Thursday, April 28, 2011

overcoming anxiety

I've just done a guest post at my husband, James Stratford's, site. I thought I would share it with you. It's about my experiences in overcoming anxiety and panic attacks. Riding is one of the things that helped, but I also know that for many, riding can become a source of fear in itself, especially if you have had an accident or a near fall. It can be a little confronting talking about these things, but I think it's worth it to spread more knowledge about 'panic disorders' and to hopefully provide an optimistic outlook for those who are facing these challenges, or have family or friends in this situation. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

the art of loving each other

My husband just did a very sweet post on the art of loving each other, partly inspired by this photo I took of our good friends Maggie and Shan (mother and daughter), mutual grooming. We all need mutual grooming sometimes!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

the movement of horses

Bolting horse. I just wanted to give a feeling of speed, and the sound you get when a horse gallops - at once very light and very hard. They appear to move so lightly, you forget the amount of force that is going through their legs into the ground.

Hindquarters. I just wanted a feeling of strength in this sketch. In a way it's quite still, despite the whispy tail. 

Playful horse. Sometimes horses express a lot of contained tension when they play - they pinch their lips and their nostrils together and flatten back their ears. Their movements become very grounded. It's as if they're winding up to let loose. And they soon do, with a big buck or a gallop!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You’re so talented!

I don’t mean this in a conceited way, but sometimes people say this to me. I always enjoy that. I’m only human. But I know deep down, it’s not true.

Firstly, they don’t mean in relation to Da Vinci. They mean in relation to their own drawing ability. They believe that I sprang from the womb with a natural talent for drawing noticeably better than them.

Perhaps a number of artists will agree with me when I say it is much more like a stubborn determination to draw.

Many people have a bit of a go at it. They look at their drawings and think, ‘gosh, that’s bad. I’ve got no aptitude for drawing’. I was always driven to draw and I always looked at my pictures and thought, ‘gosh, that’s bad. How can I make it better?’ It was always the (sometimes slightly obsessive compulsive) drive to draw for hours and hours and hours that improved my work.

There are a large number of artists both past and contemporary that make me feel that I’ll never meet the standard of their work. There are also those that do appear to spring from the womb with amazing technical ability (probably more to do with amazing visual learning skills). But the stubbornness remains. And instead of saying – I’m just not good enough, I continue to soldier on. Because I know from experience that the more I practice the better I’ll be. (Keeping in mind always that it is possible to practice the wrong things – and if you refuse to learn from people or be critical of your work, you can put in many, many hours with no improvement whatsoever).

What the inspiration to draw actually is, how it comes to us and what it means is a different question. But basic drawing is a skill that can truly be acquired by just about anyone with stubborn determination and some time.

And if you say, ‘I’d love to be able to draw’ expect me to be a little dubious, because true love takes time, determination and never-ending flexibility as well as a kind of joyful commitment.

It’s a little like me saying to a dressage rider ‘I’d love to be able to ride at your level.’ I might love the idea, but the reality of the hours of work put in are a little different! Similarly, I’d love to be able to play the guitar like Billy Corgan, but do recall reading that he practiced 4 hours most days for about four years and that was before becoming professional. Most people that you see with ‘talent’ are actually just extremely driven (some to the point where they become a bit miserable and have to take a step back in order to find balance in their lives). I know this is also true for the amazing visual artists I put on a pedestal.

So don’t say, ‘I’m terrible at drawing’, just say, ‘I haven’t put the time I need in to improve my drawing skills!’

NB: artists love to be told they’re talented, despite what they may know. So feel free to keep saying this to them as often as you like!

Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Draw Horses - basic shapes

When I was still in primary school I was given a book called How to Draw Horses and Ponies by Frank Smith. I was already drawing horses obsessively, but I took a jump forward after reading this. The book had a number of horse sketches, beginning with very simple geometric shapes. Basically it showed an ‘armature’ of the horse’s form.

