Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Complicated Compilation!

This work was a 'significant birthday' present, for a Father, of his four girls on their respective ponies. Usually, I manage to avoid doing human faces as much as possible, as it's an entirely different genre to animal portraiture, and not one I'm particularly comfortable with! The chosen photos, however, left me no option but to woman up and crack on with it. Clearly, being related, there are family resemblances between the girls, so that both complicated and helped, in equal measure!
As ever, there's complications involved in creating a surprise present, and with this one I had to get permission from the original photographers to use their images to work from, being impossible for me to take my own of them on horseback, or competing. So big thanks to Adrian Sinclair for allowing me to work from his photos. I also have permission from another photographer, but I can't remember the company name, so if they chance to see this, I'm more than happy to credit them!

There's a difficulty in doing a compilation piece, trying to make individual photos sync together, in size, colours and shape, especially as all decisions have to be made at the very beginning, and can't be changed once part way through, unless I face the heartbreaking scenario of restarting from scratch, which has been known!
For this piece to balance and keep the eye in the picture, I 'mirrored' one of the photographs. It's tricky ensuring one image doesn't dominate, and I feel comfortable I've achieved that.  I've attached a detail of each pair, and I am extremely proud of my tweed jackets! For context, the original is 60cm x 45cm, unframed.
As ever, I'm very flattered to have been entrusted with such a special commission.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Kauto Star

In my normal world (or should that read world that's normal to me?) I work solely on commission, and occasionally for a specific charitable occasion. I've only ever portrayed one horse (that wasn't one of my own) solely for my own pleasure, and that was Sadlers Wells. I did ultimately sell it, artists need to eat.

Doing Kauto? It's very different, because I needed to do it. He has as yet no destination, and I have no idea what I'm want to do with him.

It's taken me a very, very long time to do this horse, as, until now, I've been unable to rein in my overwhelming emotions at his untimely and unnecessary demise, and that wasn't the feel I wanted to put out there, however much that rage still smoulders. I only watched him racing, I didn't 'know' him, in the flesh, but he came off the racecourse and into my heart. I know I'm not alone, I know that's how so many people feel watching a horse, like him, horses that light up the turf, that transcend the great, that make our hearts soar and our emotions raw. 

I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon churning out his image to cash in after he died, I didn't even know what I wanted to do, so I made a stab at the portrait a year or so ago, but it still didn't feel right. Until now. 

I feel I have to make some kind of statement with the portrait, hence I've included a small symbolic vignette on the bottom right that appeases me enough, without taking away from what is really important, this horse.

Kauto Star was the best horse I've ever seen in National Hunt racing. He was untouchable on his day, and there were plenty of those. He was thrilling and sometimes terrifying. He won £3,775,883. He won the Betfair million pound bonus for winning the Holy Trinity of the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Gold Cup in the same season. I'm pretty sure Betfair thought it would never be achieved. Ouch. 

Many thanks to Jimmy Clark for allowing me to work from his photo of Kauto after winning at Ascot in 2008.

I hope I've done him justice. He was King. 

Friday, 10 November 2017



I was asked to do a surprise portrait, as a birthday present, for the owner of the wonderful Ottimo. 
Ottimo, a son of the legendary Cape Cross, spent his racing career in Hong Kong winning over three million HKD, and is now retired to Australia. For anyone with an interest in racing reading this, his results are below. 

It's interesting seeing the difference in the layout and available information on the HKJC form, in comparison with the European databases which can be laborious and/or expensive. From my point of view, it was excellent to able to freely access his videos, and get a feel for him, as there were no individual photos that I could work solely from, although I used this one as my basis.

I know Hong Kong well, having spent some time there in the past. Going racing is an incredible experience, the buzz is enormous, and the atmosphere when a favourite wins is amazing. There's something about the lighting at an evening meeting at Happy Valley, it's much warmer (not just the weather!) than similar floodlit racing in the UK. I love the golds and reds that are thrown up, so I wanted to try and capture that emotion of colour and temperature, yet still allow Ottimo to shine through.

Working with coloured tack in a portrait offers some challenges harmonising the strength of the raw colour against the subtleties of the equine coat. I really liked the tones on his breastplate, and thought introducing that as part of the picture would balance both the intense red of the bridle and the big block areas of the neck. I'm really pleased how it's worked out and pulled the image together. 

Below is an example of how I work. I block in the big areas roughly, as on the left, then work in the detail to produce a much smoother finished piece, as on the right.

As ever, I feel very privileged to have been able to portray such a superb horse. Happy retirement, Ottimo!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Better at Drawing than Driving!

