Thursday, March 4, 2021

Heather's first NaMoPaiMo

Every year I invite the NaMoPaiMo community to submit guest posts for this blog. And every year, just like clockwork, someone asks, "What could I write about? I'm not an artist. I don't know enough to help other people. I'm just trying to finish my horse." To which I answer, "Write about that. Please write about that." But no one ever does.

Until this year.

Today's post comes from my friend, Heather Malone, who participated in NaMoPaiMo for the first time. I've waited a long time to for her to join us and an equally long time for someone to write a post like this. Worth every minute. Thanks, Heather!

My First NaMoPaiMo

by Heather Malone

I don’t know why, but in the first four years of NaMoPaiMo I have not been moved to participate. Do NOT get me wrong, it is an amazing invention by my dear friend, Jennifer Buxton, and I think it’s a total miracle. It has moved hundreds and hundreds of people into painting their own model horses every year and is inspiring the next generation of hobby artists. It was the missing link in the hobby that encouraged people to take a chance and see if they actually had the will and or talent to paint. My podcast with Jackie Rossi, Mares in Black, promotes it heavily every year.

But….this year, the fifth year of the event was different. Really, really different.

Professionally, I travel a lot. Personally, I travel a lot, mostly for model horse events. Shortly after NaMoPaiMo and BreyerWest last year, all that came to a screeching halt. Travel for work stopped, live shows stopped, seeing my friends in person stopped, movies stopped, restaurants stopped. Hell, for a few months, driving stopped, and as the pandemic stretched from assurances of weeks of lockdown to the realization that we were in it for the long haul, I realized I was going to have a lot more free time on my hands.

Let me pause by saying here that I am an ARTIST, but I am a graphics artist. Except for the very beginning of my career, everything I do is digital. Nothing tactile or organic, while having the requisite background art training is always relevant, I have never considered myself an “artist” in the confines of the hobby and I don’t thing anyone else does either. So, yes, I am technically an artist but a civilian as far as the hobby goes.

This year, mostly locked down, lonely and bored and realizing if I wasn’t constantly on the go, I ate a lot and watched too much crap TV and drank too much wine. I am mostly an extrovert and I was self-medicating badly. I began to look for ways to “entertain” myself in a better way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have participated in all sorts of art clinics over the years. I even went to Wire to Whinny, mostly to improve my judging. I have a box of uncompleted clinic horses in my guest/horse room closet. I learned a lot from each and every artist that taught me and this year it somehow all jelled. I decided pretty early in 2020 I was going to participate in NaMoPaiMo for the first time.


Except, I wasn’t. While I had decided to paint for 2021 and I had a prepped horse - courtesy of a BreyerWest clinic with Lesli Kathman where we never got to painting the horses - but I had NO supplies. I put off  buying them until the end of January and ended up getting all my stuff after the middle of February. I had decided on my tutorial and my references. I used Stephanie Blaylock’s pasteling a bay tobiano photo essay and I used a filly my OTTB mare Flee had named Maia! Maia’s papa was a homozygous Spotted Saddle horse and she came out an amazing bay Tobiano just like him.

As layer after layer of pastel, varnish and paint went down, I hit all the emotions. This is awful, this is grainy, this is terrible, I am are terrible, oh wait there is some depth happening here, oh look, shading, these whites are stupid clumsy, who do you think you are? But right at the very end, it happened. Oh hey, this actually ok. My horse is ok. I like it. I did this. NEAT.
What was so inspiring about painting this time is I just LET GO. I decided not to care how it looked and just power through instead of getting discouraged as usual and stopping. I heard the voices of all my teachers in clinics, “It is not precious”, “Just keep going”, “Embrace the suck”, “Do not start over”, “Just finish”. And I did. The base coat was immediately problematic because the primer was not great for pastels, it got smudgy because I am a noob, and my markings are not smooth or milky enough and in many places not opaque enough. My eyes are from the Lesli Kathman school because I am not ready to tackle super detailed eyes yet. The hooves are rushed and muddy but have potential, thanks to Heather Bullach’s excellent hoof tutorial.
What I also know now, is I get it. I have potential. I can do this. Not because I am mega-talented, not because I know it all, not because I am an artist in another life, but because I listened and learned and worked through it. Art is work. Talent is a popular opinion but not the reality of a successful working artist. Never expect to be good immediately, good art is a journey, so I have to keep working.
By the end of finishing “Maia” today, I was overjoyed. Not because I think she is some amazing piece of work that will win everything, but she is an amazing achievement FOR ME. My friends have been so complimentary and kind and that’s the point. ENCOURAGEMENT. Finish and go do more! I enjoyed the process and in just letting it wash over me and it made for a better horse. I’m not even sure she is PSQ, but painting her for NaMoPaiMo 2021 was one of the most positive experiences I have had in a long time. This year, in light of all the strife, separations and restrictions, it was right on time and hugely freeing! 
Thanks, Jennifer and all that make NaMoPaiMo wonderful!


  1. After having listened to The Mares for a large part of my NaMo painting, this really is a delightful surprise. Can you forgive me for not knowing you were with us…?! But now I know. So glad to hear this story.

  2. what a great post Heather! i have lurked namopaimo for the past few years and definitely wanted to do it but i weenie out every year. one of these days i too will be brave! and this totally is inspiring. Your horse turned out great and you should be very proud!