Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels

This year, Unison Colour have sponsored the ‘Best Pastel Award’ at the Society of Equestrian Artists ‘Horse in Art Exhibition’, with the lucky prize winner receiving an Emma Colbert Animal Set as their prize.

The works in the exhibition are done using a variety of media, but as one of the equestrian artists in the exhibition who uses pastels myself, I am going to explore here some of the work of the artists in the show who have all used pastels. It is fascinating to see how they handle a selection of different pastel media to create their own unique art.

All of these works are showing in the ‘Horse in Art Exhibition, held this year at the Garden Rooms at Tennants in Yorkshire, until 28th October.

Pastels are well known as a medium for drawing animals, but their versatility really excels when it comes to creating equestrian art. Painting horses can be a challenge; they are beautiful but complicated. As artists we are trying to capture a combination of strength and structure, but also textures, softness, and movement.

The Best Pastel Award Winner

The ‘Best Pastel Award’ was won by Brian Halton, with ‘Baaeed at York’. This is a great depiction of movement, but also shine on a thoroughbred’s coat and the jockey’s silks.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 1
‘Baaeed at York’, Brian Halton
Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 2
The Prize – A Unison Colour Emma Colbert set of 36 pastels

Brian says; ‘I like using pastels for Equestrian Art because with pastels I find I can create both movement and detail. They also photograph really well for prints.

I have all kinds of brands but Unison Colour and Carbothello Pastel Pencils are the best for me.

I’ve experimented with all kinds of surfaces but keep coming back to Sennelier Pastel Card. The pastel just bites into the surface easily – it is very fragile though. And doesn’t like being hung on damp walls so I am looking at others. Fisher 400 is good but hard to get now.

My inspiration for this piece was the races at York. Juddmonte International is York’s biggest race and always features the best horses in training. It’s almost an annual event when I go and position myself at the far bend. Baaeed was the best horse last year so he was the target.’

You can see more of Brian’s work at www.beaconsfieldgallery.co.uk

Rebecca de Mendonça depicts light and atmosphere.
This is a crop from ‘Wild Dawn’, one of my own pastels in the exhibition, which was inspired by my trip to the Camargue area of France in 2022.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 3
Crop of ‘Wild Dawn’

I like to work from my own photographs, as the photograph triggers memories of what it felt like to be there, so I try to express the atmosphere and energy of the moment.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 4
‘Wild Dawn’, Rebecca de Mendonça ASEA

This painting was a real challenge as the horses are struggling to move through the sea, so they are in strange positions, and kicking up spray. The other challenge was creating that light coming through the spray, which took a lot of patience, and was all about layers of colour.

I used Unison Colour pastels on Colourfix Primer painted onto mount card. To get the details, I broke off little shards of soft pastel. I also used some pastel pencil but find the strength of pigment in the pastels much better for capturing the light and for building layers of colour and light. The orange edges on the horses were done using a Conte crayon as well as Unison Colour pastel.

You can see more of Rebecca’s work at rebeccademendonca.co.uk

Lorna Lancaster, an Associate Member of the Society of Equestrian Artists, uses a lot of Pan Pastel in her work, with some soft pastel over the top. This is ‘Looking Back’, one of her pieces in the show, and you can see the beautiful softness created by the layers of Pan Pastels.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 5
‘Looking Back’, Lorna Lancaster ASEA

Lorna says; ‘I love the immediacy of pastels and I know that what I see is what I’ll get. The velvety texture of pastels is ideal for horses’ coats. No drying time is a huge advantage. I can mix my colours on the surface I’m working and I can blend in varying degrees. I often use Pan Pastels which are similar to painting with a brush, and they have a very smooth painterly effect. I can add soft pastels over the top for texture and different effects.

For surfaces I use Colourfix Primer, and Canson Mi-Teintes.’

You can see more of Lorna’s work at www.lornalancasterfineart.co.uk 

Alasdair Banks doesn’t feel that he is a pure ‘pastel artist’ but describes his approach thus; ‘In my horse pictures I try to express movement, energy and colourful, spontaneous drama. The pictures seldom use pastel alone but it does combine well with other media such as acrylic, conte and charcoal. For me pastels are essential to create areas of strong spontaneous colour.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 6
‘Night Riders’, Alasdair Banks

I have no interest or skill in creating carefully crafted realism. The colour intensity of pastels has often saved a picture that was ‘dying on its feet.’ I use Rembrandt pastels for their edge and Unison Colour for softer passages. I work on primed board and do not ‘fix’ the final work which will be placed behind glass. My works on other subjects also reflect these Expressionistic techniques.’

