Ebony and Ivory
A horse and art lover all her life, artist, graphic designer and photographer Sheri Gordon has kindly allowed me to share her wonderful equine paintings here on The Flying Shetlands. Sheri lives in the Saskatchewan prairies in Canada, where her horses come a live on her canvas as she paints in her studio. “It wasn’t until two years ago – at age 43 – when we were finally able to purchase our own acreage that my lifelong dream of having a horse of my own was finally able to come true.” Sheri said in an exclusive online interview with The Flying Shetlands.
“Specializing as an artist creating ‘equestrian art for the dreamer’, Sheri hopes to find that special place in our souls where the horse will always be…magic. “- Sheri Gordon’s website
Location: Saskatchewan prairies in Alberta, Canada
TFS: How long have you been around horses? Did you always want a career with them?
SG: I was one of those typical girls who grew up loving horses. But I came from a family who was into horsepower rather than horses so never got the opportunities to be around them much. To this day, my “other side” is still more comfortable being at the drag strip racing my classic Nova down the quarter mile. I used look forward to my summer visits to my aunt & uncle’s farm though. They had an black gelding named Cupid whom my cousins used to sneak me onto for rides when I was a little girl. I loved my visits to that farm!
While I’ve since taken riding lessons over the years as I could afford to, and learned horse care and some basic training methods, I just don’t have the natural talent with riding horses that some people have. But on the flip side, I’ve never lost that childlike dreaminess towards them either. I just love horses for being horses, their natural beauty, the way they carry themselves, just who they are. It’s why I like painting them this way.
I did apply to an equine college when I was fresh out of high school. I failed the admissions test horribly of course. I may have been a straight A student in school, but because I had no practical experience with horses it didn’t do me much good there. I didn’t really know at that point what I was going to do in life, I only knew that I wanted to be around horses somehow.
It wasn’t until two years ago – at age 45 – when we were finally able to purchase our own acreage that my lifelong dream of having a horse of my own was finally able to come true. Looking back, I’m glad things worked out the way they did. My talents and abilities laid elsewhere, and I still get to enjoy my own horses for fun instead of as a job.
TFS: Any upcoming art shows/exhibits?
SG: Reflections of Nature Art Festival coming to Saskatoon, SK, in October 2016. http://www.reflectionsartfestival.com
TFS: Where can people go to see your art?
SG: I mostly exhibit my work online through my website at http://www.blackhorsedesign.com and offer printed items through Fine Art America. I also do local shows here in Saskatchewan, such as the Reflections of Nature Art Festival held in Saskatoon each October.
I haven’t been pursuing galleries or shows in the past while. I’d taken some time off of “working” at art, trying to refocus myself and get back to doing it for fun. In other words, taking my own advice to other artists!
TFS: Can you tell us more about your style?
SG: I like to work as realistically as I can manage to do. Since I didn’t get to be around horses much when I was a kid, I would get my “horse fix” by spending most of my spare time drawing and doodling horses. (Ask my teachers, they can attest to that, ha!)
Pencil drawing was my first love because of all the control you have with them, tight details, etc. But black and white was limiting, so I expanded into colored pencils. After awhile, that was also limiting because doing larger works would be so time consuming. So I expanded into soft pastels, which are a nice bridge between drawing and painting. I was way too scared to try painting yet, I didn’t like the looseness and lack of control with the brushes.
After I got comfortable with pastels, I expanded my horizons a bit more and tried acrylics and oil paints. While I can do those – and there are times when it’s nice to use them for larger paintings – I still keep coming back to pastels. So it seems that my style has settled – at least for now – to soft pastels in a highly detailed manner.
TFS: Do your ever paint live? Or do you stick to using reference photos?
SG: Because I love high detail, I was so used to working tightly from my reference photos. A few years back however, during some experimenting, I discovered something called “plein air painting”. Which is basically sitting out in nature, and drawing what you see. You have to work quickly, as the lighting is constantly changing. I love it though! It results in something entirely different from my norm, when I work in a studio setting with references that stand still and don’t change color. While I wasn’t able to get as detailed and photo-realistic with my plein air pieces, I found that the colors in my them were so realistic to what was actually there. I haven’t been able to match that yet working from reference photos. There is something to be said for the experience and what you learn from painting from real life in outdoor lighting. As long as you can have the self-discipline to stick with it long enough to get past the “ugly phase” which is usually after about 20 minutes into a piece. =
Plein Air Painting
TFS: Are there any artists/people that inspire you with your art, or that you admire for something?
