This is to be a portrait in oils of Ezy Boy, my friend’s Shire (an enormous draft horse). I assemble photographs of him running in the snow (profile), a close-up (profile), a front view. The snow flies up in a cloud around him, obscuring the details of his feet and lower legs. His lower torso is largely in shadow. The long fur that flies out from his knees to the tops of his hooves obscures the leg joints. I cannot get a clear view of the anatomical features for these reasons and must rely on my former anatomical studies, photos off the Internet, and some pictures I have of regular (not draft) horses to fill in details.
I begin a sketch of Ezy boy in pencil on paper (no detail yet), attempting to capture the power and massive bulk of his body as it plunges forward, shifting laboriously from side to side. If I cannot get the essence of this noble creature, all the details will mean little. I want to show his face in at least a 3/4 view and also opt to run him on a diagonal toward me. This makes the picture more intimate and dynamic than a profile in a horizontal line. I do not have him photographed in this view. But an artist must not neglect any challenge that will produce a better result.
Many sketches may be needed to get it right. To neglect thorough preparation is to create difficulties in the painting stage later when corrections will be difficult to make. Even without detail, proportions should be correct. Since Ezy Boy is galloping toward me, he is “foreshortened”. This is tricky. His body will not appear as long as it would appear in profile. It is wise to back off from your easel or drafting board at intervals to check proportions. A slanted drafting board can distort the view of a large painting because you are looking up at it slightly. Rembrandt is said to have painted at some distance from his easel by using brushes with extremely long handles (evidently for this reason). He used a “mawl slick” (which looks similar to a majorette’s baton with a bulb at one end) which is braced against the easel (at the bulb end) while the hand is braced against the mawl stick.
I show Ezy Boy running out of a sun-lit field into the darker forest. He will be somewhat back-lit (a dramatic effect). I rough in the large background areas of light and shade. Then I transfer the sketch onto the board on which I will paint. I lay a tracing of the sketch (on tracing vellum) onto the board, tape it in a few places at the edges, then slip a piece of graphite covered transfer paper underneath the tracing (graphite side down). Now I go over the lines of the tracing with a sharp pencil. I remove the tracing paper and graphit transfer sheet. My sketch is now on the board. I could sketch in more details at this point, but have opted to begin lightly blocking in my painting first (next lesson).