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Seventeen - Prizes and Determination

First published Sunday 17th January 2021


The year started with me moving studios once again. The lovely, huge offices in Garforth that had been my art space for nearly three years was to become a gym, though I did manage to sneak in completing a commissioned painting 'Our Hearts' before the move.

I had been increasingly drawn to the connections between people and their horses, and this painting, of therapist and author, Grace Olson with her horse Pippa (Pops) tipified that. The background washes are a series of hearts with small details that have specific meaning for Grace, as do the gold and black icons. Grace finds heart shapes in nature on her walks and posts them on social media - again, not much is random in this painting.

East Street Arts offered me a space at Patrick Studios, their permanent home in Leeds, but it would not be available until March, so I had to move everything back home and work from the spare bedroom for three weeks. My new studio in Leeds was smaller, but permanent, so I was determined to make it work. While there is a bus route from my home, I often have large or heavy things to carry and/or run errands on the way home, so I would need to drive. This meant getting up at 5am to beat the rush and find a parking space near the studios before the commuter rush. Having started teaching workshops in 2014, I also hoped to be able to use the teaching space there to establish some classes. I was also looking forward to some constructive contact with other artists, of which there were around 30 working in the building, as well as the East Street Arts administration staff. Unfortunately, I was left off the invitation list for the meeting that discussed use of the teaching space, and other artists had already claimed classes in watercolour and Life Drawing, which were the subjects that I was planning to deliver.

I was again selected to represent England in Fabriano in Acquarello, so my painting got a trip to Italy, though I was again not able to go in person. In March, at the Association of Animal Artist’s Annual Exhibition in Cheshire, I won the Sketchbook Award judged by Jim Patterson, owner of the award sponsor, Two Rivers Paper Company.

“A sketchbook should be a visible record of the development of the artist and their understanding of their subject matter. Ruth Buchanan’s sketchbook was a confident and intriguing insight into the development of a finished artwork, some of which were on display at the exhibition.”

Jim Patterson. Two Rivers Paper Company

I also won the Inaugural Chairman’s Award, sponsored by among others, Rosemary & Co Brushes, and The Artist Magazine, though judged by the Inaugural Chair and the current AAA Chair. The latter is judged on a pretty comprehensive written submission detailing business practice as well as art practice and a body of work rather than a single painting. I am not sure whether to embarrassed or pleased to say, but as I also won an award in one of the main competition categories, I won three awards (I was certainly embarrassed at the prize giving evening). I do see it as encouraging that three different judges chose me and my work and to top it off, at the end of the exhibition I found out that I had won a fourth, with a public vote award as well.

“Looking at the creative practice of another artist is always interesting but in the case of Ruth Buchanan it is fascinating to see how a successful artist, who does so much to promote the genre of animal art, retains a strong desire to continually hone her skills. Ruth strives to find more each time she creates a piece of art and like many successful artists the key to success appears to be the need to be creative, the determination to ensure her artistic knowledge and practice continue to develop and the desire to find a narrative for each piece she creates. For many this level of commitment to the artwork would be a singular focus with very little room for anything else. Ruth’s ability to run all the necessary aspects of a successful business as an artist, whilst still finding time to get involved in and even organise charitable events which benefit both the animals she loves and often the people that interact with them, is remarkable. She has faced challenges in her career and found ways of making things work for her. A radio interview on her website reveals her deep love and joy of the subjects of her artwork, particularly of the horse.”

Anne Bonner. Inaugural Chair

It was back to the new studio then to paint for shows, the first of which was Bramham in June. This time it was me judging work, alongside Bramham Estate owner Nicholas Lane Fox, as Lauren set up and ran a children's drawing competition on our stand. We provided pencils, paper and clip boards, often the children would sit on the stand to draw, and it was lovely to see the work, for which we gave prizes in three age groups.

At Bramham I exhibited 'Ripple Rock and Roll', a favourite pieces for unexpected reasons. Firstly, pareidolia was back in force (there is ghost in the water and a skull near the tree bark), but also because of the strong colour placement and loose painting of the background and foreground.

I know that Julie Cross sees this as a seminal piece in my paint handling, and by now we were working more closely together and had formed a co-mentoring relationship. Ripple Rock and Roll was also another piece that taught me a lesson. In studio, I could not decide if it was finished and tried every trick I knew to see what was 'wrong': turning it upside down, on its side, viewing it in a mirror, photographing it and turning that to black and white or to inverse colour . . . Neither Julie or I could see what was bothering us. In the end I sent it to my framer anyway, as the show was fast approaching. I noticed something as soon as I went to collect the painting, and when Julie saw it on the stand she asked me what I had done to make the painting work. I had done nothing than get it framed, but that 'tied something together'. See? artist not always the best judge, and it proves something that Les Packham used to say: "A good painting deserves a good frame, and a bad painting needs a good frame." I will leave it for you to judge into which category this painting fits. As an aside, framing is an art in itself. A painting can be enhanced or destroyed by the framing choices. I am lucky to have worked with The Whole Picture Company in Harrogate, who also do some of my Fine Art printing, since 2003. If you are n artist, find a good framer!

