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I have two people to thank .  Without them, this image would not have occurred. It has been about a year ago, now,  that I received an email from Anne Michelsen of Bright Spirit Studio found here. She had read how much I enjoyed painting horses and offered me several photos of these lovely Belgian draft horses. Thank you Anne!

The other thank you goes to a dear friend that I paint with. We were together painting last weekend and I took the drawing of the above painting, along with the reference. When she viewed the reference she asked me if I was going to make the background the red featured in the reference. I said, “Oh no. That would look rather garish, don’t you think?” She replied she just loved the color and thought it would make an interesting finished painting. I worked on the horses’ heads and harness and was only about a fifth of the way done with this when I left that day. Her suggestion haunted me as I continued with the painting for she often has interesting vision and takes on art.  So, on Wednesday evening, with a surge of confidence, I painted RED! Oh my….was  it  RED!  No matter what I did which was to add harvest gold and burnt sienna,  it still came up RED, RED, RED!!!  Here’s where the painting talked.

It said, “I’m flat!”.

I said, “What?!?”


By this time, I had worked for four nights on this image and I was getting to the point I wanted it to be done. I remembered my drawing teacher telling me it is only a piece of paper and Don Andrews talking about how we cut ourselves off from learning when a painting becomes “too precious” to try something new.  I looked more carefully at the barn siding, and noticed that the red was very irregular and faded in places and there were stripes of the siding showing. Not wanting to render a background as detailed as my foreground I began to swish my brush over the red and wetting it in areas. I’d then quickly grab a paper towel and lift out what I had done.  I became interested and swished in more harvest gold and burnt sienna abstractly and went back and forth between lifting and adding until I had something that looked more like I wanted.  Just goes to show you that artists don’t often get to end up with their preconceived notion of what something should look like most of the time.  I thank Anne and my friend for this offering. I feel like the finished painting means so much more for the gifts along the way.

Belgians are the most commonly seen breed of draft horses we see the Amish use in this area of Indiana.

Debby Frisella talks about the color red here.


  1. Love the red! What a great suggestion. Congratulations on having the courage to try it. Spectacular!

    • Our friends often know what we are capable of before we do, don’t you think? Thank you for this, Chris. Your posts on color have helpedme, also. The first pass of red was not dark enough and matched the value of the horses. YUCK …that was. 🙂

  2. I love it too, and the way it came to you. These are beautiful horses, full of life and character. The whole thing just makes me feel happy.

    • 🙂 I smile on that comment, Kirsty. I think when paintings come in special ways it only makes them more dear, in the long run. Thank you!

  3. I love the red and am glad you went for it and was led to try your technique. It makes the horses “pop” against the background. And they are beautiful animals.

    • I have only used red as a background one other time and it was o’kay that it was flat that time. I agree with your comment on the “pop”. It seems to accentuate the white and the light. Thank you Gayle! 🙂

  4. I love that we are fooled, Leslie, and we would miss out on so much if we didn’t allow it to happen. I really appreciate your Belgians. They did a lot of heavy work in forestry years before machinery. Loggers took great pains to keep these horses in good shape. My dad told me that any disrespect for an animal in the bush brought on the wrath of men. I’m glad.

    • How interesting about the loggers, Amy. Thank you for that tidbit. I’ll bet it brought wrath to witness cruelty. I think my first introduction to the idea that animals were treated cruelly, by some, was when I read “Black Beauty”. I re-read the part where the mean man beat his horse and kept willing it to not be so. Somehow, I knew deep down that it was. Each day, from now on, let me be fooled, right? Thank you, Amy. 🙂

  5. Leslie I have a word for this wonderful painting and it is
    B R I L L I A N T

    I really do like these horses…

    Androgoth Xx

    • Horses are my #1 favorite subject to draw and paint, Andro. You just made my day. T H A N K Y O U !

        • Androgoth
        • Posted August 7, 2011 at 8:47 am
        • Permalink

        The red backdrop makes this painting if you do not mind me saying so?
        That is not taking anything away from the subject matter because the horses
        are excellently portrayed and I have come back here several times to look
        at this painting more closely…

        Thank you for sharing your wickedly superb
        talents with us Leslie, you are indeed a great artist.

        Androgoth Xx

      • I believe you are correct, Andro. The red made this painting something other than just a pretty painting of Belgians. Thank you!

