Updated: Oct 22, 2021
The creation of Skippy’s portrait was a wonderful lesson for me. My client Pat, had a unique approach to what she wanted in her portrait of her horse Skippy. She felt that she didn’t need to have a photo-realistic portrait, but rather she wanted to capture the essence of Skippy and their relationship together. The challenge of how to depict this illusion became a journey in itself, and led me to both familiar and new pathways in my artistic style.
To illustrate her feeling she sent me a photograph taken at a horse clinic where she and Skippy were participants. Because the picture had insufficient light the photo was blurry almost beyond recognition, but I could see enough to understand that they were doing groundwork with Skippy walking in a circle around Pat and simultaneously yielding away from her forward movement. She said this photo captured a moment where she felt particularly connected with Skippy. She didn’t necessarily have to be in the painting, she said, but if that was how it turned out that was fine too.
I have to admit, my first impression of the photograph was my thought “how am I going to paint that?” I often wonder if people think that I have every painting come into my mind immediately and fully formed. But doubt is a big part of the process. Fortunately we had some time before I needed to know what I was going to do, so I put those thoughts in the back of my mind.
One of my favorite quotes is
“Frustration is a necessary prelude to insight”.
~ Goertzel and Hansen’s book “Cradle of Eminence”
It is something I keep in mind when I don’t know what the next step will be.
Fortunately Pat had recently moved to live nearby, so I went to meet her and her horse, hoping that inspiration would strike. Even thought I didn’t need to have a photographic image of Skippy, I knew the opportunity to meet him would affect me in ways I couldn’t define.
Skippy was a handsome and personable horse, and I really enjoyed Pat’s positive approach to her relationship with him. She had been through losses in her life, as many of us have, but part of her zest for life was clearly connected to her relationship with her horse. She and her daughter had recently developed some property and built their homes and stables to house themselves and their horse and goat family. It was a pleasure to see the harmony of the natural environment surrounding them. This later became a powerful influence in the portrait.
We asked Skippy to run around a bit. He navigated his new territory with ease, and he was unique in that he never took his eyes off me.
When I prepared to do Skippy’s portrait I did a shamanic journey to gain insight into the creation Skippy’s portrait. The spirit of Bear led me to a forest glade where other animal guides also were in attendance. I asked to see Skippy and he came into my mind’s eye. He was like a spirit horse, all wind and movement. He spun around like leaves on the wind. He began spinning and dancing in a clockwise motion. I then saw a native woman appear who I felt was a representative of Pat. The woman wore ceremonial white deerskin leathers with long fringe. Skippy created a circle of movement around her and she danced and spun in the center. His tail and her dress were a blur – all motion. They spun so fast in some moments I felt like he became her and her him, she would disappear and reappear and so would he – like they were morphing in and out of view. The feeling was their dance was so close and so much in unity that at times they become one.
When I opened my eyes from the journey I immediately sketched a rough drawing of what I had seen in my vision. I realized this was the feeling and the vision of what had been captured in that blurry photograph. Before, I had looked at the photo with the eyes of an artist, trying to ascertain how to paint what I couldn’t see. But after the vision, I knew more clearly what to paint, because then it wasn’t about what I could see, it was about what I could feel.
I watched videos of Native American Women Fancy Shawl Dancers to study how their shawls moved. I felt the rhythm and heard the drumming. I realized I needed to know what her feet would be doing. I was inspired by the pattern of beaded boots and chose an upward step for the feet.
I began by drawing the trees. My photos of the forest around their home was the inspiration. Even though this was a stylized drawing, I needed the color and depth of the trees to set off the light I had seen in the forest glade. To have light one must have contrast. There were some low bright bushes in the photo that inspired me to add that effect in the drawing. Later I realized this mimicked the swirling leaves I had envisioned.
Then there was the challenge of how to create the effect of the two beings blurring into one another. In my vision I had seen the woman from behind with the shawl spread across her outstretched arms, and the horse on the other side of her. But if I drew it that way – she essentially blocked the view of the horse. I began reworking the drawing, and realized I needed to make her shawl almost transparent, so the body and legs of the horse came through it, essentially making them one. I still didn’t know how this was going to look in color and form, but I had a start.
I began drawing the horse. I left the area of the shawl undone – I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. When I began drawing the dusty purple shadows of the shawl, I realized that I didn’t want to make the body and legs of the hidden horse, the same chestnut color – but rather – like the shadows of the shawl. An illusion of shape and movement. The beaded boots needed to be an accent. I chose turquoise – and echoed that in the hair ribbon.
All along, I had been supported by Pat’s faith that I could somehow portray the feeling she wanted to make tangible. That faith, as much as the vision itself, helped me accomplish it.
Pat later shared some of what the portrait meant to her when she sent me this photo:
As we hung your amazing painting, it was obvious that this is the perfect place that has been waiting for it – it is a multi-dimensional echo – painted horse and woods; real horse and woods.
It is beautiful how this painting is absolutely the centerpiece of my home, without overtaking anything else. And I can see it from my bed when I wake in the morning.
P.S. Enjoy more of the story of Pat sharing a photo of the portrait with Skippy in “Living Art ~ The Sentience of Horses Part 3”
and more of Pat’s testimonial below:
Many of us with horses in our lives know the special, mostly fleeting, often spontaneous, moments of harmony. These are like entering another dimension, being in the moment with our horse.
I have appreciated Kim’s work for some time because she portrays not only the physical beauty of the horse, but also the feeling of the horse. Her talent is unique and obvious. So I asked her to do a soul essence portrait of my horse, Skippy, that would show the harmony and communication I am privileged to experience with him. I chose this style because I wanted the essence of this amazing horse to be displayed.
It has been a lovely journey from conception through the final product, communicating with Kim throughout. She came to my place to meet and photograph Skippy. Then she did a meditation about Skippy and me to prepare the vision for the art to be created. Then the perfect time came for the manifestation of this piece.
When completed, my daughter and I went to Kim’s lovely home for the painting to be revealed. When I saw the picture, I immediately felt the “One Being” which is the art’s title. The revelation and discussion by Kim of the process was made even more special because my daughter also experienced it. My hope is that this painting will be a valued legacy to her; a way to remember me out with my horses, calm, grounded, moving, happy.
So now every morning I can look at the picture of the essence of my loved horse and then I look past it, through the window towards the barn, and I see the actual horse in his glorious being. This is a gift I am very happy to give myself.”