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Melanie Wright

Hosted by the British Racing School (www.brs.org.uk)

Autumn/Winter 2019

The final few months of the residency found me focusing on visiting some iconic places around Newmarket before the winter.

 So my last visit was timed to coincide with the Book One Sales at Tattersalls and also to take a long overdue tour of The National Stud.

Tattersalls: Autumn Sales
This is such an iconic and historic part of the Newmarket scene. The buzz of the sale room and at the Autumn Book 1 Sales, there was quite a crowd and as ever, some very fine yearlings coming up for sale.

The saleroom itself is most striking architecturally, the beautifully lit interior, with the  oval shaped parade ring, tiered viewing seats and beautiful domed ceiling and enormous art deco style lamp hanging over the ring. I sat amongst the spectators, sketching and observing for hours, watching horse after horse come and go, with the auctioneer’s fast rapping patter to accompany each one. It became hypnotic after a while. A change in atmosphere and extra buzz grew as two horses in particular fetched record sums. Such a thrilling event to witness. Lot 288, the brother of Golden Horn, fetched 3 million guineas, and Lot 295,  a chestnut son of Galileo also reached a huge figure.

You could have heard a pin drop as the bidding increased. And i look forward to seeing those young horses racing in the not too distant future. So exciting to have been at Tattersalls on that day.

My numerous  sketches are going to be used as reference for a painting of the sale room interior, which will be part of the residency portfolio.

Tour of The National Stud

This was a lovely trip on my final day.  Such an interesting tour, fascinating history and with stunning stable yard complexes, not to mention the stallions. Mares and foals. Well worth a visit. And somewhere I would love to return to with my sketchbooks in the future. The  Photos below show one of the many stable buildings, a young foal, and a wonderful sculpture of the legendary Mill Reef, created by John Skeaping, one of my favourite artists.

Christmas Card design for The BRS

I am delighted that the British Racing School have selected one of my watercolour paintings, showing a group of their students returning from their gallops, as their Christmas card image for this year.


The paintings, drawings and sketches from the two year residency at Newmarket will be featured in a large solo exhibition of my equestrian paintings booked in Spring, 2020. I look forward to seeing my works displayed together as a whole project and to welcoming you at the private view.  Date for the PV evening to be confirmed. And invitations will be sent out in due course.

Gallery venue: 

D Contemporary
23 Grafton Street
London W1S 4EY

Exhibition Dates:

May 21st to June 4th. 

Monday to Saturday 11am - 5pm.

Details on the gallery website: http://dcontemporary.com/event/melanie-wright-solo-show/



It is hard to believe how quickly my two years as Artist in Residence has passed.

It has been an amazing experience, both educational and inspirational. 

I would like to thank The British Racing School and in particular, Andrew Braithwaite, for inviting me to explore and paint the flat racing scene at Newmarket and at the school itself. 

The whole team at the school made me very welcome and were supportive of the project, helping out with the workshops I ran, setting up picture displays and generally making me feel at home.

It has been an education for me to observe the fantastic work they do with the young students who study there and watch them in training and then go on to achieve work placements in the racing industry, and in some cases their jockey licences. 

I would also like to thank Nick Patton and Amy Stennett of The Jockey Club estates for kindly taking the time to show me round the estate initially and granting access to sketch at the gallops. Those early mornings up on Warren Hill and by Cambridge Rd were the foundation of many a painting and a great start to the day. 

Sophie Able was enormously helpful in arranging special access for sketching at the Rowley Mile and July Course racecourses.

Sir Mark Prescott generously gave me his time and access to his yard at Heath House and some great breakfasts too! With many happy mornings spent observing Sir Mark’s horses out on Warren Hill and after morning excessive, seeing them relaxing in the woods, a magical experience.  

James Fanshawe and his team were fantastic, also in giving me access to the iconic Pegasus Stables. Happy mornings of sketching ensued there, adding an architectural interest to my portfolio.

It has altogether been the experience of a lifetime.


Summer 2019

July 11th:  BHA Dinner at the BRS

A group of six framed paintings, completed during the residency, were displayed in the theatre foyer at The BRS , for the evening of the Annual BHA dinner. 

Great to have this opportunity to show them in Newmarket, and receive  positive feedback, before they go on to be part of The Artist Residency at Newmarket exhibition in London, next May.

August 1st:  Artist Painting Day Event at The Munnings Museum

I was delighted to be invited to take part in the Artists Painting Day at The Munnings Museum, Castle House,  at Dedham. Having visited this inspirational house and studio last summer, it was great to return again,  and this time to be painting there. The Artist painting day was organised by Jenny Hand, the head curator at the museum, as a part of the current  ‘ Behind the lines’ exhibition of paintings of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade that Munnings had painted in France, commissioned by the Lord Beaverbrook’s Canadian War Memorial Fund, towards the end of the First World War.

Jenny organised an encampment re-enactment scene, complete with military figures in uniform, horses, ponies and bell tents to be set up in the grounds at Castle House, for the group of invited equine artists to paint for a day, while visitors to the museum could observe. It was a sunny day, with great light and the camp re-enactment scene was wonderful, set up in front of the trees, in the beautiful grounds of Castle House, where Munnings himself had so often painted. So interesting to meet the other artists involved, and to see the different approaches and styles of each.  And to interact with the exhibition visitors who gathered round to observe us at work. I enjoyed painting numerous watercolour studies from the scene. With an emphasis on catching the light and movement within it. The resulting paintings from the group of artists will be exhibited in Munnings’s studio at Castle House, later in October. 

Here are a couple of my watercolours from the day, which will be featured in the exhibition:

The Residency Painting  workshop at Newmarket ( August 8th to August 10th)

Hosted by the BRS, it was a pleasure to design and teach a 3 day residential painting group workshop at Newmarket, as part of my residency programme. We were blessed with fine weather, and the students enjoyed the variety of painting venues and activities. Each one designed with the aim to provide an introductory view and visual taster of the racing scene at Newmarket, both historically and currently.

The workshop included a day at the BRS itself, sketching equine portrait studies, a morning at Warren Hill Gallops, observing strings of racehorses on exercise, an afternoon sketching from the historic equine pictures at Palace House, and finally a day at the races at The July Course. They all came away with some fantastic work and were clearly inspired by the whole scene. And we had some winners on the day!

Here are some of the students sketches:

April and May 2019

Pegasus Stables (James Fanshawe) 

I spent a most enjoyable couple of mornings sketching at James Fanshawe’s yard, Pegasus Stables. With a very friendly welcome there from the Fanshawes and assistant, Janet. A great opportunity to sketch these iconic Newmarket Stables which were built by the legendary Victorian jockey, Fred Archer. This is historic stable architecture, with the fine buildings forming a handsome backdrop to the bustle and rhythm of a working yard. And rare to see these days, as sadly some of the old racing yards have been replaced by more up to date, but less visually pleasing structures. This yard has been most carefully protected, preserved and kept immaculate by James. With a more recent contemporary addition beautifully in keeping with the original.  It was fascinating to study and draw the architectural details here, catch something of the unique atmosphere at Pegasus, and enjoy the company of the team and the Fanshawe’s dog .......Yogi.

These are some of my sketches and also an unfinished larger scale watercolour painting, currently in progress back at the studio. The stunning copper beech tree which features in this painting, and overhangs the yard provides a strong visual focal point between the old and new yard, and is as yet just suggested....

Landscape sketching at Warren Hill, Newmarket

After the activity of working mornings, visiting the yards and gallops, it was great to have some time and also the perfect light in which to do some watercolour sketching out on Warren Hill in the early evening. The late Spring colours are fresh and  vibrant and looking down the long sweep of smooth  turf towards the town, with the church spire and houses  nestled amongst the trees, along the bottom road, one gets a clear view of the open space, uninhabited at this time of day, with a far distant blue horizon.  The landscape itself comes to the fore, rather than as a backdrop to the racehorses riding out there in the mornings.

