Drawing Giant Horses

Luke the Clydesdale takes a Bath
A quick sketch of a big horse- I couldn’t get him all on one page!

I once read that Michelangelo loved to draw draft horses, as did Leonardo. The power and majesty of great horses matched the passionate expression of their art. This was back in the day (not all that long ago) when big draft horses were on every street, on the docks, at every farm, pulling wagons and heavy loads for which they were bred. They were the Mac truck of their time.

Nowadays it’s rare to find a genuine draft horse. Watch a beer commercial and you might see a few seconds of Clydesdales pulling a beer wagon, or you can go to a parade for a quick glimpse. There just happens to be a Clydesdale farm right here in Oklahoma. Becky and I went there the day before yesterday, and we discovered the joy of drawing giants.

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Freshly washed horse, super-sized. Photo by Becky Way

In the little town of Yukon, west of Oklahoma City, there is a huge barn (fittingly huge) housing a collection of Clydesdales, owned by Bob Funk, the founder and owner of Express Personnel. I’ve seen hobby farms before, but nothing like what Mr. Funk has going on in Yukon (there’s even a pet zebra in keeping with his black-and-white theme). We happened to visit on a day when the horses were at home. Lucky us, because as we learned, these guys go on the road more than 200 days a year for parades and publicity events. One nice thing about this Clydesdale Farm: it’s open to the public. And worth a trip if you love awesome, beautiful horses.

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Sleeping buddies- photo by Becky Way

It was freezing and windy when we visited, so we ducked inside the barn where it was warm and lit with glass and brass lamps, one for every stall. The floor was clean, the woodwork polished and the sweet aroma of hay and warm horses was as welcome to our noses as a fresh-baked pie. A dalmatian was curled up with a friendly boxer beside a pair of antique carriages. In a special bay, a Clydesdale was being bathed by Vickie, a small woman with a confident manner around enormous horses. Clouds of steam rose off his broad sides and back from the shower wand as Luke stood patiently on hooves the size of dinner plates. Becky and I got out our sketchbooks and drew.

What’s surprising in a horse so big and heavily muscled is that it is in no way slow-moving or dull. All of these Clydesdales were agile, active, intelligent, and intensely curious about us. Luke watched us drawing, his great head up, ears swiveling, neck arched, chest out. He radiated power and majesty, no question. I could easily imagine him in a full gallop. When he’d been curried nearly dry, he was led back to his stall. He paused for a moment as he came past us, dropped his head and shook himself dry like a big black dog. About five gallons of water flew off. Funny horse!

12 thoughts on “Drawing Giant Horses

  1. TR says:

    I love Leonardo’s draft horse drawings and the attention to detail of the musculature and his Sforza horse statue just leaves one speechless. There is something very powerful about those drawings. You capture it perfectly. Horse art is da bomb — I’d love to see you line the walls of the JRB with another show.

    That name Funk is new for me since moving back to OK 20+ years later. But I am hearing it all the time now. There is some great birding territory (Rose Lake) near his farm. He was also profiled in character on the first episode of Saving Grace (that Holly Hunter series about OKC). He sounds like quite the character and a refreshing break from the assortment of Hefners, Overholsers, McGees and Kerrs. Maybe one day we’ll fish and bird from Lake Funk.

  2. Caroline Crayon says:

    Hi Mot Mot

    That sketch is just breathtaking. I love the way you use hatches to suggest the planes of the horse’s body. I agree with TR: it is halfway between majestic, idealized bronze and the quivering, smelly, true body.

    I like seeing the words that you sketched on the bottom of the page. Your prose rivals in insight with the drawing. I celebrate your work!

  3. Terry says:

    Year 1951 age 10, I was walking home from school,when I saw this middle age man, sitting on the side of the road.He was scetching,an old shack and throught the run down window,was a horse looking out,long grass and aging old trees.I stood by him,whatched with such amazment.My dream was to be a painter then ,and even now.Thank You!For,looking at your most wonderful and facinating scetches,you made me go back in time(57yrs)to be exact. The Dreamer, Terry S. North Bay,On Ca.

  4. jenbray says:

    Hi, I love the way you have captured the size and strength of the horse. He is lovely. The angle you have drawn him from really shows off the power in his neck, shoulders and quarters, brings back memories from when I was in yorkshire, UK. I totally agree that just because they are so solidly built, draught horses are by no means slow and docile!

    I am putting a link to your blog on mine so my visitors can see your wonderful artwork. If you would like to list mine here, the link is
    http://originaloilpaintings.wordpress.com

  5. Dawn Beard says:

    Lovely work… And a spiffy set up to share it. Thank you for the effort 🙂
    I found this while doing some home on drafts. I am chewing on cracking out a children’s book with a rescued draft as the main character… hope I can get a smile from faces the way you gave brought one to mine with the illustration above.
    Fabulous success in all your endeavors.

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