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The Creation of "Gathering Light"

Updated: Oct 22, 2023


It is amazing how so many aspects and decisions lead up to the elements for a portrait.   Such was the case with Sportie's portrait.  Sportie was a beautiful Irish Draft and Arab gelding. His owner, Tracey lived in England and she found my artwork a couple of years after Sportie had passed away.  She described him: “Sportie was my best friend, we had over 15 years together and he always kept me smiling.  He was playful and cheeky and always ready for a cuddle or massage.  Sportie loved my daughters and when there were little they often lay with him in the stable.  I was so lucky to have had him in my life.

When I looked at the photos Tracey sent me, I found myself being drawn to one in particular. It was a photo of Sportie playing in his pasture with his mane flying up in the air.  It was a unique picture and the joy in it was inspiring. Tracey agreed that it was a picture she treasured.

In the days preceding starting the painting, I kept seeing Sporty’s image in my mind’s eye with rays of light radiating out from his mane.  I cropped the picture into a square to create the composition as a close-up of his face.  Enlarging the photo that much made for quite a blurry photo, but fortunately I had another photo of Sportie that was a similar position and allowed me to see more details. 

I composed that sketch onto the pastel paper. I began applying bright yellow pastel in rays of light to almost white.  I realized as I did this there was one flaw in my plan — Sporty’s mane was white — and what made the photo dramatic was that he was backlit from behind with a darker background making his mane light up.  I was concerned the sunlit rays of yellow light at the top wouldn’t offer enough contrast to make the mane shine. Then I had the idea of adding greens under the mane and that created the needed contrast.

The picture of Sporty had an amazing and subtle array of colors.  What most people don’t realize is that light reflects off of everything, especially a white horse.  The camera enhanced this effect in the shadows of Sporty’s white coat.  If I looked carefully I could see lavendar, turquoise, and blue.  I decided to go with this effect, and starting with the shoulder I applied sweeping soft layers of muted colors, working my way up to the neck and over to the head.  The array of colors allowed me to use colors from my pastel boxes I rarely use.  Later I added highlights to the face.  Then I worked in the pink markings around his lips and the shadows around his eye and lips in subtle tones of dark blue.

The body was now complete so I moved to the mane.  This I drew in bold strokes of the lightest yellow.  Some shadow tones in blush rose and gray offered contrast.

While creating I always listen to music and one particular recording I chose was so fitting to this piece that I thought readers might like to listen to it.  It is called “Air” by Peter Kater

One challenge was drawing Sportie's eye, I could barely make out his eye as a black blur in the photo which was taken at a distance. Another photo provided a hint of an expression and the rest was up to my skill and intuition about his personality.

Interestingly since the rest of the painting was so colorful, I felt that using black to create the dark eye wouldn’t look right.  So I used a very deep dark purple instead.  It came together so smoothly — and there he was, looking back at me.

I always put a new painting on an easel in my living room when it is finished.  I turn the light on and step away and turn around.   It is an amazing experience for me because it is the first time I have ever seen the painting complete, from more than a couple feet away.  It is truly viewing it for the first time.  There is always a fascinating sensation that the painting was already created, and the painting seems to be so much more than the sum of its parts.

“Gathering Light”

When my husband Rod saw this piece he had an interesting observation that he perceived a lot of movement in the horse, and to him the sunburst pattern was actually moving from the outside in rather than from the inside out.  He also noticed that Sporty’s eyes followed him wherever he moved in the room.

I wanted the title to be more than just the sense of light — but also about Sporty and the light combined, and I finally settled on “Gathering Light”.

As Tracey awaited her portrait to arrive she admitted to feeling nervous because she knew it was going to be emotional seeing him again.  I assured her that I believed she would feel it as a reunion rather than a reminder that he wasn’t with her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Upon receiving the portrait Tracey’s comments were:

Sportie has arrived and WOW took my breath away, totally drew me in!  I did cry a little but loads of smiling.  The colours are amazing and the family all agree how beautiful it looks. My girls said they would each love a poster in their bedrooms!  It is being framed at the moment and I can’t wait to get it up in its place.

Overjoyed, Tracey


It is such a wonderful feeling to know that my art can part the veil between a woman and her beloved horse, and touch the hearts of all those who see this beautiful being that is Sportie.  I hope you have all enjoyed reading about my journey with him and that you will share with me how the art speaks to you.

I wrote the following poem for his painting…

Spirit Illuminate me I stand before you innocent as a child with my arms wide open ready to receive the light you offer

You are the truth of a cliff’s edge and the laughter of a daisy You are wild as geese in flight and gentle as a old oak

You are full to overflowing With Love

~ Kim McElroy

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