Morning sketch of racehorses returning down Warren Hill

This sketch was quickly made as I observed the many strings of racehorses pass by on their way back from early morning exercise. I was exploring a theme of catching the rhythm of the horses as they pass by, lightly outlined within the landscape, becoming as one with their surroundings. 

March 2019 

My first visit for the second year of the artist residency, and after the excitement of the Cheltenham Festival, and the return of longer daylight hours, it was great to be back and refocusing on Newmarket.  On arrival I was delighted to learn that since my last visit, The BRS have been awarded the 'Outstanding' grade by Ofsted, after their inspection in January. So well done them, and great to see everyone at the school upbeat and positive for the year ahead. 

Good also to see that the new premises for The  Injured Jockey Fund, being built next to the School, which will be a centre for the rehabilitation of injured jockeys, is coming on, looking good and due to be completed in the autumn of this year.

During this visit I spent some time observing the students riding out on the gallops and in the BRS yard,  looking for a suitable pose with which to complete the multiple studies composition designed for The BRS,  which  I had begun late last year. And caught a perfect moment showing instructor, Ray O 'Brien talking with one of the students, on their way back down the gallops. The small watercolour I have painted should work well within the multiple vignette print. Here are a couple of the watercolour vignettes, including a portrait of Kingsgate Native,  plus a studio layout mock-up of the composition where each painting will ultimately be scanned, rescaled and positioned within a single print by my printer, KMS Litho.

I also spent an interesting morning observing racehorses riding out on the Cambridge Rd all weather gallops. No rail! Presenting a perfect opportunity to watch them ridden at speed with that fabulous backdrop of The Rowley Mile Grandstand, and the racecourse itself stretching to infinity behind the track. The light was muted, but I found this made for some interesting contrasts of strikingly luminous work sheets on the horses, against the subtle grey brown tones of the riders and horses. Atmospheric, and with the feel of the early morning chill. Also fantastic to see trains of horses ridden out in the far distance, using the summer grass gallops. Many thanks to Amy Stennett of The Jockey Club , who took me up there the day before, to advise the best places  from which to view. 

Later, I made a return visit to Palace House, together with my tutor from Christies Education days, Janet Martin. As always I came away from this Museum feeling freshly inspired and full of ideas. There is nothing like studying the expressive magic of Munnings and perfection of Stubbs, and soaking up the history on display there. Each time I visit I something new catches my eye....and this time it was a painting by Frederic Whiting, 'The Morning Ride', a delightful and quintessentially 1930's piece.  a beautifully composed scene, full of light. I am looking forward to taking the students who are coming to my Equestrian painting workshop in August, at The BRS, to the Museum, to sketch from the paintings in this collection. Details of this workshop can be seen on the tuition section of my website: Melanie Wright - Cotswolds Art Tuition and on the BRS website: brsconferences.com

While in Newmarket, I delivered a Racing pastel painting to The Animal Health Trust. This will be featured in their Saddle Up Art Trail which takes place in the summer and then auctioned to raise funds for the AHT charity.

And finally a visit to see James Fanshawe and Janet at Pegasus Stables, to discuss ideas for sketching days there for April and June. This is such a beautiful old stable yard and will feature in future blogs. Very much looking forward to getting down to work there next month. 

Autumn / Winter 2018 - Artist in Residence at Newmarket Blog

My visit in September was to spend more time at the BRS itself and with a pretty full on schedule. I have an idea on the go of painting a large scale picture, the overall composition containing a group of watercolour vignette studies of scenes at The British Racing School. So I wanted to gather some key photographic information that I felt would represent the School well. Various ideas, from a portrait of the popular Kingsgate Native, to scenes at the yard and also out on the gallops with student apprentice jockeys came to mind. All offering interesting possibilities.

We set up a photo shoot for Kingsgate Native, thanks to Alison Harper, and the students were a huge help in sprucing him up for his portrait and taking it in turns to patiently hold him still for the camera, while I got the right shot. He looked a treat and is clearly a huge favourite at the yard. Everyone wanted a nice record of him for the painting.

Richard Perham was fantastic in helping me find the right spot to photograph his apprentice jockey licence students riding out on the BRS track for some fast action shots, and I also took some more relaxed ones of them returning down the track at a leisurely walk afterwards. We were so fortunate it was a dry day with good light and all went to plan.

I am currently in the process of planning the composition of the painting, to incorporate images that both work together and encapsulate the dynamic of the school. The picture below is showing a rough working sketch layout board, with a photo of Kingsgate Native centre stage. The second picture is showing a charcoal and chalk drawing of a group of riders returning down the track after their gallop.

A visit to Heath House to see the swimming pool facility

I was delighted also to be returning to Sir Mark Prescott’s yard at Heath House again. This time specifically to see the swimming pool exercise facility. As Sir Mark was away at the Sales in The States, I was kindly shown around by William Butler and thoroughly enjoyed our chat and time spent at the yard. William introduced me to Colin who has worked with Sir Mark for many decades and was managing the swimming pool and treadmill exercise routine for some of the horses at Heath House that day. It was such a fascinating insight. Purely from a visual perspective, the pool, or channel of water through which the horse swims, and the environment itself, present a lovely spectacle, with a curved design, in brightly  painted colours,  within  a pleasing setting. . Each horse was gently led into the water by Colin, swam the channel and then emerged gleaming and dripping at the other end, providing some wonderful compositions and ideas for sketches. The ripples in the water as they swam and the broken up reflection of their legs and raised carriage of the head. And the horses appeared to enjoy it. It was also interesting seeing them work first on the treadmill which has an adjustable angled ramp and speed function. I was fascinated to watch Colin monitor them to a carefully designed individual programme and to stand beside him, finding myself at such close quarters to a horse safely contained in a stationery position,  yet going through its paces. This was to fully appreciate the power of it moving at such close quarters. What an experience. I took some video footage with sound, the auditory sensation of which  i find really helpful to listen to when painting racehorses in action. It reminds me of their awesome power at close quarters. Altogether a most enjoyable morning.

The Munnings Art Museum

While in Suffolk and before returning to Oxfordshire, I took the opportunity to visit the Munnings Art Museum at Dedham before it closes for the winter months. And as a great admirer of this artist, a place I have long wanted to see. It certainly didn't disappoint, and I spent the most enjoyable day there, soaking up the very special ambience of the charming house he lived in and the adjacent studio barn, and browsing through the painting collections in the rooms, packed with paintings and drawings from his long and celebrated career. The Museum is staffed by volunteers, who couldn't have been better informed and or more helpful.  There was also happened to be a temporary special exhibition hung at the house, showing a selection of his non equestrian landscape paintings,  from the west country. Absolutely stunning. One could see how different  and how much freer the dynamic of his  pure landscape painting was to the commissioned equestrian portraiture, providing him no doubt with a welcome relief  and break from the demands of studio painting and portrait commissions, which he described in his memoirs as at times, finding a challenge.  

I would highly recommend visiting this museum. For further information please click on this link: munningsmuseum.org.uk

A Christmas Card image and design for the BRS.

 I was keen to provide an image for the BRS to reproduce on their 2018 Christmas Card, and together, and with Sir Mark Prescott's approval, we selected the image below, an oil painting, showing Sir Mark with his horses after exercise, in the woods above Warren Hill. I wrote in an earlier blog entry this year of my wonderful experience of being out on Warren Hill with Sir Mark that Spring morning and coming across this very scene. 

And on this end of year note, I sign off this blog for 2018 and look forward to revisiting it again in January to outline ideas for my continuing artist residency for the second year, 2019, including a Sketching and Painting Workshop I shall be teaching at Newmarket, based at The BRS for 3 days in August. 

My visit to Newmarket in July:

Moët et Chandon July Festival

It was such a pleasure to be attending the Moët et Chandon festival at The July Course. The Course itself and the beautiful tree lined pre parade ring provides such a pretty setting for the racing and the crowds. With period style buildings with thatched roofs and the charm of the weighing in room building/winners area, and the paddock itself. It was incredibly refreshing to see a course  visually unspoilt by corporate advertising, and thus retaining its charm. 

