Sunday, December 13, 2009

the horses of Achilles

sketch of chariot by ophelia keys

Then from beneath the yoke the gleam-footed horse answered him, Xanthos, and as he spoke he bowed his head, so that all the mane fell away from the pad and swept the ground by the cross-yoke; the goddess of the white arms, Hera, had put a voice in him:

'We shall still keep you safe for this time, o hard Akhilleus. And yet the day of your death is near, but it is not we who are to blame, but a great god and powerful Destiny. For it was not because we were slow, because we were careless, but it was that high god, the child of lovely-haired Leto, who killed him among the champions and gave the glory to Hektor. But for us, we two could run with the blast of the West Wind (Zephryos) who they say is the lightest of all things; yet still for you there is destiny to be killed in force by a god and a mortal.’

When he had spoken so the Erinyes stopped the voice in him, but deeply disturbed, Akhilleus of the swift feet answered him : `Xanthos, why do you prophesy my death? This is not for you. I myself know well it is destined for me to die here far from my beloved father and mother.'
Homer, Iliad 19. 392 ff :

Monday, November 16, 2009

white: aubrey beardsley

Speaking of black and white, I always thought Aubrey Beardsley used white in amazing ways. Lots of big, flat space amongst the decorative black. It's the silence between the words.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

light and dark: film

Light and dark are so important in artworks. If you want to see an amazing use of black and white watch Murnau's Nosferatu. And, yes, I know it seems unrelated but it's even had an impact on my horse drawings. Beautiful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

a thing of beauty

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
- Keats

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gunsynd - oil on canvas

portrait of Gunsynd by ophelia keys Apologies if I've posted this before. It's a sketch for a portrait of Gunsynd - a legendary Australian thoroughbred. I really should finish it! He was the most beautiful grey, with a very light face.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


life drawing by ophelia keys
eeeek! Haven't drawn a human in a while! Lifedrawing classes are lovely though - such a hushed air - very meditative, and we had a wonderful model - 'desiree'.

(Art Spectrum black pastel on canaletto paper.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

online exhibition 1

Here is a 'wall' from my 'Balios' exhibition, for those who couldn't make it. You may have seen some of them before on this blog. I will also put up some of my coloured ink paintings this week. Wish I could offer some nibblies and a glass of champagne online too, but you will just have to imagine.

ophelia keys horse skull painting Horse Skull, ink on acid-free paper. [sold]

ophelia keys cat skull painting Cat Skull, ink on acid-free paper. [sold]

ophelia keys dressage painting Half-Pass (dressage), pencil on acid-free paper.

ophelia keys arabian horse head study Arabian Headstudy, pencil on acid-free paper. [sold]

Monday, July 6, 2009

The joy of red spots

ophelia and david keys at exhibition opening
Red spots are an artist's favourite thing! Actually, maybe second favourite. The favourite is having family and friends together and sharing your work. The photograph shows me and my grandfather, David Keys. We're discussing the merits of Liquid Spectrum Ink!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

exhibition at the Yarra Valley in July

Exhibition: 'Balios'

July 2 - 31

horse painting from an upcoming exhibition at the yarra valley
I'm having an exhibition of horse paintings in July. I'm still finalising which pieces to include, but there should be a range of ink paintings, oil paintings and possibly pencil or pastel drawings.

The exhibition is called 'Balios' after the divine horse of the hero Achilles (yes, I've worked in a link to James' thesis!). It's also the title of one of the artworks.

Please join us for complementary wine and nibblies on Thurs July 2, 5-7pm

Or drop by any time throughout July to view the exhibition and enjoy some delicious food and wine!

Evelyn County Estate (Ph: 9437 2155)
55 Eltham - Yarra Glen Road, Kangaroo Ground.

Monday, June 22, 2009

nothing forced can be beautiful

Source=Klaus Schöneich Zentrum für Anatomisch richtiges Reiten® & Schiefen-Therapie® (Above is an image (not mine) showing a horse in natural, relaxed collection and also on the forehand, as a horse might move without a rider. For the opposite of relaxed, see the 'rollkur' image below.)

