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Nose to the Ground February 06 Issue
February 13, 2006

Happy Valentines Day

Well, the ground hog did it's thing which means no spring until mid-March - no big deal here in Montana where we often have traces of snow and ice on into April.

Horses are starting to shed with a passion and I can't hardly get near them without getting some hair on me. I need to be especially careful what I wear while grooming them - definitely not a knit sweater.

I still struggle from time to time as to what should go into Nose to the Ground. I read so many newsletters that consist of little more than a promise of useful information followed by a string of sales pitches. At the other extreme, background information tends to make a newsletter too long for many to read. I do strive to include an article each time that you find worthwhile reading while keeping it short enough so your eyes won't glaze over. Also the range of potential horse gifts is rather large which is both good and bad in terms of trying to frame a newsletter.

I do believe you'll find the feature article in this issue to be somewhat special.


The Gift Shop

It's too late now to send for a Valentine's Day gift, at least if you want to have it on the day itself but perhaps not too late for a belated present. May we suggest the Horse Lovin' Teddy Bear from our Gift Shop?

Horse Books

In the January newsletter I mentioned True Unity by Tom Dorrance. Since then I've read two books by Buck Brannaman, one of the better known contemporary horsemen who gives much credit to both Dorrance and Ray Hunt for his own success. The first book I read was BELIEVE - A Horsemans' Journey and have reviewed it on our Four Foot Bookshelf page.

I've just finished his initial book The Faraway Horses which would make an excellent gift for most horse lovers. I haven't put together a review yet but will be doing so in the next few days. If you wish to check into it now just go to the Four Foot Bookshelf and use the search box at the bottom of the page. Briefly, The Faraway Horses is an autobiography by Buck in which he desribes a somewhat difficult childhood, how his love for horses helped him and taught him how to help others. It's a wonderful story.


In the January issue under Horse Art I wondered out loud what goes through an artist's mind in the course of drawing or painting a horse. Leena Pekkalainen was kind enough to share her thoughts with me as well as giving permission to reprint what she had to say. Leena lives in Turku, Finland and is rapidly achieving a reputation in Europe as a fine equine artist.

I suppose one way to thank Leena for her contribution would be give a few cheers for the Finnish contingent in the Olympic Games. You can either read the article here or on our web page featuring Leena's article with a few examples of her work.

I Start With The Eyes ......

by Leena Pekkalainen

Hmmm... What goes through my mind when I paint a horse... Tough one.

If I have the opportunity, I go and take my reference photos of the horse myself. At the same time I try to get to know him a bit better. Interact with him. Watch him move, how he reacts with his environment and with other horses. Listen to the owner when s/he tells me about the horse.

This way I already have a hunch what I am trying to show in the picture.

If photographing the horse myself is not possible, I work from the photos given by the owner. In this case I try to ask as many questions as possible about the horse. (Thank goodness this is not difficult as the horse-owners seem to love to talk about their wonderful horses - and

I never get tired of listening/reading about their horses). I mean if the horse is a chili-pepper by character there is no point in painting a calm kind creature, now is there? Now I do know that each and every horse is the best one in the world, of course, so I try to convey that in my portraits too.

But the actual painting process... it starts with the outline. At this stage the painting doesnīt really "talk to me" yet. I start with the eyes usually. When I get the horse looking at me, I get the feeling he is alive. Thatīs when the "conversation" with the painting begins.

I then paint the shadows and lights and a light layer of basic color. The painting looks rather horrid at this stage. I call it the "oh-my-goodness-this-will-never-work-whereīs-the-trash-can" -stage. (Or "blech"-stage for short).

But then I look into those eyes and continue painting. At this stage many kinds of thoughts criss-cross my mind. Ordinary everyday stuff. Whatīs on TV tonight. Laundry. Shopping list. I feel often very tired and thinking about lying on the couch watching TV seems sooo lovely.

But no - the artist paints on. And after a while the odd thing arrives. Inspiration. It comes when I have painted a while. Really - I canīt wait for inspiration first to start painting.

