The subject of this painting is Salt Lake, 1989 Thoroughbred stallion.
Salt Lake is by one of my favorite Thoroughbred stallions, Deputy Minister. I first saw Salt Lake on the cover of The Blood Horse after his gutsy and amazing win in the Hopeful Stakes. “Salty” was the leading active California sire by lifetime stakes winners and earnings.
Golden Eagle Farm Equine Operations Manager, Lori Piedra, provided two excellent photographs she’d taken of Salt Lake. One of them is the reference photo for this project.
As with all portrait projects, the first step is preparing the primary reference photograph. The image was enlarged to full size for the portrait, then I drew a grid over the image. That was then printed and I was ready to begin.
In the portrait, Salty measures about ten inches tall by about thirteen inches head to tail so I drew a scaled-up grid to those measurements on a sheet of drawing paper.
The drawing shown here reflects two phases of work. The first phase was a rough design that placed shapes relative to each other and on the paper. It doesn’t generally take long to do this part, since the goal is an overall design and not detail.
I reworked the drawing on the grid, correcting problems I’d seen since the last working session. I also refined the drawing, improving the overall look and getting a better likeness to Salt Lake.
When the horse was as well drawn as I could get it that way, I removed the tracing paper from the grid, mounted it on a fresh sheet of drawing paper and went over it again using the original image on the computer to pick up more detail. Then I photographed the drawing.
The Umber Under Drawing
One last check of the drawing, then I transferred the drawing to light ivory mat board and began the under painting. Since the purpose is to establish lights and darks without getting into deep detail, I used a simplified painting process of outlining an area, then filling in the shadow shapes. I started with the hind legs and worked my way forward.
From the head, I worked up into the ears and down along the neck and to the shoulders. I also worked the forearms on both legs and closed out the day by darkening the cast shadow on the ground.
The next step was to begin darkening the shadows, separating middle tones from dark shadows and separating highlights from middle tones. I took more time to do this, since some of the edges are very soft and others are nearly indistinguishable. The edges of the highlights were ‘sketched’ in using the pencil in a nearly vertical position and holding it close to the business end (the drawing end). I used a very light pressure so no lines were too dark to later cover.
Middle tones were placed with the side of the lead and holding the pencil at the unsharpened end and in a roughly 45 degree angle. Less control equals a lighter touch. To compensate for the texture of the mat board, I worked in several directions until I had the darkness I wanted.
I worked on the hip, legs, tail, barrel, shoulder, neck and head and finally got some work in on the halter. Then I used a small sable round and washed alcohol over the darkest shadows. Some of the darker areas were blended two or three times, but all of the darks were blended at least once. In some areas, I also pulled color into adjacent middle tones, then set the painting aside to dry.
After the mat board was thoroughly dry, I went over some of the darker areas. Again, I worked in the darkest areas first, deepening shadows and increasing the darkness of surrounding middle tones.
The result was very pleasing, but portrait obligations prevented spending more time on this painting than I already had.
I began darkening the darkest shadows beginning with the belly and hip and working forward using a variety of stroke types, pressures, and directions to fill in gaps and create even color layers.
After working through the body, shoulder, and front legs, I blended the new color with rubbing alcohol and a sable brush. The painting was given half an hour or so to dry completely, then I went over the shoulder and neck again. I also darkened the deep shadows on the head, inside the ears and in the forelock.
When the darks were uniformly dark and right on the edge of being too dark, the under painting was finished.
Color began with Terra Cotta, which I layered over most of the body, part of the rump and a little bit of the neck and head. Salt Lake is a dark bay, so the reds and golds are highlights and accents more than anything. I wanted to get a little bit of red on the painting right away to see how color worked over the under painting.
After that, I layered Ultramarine and Indigo Blue over the horse, again focusing on the darker areas and using a variety of pencil strokes to get the look I want.
Painting concluded with Violet in the cast shadow, using a heavier pressure to make a more dense color layer.
To finish, I used a small, sable round to paint rubbing alcohol over the cast shadow, working diagonally across the texture of the paper to get the best possible blending.
Color work is now beginning to make an impact on the under painting.
Work began with a light layer of Pumpkin Orange over the warmer parts of Salt Lake’s coat. I kept the layer as even as possible, but was more careful to define the highlights accurately. Most of the work was on the rump and flank, but I also worked in and around the shoulder and on the head.
That was followed with Yellow Ochre, which I used exclusively on the head.
But the work that made the biggest difference was layering Non Photo Blue over the horse from head to tail. I stayed away from the brightest highlights and from the warmest areas of the head, behind the point of the shoulder, the flank, and the rump. Every other place received at least one layer of blue and some were worked over two or three times.
I laid aside the Verithins this week and turned the softer leaded pencils Prismacolor Thick Leads.
Van Dyke Brown, Dark Green and Crimson Red were layered over the horse from head to tail, focusing on the body. I followed those colors with Black and Indigo Blue stroked into the tail and Indigo Blue over most of the body.
When I finished with color application, I used rubbing alcohol to blend some of the darker areas. I also pulled a wash of color into the inside of the off-side hock. Then the painting was set aside to dry.
I layered Dark Green, Crimson Red, Black Grape, and Tuscan Red into the darks along Salty’s back from poll to tail head. I worked mostly with the grain of the mat board and holding the pencils almost completely vertical. I used medium to heavy pressure, kept the pencils needle sharp and blended between layers and, sometimes, during application.
At this point, I began building color saturation and detail. The goal is to bring each area to completion before moving onto the next.
Rather than use one color at a time as I have been doing, I chose a handful of colors including black, white, several blues and a couple of earth tones and applied them as necessary. I also used a colorless blender to burnish the work, sometimes burnishing between every color, sometimes burnishing over multiple layers, and sometimes burnishing darker colors with a lighter color.
Work continues with the same method of color application and burnishing. I finished the hind legs from the ground up, finished the rump and did the tail.
More finishing work, completing each area as I move forward in the painting.
I worked on the front legs, the body and the cast shadow, alternating between heavy applications of color and heavy burnishing with light colors over dark or with a colorless blender over the light areas.
Work continues nicely, with the portrait of Salt Lake nearing completion.
This week’s work involved a little bit of tweaking on the rump, polishing and adjusting the color and form of the body, finishing the near side front leg, the shoulder, chest and neck. I found a few things to correct, but not many. Most of the corrections were the chest and neck.
Work concluded by finishing the cast shadow and playing with the mane.
Work began on the head and halter. The halter was easier to get started on because of the smaller sections.
After the halter, I worked on the face, darkening it overall and drawing the highlights and shadows. I finished the jowl and tweaked the neck around the halter, too.
I worked throughout the head, correcting mistakes and fine-tuning the details.
When the painting advanced as far as possible, I cleaned up the background with an eraser, then sprayed it with retouch varnish, and added the final bits of detailing. The last detail was my signature and the painting was complete.
Salt Lake in Colored Pencil is 12″ x 16″ and is available for purchase unframed, matted only, or matted and framed.