The very handsome Harvey, who nearly didn't get the sneaky shots done to create his surprise portrait!

I had a tight window to be in the yard where Harvey lives, by 5pm, to photograph a couple of horses when they had come back from an event. I also had another horse to photograph in the same area, whose yard was also waiting on horses coming back from an event. 

It all started so well. 

I had the loan of a very smart, sporty Mercedes, I figured how to use the SatNav, I had enough fuel to get to where I was going, and off I set in plenty time. 😎

I was about 20 or so minutes into the journey, when I realised I'd forgotten to put the camera into the car. Also, that I didn't actually know how to get back to where I'd just left from. 😳
I knew my hosts were partying, so rather than phone them, I just looked for  'HOME' in the SatNav, set it, and off I went. 

In my defence, I was heading in the right direction, but when I pulled up in a car park I'd never set eyes on, I had to make that 'lost' phone call, and was given the right postcode, with much hilarity on the other end of the phone. Apparently, as the car owner knew where she lived, she hadn't bothered putting 'HOME' into the car when she'd got it, and I'd taken myself off to where the previous owner lived. 🙈

Back on track, camera in car, still on time, I get stuck in traffic on the M25, for ages. I'm phoning clients as the minutes are galloping past, then I look at the fuel gauge on emergency and break out in a cold sweat. It takes forever to get to the next junction, where I'm desperately hoping to find Services, and have to stop at a pub, get directions to a garage, then set back off on my way. 😅

This means I have to change the yards' timings about (I can't find the first yard anyway, I drove past it several times 😒), my second client meets me, and we set off to that yard, only to be unable to get in, because her SatNav took her to a gate that we didn't have a code for! So we circled it a couple of times, until we finally got in. 

As we were horribly late, the sneaky plan to calmly photograph Harvey on the quiet was blown, and I was grabbing random shots of him when the owners weren't looking, in between doing the horses that were all polished for me! (Thankfully, my next client was very understanding about the collapse of the day!)

Luckily, we didn't get found out, and the surprise portrait was handed over last weekend, so I can now post him. He has the most gorgeous eyes, and the frantic photographing had him a tad concerned as in the photo on the left, but with relief I got this shot on the right which had him focussed on food!


Phew! 😅

I framed him up in a dark wood veneer, as it allowed the colours in his coat to come through.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Story of Smog's portrait.

I photographed Smoggy a few years ago, not with a view to a portrait, but just so his little person, Rennie, could have some photos and not feel left out, whilst I photographed Pam's horse for the real deal of a portrait. Early this year, with the cruellest twist of fate, Smoggy was taken ill suddenly, and didn't survive. I was asked to do his portrait, for the family to have the complete set of all their horses together, and went to dig out the photos. I couldn't find them on my computer, memory cards, anywhere, and neither could Pam.

Thankfully, at a show the previous year, Adrian Sinclair had taken some lovely shots of him, and very kindly allowed me to work from them. 
I drew the portrait up, went to start it and realised I'd drawn it up on the wrong side of the paper, the coarse side which doesn't allow me to work in such detail, so I turned the paper over and began again. 

It's never as easy working from photos that I need to adapt, as what makes a great photo doesn't necessarily make a great portrait reference. I just keep making marks, and walking away and coming back, and trusting that it all comes together.
It's spooky sometimes, when I'm working, I become so involved that suddenly I feel the animal there, and that came through very strongly with Smog. I was so pleased with the finished piece, and sent the image for approval. 

Then the bombshell, Pam loved it, but had I forgotten I was supposed to have done it on a black background? My heart missed a beat, and I couldn't believe I'd been so careless. However, all was well, the neutral background met with approval from Rennie, and I could breathe again. With hindsight, I genuinely believe the feel of the piece wouldn't have worked on black. Smoggy at work? Who knows!

I took the work off the easel, and got another shock, as there he was, staring out at me in outline from the backing board I work on! I'd unwittingly transferred the original outline onto the board when I'd worked the other side of the paper! 

It made me smile, because I just loved the thought of Smoggy still making his mark. 

Then the final hurdle, the suppliers had discontinued the frame I'd used for the other three horses, so I gilded and distressed a similar frame, to try and make the four portraits flow when hung together, so after much experimentation, he was finally finished, as below. 

Such a beautiful pony, inside and out. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Road Trip UK 14 - 22 July!

I'm using a photo of a recent piece, the incredibly handsome Bruno, as the hook for my travelling blog. I was so privileged to be asked to portray this stunning chap! He was just the perfect subject, smiling for the camera, in all his different hats, and at every angle we wanted. We were totally spoilt for choice when we had to choose what photo to work from!

