Barrel Racer 12x16 WIP

Hello all.  Been slowly working on this 12x16 painting of a barrel racer after asking a question on the background and composition for this work earlier in the forum.  I decided on trees in the background and a muted barrel so that the centerpiece and star of the show will be the horse and rider.  The detailed block in is almost completed.  

I haven't felt very motivated to finish it and can't figure out why.  Not in the mood, too much detail, etc., so I got the idea of contacting the local county Saddle Club, a nonprofit organization that holds trail rides and rodeos, to see if they might want to have this painting when it's finished so they could possibly auction it off, thereby raising funds for their group.  I'm waiting for a response.  It has spurred hope in maybe being helping others with my work.  It will also give me hopefully some local exposure if they include the artist name when auctioning it off.  There is also the state Fox Trotter Association (Fox Trotter is a horse trained to walk/trot without bouncing the rider) in another community that might be a good way into maybe doing some commission work of horse and rider.  Hope springs eternal sometimes, which in turn motivates my artistic flow.

I was thinking about tilting the horizon downward from left to right.  There is a line on the right side where I have not yet put in the brush background and wanted to run it by you all.  Would that give it more of a dynamic motion feel?  

The block in that I've done so far is very, very detailed and should save me lots of time with future paint layers.  The rider's face and hand will be very challenging.  The face showing around her flying hair is only a little over a half an inch, and the hand that is blocked in needs help.  The fingers are too long into the back of her hand right now but easily fixable.  I still have the rest of the tack, saddle and the feet and stirrups and the blocking in will be completed.  This white horse is very challenging and concentration on values is so important to capture proper musculature of the steed.  

Any other commends/suggestions are always very much appreciated.  



  • @A_Time_To_Paint
    I remember you starting this from a previous post and thought then that it is an awesome subject and composition. I think it is looking great and look forward to seeing your final rendering. One of my daughters manages a horse farm and rides allot. 
    I will leave any suggestions to others with more experience than I. Go for it!
  • As you mentioned the hand, maybe reduce the detail on it. Treat it as a fist, without strong lines between fingers. Could increase the abstraction by giving her a leather glove?
  • Wow, it is like looking at a photo already!  The expression on the horse's eye is developing well, as are the jeans.  I am sure the thumb/finger relationship will resolve with more detail.....? 

    Re the background.   I would look online at photos of similar and see one that strikes you  as best.   My worry with having it angled is:  How far away is the horizon to be from the subject?     If close, then it makes no sense.    Barrell racing is done on level ground, so a tilt to near background would be odd.     What about the rails of the arena?  Spectators, or helpers to break it up?  Have a spare barren lying inside the fence to break the horizontal line?

    Re the gifting:  I have done this in the past to little effort as far as commissions from it, but am currently doing a harness racing painting for a similar thing, only mine is a barter with the local racecourse.   I want them to mow my scruffy paddocks in return for a painting they can auction or gift.
    Where did I read of an artist somewhere who hid a painting in her local town and sent interested residents on a treasure hunt for it?   I thought that was an excellent idea.   
  • Thank you @whunt for your encouraging comments and @heartofengland for the advice on the hand.  It's such a very part of the painting, I think I'll leave it with an ungloved hand, which shouldn't be that difficult to do.  Thank you @toujours also for your advice on the background. I had looked at several reference photos for backgrounds, and the slanted horizon was inspired by this photo.  I have had advice to not include the fence, but it might be more indicative of an arena if it were included.  It is not very detailed and would be pretty easy to do. 

    Doing something for "free" for me right now is just really to get my name out there.  Free advertising.

    As you can see, the background is at a slant.  I thought it was more interesting than a straight line.
  • It's looking great already, @A_Time_To_Paint. Because the face is such a small area I'd keep it as simple as possible. I like the hat you have put on the rider. Looks much better than the helmet in the photo.  :)
  • @A_Time_To_Paint, the photo you have put up showing the fence (clearly not the reference photo for horse and rider!) Is not a good reference to my (faulty?) eyes. 
     I think the camera was angled.  Look at things that should be horizontal, vertical or 90 degree angles in the photo.   I think it was not taken square on which emphasises a slant to the edge of the leveled out arena.   It seems the arena has been cut into (or built onto) a hill, which puts it above the ground the trees are growing from?

    Comparing this photo to your painting is an interesting exercise.  I am wondering if it would have been easier for you to have used the horse in this photo for your reference?  I know from bitter experience that the angle you have the forelegs at in your painting is an exceedingly difficult angle to paint realistically.  Because of the foreshortening of the off side leg (closest to viewer) it will be really hard to match it in with the rest of the horse.    Just something to be aware of when you come to it.    I thought I would mention it since now would be the time to change things if you so wish.  

    Not having seen the reference photo you are actually using, I am not sure, but am wondering if the shadow you are showing between the hind legs is realistic?    Perhaps you have blocked it in to remind you, but I wonder if it is actually the darkest value in the picture as it seems to show in the painting?