Ladies Day was a stunning spectacle of stylish fashion, with knockout hats, gorgeous dresses and vibrant colour everywhere one looked. A great atmosphere with parties of race goers relaxing in the sunshine with picnics, and gathered around the paddock, grandstand and the finishing post, in eye catching rows of colourful finery. The whole spectacle was of a piece ... the glistening horses, jockeys in scintillating silks, and the beautiful flowers and planting around the course. I found myself spending more time people watching, mixing colours, and playing on paper with the incredible, sculptural shapes of some of the hats, than watching the races themselves, such was the visual punch and pull of the Newmarket Ladies Day Crowd. And as I was also  revisiting on the Saturday for The Darley Cup, fortunately I could afford to make the most of this opportunity.

Back in the studio, after my visit, i sorted through my sketches and photographs, delighted at the sheer saturation and depth of colour. This whole summer has been noticeably un English in hue,  with a stronger Mediterranean light.  New paint pigments were added to my usual palette, to capture and do justice to the colours displayed in  the jockeys silks for  my watercolours of them entering the paddock. 

I also started  to work on a large scale pastel painting of racehorses and riders, calmly waiting down at the start , just before being approached by the handlers to enter the starting stalls. (in fact a scene from the evening Spring meeting at The Rowley Mile, watched a month beforehand), I found  a bright blue background a striking base from which to work up the rich warm colours and accents of the horses coats....and creating the feeling of those bright blue skies.

The Residency Launch Event at The British Racing School

July 13th saw the evening drinks event and launch of the artist residency at The BRS. With the newly completed courtyard at the School used for the occasion, we put up an informal display of some of my recent equestrian artworks and sketchbooks, and it was great to meet and have a chance to talk at length with some of the BRS trustees, staff and associates. And also to catch up with some friends from London and from my previous artist residency at Charlie Longsdon Racing, who were interested to see what the Newmarket Residency was all about. 

I was intrigued to see some of my latest Newmarket sketches blown up in scale and displayed on the big screen in the entrance foyer, as a slideshow. Thank you Grant ... such a great idea, and a note to self to maybe also work on a larger scale in future!   

It was delightful to meet so many people , including Martin Mitchell, Chairman of the BRS, Andrew Merriam, current trustee and Nigel Elwes, former Chairman of the BRS.

My sincere thanks to everyone who travelled to be part of the launch event. And a huge thank you to Maria Baker and all the team for their hard work and support for the evening. 


My visit to Newmarket in June 2018

The BRS invited me to run an Equine drawing workshop as part of their staff training week in June. So on this visit I enjoyed a fun time, mainly at the School, meeting more of their dedicated and hardworking team and enjoying their company at a staff barbeque,  in the newly designed courtyard, at the training premises. I also enjoyed a visit to The Jockey Club,  to see their fabulous collection of racing art.

Early morning out in the fields

I was up and about early on the workshop day and so as there were no training courses at the yard itself,, I wandered out past the gallops, to the School's large field, where all their horses were happily turned out and enjoying the fine weather. It was a beautiful morning , with the Suffolk skies at their best. Those famous big skies, that have influenced so many artists, a deep cerulean blue, with luminous, pillowy white clouds creating sharp contrasts of light and shade, as they scudded over the landscape. The horses, all turned out together, were mooching around in groups and pairs, sometimes playing and 'horsing' around and sometimes quietly  mooching about and grazing. Silhouetted against the light, they formed dramatic dark shapes in the distance, somehow minimised in scale by the vastness of the sky above them. Interesting. A lovely calm and relaxed ambience as I wandered amongst them. I always love time spent  in out in this way, observing horses off duty. Their interactions and relationship to each other, and patterns of mood and movement across the land, are a fascinating dynamic to watch and to paint. 

The Jockey Club Art Collection

Later in the morning, Nick Patton,  Managing Director of The Jockey Club Estates, very kindly took me round the stunning collection of racing paintings and sculpture at the Jockey Club itself. It was wonderful to see this stunning collection, hung and displayed in such beautiful rooms, and to very best effect. For me, it was of course a thrill to see classic masterpieces by Stubbs, Munnings and Herring, hung together, outside of the often sterile environment of a formal art gallery exhibition. After my time with the horses in the fields earlier in the morning, I was particularly aware of the landscape, skyscape compositions of many of these paintings and the importance of the 'negative shape' of a big sky, creating counterbalance and space within an otherwise highly detailed composition. There was an unfinished working oil sketch of  one a Munnings painting, a portrait of 'Buchan', which particularly intrigued me. The initial colour palette working brushstrokes and first marks, clearly visible around the edge of the picture, together with his pencilled notes, giving an insight into the progression of the painting from the bare ground and first layer of paint, to the more highly finished detail of the horse itself in the centre. The finished painting was also hung in the same room. As often is the case, the initial sketched version contains an immediacy and freshness of vision in comparison.  So interesting to compare the two.

The sense of history in the Collection as a whole is palpable.... I was fascinated by some of the earlier Victorian and Georgian period paintings, which splendidly illustrated the racing style of those days, through the spectators and riders costumes, the jockeys riding style and also the architectural details of the racecourses themselves. A perfect example of this was the enormous oil painting 'The Lawn at Sandown Park' by William Adderley-Sleigh (1884), hung on the staircase, which I could have happily studied all day!. 

The Collection also features a number of interesting contemporary portraits, of Derby Winners, and key racehorse trainers such as Sir Henry Cecil and Sir Mark Prescott. Notable amongst these is the superb portrait of Frankel, by Susan Crawford. 

It will take another visit for me to take in all  the sculpture and bronzes, but I did notice outside in the formal garden, a beautiful  bronze of Sariska, the 2009 Epsom Oaks winning  filly, owned by Lady Bamford, whose Daylesford operation is just down the road from my studio in Oxfordshire.

It was a most inspiring visit and one that I was particularly  keen to do early on in my residency, to see some of the very best of horse racing art, in the heart of Newmarket. And to be inspired by it!. There is  an updated, new publication of the Jockey Club Art collection due in the Autumn, which will be a book to look forward to.

An Equine Drawing Workshop at The BRS

This was organised as part of the BRS staff training week and the idea was to keep it simple and fun, as many of the participants may not have picked up a drawing pencil since childhood!. But they were keen to have go. Fantastic. Andrew Braithwaite, patiently held one of the School's racehorses as a life model for us. In the time we had, we concentrated on sketching the horses ears and then his eyes in lead pencil, with a focus on describing their unique shape and position within the horses skull. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and have a go attitude and there were plenty of lovely drawings to show for it. And the prize of a bottle of bubbly going to Alison Harper, one of the BRS yard instructors, for her sensitively drawn Horses head.

My visit to Newmarket (May 2018)

Once again,  blessed with brilliant weather,  I had a great schedule arranged for this visit! Which saw me meeting Sir Mark Prescott, at Heath House, for the first time, an unforgettable experience, followed by an evening of fine racing at The Rowley Mile, for the Spring Meeting. And finally a chance to see the mares with foals at foot, at Shadwell Stud, Beech House,  Newmarket. The pace and visual stimulation was fast and I was on this occasion , more concerned with gathering photographic material, while observing from as many different viewpoints as possible, while we had such good light. The' behind the scenes' access kindly arranged for me at both the racetrack, and the stud, was a great opportunity for me to do this.

So for this blog, my visual posts are more photographic and research based. Paintings will be developed using this material, and memory, together with my thumbnail sketches and on the spot squiggles and notes, at a later stage. I do however, have a current colour pastel 'racing works in progress' photo taken in my studio, to post, that shows ideas that have been inspired by both The Craven meeting and the Spring Meeting at The Rowley Mile. My visual response , which as you can see, is mainly  connected through COLOUR and SPECTACLE.. 

A visit to meet Sir Mark Prescott at Heath House.

