Revving It Up in my 5th Year
This was such a busy year!
By now I had given up my design work to fully focus on painting full-time. I started my career as a graphic designer and illustrator and by chance rather than by design had ended up being known for illustrations of historical architecture.
I put that background (no pun intended) to good use, and my first painting of a horse with an architectural backdrop was ‘5-2-9’, which later became a Limited Edition Print titled ‘Sparrow' (right). Fittingly the painting is of the ‘trot-up’ (Jury/vet inspection) at my local event, Bramham Horse Trials. I have chosen it as this year’s favourite for various reasons. Compositionally it was a challenge to work out how to make the horse the focus of the painting, when in true scale he would have been dwarfed by the buildings. Once again, every person in the painting was later identified (though the horse never was). When I took it to my framer, Emma was agog at my answer to his question if I was proud of the piece. I said that I was pleased with the painting of the umbrella. I’m sure some other artists will understand my answer, but I’m not sure that anyone else will.
By now I had outgrown the conservatory as a studio space, so we built a home office in the garden to act as my studio, affectionately known as ‘the shed’. My Jack Russell terrier, Riley, became a studio dog, often modelling for me to draw, but collapsing with a disgusted sigh when I picked up my paintbrush as he knew that he would not get sense or attention from me when I was painting. In fact, my ‘other half’ learned that lesson too!
During my trip to Dubai in 2004, I had met Lucy Munro, Fine Art Photographer, journalist, and editor of Equestrio Arabia, an equestrian and Lifestyle magazine serving the UAE. In March 2004, the magazine featured my work as an artist over several double page spreads. Lucy kindly provided me with this quote from the article about my work:
“[Ruth’s] drawings and watercolours capture the misty mood of an early morning hunt, the passion and effort of early morning work on the downs or battle on the racecourse, and the elegance and precision of performance in the dressage arena.”
In the the Summer of 2005, Emma and I added larger shows to our schedule: Bramham International Horse Trials in June; The Festival of Hunting at Peterborough in July; the Horse Trials at both Burghley and Blenheim in September, where we exhibited in Just Brilliant Events’ Lifestyle Pavilion.
In honour of this, I produced my first brochure featuring 'Girth Boots, Tail Bandage' (left) on the cover. This was a further learning experience, as we realised that people were taking the (free) brochure to frame instead of buying the Limited Edition Print. I later found out that one person who had taken a pile of the brochures 'to promote me' was, in fact, framing and selling them as prints. Whilst annoying, this also had a professional implication for me. A Limited Edition means that no reproductions should be made of the image outside of the numbered print run (although I am allowed to reproduce it in a book or for my own marketing). Needless to say I demanded the return of the 'pile' and spent most of my first show of the year handwriting my signature across the cover images on the remaining brochure stock!
As an aside, the title of 'Girth Boots, Tail Bandage' came from me seeing this rider checking her girth, but also from me once giving a friend the sole task of removing my horse's tail bandage before I entered the dressage arena. She forgot, and the the judge called me over at the end of the test to tell me I was eliminated. Every painting has a story, and the titles mostly come to me as I am painting.
The larger shows meant that I had to be able to take card payments and, as I was already a member of the Federation of Small Business, I was able to get advantageous rates for a merchant account. My mobile card machine arrived just before we set up the marquee and pictures at Bramham (on the back row by the Members car park). The first day went well, and we managed taking payments with the mobile terminal, but the following morning I had to send an end of day 'Z report' to clear the machine and file the previous days transactions before taking any more payments. This was my first introduction to how kind and supportive the show exhibitor community can be. Paul Baynam-Honri (then of Patey, now with his own company Honri Hats) had stopped by my stand several times the previous day to offer help and advice, and now he came to my rescue, allaying my panic and showing me the process. Paul remains a friend to this day.
Even I cannot now imagine how I managed it, but in-between shows over the Summer of 2005, I continued my horse racing series by becoming Artist in Residence at Thirsk Racecourse for their 150th year of racing. Allowed ‘access all areas’, I spent idyllic hours drawing and referencing with, once again, the behind-the-scenes stories drawing me in. More of this in the next blog post.
While we stayed with friends in Stilton for the shows near Peterborough, at Blenheim we stayed on-site in my horsebox. There we met fellow traders Caroline Wightwick (now Butcher) of Thomas Dainty/Brogue Traders and silversmith/artist Arthur Griffiths with Maggie Evans of Griff, who were all exhibiting in the same marquee as us. There was alcohol involved in the evenings, and I won’t embarrass them with the (often hilarious) tales, but both Emma and I made life-long friends over those four days, friends who have been kind and supportive to us ever since, (as well as being great fun).
My Christmas Card in 2005 was the little watercolour ‘With Friends’. It is only with hindsight in writing this, that I realise I was commenting on feeling humbled (and small) by the fantastic people I had met during the year who were watching over me.
As ever, my unspoken emotions came out through my painting.