    Re the gifting, as I mentioned, I have done the same in the past to get my name out there, but for me it has never brought in any work.  I hope you have more luck than I did.  Perhaps if you make a thing of it and get an article in your local paper, it may help even more?

    I am looking forward to seeing the progress of this, to its eventual finish and finding it a great home.
  • Thank you @tassieguy.  

    @toujours here is a few of the reference photos I looked at before beginning this painting (open in new tab for better view).  The one at the top left is the original reference photo.  I did not like how busy all the stands with the bars and people looked and found it way too distracting.  Loved the horse and rider.  The look of intense concentration and determination of the rider's face is what really caught my attention along with power of the horse.  Wanting to try and show the strength of the beautiful white horse and the rider's athletic ability was what was the most important to me.

    After asking advice from many, many people who are always so willing to give their opinions and share their experience, I came to the conclusion that simplifying the background would concentrate attention to horse and rider.  There were some reference photos that show the background not necessarily at a ruler straight appearance, which I knew was the angle of the camera and not the actual terrain of the arena.  My thinking on the horizon was that it being ruler straight would seem to divide the painting across the top fourth.  I really liked the background with the trees and the fence the most.  

    I believe I've got the legs drawn correctly according to the original reference photo.  

    If I used the angled horizon, I would need to correct the position of the barrel to match the angle.  

    Your knowledge and talent @toujours of capturing horses is amazing and I so appreciate your advice.  

  • Coming along nicely @A_Time_To_Paint.

    I too like the hat replacement. 

    I wonder, does the barrel need to be there, is it a distraction?
    In your first image of the painting when I put my fingers over it to block it out I just see the stars of the the show, the horse and rider. 

    I think it works fine and maybe better without.

    Thats just personal though, of course you may feel it is integral to the piece.
  • When I opened it, I thought, wait, that was someone else who was painting horses! And I realized that it was toujours when reading the comments. :) 

    I can only comment on the background. But it's personal. We live in the countryside with lots of horse farms. And maybe I am simply used to see horses with open far lying background, often against the sky or mountains. This gives it the sense of space what horses need. There is one photo in the collage above that is like that. So... I'd like it more without the green you do now. Again , highly personal...
  • edited January 8
    Identify a focal point. That is where your most important detail will be. Out from that, much like your ordinary peripheral vision things will blur unless you change your focal point. So to cut a long story short, the painting should be, balanced, and have emphasis (focal point), harmony, movement, pattern, proportions, repetition, rhythm, unity and variety. Sorry to say, but if using the rule of thirds, your painting has the horse's genitals as the focal point.
  • Thank you @MichaelD for your comments.  The barrel is something I do feel is integral to the painting with the horse's legs positioned they way they are, about to charge around an object.  I appreciate your comments @outremer.  I have been considering the background as something that would not take away from the focal point and your advice would make that happen.  
  • edited January 8
    And a big thank you @geoffrey_38.  I definitely don't want the genitals (though details are not included) to be the focal point.  Though I don't generally follow the rule of thirds, I can see how that area would be a focal point with the high contrast.  May I ask how you would change this painting to include all the elements you listed to make this a better painting? 

    As a side note, the Saddle Club thinks it is going to be a beautiful painting and the lady who contacted me will be bringing up the idea of auctioning this off at their next meeting.  I also work as a contractor for two nice ladies who own and ride horses.  One of them has a hippotherapy service and they both sincerely admire this painting.
  • A_Time_To_Paint - I don't know how much you want to copy a photo exactly and how much you are willing to change the image around. So, of course feel free to ignore my comments below:
    The neck of the horse is too narrow.
    The best photos in terms of creating spatial depth have the horse/rider overlapping the barrel, or their shadow does.
    The feet of the horse almost touching the bottom of the painting is distracting. 
    The sharp line sloping down to the right - where the field meets the foliage - is distracting from the main image of horse and rider. It also curves up on the left. 

    Since you have a photo of the painting, you may wish to flip it right to left and then look at it with fresh eyes. 
    I think that you are struggling with the two competing goals: being true to the photo AND making a good composition. It is a struggle I am very familiar with :)  
  • edited January 8
    I am tending to agree a little that some of your current angst is the fact you are using 2 different photos, and since you appear to wish to replicate the source picture methodically, you are confusing yourself using a different picture (of a similar horse) for the background.  I actually get the feeling many of the viewers are also confused and thinking the cremello/perlino horse with the background is the actual grey you are painting.  ie, one photo only. 

     I am not sure what sources you are using as far as copyright goes?   Perhaps you have requested source permission to paint?   I have done that in the past and had some agree, which I sold, and some refused which I still have to this day 20 years later, since selling them could get me in hot water!!! Would you be better going to a couple of rodeos or training days and taking your own photos with the correct background and light etc...? 
     The idea of flipping the image may help, but only works so far.   You would need to understand the  difference in tack between the near side and off sides of a horse.   Buckles etc are different each sides at times.
    Yes, if it is a barrel racing painting, you are quite right, you need the barrel for integrity!

