“Heartfelt” by Kim McElroy
The act of creation always has to come from the present moment. All of who I am and what I have experienced goes into each painting, as well as my intuitive connection with what the painting – and the horse – wants to communicate. In this case, the horse and the painting led me to a realization about my creative process.
“Heartfelt” is a painting created for a woman named Joy who was writing a book on the theme of stories from famous horse trainers of one heartfelt experience with horses that led them to their life with horses. She approached me to paint a cover for her book. She wanted the art to be an image of a horse’s eye.
While thinking of her theme one day, a photo appeared on my computer screensaver that I had taken of a beautiful freisian named “Wouter”. I had photographed him the year before for a future portrait for his owner Kris.
Joy loved the photo of Wouter so I asked permission from Kris if I could use her horse as the model for the project. She readily agreed. Joy asked me to work a heart somewhere into the painting, so I had the idea to weave the heart in his forelock.
When the time came to do the painting for Joy, I was in a difficult state of mind. My husband Rod’s mom, Murielle had passed away a month before at the age of 91. I had just returned from a trip out of town after helping my dad after step-mother had developed dementia and we had to help her be admitted into a nursing home. I was trying to flow with these life changes but they affected me deeply.
I was anxious to begin working, to get back on schedule, but when the day and time presented itself I felt a block as solid as a brick wall. I couldn’t start the work. I sometimes run into this stopped place, and I have tried for years to discover what causes it. I think I have the will and energy to paint, but then when I go to do it, I feel stuck.
I meditated. I sat. Nothing. So I took the dogs for a walk. As I walked, it occurred to me that I had overlooked one very important prerequisite for doing my art, something that I teach others but often forget for myself. I needed to do a meditation to connect intuitively with the horse. I have always done this when painting a portrait of a horse for their owner, but since this was a “project” for a book cover, rather than a portrait, I hadn’t thought to connect with him. I had expected that I could just look at the photo and put pastel to paper, and draw him. But I know from experience that my art isn’t just about drawing color and light and shadow, muscle, form and hair. It is about spirit, inhabiting the forms and the art itself. Yet, how often I forget that the spirit is just within reach, I have only to open the door.
I came back from my walk and my beautiful thoroughbred mare Darma, was laying down napping. It is unusual for her to relax so deeply during the day, so I felt blessed to have discovered her in repose. I decided to sit near her in the quiet and as for some insight as to what the block was.
I sat down and quieted my mind. She went from sitting up in rest to lying flat. As she lay, her breathing was more labored and she groaned a few times. Horse owners will understand when I say my mind wanted to worry – was she really sleeping or was she in some distress? Horses often lay down when colicing, and it is sometimes hard to tell what is rest and what is discomfort.
I peeked at her face, her eyes were blinking closed, her ears twitching – only sleep. I stilled my mind and let the worry subside. In that space I had my answer. What I perceived as a block wasn’t a block, but was rather the transition I must go through in preparation for the work. I expected I could jump from normal waking activity into the deeply energetic work that is art, without honoring the transition my mind, body and spirit must go through to make that shift. And just like with my concern for Darma, I usually think there is something wrong with being in that in that in-between place… As that thought percolated in me, Darma sat up, nibbled some grass, and then rose her huge 16.3 hand body up off the ground, shook herself, and began to graze…
I thanked Darma. Then I went in to my studio and sat down and stilled myself. I asked to connect with the spirit that is Wouter to ask his permission to portray him for this painting and book cover. A welcoming presence filled my mind and I saw the image I wanted to paint of him. I saw the light on his face in sparkling iridescent colors, which didn’t appear in the photo but were there that day when I saw his beauty. The block was gone, and I was ready to begin.