Ready to Fly

Before getting started on this write-up, let me just explain this point: I will not be posting anything that Lesley Humphrey did in the workshop. For one thing, that work is hers. For the second, I worry that whatever protections she has for her work won’t be the same on my site and someone will steal her images and bad things will follow. If you want to know more, please read my article, “Why I don’t buy mass-market prints (and you shouldn’t either.)”

Day 1

As previously documented, the weather in the Houston area was experiencing a polar vortex. While I had been initially sad that day 1 was to be a half day (starting at 1) this turned out to be a fortuitous decision, allowing the workshoppers who were not staying in the hotel to travel to the site. I had been excited about this workshop for ages, but I became even more excited when I saw the list of attendees:

Painting with fellow equestrian artists is a real privilege and I hoped we’d be able to connect on important topics (what is your favorite trick for mixing bay, how do you handle tack, etc.) I did not do well pursuing this goal because I got involved in painting. (Priorities…)

Lesley started us out adding an “exciting first layer” to gessoed watercolor paper or panel. The gesso allows paint to be easily wiped off.

Having watched her videos (both on her site and YouTube) I had been expecting this, jumping in with my usual abandon. A while later my area was littered with a variety of starts.

(Note: I didn’t think I’d have the slightest trouble remembering the different parts of the workshop, but I can’t remember what followed next. If I get something wrong, please forgive me.)

Next, Lesley asked us to work on value studies. Based on the progression of my sketches and other things, I think this happened toward the end of day 1, but it could have been early on Day 2, because it flows nicely into the next event.

Day 2

Lesley asked us to pick out a photo from a bunch she had laid on the table. We were supposed to feel the one we were attracted to, then contemplate it for a while. Lesley walked us through a Soul Collage exercise where we described the photo we had selected starting with, “I am the one who…” I had picked a rather bulky race “pony” with roses in his hair. My exercise started with, “I am the one who does the work.” Being the kind of person who can’t really handle discussing my feelings in a group, that was all I offered. Others really went to town, revealing thoughts and connections that were very personal. While I am not good at expressing feelings, this was a good exercise for mining meeting out of a photograph. We are painters, not copiers. What we paint should be personal and emotional. I think that’s one of Lesley’s most important gifts as a teacher; she doesn’t care if you paint well or badly as long as you paint emotionally.

With this in mind, she went through a version of her 12 Lights lecture (link is to a video demo). I have heard this before, both from Lesley and from other artists. Unfortunately, the concept is one of those things that make my head hurt. The reality of having so many rules feels like too much. If I was committed to this method of painting, I am sure I could learn them; however, I don’t see that happening in my future.

A new thing I got from this demo was the idea of laying down a basic form (form shadow) in Caran d’Ache crayon. Lesley did this by creating a sort of cone which indicated various planes of the object. It is a very different way of constructing a form and is another thing that has made my head hurt in the past. But it made a little more sense this time, especially with her use of paint.

Lesley essentially uses watercolor paints out of the tube, with no dilution. As she explains, she is an oil painter who doesn’t have time for oil painting and watercolor is easy to travel with. This gives her oils and watercolors a very similar style as well as a strong, robust texture. But it is not a traditional use of watercolor. This came together for me on the last day of the workshop. The crayon and concentrated watercolor do not necessarily merge “cleanly.” With a smidge of water to soften things up, the resist of the crayon can create a mosaic-like effect that is extremely exciting. It made me want to stop and observe that mingling, which is a poetry I don’t find in my own work.

The group worked through the afternoon, with Lesley providing ten minute coaching tips to each person.

Day 3

Day three started out with some demonstrations meant to bring all the points together. Lesley finished her coaching, and then it was time to head out to a sketching session at Palina’s Ponies. Originally, this was supposed to happen on day 2, but the weather pushed that back. The VERY relaxed Rusty was held for us while we sketched. The goal was supposed to be less about an accurate drawing, per se, than exploring composition possibilities. I did not do well with the assignment. I struggle with composition and wish we could have had more time with this concept.

We were allowed to tour the barns, seeing a variety of equines and lessons in progress.

Returning from our field trip, it was time for a final critique. Or at the very least, a final show-and-tell (Lesley offers suggestions, but doesn’t really “critique”.) She took each person’s work and used mats to show various areas of potential. It was really great to have a chance to see everyone’s work, including my own, which improved greatly with a frame.


Workshop paintings are difficult to judge in so many ways. First of all, you are trying to learn something new. If that doesn’t mess up your painting, in my opinion, you aren’t trying hard enough. Second, while I am a very fast-paced painter, it is impossible to ignore that the group is on a schedule. And finally, the mere fact that you are in a group, at least for me, dulls my creative edge. There are a lot of thoughts flowing around, and keeping to my own thoughts can be tough.

As such, these paintings are not stellar. There is one that could be really nice but needs some additional work. And there are a couple that could be enhanced and possibly become an interesting work.

All in all, this was a great workshop. Fun people, horses, good teaching. The travel portions seemed a bit dicey at the time, but have turned into a good story now that I’m safe at home.

Lesley reached out to the group after the workshop, thanking us and telling us she had had a good time and enjoyed herself. She also sent me a personal note, which I am going to paste below (slightly edited) so I can easily find it for reference later.

Dear Tara

I just wanted to make sure you made it home safely, and I also wanted to thank you for making this epic trip to join us in Rosenberg, Texas. It was such a long way to come, and I love having you with us. Your energy, your calmness, your work ethos was so inspiring….

I was stung (Editor’s note: This term was used by the group to discuss the feeling of being moved by a piece) by how very poetic your ibis (?) was and the masterful way you had organized the canvas, helping us feel the poetry in it. It was as if we were just sitting there enjoying watching the bird. The piece was comfortable to be with… I just wanted you to know I loved it.

When something ‘new’ pops up from time to time, I don’t touch them, I just leave them and ponder them. No need to finish everything Tara…

All the very best to you and thank you again for coming. I was inspired by your enthusiasm for all animals, and for art. XX

With warm regards


Hello Lesley,

I’m sorry for the delayed response. Between traveling and heading back to work, I swear I only get things done on the weekend. And that’s when I’m good!

Yes, I made it home safely. Not too adventurous the second time around, but a long day!

Thank you so much for your kind words about (tentative title) “I walk softly”. I need to spend some time with it now in a quiet place. I have this voice that says “that’s nice, you should fix…” and I have another voice that says “STOP! For the love of GOD, STOP!” I am learning to listen for the second voice because if I put a piece aside at that point, I usually end up with something special in the end.

It was a really good workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am coming home with a lot of inspiration. Now I just have to put in the easel time!

Thanks again for the great workshop!




This piece is just so poetic, with a sensitive, gestural line that is lost and found, lyrical in quality, poetic and uplifting. When this sort of painting cropped up for me (which they do once in a while)… they are signposts about what might be. They tend to come along to signal a new direction, should you choose to take it. If your ‘old pattern maker’ steps in, it will want to drag you back to the old and familiar. I’d let it sit, as a signpost, until more start to crop up. Then you will know what it was trying to teach you.

I love the title, which signals to me that you have found the humanity, the connection with it that anyone would love to sit with. It’s gorgeous, well-edited, and has an energy which one cannot describe. It’s Art.

My old mentor told me that the good ones tend to happen quickly, and when they do we’ve got to stop the minute it produces a pleasant feeling. In some cases, this was in the first 20 minutes for me, and when I continued.. I ended up covering up that ‘essence’, so I learned to stop because you just never know which part of the painting carries that quality.

I loved having you as part of the group. Please do keep in touch and let me know if you need help.

Stay warm! XX