    The photo of the horse you are painting is blown out in places and does not show the muscular skeletal properties of parts of the animal which you so wish to emulate.   This is one of the reasons I mentioned you had chosen a very awkward foreleg to paint.  Some of the important realistic detail is missing from the photo.

    I feel you could do a really good job with this, if you take your time to get it right and make it easy on yourself.
  • Thanks @Desertsky.  I've had so many comments about what is wrong with this composition, drawing, background, etc., etc., that I've pretty much decided to scrap this attempt.  I am simply SICK of copying a photograph.  First of all, good photos are so hard to come by as free reference photo material.  My personal life does not allow me to go out into the field and take my own photos.  So I've been trying to use reference photos and compose my own painting.  The original reference photo had all those white bars in the background and it was way too busy for me.  My journey in what I have attempted to do here is documented above.  I guess I just don't really know what' I'm doing to stray too far from the reference photo.  Thank you @dakmediocreart, I appreciate your support on the composition.

    I have looked online again for different reference photos of barrel racers/rodeo participants.  The same reference photo I started with has been digitally redone like a painting and this is what it looks like.  This is not my style of painting but it looks great. 

    I have two other reference photos that I think I'll just paint as they are.  This first one is of a youngster that may be something the Saddle Club would appreciate because they have many events throughout the year for children.  I like the depth of this one and the girl is going around the barrel and you can see the shadow on the barrel.

    There is also this one like @Desertsky mentioned about the horse and rider going around the barrel.  It looks to be taken at the same facility as my original reference photo.

    Here's another rodeo pic that made me laugh out loud and could be another consideration again for the Saddle Club with children's activities.  Mutton Busting.

    Thank you everyone for constructive critique.  It will be a long while before I change another reference photo and don't believe at this point that I will ever be able to paint something strictly from imagination.  Better to just accept copying photographs and making them into a painting.
  • Thanks @toujours.  I am not confused.  I am simply wanting to change the background for the original reference photo.  That's why I ran the question about the tilting background here to this forum.  I know all about copyright on photographs.  The sources I use for painting are royalty-free photographs from websites such as Pixaby and Unsplash.  I do look at internet photos only for reference and never, ever copy them without first getting written permission from the photographer.  Thanks for the vote of confidence in finishing this if I took my time.  As my post just above here, I believe I will scrap it since there is not enough definition for the horse.  I may do some dust all around it and call it good for now just to finish it.  I really hate starting something and not getting it done.  Then chalk it all up to experience.   
  • A_Time_To_Paint - you will improve over time, with practice. I suggest you finish the stinkin' painting until you have killed it off! This would be a worry-free activity for me, since you have already decided its not working out. 

    I suggest that in any painting of rodeo life, you put at least an inch between the bottom of the painting and the action. The photographer's compositional goals do not have to be yours.
  • I wholeheartedly agree with @Desertsky, about finishing this painting as a learning exercise.   What is the saying about learning more from the paintings that don't work than the ones that do work easily...?  Just slap some paint on, to make a blurred background.   Use your emotions (frustration, annoyance or whatever) and just chuck some paint on.   I bet it works out just fine, if not, scrape it off and try again!  Cathartic.

    The 3 pictures you posted.   For what its worth, I would steer clear of the first one.    Oh, it is an excellent photo, but will not translate well into a painting.   The muscles on the rump of the horse and its flank/belly are under such strain and pressure as to look completely unnatural even in the photo.   Couple that with paint which is always more severe and it is a disaster waiting to happen.   I would not touch a photo like that with a barge pole. The risk of it looking all wrong even if a faithful copy are too high.
    Love the other 2 photos and look forward to seeing one or both of them finished and on the way to earning you some clients.

  • edited January 9
    @A_Time_To_Paint, what you've done looks great to me. And I think this composition works. It's very dynamic. I wouldn't abandon this. You could make the background slant but I don't think it's necessary. Concerns about the barrel are unfounded, IMHO. They will evaporate once you give it some form by turning the edges with gradations in value. I hope you bring this one to completion because it's shaping up well.   :)
  • @A_Time_To_Paint - I wholeheartedly agree with the previous suggestions of not giving up on this painting. If everyone on this forum were to all paint the same photograph, no two would look alike. Suggestions on how to proceed are what they would do if it were them painting it. Use those that make sense to you or use none. 
    You have wanted to do this for a while, you’re attracted to it, feel it, want it, don’t loose that vision of how you see it completed. 
  • Thank you @Desertsky, @toujours, @tassieguy, @Richard_P, and @whunt.  I am currently still working on it, hoping to get it finished this weekend.  Will be using a blurred background of the stands that you see in the original photo.  I really appreciate everyone's comments and suggestions.  You guys are the best!
  • " I've pretty much decided to scrap this attempt"


    "I am currently still working on it"

    Yaaaaaaaaaaayyy! 🥳
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