Trip to date, I'll be near London around the 14th & 15th July, and in Scotland during the following week, though not exactly sure where and when, just yet!

Plans are still fluid so message me on FB, or email me on to organise me taking photos.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Cheats Never Prosper.... or do they?

This is a bit of a cautionary tale for artists in the current climate of social media as an advertising tool.

Anyone that knows me will be aware that I have been politically involved in equine welfare for a long time, hence part of what I look at on social media involves scanning the myriad of equine pages scattered across Facebook. Particularly active pages include an assortment of 'Dodgy Dealers' groups, with posts invariably culminating in groundhog day bunfights between buyers and sellers.

A couple of weeks ago there was different topic, a poster asking about an artist doing pencil sketches, and had anyone had problems with her. She was charging £40 a drawing, and was either not sending the work, or when she did send it, it was dreadful, and nothing like the subject. There is clearly a degree of buyer beware if a client thinks they'll get a decent portrayal for such a small sum, but that's not the point to this. It's hardly rocket science to figure that all those commissioning paid upfront!
I followed the entire thread, and it transpired that the 'artist' was not in fact the girl whose FB page was advertising, but her partner. As more people joined in the thread showing the frankly awful work they'd received, one of them showed a sample of work she'd been sent as an example of what she could expect back for her money. It was a good enough drawing, and looked a real bargain for around the £40 mark. Sadly for this particular purchaser, the 'artist' had just stolen a photograph from another artist online, and pretended it was his own work.

Now, that kind of shook me. I'm aware there are people who will share images about, with the danger of them being downloaded. I'm one of them. I know that if I found my work being reproduced then the law of copyright would allow me to sue. My work doesn't photograph well, and I don't think that any downloaded from lowish resolutions would make anyone any money, but I'm probably very naive about that. However, I digress.

What would really infuriate me would be someone using one of my pieces as an example of their work, and profiteering from that. So from now on, everything I do will have this watermark online. I've created one in a circle as below to try and not block the flow of the artwork.
The only different watermarks will be the limited edition prints advertised, such as Sprinter Sacre, as they are done in a design shop.

I feel quite disillusioned by the dishonesty of people forcing me to have to take such precautions, but it seems that's the way of things nowadays.

I always sign my work at the base of the neck, and date with the year, as in the pics above. As you can see, my signature could quite easily be cropped out, so the watermark will now hopefully prevent anyone being able to pretend my work is their own. If indeed, they would want to!
Many artists sign at the bottom of the page, so their signature could be made disappear too.

For anyone looking at work with a view to commission, please make sure the entire work is visible, to prevent anyone using other artists work as examples for you.

Sorry it's a bit of a dull blog, but hopefully it might help stop the scammers, who have obviously already fleeced a few quid from unsuspecting, now unhappy, clients.

I hope you enjoyed looking at the gorgeous Kelpie and Robbie too!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Memory Lane

I seem to be playing catch up all the time, so I've put these two lovely horses in the same blog as they were both commissioned by the same client. You'll see I've also added watermarks. I'll do a blog about the reason why soon. It's such a shame it's necessary.

Skase Rase was PP (private purchase) New Zealand bred horse who ran and won in the top rated races in HK, he won over two million HKD.

Sadly, I didn't get to meet Skase Race in the flesh, as he was in Hong Kong and old age took him before I had the chance to return. After a great deal of scouring memory cards, deliberation, mind-changing and drop-boxing, we finally found/agreed a photo that I could work from, and the portrait on here is the result. I know how adored he was, and I hope I've managed to capture the beautiful soul that shone from his eyes.

Looking at the photos took me back in time. Skase Race was kept at one of the amazing facilities for horses leaving racing in Hong Kong, Beas River, where the XC phase of the 2008 Olympics was held. I have great memories of being there a few years before that, and riding some of the slightly excitable horses that were in the process of being rehabilitated to leisure horses. The indoor school had mirrors down the entire long side, ages before they were commonplace in the UK. It was the first time I'd watched myself being bronced with from one end of an arena to the other!

Eagle Regiment was also a PP, but this time from Australia. He had a stellar career on the track, winning over nine million HKD.

I'm so pleased I did get to meet him when he was sent back to the UK for retirement. I travelled to photograph him, and he had a look about him that told you he knew he was a racehorse, he had that way about him that special horses have, the ones that know they've been good.
He was mildly woolly when I photographed him as his body was still adjusting to the change in hemisphere, however his quality still shone through his coat, and his intelligence was so clear in his eyes.