More art appreciation followed later in June when Julie Cross and I took a trip to London to see the John Singer Sargeant's watercolours exhibition at Dulwich (where I was told off by a steward for looking too closely at one painting - I was amazed to find that Sargeant's palette and my own were very similar!), then we went on to the Katsushika Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum. Visiting exhibitions has been a love of mine since I used to stay with my godmother in Surbiton every year as a child. I remember her taking me to the Salvador Dali exhibition in London, and had made many gallery visit trips since. While I have a whole library of art books, seeing the originals has an emotional power that is not always communicated in print. Julie and I, and Michelle and I, have gone 'gallery hopping' many times and I look forward to being able to see exhibitions again.

In 2017, I started my 'Innocence and Experience' series of paintings. This started as an idea for a single painting, that I had played with for a number of years. I was driving to the yard one day, when I spotted a girl playing with a grey pony in a field and knew that I had found my inspiration for the painting. The girl was Lucy Foster, a daughter of a friend, and readily agreed to model for me. We spent a lovely sunny afternoon in 2016, where Lucy and loan pony, Darcy, proved to be fabulous models, giving me further ideas as well. I had struggled with the set up and composition for the painting for quite a while before I realised that it was not a single painting, but a series. 'Three Strands' was the first painting of the series to emerge in 2017, more as a study really, and was first shown at Bramham this year.

'Gathering' followed later in the year, and has more to say. The paintings are designed to speak on different levels (for example, the plants in the background and shapes of shadows are deliberately chosen), and at the time, Julie and I were having deep discussions about how much an artist should say about their motivations and meanings. The paintings are also very personal to me, but that is just my conversation with the work. You may have a totally different conversation based on your own experiences, and that is how it should be. By the way, Lucy does not have red hair, but I do!

My show schedule was truncated in 2017 by another foreign trip. I managed to set up and staff one day of The Art Show at The Great Yorkshire Show before flying, to the USA. I did manage my demonstration at The Art Show, especially as some people had now started to attend every year, even leaving home extra early when I was scheduled in a morning slot. The reason for the timing was two-fold: a trip to Oregon, and David's niece, Eve Allen's wedding to Max Garza in Reno. Tara Choate had followed my work on social media, and contacted me in 2016 to ask if I would come to Salem, Oregon, to paint, and Lauren had initially dealt with the enquiry. I was now more used to painting in front of other people, having started demonstrating for art groups, and had even been teaching workshops. Oregon borders Nevada to the North, so it was a fairly short flight into Portland, and Tara had organised painting with a group at the art centre in Keizer. It was a huge step to go and stay with someone I had never met in person, but Tara and I got on well and found a lot of common ground. She had also arranged a referencing trip to a The Lazy Dog Ranch to see some roping competition training, and there I had my first experience of Western riding. I was terrible at it (the aids were all backwards to what I was used to) and I must have seemed like it was the first time I had ever sat on a horse!

While I was in the USA, I received an email about a workshop in the UK with an American Artist (convoluted, I know). Stephen Quiller had been researching and teaching colour theory for many years, and his book 'Color Choices' [sic] had been a great help to me in my own understanding of the vast subject. I immediately signed up, and on my return from the States went to Cornwall to paint with him. There is always more to learn in art (as there is in horse-riding) and that is one of the things I love most about my work.

After sponsoring the intermediate Class prize, and exhibiting for the first time at Allerton Park Horse Trials (though I had been a frequent visitor over the years), My last exhibition was at the Society of Equestrian Artists' 'Horse In Art' exhibition, now at The Sally Mitchell Gallery in Tuxford, Newark, where I also 'walked' paintings for the judges. That is an interesting and informative experience, that I fully recommend to artists who enter juried shows. My work had been on the cover of Hounds Magazine earlier in the year, and in December, I was again featured in The Flying Shetlands online Art Magazine, this time in the Masters of Equine Art series. Um, well OK, if you think so.

In 2017 I produced two Christmas cards. Yvonne Scales is a fellow show exhibitor, fellow whippet owner and good friend, who I met when we both exhibited at Frickley Park. She made a lovely tweed cape for me and that features in 'La Parapluie Rouge' (Yvonne's business is called La Fille Rouge), along with one of her whippets, Briek, and my boy, Scribble. The design was inspired by

1940s fashion illustration plates, which often feature sighthounds, and painted in Casein - a forerunner to gouache and acrylic, which uses milk proteins as a medium.

The artwork was so different from my usual work that I also produced a second card: 'All I want for Christmas' (pictured).


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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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