  6. i love the relaxing touch of blue on their heads~~~

    horses are handsome animals!!!

    • Hi Summer,

      That blue must be where I was stroking these lovely creatures with my brush. Thank you!

  7. The red with its soft values is gorgeous and the burnt sienna/ white looks stunning on it.. brilliantly done Leslie!

    • Thank you, Padmaja. You mention the white. I don’t think the white would have looked quite as bright with anything else. I learn. Thank you! I was glad to see a post your way the other day! Hope you are all settled into your new homeplace.

  8. Beautiful horses! I appreciate the red flashing and splashing in the background. It adds vitality to the painting. Blessings to you, Leslie…

    • Oh.I couldn’t agree with yu more. Sometimes our hesitancy to venture into anything keeps us from discovering wonderful things; in this case, color. Thank you Carol Ann!

  9. First of all, I am terrified of horses. Like, phobia scared. I saw the horses and immediately hated them. But since I adore you and all that you do I read the post carefully as always, and tried again to look at it. The background is a nice red and those horses are fantastic. I still am scared but you make them look great.

    • I don’t know about “terrified” but it is good to have a healthy fear if one has not learned how to stay safe around them. They are not vicious animals. They are “big” and some can be easily frightened, by some of our movements, that may cause them to dance around. I have seen people, who have not been around horses, scream and run when one stomps a hoof on the ground. These people don’t understand that that movement was just to dislodge a pesky fly that was bothering the horse at the time (that is just one example). They are domestic animals, most of them,raised and taught to serve our needs or our hobby and interest. Before the car, they were our ticket to travel throughout our country. We owe a big thank you to them. I assure you these two horses would not intentionaly harm anyone or they would not be in harness, Roni. Their kind has suffered far more abuse from cruel humans than they have ever dealt back to us. Thank you for taking a second look! You are very courageous.

  10. Red grabs my attention strongly towards the horses!!! yeah it is really lovely …I like it very much 🙂

    • I think we are taught, sometimes, to be too careful in our application and color choices, don’t you, Zeinab. Our instructors mean no harm, keeping us safe from adventure. Thank you!

  11. Now this is very strange, Leslie, (not your watercolour I hasten to add) but yesterday we were passing through a busy road into town, and there was a West Indian held funeral party, smiles everywhere, and the most beautiful pair of Large White horses, dressed to the nines with white feather plumes etc.., pulling a White Glassed Ornamental Carriage containing the Coffin. It was a celebration of a life..not the dark and morose ones usually held. With downcast eyes, red rimmed and serious… OH I bet there were songs and tears at the funeral but this statement was of joy, at a life lived and now gone… which is nothing to do with draft horses I know, but it just struck me that this painting is so full of movement, and life… and colour.. which says more than any words of mine can… The red talks, and gives so much life… Lovely, just lovely.. xPenx

    • It makes me wonder who it was that has passed on, Pen. Usually, these are people of notoriety, here, whose funerals are celebrated this way. White horses. I love it! I like it that you say smiles everywhere denoting a celebration to another’s life and the joy that person must have shared with each who attended. I don’t mind at all that you share that vision with me.
      I love it that you got it about the RED talking! Thank you! 🙂

  12. Hey Leslie – this is so beautiful – I am glad you took a risk with the red – I love what it does for the painting. And the horses are just lovely. This is a great painting. S

    • Who would have ever thought the red would do this? Sometimes our friends push us into places we would not have ventured and it turns out for the better. Thank you, Stephen! Remember, that you were the one that gave me that nudge to work on hotpress a while back with your posts using it. I owe you “bigtime” for that.

  13. I get chills up my spine when I see your beautiful horse paintings, Leslie! Those are good chills by the way. 🙂 There is something about them that is magical. Maybe it’s because I find horses to be magical, but I have seen few that affect me the ways yours do. And these, here, that you have beautifully painted are no exception…. They’re gorgeous!!

    • Wow. You don’t know how good that makes me feel, Debbie. You have just described my passion for horses. They are, most definitely “magical”. Maybe? As I painted the bridle parts I was remembering bridling my horse named Tango years back. So, thank you for this comment about magical. 🙂

  14. I think red is beautiful in this painting, Leslie! I agree that it is a bit unusual, and I would not have thought of Vermilion or Indian Red for a background… until I saw this. It absolutely works! With your subject, and in the painting as a whole. Now I will be looking for a subject matter to put on a red background. You opened my eyes to possibilities :).