In mid May I  was delighted to be visit Sir Mark Prescott at his historic yard at Heath House. What had originally been planned as an hours introductory visit, in the event, turned into a most insightful and interesting morning of observation , conversation and education. Sir Mark invited me to accompany him on the morning inspection of horses initially in the indoor school , and afterwards out on their morning exercise. Heath House Stables is redolent with history and character and kept in absolutely pristine condition, combining the charm and history of a historic stable yard, with impressively modern facilities. I was particularly struck by the calm and courteous atmosphere at the yard. Sir Mark was a most kind and generous host. He possesses a keen eye for and and knowledge of art himself, which made for interesting conversation about equine artists of the past, together with what I might have in mind for my own paintings at Newmarket for the Residency.

It was, fortunately, a sunny, clear morning  to observe his first and second string of horses out on Warren Hill, and with Sir Mark talking of the layout and history of the gallops, in relation to the town itself, which lies at the foot of the hill, I was able to visualise various compositions and ideas for paintings. The highlight however, of this visit for me, was a completely unexpected sight ... when we went up into the fine old woods at the top of the hill to see Sir Mark's horses and riders cooling down,  relaxing in informal groups, the horses with their heads down grazing, after their work. Sir Mark strolled amongst them chatting with the riders. And we observed them filing past along the woodland path back to the wide open space of Warren Hill, A wonderful sight; the dappled sunlight playing on their polished coats, and the deep green glades and ancient trees, with chestnut blossom, providing a magical backdrop, Such an inspirational sight , and one which I am sure will come through in my paintings.  Earlier that morning, in the yard, I had talked of how at this stage of the residency I like to keep an open mind as to the exact subject matter for my paintings. With nothing too pinned down. More observing and absorbing impressions from a general viewpoint and leaving enough space and time for subjects to present themselves, within a broader context. This is precisely what happened at the woodland. A completely unexpected and delightful tableau, of timeless tranquillity.

Spring Evening Meeting at The Rowley Mile

 A stunning evening on which to return to The Rowley Mile, and this time, thanks to the kindness and efficiency of the Course Officials and Chloe Freds, I had special access arranged for some different  photography locations. I am particularly attracted to the spectacle of the horses and jockeys , going on to and coming off the Course. It is an iconic subject much favoured by racing artists historically, especially Degas and Munnings. On this evening,  I was also granted access to observe the horses from inside the paddock, and  at the starting gate, which was a huge bonus, and  the entire evening was an exhilarating race for me, from paddock, to track, to the start gates, with barely time to pause between each race. What an experience. Along with the interesting compositions, I was drawn to the brilliant colours and the long shadows cast by the horses in the low evening sun. From inside the paddock, i was also fascinated by the compositions of various groups of people watching the parade, and also the jockeys entering the arena, to meet the trainer and mount their horse for the race.

A visit to Shadwell Stud at Beech House 

After being introduced to Richard Lancaster , Stud Director at Shadwell Stud, by Grant Harris, CEO at The British Racing School, back at The Craven Meeting in April, I was looking forward to visiting the famous Shadwell Stud. This Stud has long had a connection with equine artists and unusually, features racing paintings in their yearbook. My visit was kindly arranged by James O'Donnell. He suggested, that the best place to see the mares with foals at foot, this month, would be at the Beech House Stud, in Newmarket, Before the foals go to Ireland to be weaned. Timing  was therefore key, and so i was thrilled to be able to spend an afternoon , there accompanied by Shadwell Stud nominations assistant, Naomi Leak, observing the mares and foals in their stunning, quintessentially Suffolk landscape surroundings. Bringing to mind the Stubbs masterpieces of this very  subject. A blissful afternoon of sketching followed,  studying the dynamic both between the mares and foals and the various groups within each paddock. Foals are an endlessly fascinating and indeed challenging subject for sketching!. Their impossibly long legs and compact bodies adopting extraordinary shapes and patterns against their mothers flanks. It was a hot afternoon and the ambience in the fields was drowsy and relaxed. The mares and foals were incredibly friendly with the young already clearly used to being handled. They were most engaging and curious as to what I was doing with the pencil and sketchbook and enjoyed any chance to receive a stroke,  from across the fence. It was such a privilege to visit the stud and observe these beautifully bred mares and foals of the very highest quality, and  at this stage of their development, and lives. What a joy. And offering so much scope for interesting drawings and paintings. 

April 2018

I am delighted to have been invited to be Artist in Residence at Newmarket, by The British Racing School.

The residency project will allow me to spend part of each month,  in Newmarket, based at The BRS,  painting a range of subjects  from this historic centre of flat racing. It starts this month, and will continue over the next 16 months, culminating in an exhibition towards the end of 2019.  It presents a wonderful opportunity for me to explore artistically,  the many visually interesting aspects of the flat racing world and focus on building a body of artwork  that will encapsulate my experience there. The scale and concentration of the horse racing business in the town is awesome, with over 60 resident trainers and over 6000 horses in training.  I shall be spoilt for choice and the challenge is more going to be choosing the locations and subjects from such a large pool of inspiration!.

The British Racing School itself provides a fascinating behind the scenes insight into the training of racing  business staff, from jockeys to trainers and stable staff. A centre of training excellence, this Charity is on a mission to bring more young people into the UK  racing industry, through education, training, and placement. They do an incredible job, running  a continuous programme of courses with  leading instructors,  and the busy hive of  activity in their own yard and gallops, will be a fascinating ongoing subject  for me to  observe and sketch. 

Outside of the BRS itself , and facilitated by their  invaluable introductions and recommendations, I shall be working at The Rowley Mile and July Course racetracks, Trainers yards, stud farms and spending plenty of time out on the iconic gallops watching the strings of horses ride out. A favourite subject.  And with the wide open green spaces and big skies of Suffolk, an interesting change of scenery and backdrops to paint through the seasons. Iconic locations such as Warren Hill, The Limekilns, Pegasus Stables and The Shadwell Stud are so familiar. It is a huge thrill to be  exploring these places and others, in an artistic capacity, and to find myself walking in the footsteps of inspirational equestrian artists of the past, such as Alfred Munnings and John Skeaping,

My own painting practice dynamic is old school in approach, yet contemporary in style, with the emphasis very much on keen observation and sketching directly from the subject wherever possible. Multiple studies and notes build a spontaneous record of what I see, and I aim to keep the movement and action loose in style to retain a sense of movement , energy and atmosphere.

Sketching days at The Rowley Mile, Craven Meeting.

This meeting kicks off the flat racing season at Newmarket and  coinciding with the best weather to date this year, my sketching visits were blessed by glorious light and sunshine. After a soggy and long, dark , winter and the often bitterly cold National Hunt season, this was a welcome sight. And a great start to the residency.  The horses coats were gleaming and in fabulous condition, the jockeys silks shone, and the crowds were all in celebratory mood.  Great atmosphere.

With a wide  variety of inspirational sketching  locations to consider, I found myself drawn mainly to the paddock area to observe the horses paraded both before each race and then the winners ridden back into the enclosure afterwards to be applauded and cooled off. A timeless subject, and with the circular procession, a good sketching rhythm can be established, as they come and go.

My lead pencil exploratory sketches start off as abstract marks to establish a direction and pattern of movement, which I then return to where possible to build detail. I sketch the compositions and play with scale and the arrangement of notes on a page, written and sketched, anything that catches my eye or imagination. Sketching for me, is where the concentrated focus and magic connection comes. Of course I also make  a photographic reference record for later on in the studio, but this  can  never replace the immediate connection that is made through the coordination of eye, hand and heart.

Sketching from  another excellent place, high up in a Grandstand box,  I accessed fabulous views across the course and a bird's eye view of the race spectators below, forming interesting figurative groups casting long shadows in the brilliant sunlight.

Of the many stunning horses i watched, including offspring of the legendary Frankel, I have to mention Masar, who I was fortunate  enough to observe  from inside the parade ring and then go on to win the Craven Stakes in great style. What a fabulous looking, bright chestnut horse. With the Godolphin blue silks. A real eye catcher.

