I recently aquired a commission to paint a paint. A “paint” is a multi-colored horse, usually with large white and brown splotches. They can be black and white like holstein cows or even palomino and white but generally they are brown and white. Like Tonto’s horse in the Lone Ranger. A popular color, the term “paint” is used for Quarter horses, a particular breed of horse. Other breeds of splotched horses are called pintos. All charming nomenclature aside, this particular paint horse was part white and part bay, a reddish brown color with lots of variation.
No where in the palette of colors available to artists is the color, Bay. And if one ever looks closely at this horse color, one will find a shade of red, a shade of brown, a shade of blackish brown, a shade of mahogany, etc, etc. And one had better have an arsenal of browns at one’s disposal as well as some mad mixing skills.
I was given a photo of the subject, an iffy quality digital print. Chetoh is a nice looking boy with good color and a kind eye. The picture was low in pixels, but what it lacked in clarity, it made up in posture. The pose of Chetoh was perfect and I didn’t have to do anything to change his position.
I sketched him out and outlined his shape with orange. This is a technique I have been doing for some time now and I like to leave a little of the outline peeking through my final layers. It’s like an aura and adds a little oomph to the final piece. I like it, and that’s the important part.
I took stock of my browns and reds and dabbed out 4 kinds of browns (sienna and umber, both burnt and raw) two red oxides, black, white and my go to blender: naples yellow. I love that color… it’s my butter. I rounded out my palette with cerulean,thalo and ultramarine blue. And yes, I used ALL these colors to make this bay horse look like a bay horse. They are layered, blended, adjacent, glazed and somewhere in some version became Chetoh’s highlights, midrange and shadows.
I don’t know what the math looks like when you take 12 colors and mix them with each other one at a time and/or in combinations with the rest, but I know it’s quite a lot. It felt like a hundred reds; but I really don’t know since I try not to think about it. When painting, I try not to think at all. I just look, compare and choose. It’s judgement call after judgement call… too light, too blue, too this, too that. Add, subtract, scrub, twist, smooth out, swoop up.
Once he came together, I roughed in the background. This took me longer than I had expected. I made the sky very light at first, but when I stood back to look at the composition, his white blaze didn’t stand out like I wanted. A heavier dose of Ultramarine was pressed into service and I popped in a few clouds for good measure. The final result, an elegant Chetoh on a windswept hill.