Debate has been raging for some time in the (beautiful) sport of dressage. Many dressage riders and trainers (not to mention judges and spectators) are concerned that unethical training practices are being rewarded by some dressage judges. Personally I think we should never forget Xenophon's statement on horse training (from over two thousand years ago) that nothing forced can ever be beautiful.

Following is a link to a petition by rider and trainer, Philippe-Karl. Although not everyone will agree with all the points on the list, it's a great way to keep the dialogue going about modern dressage judging.

Philippe-Karl has made some suggestions for radical changes in the judging of dressage, including:
5. Overflexion (nose behind the vertical) in any movement to be punished with a mark of at most 3.
6. Blocked jaws, tongues pulled up or hanging out and grinding of the teeth in any exercise to be punished with a mark of at most 4.

To read more, and to sign the petition if you wish, go to:

No idea what this is about? To read about a study into how horses experience 'rollkur', an extreme form of hyperflexion of the horse's neck, go to:

This might be comfortable for a few seconds. Standing still. Free to move when you wish. But running and for extended lengths of time? To read an article on rollkur by Classical Dressage trainer Uwe Spenlen, go to:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

some random thoughts on the colour red ...

infra red image of a zebra
The last colour I looked at was violet, made up of the shortest wavelengths of light discernible to the human eye. So now it’s red, made up of the longest wavelengths the human eye can see.
If the wavelengths got any longer they’d be infra-red, ‘visible’ to (some) snakes, the military and art restorers ... (Although the military and art restorers do need some extra help, the snakes are just naturally gifted). Above is an infra-red image of a Zebra showing hotter areas (red) and cooler areas (blue). I'm a bit concerned about its off-fore (or right foreleg, for the non-horsey reader).

The symbolism of the colour red? Red has a complicated symbolism that switches between war / retribution / violence, and marriage / fertility / cyclic decline and renewal. Rosetti’s famous image of Proserpine with her pomegranate suggests the more carnal elements of the colour red, while Kuzma’s image ‘Bathing the Red Horse’ (1912) suggests revolutionary change.

Of course, there's probably as many meanings of the colour red as there are artists!

see more of Steve Lowe's infra-red images at the London Zoo site

see my post on (red) poppies at my fiction site

wikipedia has quite a good entry on red

Thursday, June 18, 2009

horse photography @ national geographic

In this video Mark Harvey talks about photographing horses for National Geographic's Your Shot (a beautiful site where photographers upload their images):

Sunday, June 14, 2009

widening our circle of compassion

detail of durer - adam and eve in the garden of eden
"Our task must be to free ourselves— by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty."

—Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some random thoughts on the colour violet ...

NASA image of the sun in extreme ultraviolet
We are blind to many wavelengths of light. Violet is the shortest wavelength colour still visible to us. But beneath violet lies ultraviolet. We cannot see ultraviolet, but it is visible to some animals, including bees, butterflies and birds.

The first truly violet pigment used by artists was the poisonous and rather weak Cobalt Violet (the name Kobold reputedly coming from German for the goblins or evil spirits that interrupted miners in their search for precious substances).

The complex symbolism of violet seems to reflect its position on the edge of sight. The artist, Kandinsky, writes:

‘Just as orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow, so violet is red withdrawn from humanity by blue. But the red in violet must be cold, for the spiritual need does not allow of a mixture of warm red with cold blue. Violet is therefore both in the physical and spiritual sense a cooled red. It is consequently rather sad and ailing.’

Others believe that violet is a colour of spiritual ascension. Wearing violet symbolises transformation or retreat.

This post has now led me on a synchronous leap to my namesake, as violets (the flowers) can symbolise faithfulness or early death. Ophelia wears a ring of violets about her neck in Millais' Ophelia.
violets around the neck of ophelia by Millais
See my fiction blog for more on botanical symbolism.

Kandinsky quote found at this interesting colour site:

For the image shown above and for flower symbolism in Millais' 'Ophelia':

Monday, June 8, 2009


ink painting of bucking horse by ophelia keys
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity.
George Bernard Shaw

ink painting of kicking horse by ophelia keys

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

hindquarters study - sketchbook

sketch of horse by ophelia keys Learning from other artists ... There's nothing like looking closely at the work of 'old masters'. I've learnt so much roaming museums too - places like the Metropolitan in NY, the Louvre and D'Orsay - and so many others! It's always inspiring and deeply humbling.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


ink sketches of dogs by Ophelia KeysSketchbooks are places to let your imagination wander but also places in which to work things out. Above are some dog drawings I did after looking at Durer and some other artists. I felt myself getting a little tight and rigid, so I focused on shapes instead, and brought back the feeling of flow.