Armature generally refers to the underlying support structure of a sculpture. However it is also sometimes used in describing the way artists sketch out the basic geometric structural shapes of a figure (horse, human – anything!) in drawing. This is how I’m using it in this post. (See my super simplified armature drawing above).

If your horses are coming out looking like goats, tables or … just not horses, using armature may be a simple way to get a clearer idea of the horse’s natural proportions and to see what the difference is between what you think you see and what is actually there. It’s amazing how many assumptions we bring to the way things look. Even when they’re right in front of us.

Some people have an aptitude for starting at a detailed corner of the picture and working through. But most will benefit from blocking in the main shapes before proceeding to detail (I won’t really be talking about detail here – but much of it is to do where light and shade fall on your subject).

Another interesting approach is to get a cheap horse magazine and draw geometric shapes over the pictures. Your hand will remember the feel of these shapes once you begin to draw free hand. You’ll also get closer to seeing what’s actually there. Plus you may start to move away from the hard-edged shapes of basic armature and incorporate the horse’s natural curves into your first sketch – giving a more natural, gestural feeling overall (see the dog).

When you are drawing or painting, always step back regularly to look at the whole picture. You'll be surprised by how often the picture starts to look out of proportion if you forget to do this.

An example of horse drawing where you can see some of the geometric shapes I've used to flesh out the horse and its musculature. This is a little different from the concept of armature - which is a more stripped-down, skeletal version. (This horse was my model for finding some acupressure points!)

Once you know the rules, you can enjoy breaking them … Using geometry to build shapes is a great start, but it’s just as important to draw with free expression. You will also find that you work out your own shortcuts to build the anatomy of the horse.
Happy drawing!

Here’s a human subject sketched out using an armature style technique.

Ideally, as an artist creating a flat image, you will simply draw armature using your eye, but here is an in depth breakdown of the armature of the horse by sculptor, David Lemon. The precise shape he creates for his sculpture is wonderful to watch – you can see how the simple lines relate to the underlining skeletal structure of the horse. This video takes time to watch, but is very worthwhile!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

being around horses when you're pregnant

I’ve noticed a few changes in my feelings being around horses during my (early) pregnancy.

The first thing I noticed was how huge they seemed. Not just the plus 16 hands mare, but the 15hh ones too. The second (related) thing was that they were crowding into my space outrageously. It was because I was suddenly aware of my own vulnerability, so I was backing away as they came into my space – like a beginner horse person – instead of calmly asserting my boundaries and pushing them out if they got too close (e.g. bumping against me). So, silly as it sounds, it took a few visits to the paddock before I noticed this was happening. I just wondered why they were being so unusually pushy! Once I figured it out (der) it was easy to reassert my space again. Let’s face it, these are sweet elderly ladies, not unruly four-year-olds.

The other change is that I’m not riding. I rode once before I realised I was pregnant, but on finding out I decided to stop. This was partly because I don’t have a horse of my own. I ride a friend’s horses, or take lessons. I didn’t want to put another person in the position of feeling even slightly responsible for my safety while riding. I’m also aware that falling off is a risk you say ‘yes, it’s worth it’ to, every time you get on a horse (much as you prefer it doesn’t occur!). I wasn’t sure that it was a risk I wanted to say yes to with an unborn baby.

I should add that I admire women who ride through their pregnancies and I think it is probably very good for you both physically and mentally. Let’s face it, you take a risk whenever you cross a road or get into a car. I love the idea of riding as long as possible, then leaping back on heroically, a few weeks after birth. Love the idea, but it’s just not for me – let’s face it, I’m getting a ligament ‘stitch’ just doing my usual walk. And my balance, even in second trimester, is just a bit … off. One thing I do mean to do is keep visiting them while I’m pregnant. Because even the smell of them does me so much good!

Here's a pretty balanced view:
(my computer is turning all the superscript on this site into symbols etc)

five amazing horse artists

Some of my favourite horse artists.

Alfred Munnings

(Horse of Semele - Parthenon)

Rosa Bonheur