I'm certainly not alone when I say that I adore horses, and have for many years. From my early years as a rider, to my first job as a stable worker, and now simply enjoying these beasts from afar - they have no peer when it comes to their balance of grace, power and silhouette. They practically beg to be immortalized visually - and the countless examples of artistry depicting them show that I am far from alone in my experience. I have a distinct type of respect for them and adore putting them on paper.
At the moment, I'm taking a brief break from working on a piece that's harangued at me for many months - a cartoonish self-portrait aboard a Derby Racer horse. For the uninitiated, these amusement devices in short terms consist of a circular horse gallery three times the diameter of a standard carousel, which rotates three times as fast. When operated correctly, the four rows of horses stagger back and forth erratically, in effect "racing". There are only three of these machines left in the world, a woeful truth, as the sensation of riding them is nothing short of exhilarating. The finest example is at Rye Playland in Rye, New York - it is well run, and boasts the beautiful work of Marcus Charles Illions - known as the Kingpin of American carousel carvers. His faces were incomparable, his carving technique without peer - he understood horses, and celebrated them in his work. While I take a slew of liberties in my illustrations, I'm trying to capture at least a hint of his energy in this piece. I don't often care to share the sketching phase, but wanted to document this one in case it finds its way to the trash, like so many others before it.
And now to view a few other horses, from previous drawings that span several styles. This little detail is from a much larger self-portrait drawn many moons ago, of my beloved apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. My bedroom was one of the most comfortable nests I've known, and inspired many deeply detailed pieces worked on at night for hours at a time. This is a toy horse from the 1940s, in striped jersey with wooden hooves - he's still with me nowadays.
Pulling back a bit, you can see that he's got friends - a corduroy seal and calico giraffe, as well as the boudoir doll I made in 1998, representing the aforementioned Taffy character. The boudoir doll is still here as well - waiting his moment in the sun. The few times I brought it into the City to show to friends, it caused quite a ruckus of fascination and queries from total strangers - they even spoke to the doll as though a benevolent spirit. I still think he has a future of sorts.
Another carousel figure - this one a leery palomino, watching to the rear as his mistress reaches for a brass ring. I've always had a terrible weakness for copper horses with flax manes - perhaps Roy Rogers' lineage as a fellow native Cincinnatian has had that effect on me.
A wonderful, true-to-life illustration of a very special horse from the Dentzel carousel at Glen Echo Park, in Maryland. This is one of the finest machines in the country, and this horse is lucky enough to wear the same paint it did upon leaving the factory in 1921. This drawing was done for two dear friends who were married at the park - both fanatical amusement park history buffs. They wanted a piece to adorn the carousel admission tickets they provided their wedding guests - there could be no better model than the Indian pony.
A tiny bit closer, to show the animal's lovely face. While I am a die-hard Illions loyalist, the carvings of the Dentzel family are deeply respected, indeed.
Finally, an old favorite that once served as the introductory page of my portfolio. I believed in starting off politely when a prospective client viewed my book - particularly in the case of drop-off submissions, when I couldn't be there to speak for the work. Taffy, aboard a palomino, saucily did the job for me.
There is a pretty wry energy to these older pieces, and I can only guess that such an attitude was right for the late 1990s. Editors loved this stuff, and many were able to utilize pieces straight out of the book. Others were looking for a more subdued nature, and I gave it to them - but let them know very early on that there was a certain level of spice in what I did... and do.
Equines - realistic, cartoonish, linear and beyond, are such endless joys...