Two years ago, I signed up to paint my Tot resin "light chestnut tobiano." By the end of February, light chestnut morphed into bright chestnut, but still, I hesitated to choose a similar color for this year's NaMoPaiMo model. After all, "I'd already done that." Fortunately, I read this guest post by Kirsten Eidsmoe before I officially registered.. Thank you, Kirsten, for giving me permission to paint the same color as many times as I need to. It just might be light chestnut with chrome from here on out!
The Particular Pleasure of Painting the Same Thing Over and Over
By Kirsten Eidsmoe, Valdresrose Equine Art
A few NaMoPaiMo’s ago, I remember someone asking for color ideas. The artist had a color in mind, but worried that painting the same color twice in a row wouldn’t be enough of a challenge. I’m here to take the opposite view.
I have a vested interest in this topic, because, over a lifetime of collecting and painting all kinds of model horses, I’ve gradually narrowed my focus to just my most favorite breed, and fjords are famously mono-chromatic.
I’m extreme, but as equine artists we’re all working with a limited palette. Unless you’re doing fantasy, there are only so many colors and patterns to choose from. But the realism and artistry doesn’t come from the color and pattern, they come from the details and execution. Sometimes, narrowing your focus can actually expand your range.
Find what’s different
Let me tell you about the time I offered to do commissions on a couple of Oksana Kuks’ beautiful fjord medallions. I thought it would be fun to let buyers pick their own colors… I never anticipated that someone would ask for two portraits of her perfectly matched pair of brown dun fjords.
When she sent me the photos, I had to laugh to keep from crying. It’s true, her horses weren’t exactly alike… they had different haircuts and different colored halters. One was a mare, one was a gelding. One was slightly taller. There was nothing obvious I could capture in paint on two identical sculpts – and just heads at that. I nearly canceled the assignment, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I wanted the challenge.
I know no two horses are ever exactly the same color, so I stared at those reference photos until subtle differences emerged. I studied them until I could take away the halters and the haircuts and tell those “identical” horses apart. One had more grey in the forelock, the other had more sun-bleaching. One had a golden sheen in the coat, the other was more muted. They were individuals. They had different demeanors, even in the photos.
And so I painted. I brought the medallions to my office and showed them around to horsey and non-horsey people alike. I’d ask people to match them up with the photos. I’d ask them which was the boy and which was the girl. When people who didn’t know these horses could get the answers right, I was satisfied I’d accomplished my mission.
|“If these hadn’t been portraits displayed side by side, I don’t think I would have looked as hard as I did to find the differences.”|
One of my favorite things about NaMoPaiMo is the signup form. Specifically, the optional question, “what are your goals?” I’m not sure I HAD any before NaMoPaiMo – no one had ever asked me! But now I think about it, and it helps. Because if you’re going to paint the same thing over and over, you’ve got to be specific about what’s going to make this one different. I promise you though, the options are infinite.
Go for a new variation of a familiar color
For my fjords, I get to choose between five “major” colors of dun, but there are so many different shades within each, and different degrees and combinations of primitive markings. For other breeds and colors, there’s even more range. My real fjord lives in a large herd of bay thoroughbred geldings. I cannot memorize their face and leg markings to save my life, but I swear I can pick out each horse by the shade of brown around his muzzle. And even the same horse changes color with the seasons. Think about the variations in a winter coat, summer coat (ooh, maybe they’ll have dapples!), or clipped coat. (There’s also wet coat, as Levi Kroll showed us in 2020!).
|“I can never decide whether I love my horse’s winter or summer look best, but I had fun trying to capture both.”|
Try a different medium, tool, or technique
Trying to change your process can be more challenging than going for a different end result. NaMoPaiMo is the best time to shake things up, because you know you’ll be flooded with encouragement, advice, and inspiration. (Remember the “black without black” horses inspired by Mel Miller?) And if you ARE trying a new approach, it can be helpful to stick with a color you know well – not only does it free your brain to focus on the specific things you’re changing, but it also gives you a better comparison for determining what works best for you.
|“Two early attempts at the same color, using different media. Neither is quite what I wanted… time for a third attempt?”|
See how much detail you can preserve if you go smaller. See how much more you can add if you go bigger. The colors you mix may be the same, but you’ll find new challenges requiring different tools and techniques – and again, NaMoPaiMo is a great time to experiment.
|“One of these I’ve been brave enough to paint; the other… maybe a challenge for a future NaMoPaiMo?”|
|“I was worried this yellow dun would be so subtle it would be boring to paint and boring to look at, but little details like eyelashes and dirty legs made it one of my favorites.”|