Seven Year Itch?
First published Thursday 7th January 2021
My seventh year of business started as usual with me painting in my studio, along with booking, and organising for, the shows we would attend over Summer. There is an amazing amount of 'business' work in being an artist, and at least 40% of my time is spent on tasks other than drawing or painting, but drawing and painting for me is an itch that has to be scratched, and I have never regretted the decision to work as an artist, even if I don't get to draw or paint all the time.
Emma and I started shows earlier in 2007, with Chatsworth Horse Trials in the middle of May. Again, we took the horsebox to live in, and I discovered the joy of watching the sun rising over the valley mist in the very early morning, while sitting on the horsebox steps with a cup of tea and my morning cigarette. We were truly privileged to spend time in some beautiful locations in the grounds of stately homes, before getting down to the hard work of the show, and believe me it is exhausting work!
My favourite painting from 2007, 'Six Boots, Three Shoes', of which there is also a short-run Limited Edition Print. Once again, this piece shows that I am not the best judge of my work in a commercial context. While we have sold some of the numbered print edition (the rider depicted, Polly Stockton, had also signed some of the prints for me), the original painting has never sold, and is still in my studio in its beautiful, limited edition, hand crafted Italian frame. For me the watercolour painting is a poignant tale of returning home after a hard day's work - as seen by the long shadows cast by the lowering sun - tired and a little bashed, but in peaceful and accepting companionship. The horse, by the way, is Tom Quigley.
It used to upset me that some pieces did not find their home, but I have come to realise it is exactly that. The right person, the right home, for this painting just has not come across it yet.
At Bramham, in June, we moved from our own marquee to pre-built ‘shedding’ at the bottom of the hill next to the Yorkshire Post bus, but still overlooking the main arena. Our neighbours were Pashmina Passion, and exhibitors Anil and Manil Tandon quickly became firm friends. They adored Riley and Sparky, who spent their time in the shade under a chair between our stalls. Anil and I took cigarette-breaks together talking about art and literature, or I would listen entranced as he talked on the phone, effortlessly switching languages in his beautiful mellow voice. Always elegant, Manil gave (still gives) great hugs and their daughter, Pia, played with the pups.
In 2007 I had been invited to the CLA Game Fair at Harewood as a demonstration exhibitor. Unfortunately, heavy rain in the run up to the show forced cancellation, and I remember riding above the fields used for public parking and watching as even the quads and tractors were getting stuck in the mud, so the cancellation was not a surprise.
At Burghley I exhibited a watercolour painting of Walk On Star that had been commissioned by his owners, Nick and Barbara Walkinshaw, who were great supporters of my work. Having originally seen me at Burghley, they generously steered owners of horses that I had painted to my stand.
My process for commissions is to do a series of 'roughs' - detailed pencil drawings - so that the client can choose the one they feel most captures their horse. While the original brief had been for Magic (Walk On Star's stable name) to be warming up for dressage, it was this 'behind the scenes' off-guard moment that spoke to me, so I included it with the drawings. It spoke to the Walkinshaws and to Pippa too, so became the painting
Of course, Nick and Barbara also have the drawings, so they do have artwork fitting the brief! We did a small-run Limited Edition print of Magic Moment, which sold out quickly, especially the ones that Pippa had signed. She also kindly provided me with this quote:
"Ruth has painted a few of my horses
and I have long admired her ability to capture their individual characters."
In mid-November we exhibited for the first time at the four-day Northern Ireland International Horse Show in Belfast, a show jumping event in the mould of Horse of Olympia. My partner, David, and I drove our horsebox via the ferry from Stranraer in Scotland to the site (a temporarily converted indoor ice rink) right by the docks, with the exhibitor camping area on the derelict Harland and Wolff Shipyard (where The Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic ) were built between 1911 and 1915). Emma, now working in sales, flew in to Belfast for the show. I think this was the first show where I fully enjoyed exhibiting. Our stand was on the same level as the arena, in fact we were only a few metres from the arena side and were able to watch rehearsals and warm ups, as well as the show itself, from the stand. The performances included the Metropolitan Police Musical Ride, the first time they had performed in Northern Ireland. Music is very important to my work, and I have playlists to help me in the studio. After hearing the music from the performance: Rogue Traders' Here Come the Drums; several times a day for four days, it became a sound-worm that is still on those playlists today (you can read more about music and my art in my earlier blog post If music be the food of art, play ON). There were flurries of activity between classes and performances as too many people tried to wedge themselves into our 2m x 3m space! It was incredibly hard work, starting on the stand around 10am and remaining there until the last class finished between 11pm and midnight, but we loved every minute of it. And we adored the Irish public from both sides of the border, many of whom stayed to chat, or invited us to visit them at home. We also sold a lot of pictures!
As in the sunrise at the start of this post, it is often the simple things that speak most to me, and one of my favourite pieces from this year is the pastel drawing of Bilsdale hounds 'Mabel & Mayfly'. (below left) I think that is because it was my first artwork where I felt that I managed to depict the expression in the eye that I had seen at the time. If they eye is not right, then the whole picture is not right, and I have returned to studies of eyes many times since.
My 2007 Christmas card was another pastel drawing of hounds (and horse, Midge) in ‘Seasons Greetings’ (below right). At the time, I was using both pastel and watercolour, choosing between the mediums which I felt would best work for the subject. I only use soft stick pastels, not pastel pencils, so the pieces tend to be implied, rather than stated, detail.