    • I learned something, here. Perhaps part of it is that it is not so strange to assume them standing beside a red barn. This looked better after the lifting of the lines to indicate siding. I do know that much. Before all the scuffs in it, it appeared rather dull and flat. The only time I used red behind anything else was here:
      I did it to contrast with the green of her top. Does it have to do with the white in this one, also. I know to balance it, I had to put red in the Harness parts and lightly in the mane of the foreground horse. I am learning to. I can hardly wait to see what you may come up with, Alex! Thank you for the comment. I suppose we will be lifelong students of color.

  15. Excellent ‘save’ on the red Leslie. Horses are magnificant. The red talks to the power of the horses. love it.

    • I have to give all the credit to my friend. Had she not mentioned it, I would not have given it a second thought. Never thought of that but the red does indeed speak to the horses’ power. Thank you for that insight, Gretchen!

  16. Exquisite! What is it about red? I had the very same experience with a deer painting once 🙂 Nothing seemed to work until I had the idea to use red. Your background really sets the horses flesh off.

    Your work has progressed so much in the last year. You are in a new league!

    • Oh. I’m looking at that deer right now! I recall the red was one thing that attracted me to her, but mostly it was your linework in her …and her ears. Thank you for this comment. Your encouragement for me to get a computer and then to blog has broadened my vision because I see more and communicate more with people who create so many interesting paintings. Thank you for that and this comment, Jay. They have helped me to learn so much.

  17. What wonderful lessons learned. Bravo! We learn such writing too … And the painting is marvelous. It pops, but it’s not at all garish. I just love it and know it will rest in my mind for a long, long time. Wonderful! Big smiles.

    • It just goes to show you that I don’t really know what garish is until I paint garish and I have done that a time or two or three or more. 🙂
      One of the greatest compliments one can give an artist (and I include all endeavors such as writing and music and anything) is that their work is memorable. Thank you for that, Jamie.

  18. Dear Leslie –

    What lively, energetic horses! I can just see them nodding their heads and switching tails as they wait patiently along side the barn. The marvelous red barn is a perfect counter-point to the potential energy of the horses. I LOVE horses and plow horses are my favorites. This is both cheering and grounding for me – wonderful!


    • They are magnificent, aren’t they? The size of their feet! …and many are so gentle; gentle giants. Thank you, Nanina.

  19. These I believe are my daughters favorite other than Clydesdales. What a beautiful rich background that makes these beauties pop.

    • Thank you, Ryan. Clydesdales are the first breed of draft horse everyone thinks of, I think (probably due to the publicity they get). Someone up here raises percherons, also, but wedon’tsee asmany of them.

  20. I’m glad your friend suggested this to you. Red was actually a great color to set off the blonde of the horses. (What is that color called in Belgians? I don’t think they use palomino do they?) I think I might have been afraid to use that color too and been tempted to add more detail which would have competed with the delicacy of the horses. It makes for a very striking painting.

    • Belgians range in color from sorrel to chestnut and sport a flaxen main and tail. 🙂 They are not referred to as palomino because there is a hint of red in their coat.
      I agree with you, totally, Ruth. A detailed background would take away from the horses. It took me a long long time to realise that in my own work earlier on. Thank you for your comment.

  21. I have to admit when I first saw the painting; the red color was screaming “too bright” for me. But then after I stared at the painting for a few minutes, I think it works really well with the beautifully painted horses. The brightness of the red creates interesting contrast and depth for the horses.

    • 🙂 I’m smiling because I don’t think this red would be everyone’s cup of tea. They might prefer a different format and a field in the background with a stand of trees. I am in agreement with you, though, that the red really set off something contrasty with those flaxen manes. The foreground horse’s nose I think really comes forward due to all that warmth behind it which that red seems to help with, thus the depth idea. Thank you, Emily!

  22. Hi Leslie!

    I’m glad you chose to paint the background red, I love it! The horses are beautiful and the red colors gives the painting a wonderful energetic expression! It seems that red is a difficult color to use, and it is perhaps a bit underrated? But it is perhaps because it makes so much out of itself, that it is not used so easily? Anyway, I LOVE it!

