Spring rolled around and the day came for me to visit the small farm named after the resident senior horse. The setting was gorgeous - a rural valley with a dramatic backdrop of mountains - and to my delight there were goldfinches EVERYWHERE! The place was alive with stunning bright-yellow flashes of colour. My camera was out and in action within moments of my arrival.
At the farm gate I was met by the resident dogs - two Weimeraners and a cheerful terrier pup - and after an enthusiastic greeting by the farm’s owner, I was introduced to the horses.
Then there was the little guy – a darling pony who greeted me by putting his head under my arm for a hug. The newest equine member of the family, he came to the farm via a local horse rescue group and is definitely home to stay. He has a leg that shows evidence of an old injury and therefore he’s best suited to life as a companion horse, a job he takes to heart and excels at. He may be small, but he’s spunky and unlike so many ponies I have known who can be pushy and even nippy, his manners are perfect. I would have sneaked him into my car and spirited him away if I thought I could have gotten away with it! I’m sure he’d have been totally happy living in my suburban back yard (not! Nor would the local authorities have been too pleased about it.)
After getting to know the horses, hearing their stories, taking about a million photographs of them, and then watching them gallop joyfully out into the hayfield together, it was time to sit down and talk more about the portrait.
In the house I was shown the spot where the portrait would hang over the fireplace mantel, giving me a sense of size and scale. Then my client and I sat down to chat on a shady porch overlooking the hayfield, with mountains forming a majestic backdrop, swallows darting in and out of nesting boxes, and finches and blackbirds fluttering at feeding stations.
The horses soon came to the fence to mooch carrots with the Weimeraners standing by in case any carrot crumbs came their way. The pup, in the way of terriers, explored the hayfield.
An idea was already forming as to how I would like to compose the portrait. I mused about it on the drive home while recalling my day’s experiences. After some more contemplation, I developed a sketch, sent it off to my client, and was delighted to learn that my vision very much matched hers. It was a perfect!
I have been glad to be able to take my time working on this portrait, and to slowly and carefully develop the elements. My client has checked in periodically by text or email, and visited me in person at a fall trade show. But all the while she has reminded me that there is no rush, that I should take my time and enjoy the process. And so I have.
I reflected on each horse and his story as I worked, remembered the sleek Weimeraners, and the bright yellow finches, and the beauty of the farm with its guardian mountains.
I have diligently worked away at the portrait – quietly, carefully and joyfully – and here is the result:
I'm actually still tinkering with minor adjustments and there's a little bit of work still to do on the background, but it's nearly complete. Feeling "finished" can be an elusive thing when working on a complex, detailed piece like this, but I'm confident it's almost there and happy that my client is thrilled with the previews she's seen. It's been quite a journey. One that won't be complete until the portrait fulfils its destiny and is hanging in that pre-ordained spot over the fireplace mantel.
In my years of creating portraits of people’s beloved animals, there is a handful that really stands out in my memory. This will be one of them. Art making is always an emotional process and the connection an artist forms with her/his subject is an intimate one. After working on this portrait, living with it, and getting to know the subjects, I now count these animals and their human guardian among my friends.
Update: The finished portrait!