Could I recreate this? –Painting what I know, more than what I see

My recent painting commission of a mustang herd has a sweet backstory. Several months ago I received a note in the (snail)mail with a photocopy of an old painting. She asked, Could I duplicate this painting that she had loved from her childhood?  (–Her “greedy” brother had taken it after her parents passed away.)

painting commission of a mustang herdI could make out a herd of horses. But it was so small and dark I’m still not sure how many horses are in it!  And was that… a Mountie, head unfortunately cropped off, near the top?!

My first inclination was to turn her down. But she was so excited that she had found “a painter that specialized in horses” that I decided to give it a go. At a finished size of 24″ x 30″, it was not a decision that I made lightly.


My knowledge of horses would help greatly. I’d drawn them from age 7; studied them, collected models of them, ridden them. I know how they move, where their muscles are. Painting outdoors taught me to create a feeling of sunlight and atmosphere. My experience as an illustrator was invaluable as I pieced together sketches of horses and mountains to match the scene as best I could. I tried to improve on what I saw while still remaining faithful to it, and hoped she would not be too much a stickler for detail. Since the only image she had was so fuzzy and dark, I felt I was pretty safe with adding some sunlight and a bit of dust kicked up.

From our several following (and chatty) email exchanges, I could tell she was in her 80’s– no longer driving, with health problems, like my mother who I am close to and help care for. As my mom’s eyesight, hearing and mobility has diminished, her ability to enjoy life shrinks, and it saddens me. I think about what things bring joy to people as they age and are faced with growing losses. How sweet is it, that this old woman with “a big love for horses” who can no longer ride decided to have that mustang herd back in her life again?

painting commission of a mustang herd


She was pleased when I delivered it to her this week. She is not one to exclaim much. So I asked to see all her various fiber art she had told me of, the cross stitch and embroidery and knitting. Plus the enormous doll house she built. And her beloved antique horse tricycle. And there by the window was her saddle; her velvet riding hat on a side table.

A couple days later I heard from her. “Nan– Sorry–still recovering from my surgery here– but I’m asking perhaps the meadow can be redone to match the original painting”, she said. Well, she’s right. Guess I’ll be paying her another visit soon. “Thank you– will hate parting with it– since I love gazing at it–  set it on the piano”, she writes.