Thirteen Years . . . Luck's Rollercoaster
My favourite piece from 2013 is ‘Chuckle’ (later published as Limited Edition Print, ‘Pip’s Party’). I painted this, partly because I loved the pose (seen in a side saddle demonstration at Blenheim), but also because I had been thinking about backgrounds and composition. I felt that I needed to expand on the subject in the centre of the picture on a plain background. The automatic response is to offset the image to one side, but that can create an unbalanced composition, sometimes even making the picture seem crooked. My response was to think about abstract colour washes that echoed or extended movements and lines from the subject, and watercolour is an ideal medium for that. Even so, there needed to be some sort of reasoning for the placement of the elements, so I turned to the compositional rule of The Golden Section (also known as The Golden Mean, Rule or Ratio). This concept is used in architecture, engineering and renaissance painting, but has its roots in the natural world as expressed by the mathmatical sequence of the Fibonacci Sequence. I won't bore you with the details, but just know that nothing in this painting (apart from the watercolour interactions of paint in the background) was random. In Chuckle/Pip's Party, I used four pigments for the colour washes, and then the subject was painted by only mixing those four colours, darks being created by consistancy of mixed paint, rather than by using a darker colour pigment.
As an aside: I was later contacted by the owner/rider, who told me the horse's name - Vintage Port (Pip). he was well known for attending parties in the owner's barn converted house so the print title came from that. After retiring from displays, competition and hunting, Pip went on to became a RDA horse and won RDA horse of the year in 2017. This watercolour painting was also a finalist in the Artist & Illustrators, Artist of The Year award in 2014.
As I hinted in last year’s episode, I only stayed in my studio at Knaresborough for a year. In February 2013, a new letting had been agreed on the office space I occupied and a new, smaller space was found for me in Garforth. Moving took considerable effort – a whole horsebox full of ‘stuff’, some of it very heavy. We had help from friends, Kay Wild and Gary Wright, who lived nearby, but March had brought a spattering of snow, which was now frozen onto the thirteen exterior concrete steps that led to a balcony and entrance to the first-floor office - yes I counted them as we went up and down again and again, carrying boxes and furniture, and we had to keep shaking salt onto the steps, or they would have been lethal.
Having stopped exhibiting at Chatsworth and Blenheim, Emma and I had discussed other options and decided to exhibit at Badminton at the beginning of May. In fact, Emma was working here wearing her 'full-time job hat', but stayed in the horsebox with me. Emma and I drove down in the horsebox to set up the stand, and then the horsebox to live in, only to find that the fridge was not working. As Emma had become busier at work, she was not able to help me as much at shows, and her mother, Pat Quarrie had stepped in to help me at Bramham and now Badminton, but she was not coming down until the following day with her caravan. This gave us a dilemma: wine is absolutely essential on show evenings, and Emma drinks the white variety. Fortunately, I remembered that the ice bandages I had bought to help with my wasp sting at Burghley in 2011 were still in the lorry. Problem solved – ice bandages wrapped around a bottle of white will chill it to perfect drinking temperature within five minutes!
I had brought with me a work-in-progress of horses being led through the famous Badminton stable yard arch, ‘Grey In, Grey Out’, which I had referenced on a previous visit as a spectator. During the event, I did some painting on location in the early mornings, and also set up the horse area of the lorry as a temporary studio. The painting was completed and made it onto the stand for the weekend of the five-day show. Later a request from a client prompted me to publish a Limited Edition Print of Grey In, Grey Out, of which there were only 10 printed.
The weather that year was searingly hot, and we were right at the back of The Horse Village Marquee. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe our location, but it was a disappointing show for me, a very expensive mistake. Because of that, I was not able to exhibit in The Lifestyle Pavilion at Burghley in September, though that too had become increasingly costly, and less cost effective. I had applied for seven years to try to get my own stand in shedding at Burghley, but was unsuccessful, so 2012 was my last exhibit there, at least at time of writing.
