced by the misty beauty there and hope to return one day to paint some of the coastal landscapes. You may have noticed that I like painting misty scenes! After a few days in Reno, the whole family flew to Mexico for David's nephew's wedding for a week, then we had a few days back in Reno before flying back to the UK, so we were defininitely building up the air miles.

On my return from the USA, I was back to writing and documenting the stages of artworks. On the strength of the reaction to my two-part series earlier in the year, Dr Sally Bulgin, editor of ‘The Artist’ Magazine had commissioned a ten part series on drawing and painting animals. The series was published in the January to October issues 2019, but as I explained before, the January and February issues were actually published in November and December 2018.

In September I had all six of my paintings juried into the Society of Equestrian Artists’ Horse in Art Exhibition, and wrote a blog piece ‘when is art not a jar’ about the hanging of ‘Gathering’ (see 2017).

In October 2018 I exhibited for the first time at Weston Park’s Granary Gallery in Shropshire, with three paintings in the Association of Animal Artists’ Autumn Exhibition. I had visited the Gallery with Julie to see the Masters of Watercolour exhibition earlier in the year, and now helped to receive paintings from the artists and hang the exhibition. In doing so, I met Gareth Williams, curator of the gallery and the art collection of the National Trust owned house, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of art and architecture. He is also a fellow whippet owner!

In November, Julie Cross and I took another gallery trip to London, this time for the Klimpt and Schiele Drawings exhibition at The Royal Academy, and the Charlie Mackesy Exhibition nearby on Duke Street. We also managed to squeeze in a jaunt to The Mall Galleries for the Discerning Eye exhibition, in which Julie had three paintings.

My Christmas card for 2018 was 'Follow Your Star', from a charcoal piece drawn without reference. I had seen Charlie's drawings on Instagram and followed him for a few years, and while he is best known for his pen and ink drawings of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse, I was very taken with his charcoal works. In fact the charcoal drawings I had done whilst at college, inspired more by Kathë Kollwitz, had a very similar feel, and Follow Your Star harks back to those, as prompted by Charlie's work. Julie showed one of the cards to Charlie when we spoke to him, and he loved that his work had prompted the piece, so I can say that Charlie has a signed card in his collection!

Follow Your Star produced a huge reaction when we sent the Christmas cards this year, with many people calling to say they loved it and the messages they were seeing in it. Glynnis Mills HSEA even mentioned it in the SEA Newsletter, citing it as an allegory for the artist's struggle. Again, I am pleased when a piece of my work speaks to someone as it means that I have achieved my aim and done my job.


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The contents of this article or blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article or blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article or blog. Ruth Buchanan disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article or blog.

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