    (P.S: Yes, I’m back again. This time with slightly lower ambitions…)

    • I think red, yellow and green in this amount are all very challenging. LOL! Red is noticed; I’ll agree on that for sure. Thank you for letting me know that you are back.I have missed you. Thank you, also, for the comment this post. 🙂

  23. Ooooh, what a gorgeous painting, the red background is so rich, love it!

  24. WOW, Leslie, they’re even more beautiful then the horses were in real life! I LOVE the red – you really pulled it off beautifully. Isn’t it great when a painting speaks to you? Good for you to have the sense and sensitivity to listen!

    • Hi Anne!
      I have you to thank for these incredible horse images. I will paint them again. You offered many poses of them. I had fun because I used to be a horse person and enmeshed with them, daily. As I painted these two, it brought back many memories. As I painted their bridles on their harnesses, I knew I missed that time in my life. Thank you.

  25. Leslie,Your picture is beautiful! I love the background of red in this picture and I also LOVE the texture you created. I was one that was afraid of using red because of it’s boldness, but realized that it can enhance the importance of other details in my paintings. I can remember in college, my professors, promoting the use of red when we had to do a presentation. This was to show strength in the knowledge we were presenting to others in class. He said the color showed confidence and that people would pay more attention to us. As the years have gone by I have proved this to be true; but as a teacher, I have seen red to mean frustration and anger in some of the work my students have created. Color is very powerful to me and to everyone in this world. Thank you for sharing your journeys with us through your painting experiences. Very valuable and powerful. Thank you for your kind words on my paintings as well! 🙂

    • When I found your post about red, Debby, I just had to ping it. I have not used red so boldly, but once before. Usually just around a center of interest rather than around an entire subject. 🙂 Thank you for your comment, here, and I agree with all you shared about the boldness of red and its ability to grab attention. Thank you! Your geranium painting is fascinating.


    You crack me up, Leslie! I love the horses and the red is just right!! Beautiful painting!!

    • Most of the time it is Carol, you and Ryan cracking me up! I can tell you that I was not laughing, staring at my red background, at first. I did laugh when I remembered what Don Andrews said about “precious”. I would assume there are many red barns out your way? Thank you, Beth. 🙂

  27. I’m late to this party and everyone already said what I was going to say. What an inspiring post, Leslie. I really liked what you said about a painting becoming too “precious” and then the artist can’t learn from mistakes.

    No mistake here though. That red is amazing as are the horses. Thank you for the link to Debby Frisella.

    • The “precious”part was one of those valuable statements that just keeps on giving when I heard it. When I take an art class, I want everything to help me “RIGHT NOW!”. It has been my experience that I learn a lot of suggestions and am taught much that I am not ready for because it takes practice. What does happen is that I will recall what instructors have taught when I reach that point in my own work. The “precious” comes up in classes, while painting with other artists in a co-op and at home alone. Thank you, Carol.

  28. Oh and I LOVE that the painting talked to you. Sometimes when I do my decorative painting and someone would ask “what are you going to paint on that piece of wood?” I would reply, I will wait until it tells me what I should paint on it.

    • Absolutely! I knew there were some out there that have had this happen and I could have guessed one of them was you. 🙂

  29. Quite gorgeous Leslie! I love the red and I can see why you put the Burnt Sienna in. The picture is so vibrant and lively! I love these horses!

    • 🙂 Would you say my friend inspired me to have a “RED moment”, Lynda? What else do I miss out on including in my work for the sheer fear of including it? Thank you!

      PS I am so interested in that project of an altered book you made mention of this recent post of yours.

  30. dear leslie,

    im shivering from my amazement to this great art, oh this is really great!! the colours, the lines, the mood for me, this is perfect, how exquisite, yesterday im at the art galleries at doha, qatar and i can say that al your paintings would fetch many avid collectors. your talent as a painter in watercolour is incomparable 🙂

    • Now I’m jumping up and down, Marvin ( as much as I can anyway ). Thank you so much! Your mention of noticing my line work? THANKYOU!

  31. Stunning Leslie and easily one of best horse paintings I’ve ever seen. Beautiful values and the red works for me too. Your simple use of colour is so clean and so very inspirational. Great to be back reading your posts.

    • Thank you, Keith. I love painting horses more than anything else. Always have. I started drawing them in Kindergarten and always return to that as my subject whenever I need a break from what I’m doing. Thank you for this comment. It is greatly appreciated!

  32. This is beautiful – I love horses!

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