Painting a Horse at Ayrshire Farm

Shire Horse Charcoal Sketch (WIP). 14x20, charcoal on paper. 2017

Shire Horse Charcoal Sketch (WIP). 14x20, charcoal on paper. 2017

As I've done for the past few years, I decided to start the year with an animal painting. I've had a horse that I saw at Ayrshire Farm in VA in my mind for a while and thought this might be a good time to see what I could do with him.

In this first step I've started with a full-size preparatory sketch in charcoal. I played around with the design a little before settling on some kind of abstract background, with an emphasis on the white sock.

Shire Horse (WIP). 14x20, oil on linen. 2017

Shire Horse (WIP). 14x20, oil on linen. 2017

I started the block in as a gestural sketch in raw umber, although many of the initial brush strokes were lost as I started to separate the light from the shadows.

Shire Horse (WIP). 14x20, oil on linen. 2017

After letting that dry overnight I spent a couple of hours the next day refining the block in, making corrections and adding the beginnings of a background.

Shire Horse (WIP). 14x20, oil on linen. 2017

After letting the paint dry for a couple of days I revisited the block-in one final time. At this point I've corrected all the mistakes I could find. I also have a good sense of where I want the hard/soft and lost/found edge to be.

Shire Horse (WIP). 14x20, oil on linen. 2017

When the block-in was dry I put down the first layer of opaque paint in one session. In order to prevent myself getting lost in the details I used the same size brush (a number 4 flat) throughout.

Shire Horse (WIP), oil on linen, 2017

A few days later I added in some background color with thin paint, letting the block-in show through in a few places. I didn't think there was any need to have a complex setting, so I I kept things simple. My final act before signing was to paint around the outline of the horse's body with a small brush to touch up the edges.

Horse. 14x20, oil on linen. 2017 painting by Simon Bland

Of course, like any self-respecting artist, I couldn't let it end there. Over the next two days I made a couple of tweaks with smaller sized brushes, adding a little more definition in places. At this point I forced myself to stop because I know from experience that I'm very close to the tipping point. I'm likely to ruin it if I continue.

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