Friday, December 28, 2012

How to Color a Black or White Horse

Today on Ride of the Christmas Ponies, we have #17, Rohan, above, and #16, Rhio, below. Very very different horses, but what they have in common is that, being black and white, they require me to use a lot more colors than they would if they were some variety of brown/red/buckskin/whatever. No, really.

If you've ever tried to paint something that was entirely black or white, you probably realized that just using black or white paint didn't work very well. This is because light bounces all around, all the time, and other colors are always reflected everywhere. Those reflections get most obvious on objects (or animals) whose colors are really neutral in themselves -- black or white. In order to make them feel vibrant and alive, I have to use purples, greens, browns, blues, all kinds of things you'd never expect. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Honey the Appaloosa, Christmas Pony #15

Sweet as Honey, 10 x 8" mixed media on Rives BFK Tan paper
I enjoyed spending time with this kind-hearted girl, even as I knew that the photo I chose to work from was going to make for a challenging job. Correcting distortion is sometimes pretty simple, sometimes (as in this case) not. I knew it would not be an easy thing but I waaaaannnted that expression, so I went for it.

I love her eyeliner and her general feeling of softness.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fixing a Stretchy-Faced Horse

This is a really common thing in horse photos: the dreaded Lens Distortion. This is Honey, the Christmas Pony I'm working on today. I love her expression in the reference photo at top, but I could tell the camera had made her nose too long! I have to correct that, and here's how I do it. 
 I printed two photos of her and measured both, from the poll behind the ears to the bottom point of her eye, and then from that point to the top edge of her nostril. Those distances were close to identical in the side (un-distorted) view, but in the close-up they differed by 50%!
A bit of quick math: 1.45 divided by 1.25, from the side print, gave me 1.16. On my distorted print, the ear-to-eye length is 2", and 2 x 1.16 was 2.32. I have to guess a little here, but I made the dark line at around 2 and 1/3" -- that's where the top of the nostril would be if the lens hadn't distorted Honey's face.

I measure other things, often less precisely; I will also have to account for her muzzle being too wide, for example, and pare that down as I create the sketch.  The side view won't help a lot with that, but I'm experienced enough to figure it out. 

I already did a post of simple tips for better amateur dog photos, and all of those apply to horses, but if I can find a horse-photography tutorial I'll link it here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Pony the Fourteenth!

Liza. I don't know a lot about her except that she is a warmblood and has this lovely rich bay color. She struck me as a very complex individual -- sensitive and refined but also really bold. I worked to find a balance in her portrait, between the WHOO HOO VIVID and the precision she seemed to want.

Lessons from the Christmas Pony project

First: I am loving this thing and so glad I decided to take the plunge. For those just joining us, here's the link to the Christmas Ponies -- what they are and why I'm doing them.

Me and my "Pony," Twilight, who is kind of large for a pony, but appropriately rounded. 
And since I've never done anything like this before, I am taking notes for myself for next year. Some highlights:

1. Start the project not later than Nov. 1 next year. Christmas animal portrait rush means that not everything will fit on schedule.

2. Remember that when you get inventive and do what each character seems to need? It WORKS.

3. Stock up on coffee. Very good coffee.

4. Did I mention starting early? And coffee? Coffee is vital.

So, yes -- for various reasons involving an unexpected last-minute rush of PLEASE I NEED IT FOR CHRISTMAS and a day job and a blizzard, not to mention my own need to get each portrait Really Really Right, I am behind schedule. That doesn't mean anyone gets bumped off the list. It just means I will be taking submissions next year beginning on Nov. 1 instead of Dec. 1. :-)

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying this so much that I am planning to do other series projects throughout the year. Maybe not one-a-day, since that would leave no time to create other work I need to make, but perhaps a series of ten [insert subject here] every month or two.  Goldfish, birds, trains (now that'd be fun), flowers, I don't even know yet. But I really love how many people have been following this project, talking to me, and having a good time; and I love how productive I am when all that is going on.

If you're enjoying this, then, I hope you'll stay tuned. There'll be more.

Christmas (Dog and) Pony #13

I'm putting the dog sketch up first, so that it will be my "thumbnail" image when I post to Facebook, and thus reduce the risk of ruining the surprise of the horse portrait, which is a gift for someone.

This is Fozzie Bear, the cute fluffy gent with the soulful mismatched eyes. He's just as sweet as he looks here.

And the Surprise Pony is Coach, who sadly passed away about a month ago. The portrait is a stealth job, and will be delivered tomorrow before the person who commissioned it has to go out of town for the holiday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Ponies 11 & 12: Leif and Boone

Santa's Little Helpers. 9 x 12" pastel pencils, watercolor, carbon pencil, pastels, white acrylic.