July 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog.  Charlie Longsdon Racing

Dropout Joe:

A  racing painting completed in time for the exhibition next month. An oil on canvas, featuring the fabulously named Dropout Joe.  I noted him with interest at the Owners Day Parade last year. A handsome chestnut, with distinctive white blaze, he is depicted in a loosely handled painting style, travelling full speed towards the viewer. Horses approaching the jump in the background are out of focus, rendered in broken strokes of paint, adding depth and vitality to the composition. This 'portrait' is all about movement and the vibrant orange and blue silks of the jockeys presented a dramatic dash of colour with a hot/cool temperature dynamic.

Cotswold Life Interview feature:

Delighted to have had the Artist residency featured in Cotswold Life Magazine in a follow up article to the one published last October when it all began. A big thank you to Assistant Editor Candia McKorrmack for her interest and support.

June 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog.  Charlie Longsdon Racing

I am now bringing together a body of work,  done over the last year, comprising sketches , watercolours, oils  and portraits, ready for the Residency Exhibition on Owners Day at the stables in August. Alongside the more formal portraits and large scale canvases, I have been taking advantage of the recent sunny weather and enjoying getting out into the fields at Hull Farm  to add some loose, informal sketches of the horses grazing, as they enjoy their well earned summer break. This photo taken in the studio, shows  some of these rapidly executed, on the spot sketches,  done as the horses move continuously around the field in groups, forming fluid shapes, patterns and compositions.

Next month, on July 30th, I will be tutoring a sketching workshop at the stables, with subjects ranging from horses on the gallops, to field grazing studies and equine portraiture back in the yard. Further information can be seen on the tuition section of my website.

May 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog. Charlie Longsdon Racing.

Leith Hill Legasi Portrait:

This last week saw the completion of a dynamic racing portrait of Leith Hill Legasi, commissioned by her delightful owners, Neil and Jane Maltby. This large scale watercolour shows the little mare racing at Lingfield last year. Stretching ahead over the jump, alongside larger rivals, she went on to win the race. This painting, whilst an accurate portrait of the mare and highlighting the distinctive orange and green silks of the Maltbys, conveys a sense of speed and endeavour and the thrill of the race itself!. The composition and placement of each horse and jockey within the group as a whole is key to the portrayal of what may have been a defining moment. as she took the lead.

April 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog. Charlie Longsdon Racing.

This month with the amazingly sunny and warm Spring weather, i have been enjoying getting outside once more with my sketchbooks. It is great to see the horses at Hull  farm turned out in the afternoon sun again. Together with sketching, I have also been working on a large scale oil painting showing Charlie's horses in training riding out on the gallops. In contrast to the usual speedy fly past, watercolour sketches i was painting last year , this larger composition catches the quieter moment when the long line of horses emerge in relaxed procession from under the dark trees at the top of the gallops and walk down the hill on the outside of the white rail, before turning to return at full stretch. It is a magical moment and a lovely scene. The pictures below illustrate the progression of this composition from an initial exploratory sketch in sanguine pencil, to a small oil colour sketch and finally the large scale composition in oils, showing the dramatic backdrop and light that plays out up there on such a morning. 

March 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

March has been an exciting month, with all the buzz of The Cheltenham Festival and new portrait commissions coming in as the season reaches its peak. . and winners accrue.  When not actually at the races, i have been glued to the fantastic Channel 4 Racing coverage for an intensive few days, enjoying the background stories and interviews and the spectacular races themselves. The  brave horses, and jockeys, the flashing silks, packed grandstands and concourse and the thrilling atmosphere created a memorable Festival and especially so with the fairy tale ending of Coneygree's win of The Gold Cup.

This month in contrast to the watercolours  featured in the February blog, I have been working up a couple of portraits in oils,  shown below. Both are Cheltenham pictures. The first is a close up composition of Noel Fehily riding Grandads Horse. A lively double portrait, capturing the dynamic directly after a race, when the adrenalin charged horses return back down the side of the track, all pumped up, nostrils flared and with heads held high. A dramatic sight of contained energy  in one of the less traditionally painted scenes. In the background i  have painted a suggestion of crowds and racecourse,  fading to the muted colours of Cleeve Hill in the far distance. The vibrant black and yellow silks together with the dark coat  of the horse are to the fore,  accentuating  the taut posture and expression of horse and jockey. 

The second oil is a small scale, generic Racing scene,  loosely handled in style and brushed on to linen. Here the location and atmosphere are as important as the individual horses. Cleeve Hill in soft tones forms a spacious backdrop behind the line of dark horses in silhouette, caught as they approach the start. They are viewed from a  distance, removing detail, forming an extended mass of limbs, heads and contained energy as they proceed forward to start.  I played down the individual colours of the silks, to achieve more tonal fluidity in  the scene.

February 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

This short month has rushed by and with the heavy ground and many cancelled race meetings, I have been based mainly in the studio. And working up some portraits of horses in training at the yard. Grandads Horse has caught my attention. He is a striking looking dark horse, and very popular at Hull Farm. I sketched him at Cheltenham earlier in the season and had him pose at the yard recently for his head portrait. The almost black depth to his glossy pre winter coat was transformed with the winter clip to a soft pewter. Lovely to paint, and with the low sun pointing up the reddish tint to his ears and warmer tones in his coat. His head portrait in watercolour and charcoal is completed, and I am now progressing with a smaller oil painting of him, being ridden by Noel Fehily, in the owners dramatic black and yellow silks at Cheltenham. Here, I catch the moment of him returning down the rail after the race is over, all pumped up, head tossed high, a close up composition to best portray both horse and jockey. And create a sense of occasion and setting, with the contours and soft winter colours of Cleeve Hill visible behind the stands in the background. This painting will be posted on the blog later in the season.

There are many ways in which to approach a racehorse portrait. Personality, spirit, speed and drama are what I most like to express. The classic head, as shown above, allows a close up more intimate study, particularly expressive of the eye which displays so much character and personality. An alternative idea is to paint a group of smaller 'vignettes' or studies together on a large sheet or canvas, affording a variety of angles within the one picture. This is what I did in the watercolour shown here of Ely Brown. The looser style conveys a sense of speed and space, with the focus on the horse in action. The rich colours of his bay coat and the owners orange silks are displayed against a suggestion of green course, without the distraction of a crowded field and a multitude of clashing silks to distract!. Multiple study Vignette portraits may include a series of studies of a particular horse on a particular race day. Telling a story in paint, starting with a paddock parade scene, then with the jockey on board, and during and after the race itself, providing a unique record for posterity.

January 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

Back to business mid January, and a busy studio! I spent the last month in Washington DC and Philadelphia.  And i must say, although this time,  a horse free trip, (bar the occasional sighting of riders on the trail in Rock Creek Park), I have returned  much inspired by some of the fabulous paintings we saw in the Art Museums, in both cities. Most notably at The Barnes Foundation. Also the Wyeth Art Museum near Philadelphia, where I had the pleasure of seeing a collection of  original watercolour paintings by Andrew Wyeth, at a converted mill,  by the creek, in the Brandywine Valley,

December was a busy time leading up to Christmas,  and saw the completion of several racehorse portraits.  This looks set to continue over the coming months with new commissions coming through, which is great.  With the National Hunt Season in full flow, it will be an exciting and action packed time ahead at Hull Farm.

Portrait of Tidal Way

I was commissioned to paint this stunning looking horse as a Christmas present for his owner, Harold Peachey by his wife Carole.  With deep grey, dappled coat and alert expression, Tidal Way was a delight to paint. I chose watercolour mixed with charcoal, a perfect  mixed media combination in which to convey his darkly dappled, marbled markings and also the detail in his eye, so clear in shape and expression against his lighter toned head.

January 2015 - Artist in Residence Blog, Charlie Longsdon Racing.

Back to business mid January, and a busy studio! I spent the last month in Washington DC and Philadelphia.  And i must say, although this time,  a horse free trip, (bar the occasional sighting of riders on the trail in Rock Creek Park), I have returned  much inspired by some of the fabulous paintings we saw in the Art Museums, in both cities. Most notably at The Barnes Foundation. Also the Wyeth Art Museum near Philadelphia, where I had the pleasure of seeing a collection of  original watercolour paintings by Andrew Wyeth, at a converted mill,  by the creek, in the Brandywine Valley,

December was a busy time leading up to Christmas,  and saw the completion of several racehorse portraits.  This looks set to continue over the coming months with new commissions coming through, which is great.  With the National Hunt Season in full flow, it will be an exciting and action packed time ahead at Hull Farm.

