Saturday, January 31, 2009

inspiration: the unicorn

ink drawing of Durer's unicornBeing a child who loved horses and mythology, I was always fascinated by images of the unicorn. My school library had a copy of the Unicorn and the Lake (Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Michael Hague), which I finally found for myself as an adult. It is illustrated with lovely watercolours, seemingly inspired by medieval images of the unicorn (such as the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry).

Later, my best friend and I watched the japanese-animated ‘The Last Unicorn’ (Rankin/Bass) over and over again. This also visually quotes medieval images of the unicorn. Apparently it was animated by artists later to join the amazing Studio Ghibli.

I also loved seeing the ‘real’ unicorns (actually Andalusians!) in Ridley Scott’s ‘Legend’. He later returned to the symbolism of the unicorn in Blade Runner, in a (cut) dream sequence and an origami reference (which doesn’t seem to make much sense without the dream sequence!).

The symbolism of the unicorn? Very complicated! Here are a few starting points from the western tradition. In the Christian context it can symbolise resurrection and immortality. Perhaps it is best known as an image of purity or love (both sacred and profane). In the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, the unicorn is tamed only by a virginal woman. It lays it’s head upon her lap. There is an obvious sexual element here, which is difficult to interpret!

The drawing above was inspired by Durer’s unicorn – the original engraving is of a woman being abducted on a unicorn’s back. Here the unicorn appears to be an embodiment of danger and masculine lust.

In both 'Legend' and 'The Last Unicorn' (based on a Peter Beagle book), the unicorns are pure, and it is only the desire of others to touch or possess them that leads to the threat of death, animalistic sexual desire and the extinction of those values their captors most want to possess.

In the end, perhaps the wonderful thing about the unicorn is its mysterious symbolism!

When I was 16, I finally had the joy of seeing the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry in Paris at the Musee de Cluny. Really magical!

Here is an image of the Lady and the Unicorn at the Musee de Cluny
The opening sequence of The Last Unicorn
And the Legend trailer

Thursday, January 29, 2009

inspiration: Shakespeare

When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it ...

Shakespeare, Henry V.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

blue horse

We are bracing for 43C today (109F, I think), after 42C yesterday. I'm afraid the only reason I've chosen this picture to post is because it looks a little icy.

This picture is one of a series I did after looking at Gericault and Delacroix. Both were especially gifted at portraying horses.

Monday, January 26, 2009

hast thou given the horse strength?

startled horse, in ink
'... should he but hear afar the clash of arms, he cannot keep his place; he pricks up his ears, quivers his limbs, and snorting rolls beneath his nostrils the gathered fire.'
- Virgil, Georgics, Book 3 (trans. Fairclough).

Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.
Job 39:19ff, King James Bible

Saturday, January 24, 2009


black arab stallion in dream landscapeI remember thinking, when I was thirteen, that I wanted to stay the same age forever. I was aware that the ability to dream and imagine seemed to become more elusive the older I got. I was not willing to give up these imaginary worlds that were as rich as the everyday one. As Ursula Le Guin puts it, rather starkly, 'The creative adult is the child who has survived.'

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


bay arab horse in ink
Recently my husband blogged on courage - inspired by Jelena Dokic’s return to tennis after the break-up of her family and a battle with depression. I never really thought much about every day courage, but it’s something I’ve begun to relate to both in my horse riding and my drawings (I am often feeling the need of it!).

One of the great gifts that horses give people (especially women, who may not otherwise be supported in this area) is the opportunity to build courage. From a beginner taking their first canter to the Olympian rider flying over a 1.60 metre jump, horse riding requires bravery with each new step. As with many things, we soon find that the act we feared is not so alarming after all!

Courage is something all horse riders are familiar with – perhaps because we often feel that we are lacking it. It seems that riders often focus on being afraid of something, but don’t stop to really congratulate ourselves when we go ahead and do it anyway. Of course this is true for non-riders too! It’s something that I’ve started thinking about more carefully when I ride.

After thinking about physical courage, it may be surprising to consider courage in the context of art. Art, as an expression of your deepest beliefs and feelings, requires vulnerability. It seems like those who open themselves to physical risk, are not always comfortable being vulnerable to the psychological risks of creative expression. This can be a really alarming thing. How many people have artworks that they destroy for fear of other’s judgment, or novels hidden in draws that are never shared?

A friend recently spoke about the challenge of teaching young musicians to improvise. Exposing yourself creatively is scary at first but – like a first canter on a horse – it often turns out far better than you expect (exhilirating actually!).

Courage begins with small steps. Here is a list of three small acts of courage I have achieved in my artwork that may not seem at all significant to others, but are certainly significant to me!

1.Using deep blues rather than blacks (a matter of choice. I used to really get into the black, but now I rarely use it at all in my coloured paintings)
2. Attending life-drawing sessions surrounded by professional (and often opinionated) artists.
3. Regularly sharing my work with others.

One of the benefits of living with a life coach, is being reminded that on the other side of fear is courage!

I’d love to hear what others think about physical and artistic courage. Please take a moment to leave your thoughts.

