A little horse painting and a big new goal

My mom’s birthday is coming up, and she loves horses. I got inspired to paint her a horse in watercolor after watching the Color Spotlight video with burnt sienna on the In Liquid Color channel. I’ve never painted a horse before, and my animal paintings so far have been much more illustrative in style than realistic looking. But it looked super doable.

Or so I thought.

I found an image of a horse on pixabay and traced it onto my Strathmore 500 watercolor paper at about a 5×7 size. I started by following along with the video to see how she lays down her brush strokes and layers in the details. And immediately realized I had no idea how to do this! It went downhill quickly and I decided to use that piece of paper for test swatches to try to figure out how I was going to make this happen.

When I told my friend about this disastrous first attempt, she laughed and pointed out that watching speed painting videos by people who have painted that particular subject many, many times isn’t the most helpful thing right now. Good for inspiration, bad for learning. And when she said that I remembered Denise saying that horses were her favorite thing to paint, so that made me feel better.

I took a little break from the project for a few days to do some more learning and see if my second attempt would be any more successful. Some things I wanted to try:

  • starting with a value sketch of my reference image
  • putting down a yellow underpainting wash to layer colors on top of
  • focusing on wet on dry instead of wet in wet washes
  • masking out the white spots in the coat and highlights
  • going slow instead of fast (and maybe stop watching speed painting videos)
beginner watercolor painting of a horse on Strathmore 500 watercolor paper

I think it looks overworked, but I do see progress. The shadow areas on the face are hit and miss — the shaping is off around the cheeks and center. I like the mouth, nostril, and eye.

Two great things came out of this project:
  1. I figured out that I want to learn how to paint animals. Landscapes and florals definitely hold appeal for me, but there’s something about them that I’m having trouble getting excited about. At least yet. Animals, on the other hand, are something I’ve always been passionate about and I think that enthusiasm about them will help me fight through the challenges and keep learning until I get where I want to be.
  2. I bought a light box so that I can trace animal images while I’m in “watercolor training” mode. My thought is that I’ll spend less time drawing and more time painting, which will hopefully maximize my training time. I’m excited about the possibilities with this.

And a bonus great thing: there’s plenty of room for me to improve! Since I love learning so much it’s probably good that I have so much to learn because it’ll keep me challenged and engaged.

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