Portrait of Tidal Way

I was commissioned to paint this stunning looking horse as a Christmas present for his owner, Harold Peachey by his wife Carole.  With deep grey, dappled coat and alert expression, Tidal Way was a delight to paint. I chose watercolour mixed with charcoal, a perfect  mixed media combination in which to convey his darkly dappled, marbled markings and also the detail in his eye, so clear in shape and expression against his lighter toned head.

November 2014  - Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing

A quick sketch in the fields at Hull Farm

With late summer extending into the wonderfully mild first week of November, I took the opportunity to sketch outside one sunny afternoon, while the horses were turned out. The winter light cast long shadows and the horses illuminated in their pink winter rugs were enjoying the sun and fresh air en masse out in the long field. It was interesting to contrast their newly rugged contours against the sleek summer curves I had sketched back in August. I only had a brief window before they would be called and whistled in, but time enough to watch their movements, their altered contours, with the stiff rugs and the sharp difference in light from that of the hot summer months. I chose multiple, speed abstract sketching on one page to explore the atmosphere, light and compositions they displayed as they constantly moved around, grazing in groups. All too soon the lads had returned and were bringing them back in to the yard as the light faded.

An afternoon at Warwick Races

My first visit to Warwick Racecourse and fortunately, as with Cheltenham last month, the light was ideal. I liked the smaller venue and friendly atmosphere both at the paddock and in the Trainers Bar where I met up with a few of the owners of the horse, Crack of Thunder, ridden on this occasion by Charlie Deutsch,  that Charlie was running that afternoon. Sadly he wasn't placed, but the afternoon was a most enjoyable one. I shall certainly return to Warwick to sketch again. Seeing the horses race silhouetted against a late  Autumn backdrop stretching along the hill and with a low slanting sun was memorable. And afterwards as I travelled back with Albert in the lorry, the sunset all along the Fosseway and through the Shipston Valley was amazing. A deep rose copper that seeped and reflected in purple hues  across the land and drenched the now almost denuded trees and hedgerows in a deep gold light. An awesome display of early winter radiance. I love this time of year when the sun starts to set early, then escalates and descends rapidly at the end of the day, with dramatic skies, making up for the loss of daylight hours. 

23rd October 2014  - Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing

Cotswold Life Magazine Article

Great to see the article about the residency featured in the November issue of Cotswold Life Magazine.  

A day at the Races : Cheltenham, October 17th

After a few weeks of sketching on the gallops and in the yard at Hull Farm, today I go to the races with the team to watch two of Charlie's horses in training run. It is great to be back at Cheltenham for the first meeting of the season, and this time with the specific purpose of observing  the day from start to finish from the CLR team perspective.  A day at the races is a wonderfully vivid visual spectacle. I know it will present a multitude of ideas and creative possibilities, but today, the first race day as Artist in Residence, I choose to narrow my focus to the two CLR runners and follow their journey.  

I join up with Albert and Jason at the yard first thing, and after loading the horses we set off for Cheltenham. It is a glorious Autumn morning and the drive through the Cotswolds landscape via Stow on the Wold and Ford is even more stunning when viewed from the high up cabin of the lorry. This would make a perfect mobile painting studio for winter landscape trips! With the trees displaying their rich array of autumn colours and the sun shining across soft plough and pale stubble, I couldn't have wished for more perfect conditions.  From the racing point of view, no matter how dry it is today, all the recent heavy rain has made the going heavy for the runners. On arrival i watch the lorries from various familiar training yards come and go, unloading their high performance, high value competitors. In amongst the prospective runners, my eye is drawn to a somewhat incongruous pairing. A handsome bay horse emerging from his lorry and being led away with his stable and travelling companion, a characterful skewbald Shetland pony by his side! With the horses unloaded and settled, Albert shows me the weighing in room where he signs in Charlie's runners and helpfully explains when and where the horses will be warming up before they enter the parade paddock prior to each race.  Frampton is running first, in the Novice Hurdle, followed by Grandad’s Horse in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle. Noel Fehily is the jockey for both rides. 

With a little time to go before the first race, I watch the growing swarm of visitors and admire this unique course setting. Cleeve Hill in the background creates a dramatic hillside vista that curves around the course. A group of stewards and Trainers are walking the course, checking the ground. Recent refurbishments have certainly improved the visitor experience, and the building work to extend the grandstand is now well under way.  I sit in the sun and make some rapid abstract colour sketches of the hillside view from the grandstand. There is nothing like painting on the spot to immerse ones attention into the scene and connect with the atmosphere, and this is the only sketching opportunity today that won't be dealing with a high motion subject! Other race goers meet, greet and mingle out on the green turf in front of the stand, sitting on the wooden benches, enjoying the warm autumn sunshine and the views out to Cleeve Hill. A peaceful and calm prelude to the thrill of the action to come. I make a mental note that on a future visit, it would be interesting to sketch the crowds, describing the abstract patterns and interesting compositions they form along the rail and packed in tiered rows up the grandstand. Colour, gesture and movement to describe the upbeat roar of the crowd as they watch the horses make their ascent through the final furlongs to  the finishing post. 

Forty minutes before the first race, Frampton, led by Jason, steps out looking smart, and calm, into the pre parade ring. This is a good opportunity for me to study him quietly from the raised viewing steps as he circles and then continues through to the main paddock where the atmosphere and visual dynamic changes dramatically.. A feeling of keen anticipation and tension predominates. Trainers and Owners in their racing best form close groups in the centre, while their horses are paraded. Then the jockeys emerge together from the weighing in room, always a great moment.  A visual explosion of high toned, brilliantly coloured and patterned silks and glittering whites enters the arena, a fabulous subject for painting. They greet the trainers, mount the horses and are exit the paddock. Noel Fehily is in emerald green and white silks and I take some interesting portrait shots of him as he waits with Charlie for Frampton to come alongside. As they are led away down through the arch towards the start, I dart around to the course rail to take some long distance shots of the start, a closer range first circuit and finally Frampton coming home in 4th place, having jumped well all the way round. 

Grandads Horse is next on my agenda... and this time Albert leads him into the ring, joined by Jason in the paddock. A large dark, strong looking horse with white blaze, he looks well in the parade ring and with a much larger field for this race, there is a palpable buzz amongst the spectators. Noel in black and yellow silks this time, makes a striking visual combination on the big dark horse. Once they are off, with 17 runners it is more challenging to track the individual, but the large grouping produces some fantastic compositions as they fly past. and away. Another respectable result ensues, with Grandads Horse finishing seventh out of 17 runners and qualifying in the process. Once again, I am drawn to the sight of the horses returning slowly down the side of the racetrack, sweaty and hot, their nostrils dilated, white foam at their mouths, ears pricked and with mud spattered jockeys. Job done. The talent of both horse and jockey, the sheer courage, stamina and hard work involved and particularly on such soft ground is admirable.

Back at the loading up point, I notice the dark bay with his Shetland pony companion again and have a chat with his handler. She tells me this racehorse is called Thomas Crapper and his little chum who he never travels without  is Tommy ... and is delighted that Thomas Crapper had a good race, coming in 3rd. We load up and drive back to Hull Farm, Albert is well pleased with the performance of each horse and after a hectic week, looking forward to some well-deserved time off at the weekend!

The horses will be let out in the field tomorrow to relax and recover their energy.  And my head is spinning with images of this stimulating day ... with sketches and paintings to follow in due course ...