My client seems to have an eye for a good horse, so I'm looking forward to my next commission!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Time Warp

This is a multi-portrait blog, as these three are all owned by the same client, who scarily, I first worked with over 20 years ago, on one of several Hong Kong trips. It seemed like a time warp!

Nicole is now competing internationally under the Hong Kong flag, so I was delighted to be asked to do portraits of her two very smart competition horses, Scobie and Arthur, at Pau, as well as the very much larger than life Pixie!
Of course it rained on the day that we elected to photograph, and it was also the swansong for my camera, which gave up the ghost immediately after I'd finished! Thankfully, despite circumstances conspiring against me, we managed to get the photos I needed.
Annoyingly, it also meant I didn't have my camera to take good photos of the completed work, so apologies for the quality!

First up was Scobie, whose party name is 'The Navigator'.

 He is such a lovely, kind horse, and has been the most solid and consistent competitor for many years,  ensuring his place in history, by partnering Nicole to a Bronze medal in the 17th Asian Games in 2014. The link below will tell you all about that! Me, I just adored him for being so good to photograph!

Arthur, whose party name is Vihara du Causse, was a little more challenging; he was a tad bemused at being pulled out to stand in the rain, but was very good once he realised all he needed to do was smile! He is extremely handsome, with the most wonderful, expressive eye, but that is really an irrelevance, as he is such an exciting horse to look to the future with. He had a great placing at Le Lion 2016 under Kevin McNab.

The last, but not least, Pixie. Pixie was very vocal during the shoot, convinced the camera was a major threat, that needed scaring off, along with me, behind it! Because she's such a busy little person, I was relieved that her attention would switch like lightning to something else. giving me the opportunity to catch her in mouth closed, silent mode, before she gave her opinion again! The photos of this is from my phone, so really poor, and doesn't show her amazing colouring properly!

Here's hoping all three of them have a good season eventing!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Myriad Punchinello, aka Punk.

 When Sarah asked me to do a portrait of her very wonderful Punk, I wasn't expecting to see such amazing markings, nor had I anticipated quite how difficult they'd be to get right! I'm always delighted to to do horses that have such individual markings, as the finished piece is (if I get it right!) unmistakably 'them'. The downside is that halfway through, I become cross-eyed at making sure every spot and dot and change of colour is in the right place. (The photo of the piece isn't good, as I still hadn't got my camera, so it's a phone photo)
Punk (or Myriad Punchinello, to give him his full title) has an interesting past. He's out of a TB mare, by the gypsy Appaloosa Stallion, Skywalker. Bred at a small private stud - the Myriad Stud, he was sold as a foal to a young girl as a pet. She kept him as a colt and he became too much to handle once fully grown - there are rumours he may have some illicit offspring! 😳😳😳 
He was luckily bought by Jane Wilson, gelded, and sent away to be professionally broken. He impressed the various trainers who progressed his training, in both SJ and dressage, and during his time with Jane was National Appaloosa Champion 3 times running. 
Sarah then bought Punk as a rising 9 yr old who had done no real eventing. Her daughter Vanessa was then 14 and took him from Pre Novice (back in the day when eventing started at that level)) through to Weston Park JRN champs - the last long format 3-day - where he was double clear and team 3rd.
Punk unfortunately picked up an injury the next season and was off for 18 months. Then Suz, the next daughter in line, evented him, qualifying both for Weston and PC open champs. She took Punk to PC champs and came 3rd and the pair won the Urky Newton scholarship for the best x-c round.
The next bit is a direct quote from Sarah, because it puts the horse into words better than I can! 
"I also did bits of competing on him over the years. Such an amazingly talented horse who was so light in the mouth and 'off the leg' it was such fun to ride him. In more professional hands he would have gone to the to the top (as Ian Stark, David Gatherer and others who sat on him would testify) but I like to think he had a wonderful happy life with us from 8 yrs to 24 years. 
Such a character too - not so much into cuddles but always friendly and cheerful, and up for anything! Latterly he was a great companion horse, but also helped me to get fit to ride out 5 hrs a day in Botswana - he was so happy to be hacked out again for a few months while I got my muscles into shape!! Sorry this is so long - but a horse of a lifetime he really was - and we all miss him so much."
As ever, I feel very privileged to be given the responsibility for portraying a horse of a lifetime, and I'm thankful I met him as he heartbreakingly went to the pastures in the sky last year.  
Wouldn't it be lovely if every horse was so cherished?