Common Problems with Painting Horses
|How to Paint Horse Portraits|
- Using poor photographic reference, forcing the artist to guess-work areas of the horse’s portrait or body, and allowing the aforementioned dictatorial part of the brain to fill the gaps.
- Using only white to illustrate horses’ eyeballs around the irises and the teeth.
- Illustrating the horse’s hair by linear strokes via a thin brush and using the same brush marks to cover the horse.
- Using premixed pigments such as a particular brown, black, beige or white for the horse painting and using the same colour to illustrate various elements of the horse.
- Leaving areas around the horse’s features blank, such as between the horse’s eyes and snout and the between the eyes and ears, resulting in a two-dimensional impression of a horse.
Horse’s features often contain complex elements the novice artist may overlook in favour of the facial features alone, but which may be the key to painting a realistic horse. For instance, horses’ faces possess complex contours including little valleys, ridges and textures due to sinews, muscles and tendons just beneath the surface. Illustrating these in a tonal way will create a three-dimensional impression of a horse’s head or body and will also prevent the horse portrait from looking flat and unrealistic. This entails the following practices:
- Not every contour appears as a line. Sensitive observation will reveal that some contours consist of abstract and subtle shifts in colour and tone. It is wise to half close the eyes in order to simplify these shifts into basic areas and to work from the simple to the complex. Stand back periodically to gain an overall impression of the horse painting.
- Look out for reflected light on the horse’s face. Reflected light is when a shaded area is illuminated by reflections from a shiny surface, such as a wall or mirror. Reflected light might be most apparent around the horse’s snout or ear.
- Horse’s eyes, snout, hair and ears should not be denoted by mere outline. Close observation, will reveal that eyes and ears have rims and tucks; hair has localised shadows and the nostrils are surrounded by undulating flesh.
- The horse palette may possess the most unlikely colours, including blue, violet or crimson. Highlights often contain ultramarine, horse hair may contain maroons, and shadows over the horse’s teeth may require a little earth colour or blue.
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It is vital to sketch the horse precisely, or the painting will be ruined. Paint from the large areas and work down to the detail. Soft sable brushes are vital for blending and applying glazes. Fine brushes of sizes 3 or 6 are good for detail, such as the horse’s eyelashes, hair and highlights. Wide soft brushes of size 9 upwards are ideal for blending areas around the mane and nose. Linseed oil can be added to thin the paint to apply detail or soft glazes.
I will often work from dark to light, which means rendering the dark colours on the horse first, and then finishing off with the highlights, which can be found on a shiny horse’s coat, eyes, ears and moisture around the snout.
Oil Colours for Horse Art
Numerous earth colours are not necessary for horse painting, and may even cause dirty or dull colours. The oil pigments I use most are: burnt sienna, burnt umber, French ultramarine, pthalo blue, permanent rose, cadmium red and white, but do look out for other colours.
Links Relating to Animal Painting
How to draw a horse
Earth colours for horse art
Books on oil painting techniques
Demonstration on painting zebras
Glazing technique for oil painting