23rd September 2014  - Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing

Early morning on the gallops

The shapes of the landscape are now softened and muted with the quieter hues of late summer. Across the valley a pale shaft of sunlight picks out the honeyed Cotswold houses and church of Great  Rollright. The grass is drenched with dew and the sun fades as rain clouds begin to form. Not ideal conditions for sketching or photographing form, which dissolves tonally in low light. I notice when the visual stimulation of contrasting tones and bright colour is reduced, the other senses kick in more powerfully. Today Rooks are flying over the nearby woods, their raucous calls drowning out the softer birdsong from nearby hedgerows. There is one persistent rook mobbing a buzzard noisily above the wood, in acrobatic display.

From where I stand , I notice for the first time a new perspective. Looking down the slope to the circular start rail, a miniature tableau of horses circle, before they power up the track and streak past in pairs. In the subdued light, each group displays a subtle variety of tones and markings, blazes and socks flashing up white highlights within a muted bay group.

Back at the yard

Today there is busy preparation for Owners Day, I chat with Sophie about preparations and a display of paintings . And sketch activities in the yard all morning, cups of tea are kindly brought at intervals, and promptly lapped up by Bramble, a busy little terrier who is always pottering around !. Becky, a young student, who is doing work experience rakes and shakes out the straw in the boxes, chatting comfortingly to the horses as she works, a great subject for sketching while I wait for the riders to return.

The horse are cooled off after the ride, in the carousel walker, with only their ears and the upper slope of their backs visible as they go round and round. Today some of them are put in pink rugs before being turned out. With the sun still shining, I return in the afternoon to sit amongst and sketch the large number of the horses now turned out in the top long field. Head Lad, Alan 'Rochey' tells me of friendships formed  within the group, how some of the horses bond, and how valuable it is for them to be outdoors like this,  before the autumn chill comes. They are happy horses....

Photo shoot for Cotswold Life Magazine

Early, up on the gallops and then back in the yard with Gavin from AIR taking photographs for the Cotswold Life Magazine feature  (November issue), and AIR website . Fantastic day for it, good light and some interesting shots. 

Owners Day

Saturday 13th, and the sun is shines on Owners Day. The yard is spotless and the horses are beautifully turned out for the parade. We display a selection of my equestrian paintings and drawings around the lunch marquee, between the vibrant silks that dazzle on the rail. It is great to meet so many enthusiastic owners and syndicate members, chatting about their horses, discussing portrait commissions, (particularly for the winners!) and hearing historic racing stories. The perfectly organised parade of horses proceeds at 11am. Sketching from the back of the ring, i become lost in concentration as my pencil follows the hypnotic procession of over 70 circling horses having their star turn in the ring, Charlie gives an impressive commentary on the history, performance, future plans and hopes for each one. I am amazed at how he manages this without referring to notes!. A group of engaging young bays grazing in the field behind us line up behind the gate to spectate, wondering what all the fuss is about....an irresistible subject for a thumbnail sketch. Spectator owners create a picture too as they sit  behind the white picket fence, inspecting each horse and considering future prospects and purchases.... Artist  Jeremy Houghton who recently completed his own 'artist in residencies' at Highgrove and Royal Windsor, and has a retrospective exhibition currently showing at The Ashmolean Museum in Broadway, introduces me to Equine Photographer, Astrid Harrisson, who is photographing the parade. A more local subject for her than the international equine photography of recent years as seen in the stunning book 'The Majesty of the Horse'. A delicious lunch in the marquee afterwards rounds off a great day. 




Artist in Residence Blog,  Charlie Longsdon Racing 2014/15

This blog, updated once a month, aims to share some of my experiences  as  Artist in Residence at  Charlie Longsdon Racing, Oxfordshire, from August 2014 through to September 2015. It will be as much sketching with words' as a collection of photographs and sketches. Descriptive writing forms a key part of my practice and helps capture the essence of time and place, an invaluable accompaniment to drawn sketches.  I expect the first few visits and resulting blogs will be mainly observational, about immersing myself in the atmosphere, at Hull Farm, with sketching and studio work progressing throughout the year as I explore and discover what I connect with and feel most moved to paint. This is an exciting project, with access to the stables and gallops and days at the races providing inspiration for painting both on the spot and back at the easel in my studio in Chipping Norton.

Visitors are most welcome to come to my studio to see works in progress throughout the year.  Please arrange an appointment first!

Contact details are on my website:  www.melaniewrightartist.co.uk

Telephone: 07792 580788.

A meeting with Charlie and also Jeremy Houghton of AIR who organised the residency at Hull Farm kicks off the project. At this early stage I have visions of creative subject matter ranging from riding out scenes from the gallops to everyday activities in the yard, and of portraits of individual horses. First job however is to have the Residency details and equestrian artwork up and running on both the Charlie Longsdon and AIR websites.  

See:  www.charlielongsdonracing.com


August 2014

With many of the horses away from the yard for their summer holidays, or resting before the national hunt racing season starts up again, August  is an ideal time to familiarise myself with  the layout at the yard and gallops and to meet  the team working at Hull Farm.

With the fantastic weather, this is the perfect opportunity to walk the gallops, noting the best positions from which to sketch the early morning rides, once the horses return to work.  The setting is stunning, with big skies, golden barley fields, green woodland and tree lined hedges and the rolling terrain which gives the horses such a valuable workout, and the artist a spectacular backdrop of landscape scenery that will evolve over the seasons, providing a changing palette of colour and texture to the backdrop for the early morning rides.  At present, many of the horses are turned out together in the fields, with scenes reminiscent of some classic paintings by George Stubbs. I draw them grazing and resting in groups. There are some interesting configurations as i work  and it is wonderful to  see  the horses out loose with the sun glancing  off their gleaming summer coats. They are in the peak of condition.  I am intrigued by the repeated patterns in which they move around the fields in slow motion, with the odd burst of energy, and interaction within the group. Close observation of conformation, behaviour and movement   is a key part of my practice as an equestrian artist and these quieter mornings while the yard is less hectic a treat.

Stable yard scene

Early morning at the stables. I deliberately leave the camera behind. The discipline of not having it to hand, allows for concentrated sketched observation.  I am more present, see more clearly and I find, recollect the scene better later. I position my sketching stool carefully in the yard, so I can observe the horses setting off and returning from the gallops, as perfectly silhouetted shapes against the skyline, they descend in a snaking line back to the yard.  I sketch them being unsaddled and hosed down after their exercise and then led up to cool off in the carousel walker. Riders and horses create interesting compositions as they go to and fro, the sunlight casting purple shadows against the pale concrete ground. Most striking is the high gloss of running water on the horses coats as they are hosed down, pointing up the structure, brilliant colours and reflections.  I note their extended necks and gait as they relax and are led up to the carousel walker to cool down.

The riders are chatty and friendly and the watchful stable yard dog Squeak mingles amongst the horses, unperturbed. There is a timeless quality to scenes such as these.....

An Equine Drawing lesson at the yard.

I decided to take one of my young Drawing lesson students to the stables with me for some individual drawing tuition. Imogen loves to draw horses, but this will be her first experience drawing them from life and with the challenge of catching a moving subject!  What better than to be drawing the form of the thoroughbreds at Hull Farm. We have the morning, and start off sketching in the top field where two horses, Cross of Honour and Long Wave are turned out. They move around constantly, coming close to inspect us and then retreating, offering multiple angles and perspectives for sketching. Every so often riders pass by on the way back from the gallops and there is a volley of excited activity and greeting. It is a breezy day and we struggle to hold the flapping corners of large white sheets of paper still as they pass! We study the conformation and anatomy of the grazing horses, with particular attention to the shapes of their necks and backs. And when they are near, quick thumbnail sketches of the head. Imogen soon gains confidence and is drawing rapidly with multiple studies on a large page.  And for this lesson, she resists the temptation to develop a sketch once the horse has altered position, understanding that the they will in fact adopt the same or similar positions repeatedly if we sit there quietly for long enough. So then we may return to swiftly sketched initial marks and develop them into something more recognisable.  Before we leave, Imogen is keen to draw the shape of a horse’s eye. Back at the stables, many fine heads are looking over the loose box doors, happy to oblige. Then a quick visit to meet Fran’s two adorable young foals before heading back to the studio.


