Australian Fine Artist

McClelland Guild of Artists Monthly Demonstration May 2012

Artist: Helene Seymour

Helene Seymour is  a well known artist who paints horses and riders amongst other subjects. A quick look at her books of previous artworks shows her dedication to not only depicting horses in action very well, but also to vivid colour.

Helene paints traditional subjects in a very non traditionalist manner. Even though you know the subject is a horse and rider for instance, the colours she uses can be blues, greens – nearly any colour other than what you would expect from a realist interpretation of the subject. Not that she can’t or never paints realist paintings, the beautiful depictions of many well known race horses she has done as commissions prove the contrary. It is just her personal preference to paint in her own style when she paints for herself.

For the demonstration at McClelland, Helene chose a subject she had quickly sketched whilst watching a movie. As I guess many of us have done, one of the scenes just stuck in her head and she was compelled to give it a go.

The canvas she chose to use was prepainted with loads of different colours. This made putting in new marks so much more relaxing, as often found when facing a totally blank white surface. Helene went straight in with the brush and spent a lot of time getting the composition right. This included rubbing out marks and redoing the horse several times to make sure that the proportions were correct.

As the painting was built up using tonal values as any other artist would (just not the same colours for a horse and rider), Helene used a mirror to check her work. This is an invaluable tool for any artist because it shows up where you need to fix things straight away.

Helene emphasised that getting all your composition right was of great importance. It’s no use going on from this stage if it’s not correct, she said as the rest of the painting will be built on a poor foundation.

Rather than working as most tonal painters do Helene went in with alternating blocks of darks and lights around the painting keeping it all at the same stage of completion. Working around the work like this allows you to build up everything at the same rate, no part gets left behind and the whole thing has a unified feel to it. Helene said that to her painting should not be something that you get too precious over, it should be an enjoyable process, we should not get bogged down or too serious about the whole process.

As the background was “cut” into the subject, the whole thing began to “pop” off the canvas. The use of the right tonal values in the background can give that three dimensional look to lift an object off the surface. Some of the edges were made nice and crisp and others softened.

Helene calls her technique mixing abstract with reality and the final touches, “putting the doorknob on the door”. The addition of the bridle and reins for the horse really did add that final touch to help give form to the head and neck and helped with the sense of movement she was placing into the scene.

I draw and paint horses often and it’s nice to see another artist’s approach to the same subject, especially when it is so totally different. The demonstration was a relaxed, friendly and informative one and as always I came away with some new tips on approaching my own paintings.


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