Below are some sketches by my husband, James. Here it's pretty clear what he's working out - what's going on beneath the surface?

ink sketches of anatomy by James Stratford

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

blue and red - ink horse

ink painting of horse by ophelia keysHorse in Liquid Spectrum ink on Colourfix paper. Using heaps of luscious ink and creating the suggestion of detail without actually having much detail at all! Putting ink onto ink requires that you let go of the outcome to a certain degree. Great practice for perfectionists ...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

interview with the equinest

Thanks to the equinest for the thoughtful interview. There are a number of interesting horse artists to look at on the site - not to mention general horsiness all round.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

equine acupressure course

equine acupressure
I just spent a wonderful weekend doing an introductory equine acupressure course, run by Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute. Here's a quick sketch I did to try to get some of the points down (I think it will take a while for me to get them right!). The horses' responses were really amazing. Once they worked out what we were doing, they seemed to go out of their way to sidle up to us for some acupressure. Alot of the basic theory was familiar from my Tai Chi classes, but there's so much else to learn! It also helped to have done some anatomy, although it certainly wasn't required for the introductory course. Our teacher was Robyn Grice. She did a great job of introducing us to the pretty complicated world of meridians, without overwhelming us. What a fascinating weekend!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

drawing horses in pastel

There's something about drawing horses in pastel. I'm not sure how to express it, really, except that the pastel requires it be laid down on the paper in a certain way. I find myself thinking in terms of blue shadows and luminous highlights. The pure quality of the pigment is very moving. I feel that immediately I am required to express something of the spirit of the horse. I feel pushed out of my comfort zone. I love it!

palomino portrait in pastel by ophelia keys

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

horse painting video


Here's a sped up horse painting video 

- it's always amazing to see the differences in artists' technique. 

Here's just one technique demonstrated in a really striking realist pastel by Mary Herbet.


Mary's site is at: 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

inspiration - Alan Lee

I've always found the drawings and paintings of Alan Lee so magical and atmospheric. It was really wonderful to find that he and John Howe had been invited to work on the films of the Lord of The Rings. His use of light is particularly good.
And lovely to get the published Alan Lee sketchbook as a present from my husband!

Monday, April 13, 2009

moonlit horse

The moonlight was so bright over Easter, I braved the cold with the camera to photograph the horses. The ground was absolutely glowing with blue light. There was a bit of surprised snorting at the camera noises, but the horses soon decided it was acceptable.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

inspiration - toulouse-lautrec

grey horse He may be better known for his scenes of seedy Parisian night life, but Toulouse-Lautrec had a remarkable eye for painting horses. It's always worth doing a google image search to find these wonderful pictures. (Or see the real things - even better!)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

for horse owners - worms and chemicals

A friend has just completed some interesting research into horse parasites and chemical treatments. If you're in the mood to read about integrated pest management, dung beetles and chemical resistance the report can be downloaded free at:

You can also read an article I wrote on the research at an earlier stage:
horsepoint article

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

thoroughbred in ink

thoroughbred painting in ink by ophelia keysIn response to a question by Grey Horse Matters, I thought I should share some info on how often I sketch. While I have seen artist blogs where the artists produce a painting a day (and for those who actually do that - wow!), I find that the practicalities of a day job and fitting in horseriding, writing and friends requires me to paint in bursts.

'Works in progress' are always current works, and as soon as I do a little drawing/painting burst I will post these recent images in preference to older ones. Sometimes I look through my sketchbooks and pick out images that I want to share. This one is an older image, when I was first getting really into ink. There are things I would like to change about it, conformation-wise, but the beauty and challenge of ink is that you have to stand by what you do!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

dog portrait in pencil

pencil drawing of dog Here's a drawing of my husband's beloved dog 'Helen'. Unfortunately she needed to be re-homed, but I got to meet her for a day. Very lean, sleek and full of love and mischief!