Painting response while watching the pouring rain at King Stone Farm Approach (May 2013)

At this time of year the weather may be so mercurial that sitting and observing without committing brush to paper, for a long period is actually more useful than racing to keep up with the changes. One minute there is a stunning view to be seen and in the next it has completely vanished, shrouded in rain cloud with little sun breaking through. But as the showers pass the sudden reappearance of the light is a fresh revelation and the middle and far distance sits up once again… following the morphology of the land as it transforms itself yet again into a new arrangement of tone, colour and mark.. It is as if a theatrical or cinematic drama is being played out in front of me. An ever changing sky, shifting light, the subtle interplay of colour and shape, and the characters on the stage simply comprising a small dairy herd in the near field, straggling, silhouetted figures against a fantastically dramatic backdrop.

The colours that strike me as the rain passes and light streams down from the grey sky are Prussian blue and deep viridian, displaying all the subtle shifts of blue greens one could imagine, punctuated by the smoky charcoal passages of distant woods and boundaries. All this at intervals is startlingly pierced with the shock of Rapeseed crops, now making their unmistakable mark on the landscape, rudely unsettling the gentle modulations of tone we normally associate with the Cotswold hills. Yet at the same time, during such cold, wet weather, this vibrant chrome yellow introduces a not unwelcome hit of warmth and vibrancy to the land. It is on blue skied sunny days that the rapeseed appears so garish and out of kilter with its surroundings.

I let large amounts of water dribble from a generously loaded brush on to the paper and watch the dark grey washes seep into the vibrant greens of the ground, merging sky with land in a way that this weather shows so well. It is all painted rapidly and in one sequence, with a loose fluidity of medium and gesture. I aim to catch the feel of flickering patterns and transient light. Later, when the first washes have dried, glazed layers of thin viridian and ultramarine may be added in places to push the colour notes to a jewel like intensity. It is as much an emotional response to what I see as a purely visual one, and rarely topographical in detail.

A ‘Landscape with Horses’ Workshop at Taston (Late August 2012)

Jo Corfield who runs ‘Hope thru Horses’ has generously allowed me to run a one day workshop on the wonderful piece of land where she keeps her motley herd of horses and ponies at Taston, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire. Her herd consists of Welsh Cobs, retired polo ponies and Shetland ponies, amongst others. This is a treat, as both the magical landscape setting with trees, stream and long distant views,  and the horses themselves provide a wonderfully rich source of subject matter for the students.

First thing on the days agenda is to actually locate the horses in this tucked away valley. We approach through a side gate and stroll across to where the land slopes towards a stream winding through trees at the bottom. If the herd is not immediately visible, there is a ramble around the fields to seek them out. Today they are grazing at the far end and the alpha male Welsh Cob, Comet, is immediately identifiable from a distance by his bright bay coat and broad white blaze. This horse is a character and he loves to come right up to a group of students when they are set up on their sketching stools with painting equipment strewn around, and forage for biscuits and picnic lunches in their bags!. Another striking male Welsh Cob, Wynner, is also apt to joining in and  has been known to come and actually stand right behind me watching, when I sketch there alone,  I find myself painting, with his head overhanging mine from behind,  affording me a bizarre view of the  multi wrinkled underside of his lower jaw. He stands there, immovable as a sentry on guard, and only moves on when I do. These horses are inquisitive, but harmless, and any timid student sketchers unused to handling horses soon learn to relax in their presence.

Today there is the added thrill of a new addition to the herd. Bronwen, the dark bay matriarch Cob,  who has recently given birth to a stunning Arab cross bred foal called Julius. Jo has advised us to sketch them from a respectful distance. His little body teetering around on impossibly slender stilts is a delight to observe. And from time to time he lies down completely flat on his side in the long grass and disappears from sight. Then he will leap up and tentatively wander over to see what we are doing, before his mother gently diverts him away.

Welsh cobs are lovely to paint. Their solid bulk and pleasing proportions together with their abundant manes and tails, which are characteristic of the breed, bring stature and movement to the picture. The condition of their coats in the summer is stunning and so highly polished that the cerulean blue of the sky is reflected on their broad backs. Having a foal present today is a great exercise in relative proportion. One of my teaching mantras is ‘to paint what you see and not what you think you know’. In other words, become completely present, look at length, and then sketch, without preconception. This is particularly helpful when drawing the spindly legs and compact body of a young foal, whose conformation at this tender age defies any preconceived ideas of equine structure. We approach the sketches firstly by looking for basic shapes, followed by line, tone, colour and finally creating a convincing relationship with their surroundings.

The dynamic of the herd offers endless compositions. Whether grazing in clusters, heads down, tails swishing, or bunched together, head to tail under the darkly shaded canopy of a chestnut tree, their hind legs tilted and merging together into one large shape, as they take a nap in the heat. Of course there is always a chance to sketch portrait studies if a horse is near enough. And so the day may unfold with a variety of approaches according to each student’s preferences. I take the time to demonstrate concepts and techniques, to the group as a whole and also spend time with each individual. I have had students book a workshop saying they only want to paint the landscape, not the horses, yet somehow they are seduced by the scene and before long the herd have made their way on to the pages.

Of all the equine painting I experience directly from the subject, sketching the herd at Taston over a period of hours is the most enchanting. The land itself possesses its own magic and a timeless atmosphere.  Observing the horses interacting with each other and their environment over an extended period produces an almost hypnotic sense of peace and wellbeing. The outside world has retreated, and if one has been lucky enough to be there, it is an experience unlikely to be forgotten and one I look forward to re-engaging with every Spring and Summer.

For dates and details of my 2013 sketching workshops at Taston please refer to the Tuition section of my website.

For further information about the equine involvement therapy work and related courses that Jo Corfield runs:

Website for Hope Thru Horses: www.hopethruhorses.com 

Sketching at the Beaufort Polo Club (July 2012)

Today I have been sketching at the Beaufort Polo Club. It is a midweek session off the main field. I enjoy these as there are few spectators and a more informal atmosphere to the big weekend fixtures. It is a stunning midsummer light, with the sun glancing off the backs of the ponies and players and mounts silhouetted strikingly in play against a low, late afternoon sun. I spend time strolling behind the scenes, and quietly observing it all from under the shade of the beautiful old trees on the farm. There is a timeless quality to the scene. I watch the dynamics that play out during the match and the preparation of the strings of ponies before action. Their polished coats smoothly, rich and reflective in patina as conkers and their braided tails pristine. They stand patiently in the traditional 'lines', tended by devoted grooms, many from Argentina. The ponies are immaculately dressed in fine tack, with ethnic blankets under the saddles, brightly coloured bandages on their legs and strangely eccentric bridles, waiting their 'turn' for a few frenetic turns in the spotlight, then retired, rapidly exchanged for another and dismissed back to the lines to cool down and doze. It is a fascinating and visually rich spectacle... and if the good light continues this week, I will be back again.

My sketching practice during play is to make multiple studies of the direction, dynamic and energy of the game. Working at speed and directly from life, as opposed to relying solely on photographic reference is what internalizes the scene in my memory. The hand/ eye/heart coordination is vital for me.  And these abstract squiggles and marks bring back the atmosphere to me, if working up more fully realized paintings later, in a way that photographs cannot begin to. I feel the camera acts as a barrier to ‘seeing’ in the way I need to in order to convey in paint or charcoal the feeling of movement and action that is my main inspiration. It is of course invaluable in other respects. As the players repeatedly cross the field horizontally, coming towards and falling away, abstract marks that suggest the angles of sticks, the line of play and groups and clusters are quickly put down. I look also at the relationship of rider to horse, with an awareness of them as a single extenuated entity. The swings, sharp turns and abrupt changes of pace, which may include charges at full stretch, or a ‘scrum’ trying to get the ball away, or a single player whacking the ball through the goal.. There is an endless variety of dynamic. Sometimes the athleticism of the riders in reaching the ball yet remaining in the saddle, is quite unbelievable and the speed at which the ponies travel while the rider takes aim astonishing.