Undeterred, I carried on to Bramham and then to The Art Show at The Great Yorkshire Show. This time I did get to ‘demonstrate’ at the latter. I, rather shakily, talked about my work process, showed my current sketchbooks and did some drawing, while Les Packham sat front-and-centre beaming at me throughout. To my surprise, it was very well received, and Les and Judy carried on encouraging me to share my work in an additional way to exhibiting. I did not have much chance to get paralytically nervous before my demonstration, as half an hour before, a journalist and photographer from The Yorkshire Post Newspaper turned up (unexpectedly) to interview and photograph me for a full-page article.
In July, I received the news that my studio space had been let, so I would again have to move. East Street Arts sent someone to help, and fortunately space was found for me in the same building just along the balcony, so at least we didn’t have to lug everything down the stairs again. In fact, the new space was huge, and had two walls of ceiling-high windows, which made the second move in four months a little more palatable. There was room enough for me to have three separate work stations: watercolour; oil; and pastel.
Another favourite piece from this year is ‘Ty-neside’, a large pastel painting of my friend’s horse Chinook (stable name Ty), referenced at Burghley where he competed in the young event horse class as a five-year-old. I like the piece because I feel that I achieved something I had not understood before in terms of depth of field (assisted by the strong diagonal composition). Again, The Golden Section is used to assist the composition, and again, a lot of the painting is about texture. This is another piece that was never exhibited, as my friend bought it as soon as it was complete. We were not alone in liking it - it was seen on social media by a Disney freelancer, who shared it all around the studios!
As another aside: I recorded a time-lapse video of some of the painting of this piece, though I have never published it. When I watched it back, I was amazed to see myself using my left hand for some of the work. When I 'get into' a painting, I go to another place of complete focus, and am not very aware of things around me. It seems I am also not very aware of my own body, as I genuinely did not know that I switched hands while working. I had done some work with my left (non-dominant) hand when i had a broken right wrist in 2000, but I really cannot tell you if I works with my left before that!
In September I exhibited at the Society of Equestrian Artists 'Horse in Art' exhibition at The Mall Galleries, London, and in October, I hosted an Open Studios in my kingly space, which due to the supreme marketing efforts of friend Julie Yorke-Hadley, was a huge success. Marleting is another skill that I was slowly trying to acquire, with mixed sucess. Otherwise, 2013 seemed a year of Art Associations for me. In March, I had been successful at the promotions panel of the Society of Equestrian Artists and become an Associate Member so I could now add the letters ASEA to join the BA(hons) after my name. At Bramham, another artist had introduced herself to me. She was a member of the Association of Animal Artists and suggested that I join, so in October I went to the AAA awards presentation dinner. There I met quite a few faces that I recognised from social media, including Association Chair, Julie Cross. Julie also attended the Preview of my solo exhibition at The Gallery Upstairs, in Wetherby that December. Though I hardly had time to say more than “hello”, at either meeting, it would lead on to a more collaborative relationship in the future. I staffed The Gallery Upstairs for the duration of my exhibition, setting up an easel to work at in quiet periods. Gallery owner Billie Ager-Mills worked in her other shop below the gallery and would let me know if someone arrived to see me and my work, so I did not have the problem I mention in the next paragraph! I spent a lovely week there and Billie and I got on ‘like a house on fire’.
My Christmas card in 2013 was ‘A Little Bit on the Side’. In September I had exhibited at Frickley Park Horse Trials. This was the first show that I did entirely by myself (well, my ‘other half’, David, helped me set up and breakdown, and was there at the weekend too). Amazingly I coped, largely because it was smaller and quieter than a lot of shows that I had done. I took our less-heavy, ‘pop up’ marquee (actually two pop-ups that fit together), and set up a temporary studio in one half to keep painting to keep anxiety at bay by working on the watercolour side saddle painting. I will take this opportunity to apologise if you came into the tent and I didn’t notice. As I mentioned above, I often get lost in my work and truthfully do not notice anything around me. On the second day, I did put up a sign saying that it was alright to disturb me. This is one reason why I seldom paint on the stand at shows!
“When you start working, everybody is in your studio - the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas - all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”