2016 Shadwell Stallion Brochure Artwork Revealed

Posted on: 22nd Sep 2015

The Shadwell Stud near Newmarket is known for promoting equestrian art, and they usually commission a painting or drawing for their stallion brochure front cover – often awarded to an artist that catches their eye at the annual SEA exhibition.
But for some years they have regularly supplied life size resin horses to be painted by schools and then exhibited at race days and shows; and they decided this year to run a competition to see what an equestrian artist would produce.
The design I suggested was – side A ; current success…4 different colours/types of racehorse (named horses, one ridden in the owner’s colours) racing across the Shadwell blue, with a logo in the corner of the trompe l’oeil rug, and side B; the dreams of success in the future, a foal leaping out of the folds of the cloth. As simple an idea as possible, but telling a story, and with an eye to the brand. The big horse’s head, legs etc. would be painted fairly realistically. 
I had a blue cloth which I used as reference; draped interestingly over the resin horse and photographed. Shadwell sent me some lovely photos of the racehorses and I used a composite of several pictures for the foal.
There are practical problems in designing for curved surfaces – your images will be foreshortened from most viewpoints, even if you compensate. So you design it so most of the important painting is on the flattest bits and hope for the best, lengthening and shortening so it looks reasonably convincing from different angles. It’ll be interesting to see how the photographer will shoot it…
I couldn’t get the horse up to my studio, so I had to do it in a  downstairs room, the walls and piano covered in paint cloths, occasionally taking it outside (with bemused neighbours co-opted to help me in with it when it rained unexpectedly…)
I started off with matte water-based paints, but then decided that acrylics gave a really nice sheen to the body of the horse. The eyes, insides of the nostrils and the hooves got a coat of gloss varnish. The blue cloth and the horses started out in acrylics too, but I changed to fast drying (alkyd) oils as I found I needed a bit of extra time to work the highlights and shadows of the ‘folds’ and make them look as realistic as possible. You can do oils over acrylics, but not really the other way round - cracking would be highly likely, especially if the oils weren’t completely dry.
I’m often painting large projects, and up ladders with paint, but this horse had its particular challenges! I like to be in complete control of the subject matter, and able to paint my way out of problems…however I couldn’t change the shape of the resin horse, so I made her look as attractive as possible, showing lots of different sorts of painting, focussing on her best bits and enjoying the colour and detail.
Right at the end I added a couple of butterflies landing on her neck; Painted Ladies.