Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Fox's Brush

Greetings everyone! This is the official blog of Christine M. Cancelli. The purpose of my blog is to share my experience and knowledge of painting and drawing techniques, and to illustrate how to apply those techniques to painting dynamic pictures of horses, dogs, and other sporting scenes from photos, life and memory.

First, I'd like to give my readers a brief history of my life and career, so they can see how I became an equestrian and sporting artist. I know there are a lot of artists out there, young and old, amateurs and professionals, who grew up dreaming of and drawing pictures of horses. I was certainly one of them. I grew up in South Norwalk, Connecticut, long before it was what is now fashionably known as SONO. I was the second of six children. As a young girl, I longed to ride horses. My parents were solid working class people and with so many mouths to feed, riding lessons were never a consideration! So I daydreamed a lot, read a lot and drew a lot. I discovered the illustrated books of C.W. Anderson, Paul Brown and Sam Savitt, and spent many hours copying their beautiful drawings. Because my parents didn't have the financial means to send me to college, I went to New York City to become "an artist" right after graduating high school. A college education is a valuable experience; if you have the opportunity to go to school, go. The experience will serve you well. But you need something else as well. You need to be passionate about what you're doing, have a certain amount of talent and a lot of self-discipline. I didn't let the lack of a college degree deter me. I alternated working as a commercial artist with painting. I never lost sight of what I wanted to do. I took a year off to tour all the great museums of Europe with my future husband in my early 20's. I took a backpack full of art supplies - pencils, watercolors, sketchbooks and oil paints and a change of clothes. It was a top notch art history course! When I returned to New York, I enrolled at the Art Students League for one year, studying portrait painting in the evening as the monitor for John Howard Sanden. While there, I saw a self-portrait by Irene Hecht at the League's year-end student exhibition, which rekindled my childhood interest in horses. I wanted to be just like her - a painter and a horsewoman! I started riding at Claremont Riding Academy, on 89th Street near Central Park. I eventually bought a horse of my own, started hunting in New Jersey and followed the hunt and race meets. I was still working full time as a graphic artist, which allowed me to pursue my rather expensive "hobby" while gaining invaluable experience and knowledge of my subject - the horse.

In 1983, while working as a freelance artist on 57th Street, I came across a retrospective exhibit of Sir Alfred J. Munnings at the Wildenstein on East 64th Street. It actually changed the course of my life. I'd never seen so many wonderful paintings of horses and riders at one time! I spent my lunch hour studying those magnificent masterpieces every day for a month. When the exhibition closed, I decided that I too, wanted to make a living as a horse painter! I quit my job and started painting racing and foxhunting pictures. I followed the steeplechase hunt meets up and down the East Coast and attended the races in Saratoga Springs, New York. A year later, I was exhibiting at one of the many seasonal galleries that opened there for the summer. I even had my own gallery for six or seven years. I've illustrated a variety of books and articles, painted many horses, hounds and foxes (hence the name, "The Fox's Brush". It means the fox's tail as well as a paint brush). Hundreds of paintings later, here I am, ready to share my knowledge and experiences by writing my first blog. I hope you'll find something inspirational in these writings!
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The first  thing I'd like to do is dispel the notion of "artistic inspiration". To become a good artist, or even a so-so one, it takes a lot of hard work and discipline. Inspiration doesn't strike, it just kind of sneaks up on you. If you devout a few hours to painting every day, your work will improve. If you're lucky enough to find a good teacher to study with, that's even better! However, I was mostly self-taught, and therefore want to devout this blog to teaching anyone who has the desire to learn, how to become a better painter through self study. It's not limited to artists who have experience; this is equally valid for anyone who just dreams of becoming an artist. Reading, working, going to museums and galleries, studying other artists' works and keeping your eyes and mind open will definitely make you a better painter. And so, without further ado, here is my first lesson.
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Lesson 1: I always like to start off my workshops this way. The students have usually traveled some distance, and paid a fee for the workshop. Everyone comes in with art supplies at the ready, perhaps a little nervous, perhaps eager to show off! Whatever their mindset; it's not really important. I'm interested in finding out how observant they are and how attuned they are to the visual world around them, so the first thing I ask my students to do is draw something that visually impressed them on the way to class that morning. From memory of course. I got the idea from a 5th grade substitute teacher, who asked us one snowy day in February many, many years ago, to draw something we saw on the way to school that morning. I was stumped. I couldn't really remember anything very exciting. I settled on making a drawing of a red cardinal against some white snow. I vaguely remembered seeing one fly by the car window as my father drove me to school. The next morning I was looking at everything, trying to see the beauty in the sunrise, the shapes and colors of the houses and people I passed on my way to school. I was ready for that substitute teacher in case he asked us again. But our regular teacher was back, and I never got the chance to ace the "test" that day! I didn't realize until years later what a valuable lesson it was. That teacher taught me to open my eyes and observe the world around me. So, without looking out the window or around the room, I'd like you to draw something you saw this morning. I'd love to know what you come with. Good luck!

And please visit my website:


  1. Well, I guess it will take a little time before someone discovers my blog. I did a small drawing in pencil of some trees outside my window. They had snow stuck to their northwest side from the storm that blew through yesterday morning. It was a study in gray and white. As soon as I learn how to post photos, I'll put one up on the blog.

  2. I remember that first day in your workshop, and yes, I guess I wanted to impress. But then, I always want to impress, haha. Why paint if you don't make an impression? I really enjoyed your class through the American Academy of Equine Art, thank you for taking time to teach.

    1. Hi Cindi! I can understand you wanting to make an impression, which you most certainly did with your work. It was great fun to do the workshop because the students were all so receptive to learning! The quality of the work was very high in that class - you, Yvonne and Marilyn especially.

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