That way Iīd be painting one painting per year. But I do know the magic is there and this knowledge keeps me going through the difficult first stage. Because after this my subconscious realizes I mean business. And it literally feels like cold shivers and a wonderful sense of eagerness in my solar plexus.

And this is where answering your question gets difficult because it is the stage where the thoughts actually disappear.

What is left is actually a much deeper discussion conveyed on the canvas - that of the feelings, emotions. At this stage I almost feel like I am in the mind of the horse I am painting. I get fleeting horsey emotions, the horse feels like a presence in my mind. I get glimpses through his eyes. I enter a timeless place. I literally forget there is such a thing as time. It feels like something paints through me and I observe it with awe. "Wow - how did the brush/pastel do THAT?"

I really am amazed because I never had any artists training. I learned on my own by trial and error and with the help of art technique books, in the evenings and weekends after my day job.

But when I paint using the information I have picked up from an outside source, it seems to extend and I get these moments I know how to paint something, how to use a technique no one has ever taught me. It really is strange. I have had dreams where I was taught a technique I never heard of. Like this dream where an old man came to teach me a method I learned years later was called the "grisaille" technique. Before this stage the painting process feels so clumsy. Like going to excercise after a long pause. And then suddenly the doors of magic open and the essence of the horse flows through.

Nothing is more important than getting that noble creature out into the canvas. The tiniest little brushstroke is more important than a yearīs wage for me. I keep my breath so the movements of my body wouldnīt disturb the brushstroke.

The color hues in a horseīs body are more fascinating than those of an exotic flower. The glint in his eyes - well... that is everything. That is where the soul of the horse talks to the viewer. And I paint until my muscles cramp, but I donīt notice.

And then suddenly it is over. Like a door closing. I breath in deeply and wonder where I am, realize how my neck and shoulders are aching, how tired my eyes are - and how contect I feel.

That is the moment I know I cannot add a single stroke anymore. And I am happy, so happy. Nothing compares to this "high". Watching the result, knowing something much bigger than my small ego did the work. I breath in deeply and say "thank you " in my mind and really mean it. So what could I say... What moves in an artists mind... Some stream of loving, noble energy, a mixture of creative energy and the soul of the horse I am painting. The feeling is the same yet always different with every portrait.

I think the difference comes from intuitively contacting the horse I am painting, and the sameness is the pouring through of the creative energy which simply waits to be let out. But first I need to get over the mundane everyday thoughts, to quiet my mind, and then when I am in a relaxed stage of mind, it can really come through. Other people meditate. I paint. That is my meditation. I really respect every horse I paint and donīt see them as simply "animals". I do not know why I was born this way but the magic of the horse has been with me always. Thank God for that.

With respect and love I try to put them on canvas so when the time has come for them to cross the Rainbow Bridge, there would be a reminder left of them for their humans to look at with a smile and positive remembrance when the time of tears has passed. And the lovely thing is that even if I am painting a horse that is no longer here, I still get that connection.

But then again I am certain all souls continue their existence eternally, so having that connection is possible. I think every horse can teach their humans how to be honest, loving and proud and happy of our existence. They teach us caring and trust - and yes: a lot of humor too.

The relationship between a human and a horse is the relationship of kindred spirits. A horse teaches us connection to our own emotions. And when we are connected to our own emotions we are connected to the source of all life.

We enter that loving, joyful place of the soul that tells us we are all worthy of all the good things in this universe. The difference between us and the horse is that the horse lives in the knowledge of this, but we humans are trying to learn to believe in it. But what wonderful teachers we have in our horses. One day we too shall move from learning to believe into full knowledge.

And if my paintings can remind the horseīs human even of a slight glimpse of this sacred connection, I have done my job well. It is kinda hard to try to put into words something that cannot really be described with words. But at least I tried.


You can view Leena's fine work at her website

- or visit her blog at

- she would love to have your comments.

See you in March.

Bill Savage

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