This is a special commission, since it's outside the standard scope of the Christmas Pony project. I took it because:

1. FJORDS!!! They are so adorable with their stripey horsey mohawks.

2. I wanted an image for my holiday cards for next year, and this was perfect

3. ... I mentioned FJORDS, right?

I worked from a great photo sent to me by one of the owners. I'll link the farm name later, after I clear it with them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Pony 10: Flynn!

I went and bought a new pastel color for this horse. The actual name is "English Red" but I think of it as "Feisty Chestnut."

Flynn is known for her can-do attitude and her boldness, which is why she got the energetic rock star treatment in this portrait.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Pony 9: Daman

Today's Pony is Daman. ... wait, did I say "Pony"? Hah.

Some horses can take a while for me to get a handle on, and he's one of those. I've met this horse more than once, and he's a tricky one, and I couldn't quite get a grip on how to tackle his portrait, until it hit me:

I needed to stop just trying to draw a horse, and go for drawing a rock star

Because Daman? Daman is The Horse Your Mother Warned You About. Tall, dark and handsome, charismatic and sexy, a real charmer. If he were a dude, he'd play lead guitar in a very loud band, get all the chicks and break their hearts. He'd ride a Fat Boy with a custom paint job, too fast, and when he got pulled over he'd smile and casually tell the cop where to go.

He's not a bad guy, really. He just knows he's famous.

Christmas Pony Number Eight

Her name is Fiona. I don't know much more about her, but she required a very light and sensitive hand as an artist, so I wonder if that's also how she is to ride. Such a lovely girl. This portrait is watercolor, Pitt Pastel pencils, Wolff's Carbon Pencil, and white acrylic.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas "NO REALLY, I'M A PONY!" Number Seven

Everyone, meet Chi-Chi.

 Chi-Chi lived thirty-plus years and lit up the world of everyone around her that whole time. A bold, kind, impish little girl, she was dearly loved and is still missed daily, all this time after her departure.

I figured, if the Donkey from Shrek could be a Steed for a day, surely Chi-Chi could be a Christmas Pony. She seems to have more than earned the honor.

I left Chi-Chi's portrait slightly rough around the edges, feeling I ought not refine away all the energetic, beautiful chaos I felt was part of her character. Look closely and you'll see some of my sketching lines and stuff I only partially erased. I could have "fixed" all that, but it felt like Cheech didn't want that much restraint, so I let it go.

Friendly Stuff for Beginner Artists

This is one of my favorite books for beginners. I use it in my classes a lot.  Most of the exercises and principles are the same ones you'd get out of a book like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (another favorite of mine), but I've found this one easier reading and more confidence-building for a lot of my students, with a very welcoming and soothing quality. 

If you've always wondered whether you could learn to draw, this book believably shows how you can. Highly recommended. It's on Amazon here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas Ponies Five and Six

Santos, top, and Wolf, bottom. Acrylics on paper, 9 x 10" each. Designed as a set to hang side by side. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Pony Number Foal. Um, Four.

Banjo, who is entirely too cute to be legal. Took this shot with a flash because it was five p.m. and dark out (isn't is solstice yet?) when I finished him. So the colors are ... off. But he's at the printer's shop now, being professionally scanned.

The Christmas Pony project gallops on. Haven't done the final tally for today yet! I think I have 21 out of 31. 

Christmas Pony Number Three

Venus (the Wild), 10 x 10" watercolor & mixed media. Third of the Christmas Ponies. She's a more wary and sharp personality than either Kadans or Griffin, so I chose to use sharper pencils and watercolor for her instead of pastels as I did for the other two. To be clear on this, Venus is not mean; like most horses, she's innately kind. She's got this wild-horse alertness about her, though, and a desire to control her domain. Cool mare.

The Christmas Pony Project is a resounding hit so far, with sixteen of the thirty-one slots taken for the month. If you're interested, now's the time to jump, because at this rate I'll be booked up by the end of the week!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Pony Number Two

This is Griffin, the Christmas Pony for December 2, and he really is that cute. He's an unusually secure kind of horse; he is well aware that he's loved and he seems completely at ease with his place in the world. As a result, he is really curious and playful, and doesn't waste much energy on worry.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas Pony!

This is Kadans, a sweet grey mare who helped a lot of people learn to ride. She has the honor of being my first-ever Christmas Pony.

I corrected for the camera distortion that made her nose look rather longer than it was, in the original photo:

If you'd like to add your own pony to the project, and need to get photos, this post on dog photography can help. Same principles, different species. :-)