SG: Oh, so many of them! I spent thirteen years managing The Equine Art Guild, which was filled with talented and wonderful people from around the world. I made a great many friends through that experience, and got to meet some of my idols in the art world. It was encouraging to get to know them on a personal level and see that they struggled with the very same things I did, artistically. That gave me the confidence of “If they can do it, so can I!”
“Wild Hair” Acrylic on Sliced Rock
TFS: Can you tell me more about your Equine Art Guild?
SG: The Equine Art Guild was an international group of equestrian artists that formed from the remains of the Canadian Association of Equine Artists and Supporters. We utilized the relatively new internet popularity to showcase our artists’ work through our website, as well through joint advertising with magazines such as Horses in Art. We also socialized together through a private online forum where we were able to enjoy each other’s camaraderie and learn from each other’s experiences. After thirteen years of running the group, I stepped down so that I could focus on other things and other groups formed from it such as The Institute of Equine Artists.
TFS: Any wise words for other artists?
SG: Do what you love to do. Experiment with mediums, find out what you like and don’t like. Nobody has to see your mistakes while you experiment. Some fail, some work. Sometimes you just learn a tidbit from one thing that will help you in something else. Don’t be afraid to play with new things. Of all the paintings I’ve ever done, it was the ones that I created because I liked them and wanted them for myself. Usually the ones that broke all the art “rules”. Don’t try to figure out what you think will sell and what won’t. Just paint what you love. The right people who also love what you love will be attracted to what you do.
Also, we’re all overly critical of our own work. Even the best of the best still find fault with their work. So get over that part fast, and move on. Just paint!
TFS: What are the ways you find most useful for promoting your art?
SG: I’m a horrible promoter. I love to paint, I don’t like to sell. It seems to be a common ailment amongst artists though so I know I’m not alone. Having said that, I do make use of my website and social media primarily because it’s where I’m comfortable and what I understand best.
TFS: Is there a medium that you have not worked in but would like to?
SG: Over the years, there isn’t much I haven’t tried yet. Pencil, charcoal, colored pencils, pastels, oils, acrylics, watercolors, airbrush, photography, digital art…even sculpture. Recently I saw encaustics (a wax based paint) and think they’re pretty neat. Maybe some day I’ll have to try those out. I’m the type of person that if I see something I really like, I’ll want to know how they did it. If for nothing else other than to experience it through the process of doing it myself, rather than just observing the final result.
TFS: Is there something that you would like to paint but haven’t?
SG: Oh, so much! I’d like to bring more of my imagination to the canvas….things that don’t necessarily exist. I’ve always said we artists have an advantage over photographers in that we aren’t limited to reality. We can paint whatever comes to our minds. I’d like to be able to take my realism to make imaginary things become real.
TFS: Have you ever created art for a poster for a horse show?
SG: Not yet!
TFS: Do you give workshops/classes?
SG: Years back I used to give private art lessons in my home studio and it taught me almost as much as I taught the students. Nothing forces you to get organized about what you think you know or don’t know, like having to document it well enough to be able to explain it to someone else who’s never done it. One thing I was in firm belief of was that I can teach someone how to use the materials, and how to get certain effects, but I can’t teach them WHAT to paint. I don’t want to make a bunch of mini-me’s. Everyone has a unique voice, and I know if they are shown how to use the materials to get them to do what they want them to do, their own imaginations will take it from there.
Recently, I gave a pastel workshop at Reflections of Nature wildlife art show here in Saskatoon. I was nervous going into it, because I’m not one to speak in front of a lot of people. But I think I managed okay, they seem to have learned something from it, haha. So I may be open to the idea of giving workshops some day down the road.
TFS: Do you ever use your horses as models?
SG: My own horses that I have now, just some doodling sketches. My black Morgan gelding, Blue, his grandsire has been the model in many of my older black horse paintings. Blue is a spitting image of his grandsire, so in a way, I was painting him before I even had him. A few years back I was leasing a friend’s horse….an uncle to my Blue…and I couldn’t resist painting him. He was a looker for sure! “Brown Beauty” is one of the paintings I created of him that I liked best.
(See “Black is Blue”, “Brown Beauty” , “Moonlight Desires”,”Into the Light”, “Forever Knight”, “Storm Child” photos)
TFS: Do you have any works in progress?
SG: Oh always, hahaha, I’m great at starting new paintings. It’s finishing them that’s the challenge. At the moment I have a large wolf drawing on my easel begging to be finished….oh look, a squirrel!
Thank you, Sheri for answering my questions about you and your beautiful “Black Horse Designs! Looking forward to reading about your new ventures 🙂 Be sure to check out Sheri’s site and other art here.