James’ post is at:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hosing down Juno

Ink (Liquid Spectrum) on Colourfix board. My husband kindly cleaning the sweat off Juno while I put the tack away!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

inspiration - horses I know

stretching horse's legs before ridingThis is an ink (Liquid Spectrum) on Colourfix board. It's inspired by a photo my husband took of me with Helen's mare, Juno. I'm just reaching down to stretch out her front legs before riding. I've emphasised our shadows so the image is almost becoming abstract in the left corner. Some of the intensity of the blue ink has been lost in this reproduction.

Friday, January 16, 2009


orb weaver spiderI'm lucky to be able to go out twice a week and interact with horses, plus exercise my reaction times while driving, with kangaroos.

But I often forget how many amazing creatures there are in the garden - from the ones that can't be ignored (Magpies and ever hungry, roof rattling possums) to the little ones you can easily overlook (lizards, blue-striped bees, beetles and spiders like this beautiful Orb Weaver). So here's to the amazing world in your garden!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

under the surface - anatomy

The beautiful horse paintings of George Stubbs - the best encouragement imaginable for equine artists to study anatomy!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

inspiration - song and poetry

drawing of dancing horse
Words can create beautiful images and be an inspiration for artists. Here are Leonard Cohen's moving words from the Ballad of the Absent Mare:

'Oh the world is sweet the world is wide and she's there where the light and the darkness divide and the steam's coming off her she's huge and she's shy and she steps on the moon when she paws at the sky

And she comes to his hand but she's not really tame She longs to be lost he longs for the same and she'll bolt and she'll plunge through the first open pass to roll and to feed in the sweet mountain grass

And he leans on her neck and he whispers low "Whither thou goest I will go" And they turn as one and they head for the plain No need for the whip Ah, no need for the rein'

- Ballad of the Absent Mare, Leonard Cohen

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inspiration from film

A lot of inspiration for my drawing has come from film - especially films seen in childhood. The Black Stallion (MGM) was definitely one of those films and I'm sure many people have wonderful memories of seeing Cass Ole (the black Arabian stallion) galloping across the screen, with Alec apparently hanging on for dear life. As well as sending the Arabian breeding industry into overdrive, and rocketing Walter Farley (the author of the book) to fame, the image of the boy playing on the beach with the Black really entered into many people's dreams. The beach scenes expressed something about the relationship people have with horses that is very hard to put into words. Something that seemed to diminish after Alec and the Black return to civilisation.

I watched this film again recently and was blown away by the absolutely beautiful cinematography of Caleb Deschanel. Although there have been many beautiful images of horses in film since (Seabiscuit, Legend, Hidalgo, LOTR to name some that come to mind), this is really the original horse film for me and will continue to inspire me for many years to come!

Watch the trailer at the MGM site for a trip down memory lane ...

Friday, January 9, 2009

three horses galloping

three horses gallop
This pastel drawing is all about movement. I let go of any carefulness in showing the way horses actually move, anatomical correctness etc. My sole inspiration was the feeling of flying!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

saddle drawing

Drawing of saddle - have to practice drawing tack as well as the horses themselves!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


siamese cat drawing
tabby cat in inkAfter the well-defined lines and musculature on horses, I find cats can be very challenging. They are very clearly and symmetrically structured, but it is partly hidden under fur. Siamese and other short hairs are a little easier. Another challenge with cats is to capture their often quirky characters, while keeping a sense of their elegance and presence.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Drawing and Finding Characters

Eowyn Looking back over my sketchbooks I found some drawings of people (!) and noticed a pattern in them. As a fiction writer, I find I sometimes draw characters in order to better understand them. The pencil drawing here is of JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn (from the Lord of the Rings). The drawing is clearly expressing one part of her character – that which is vulnerable and open. It does not really express the more war-like elements of her story. I was really thinking about this aspect of her characterisation after seeing the film interpretation and finding Eowyn more fragile than I had imagined her. A contrasting drawing is that of Elsa (a character from my own fiction manuscript).


I drew this image at a time when I was imagining her character evolving from a quite passive girlhood to a more severe adulthood. Again, this is only one element of her character, but the drawing allowed me to really witness her potential to become a dangerous and even frightening person - thus helping me in my writing!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Arab horse in ink

Arab horse
Arabian horse in ink. This was a reasonably quick sketch (due to how quickly the ink was drying). I wanted to get that floating feeling across, that is so typical of the way Arab horses move. Also the way they can appear to be gazing serenely into the distance while thundering over the ground!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

drawing techniques 2

Here I have built up this pastel image using light and shade rather than simple shapes (as shown in the previous post).

Friday, January 2, 2009

Drawing techniques

Here are two pages from my sketch book. Both show the shapes I have used to block out the basic form of the horse. I often begin with the oval(ish) shape around the horse's shoulder and the shape of the hindquarters, brought together by the oval of the horse's barrel (belly). Many subjects can be broken into circles and cylinders, but you need to keep track of the overall energy of your subject.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Snow Leopard

Snow LeopardThis pastel (on toothed Colourfix) sketch was based on the snow leopard at Melbourne Zoo.