It is fascinating to see Alasdair’s vigorous mark-making, full of energy, capturing the speed and movement of the horses.

You can see more of Alasdair’s work at alasdairbanks.com

Jackie Millar’s drawing, ‘Andalusian’ is very different again. Jackie says; I am first and foremost a sculptor. My pieces are deliberately fragmented and animated this is a homage and a nod to the ancient world. 

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 7
‘Andalusian’, Jackie Millar

With the ‘Andalucian’ I hope to have captured this in a gentle way giving the horse lots of movement and power to the neck movement and a soft wistful eye. 

Soft pastels are a perfect sketching medium for me, I am first and foremost a sculptor. They are amazing for creating form, light and depth, they can be manipulated, put on finely so the paper used reflects through, or heavily making the image more dense. There are so many ways and techniques, it is a truly flexible media. The colours hold and layer without mixing into a shade of brown, they are really enjoyable to use. 

I draw for the most part on either Clairfontaine Pastelmat card when using a fine textured finish or their Ingres papers when texture is important. 

You can see more of Jackie’s work at www.jackiemillargallery.co.uk

Techniques for Equestrian Art

I love the fact that with pastels we can create loose movement sketches or produce detailed pieces showing every hair. We can create the smooth, shiny coats of racehorses or the thick winter coat of an Exmoor pony. You can see how Alasdair Banks has used a completely different approach to Brian Halton, but they have both captured racehorses moving at speed.

I find that to create a feeling of life and energy, and to get the viewer to connect with the horse itself, I need to work loosely in some areas, but in more detail just where I want the viewer to look. This works especially well when the painting shows the horses closer up, such as in my painting ‘Out of the Shadow’.

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 8
‘Out of the Shadows’, Rebecca de Mendonça ASEA

I wanted to use bright light and defined edges on the face, to focus the viewer on the beauty of the light on the thoroughbred’s eye. The horse’s body is less defined, both in mark-making and in tonal values. Working on a black background created more drama.

A pastel tool-kit

Equestrian Artists and their use of Soft Pastels 9
Rebecca’s tool-kit

Here’s my tool-kit for this type of piece, which is quite extensive, but at the heart of all of my work are my Unison Colour pastels. The strength of pigment just isn’t there in any of the other products I use, so the bulk of my work is done with them.

For this piece I worked on black Colourfix Primer (not shown here). I built up the layers of the horses coat with Pan Pastels, Unison Colour soft pastels, charcoal, Conte crayons and Faber Castel Pitt pastel pencils. I use soft tissue to clean my pastels, a pencil eraser to soften in places, and the scalpel to sharpen my pastel pencils. Note the tiny shards of cream Unison Colour pastel used for details.

The Society of Equestrian Artists ‘Horse in Art’ Exhibition is on until 28th October 2023 at the Garden Rooms at Tennants, Leyburn, Yorkshire. You can view the exhibition catalogue here equestrianartists.co.uk/index.php/horse-in-art-2023

The SEA encourages the practice, understanding and appreciation of equestrian fine art. There are artists of different levels of experience, and several levels of membership, including Full Members, Associate Members and Friend Members. Education is at the heart of the Society’s brief and it encourage its Full Members whenever possible, to share their knowledge with those who wish to learn. The members have many different techniques and styles but they all share a passion for ‘the horse’ and for art.

You can find out more about the Society, and how to become a member, at equestrianartists.co.uk

Rebecca runs courses and workshops using Unison pastels to paint animals and horses at rebeccademendonca.co.uk

#thepastel8 Visit to Thorneyburn

A fabulous day was spent at Thorneyburn last Friday in the company of Fiona Carvell, Michelle Lucking, Nina Squire, Cathy Pierce, Lynn Howarth, Meral Altilar, Lucy Brangwin and Rebecca de Mendonça.

Lifelong Learner

For most of my life I assumed art was not for me, obviously I tried it at school, but I was never that good.

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