Thursday, 9 June 2016

Horses

Well, here we are again... And once again I seem to have fallen slack in keeping this blog up to date. As discussed in my previous post, just before Christmas, I seem to have far less of a social media presence compared to 4+ years ago. So i'm going to go with the reasons from that last post! Any who, we're here now, so lets crack on.
As the title suggests, this post has an equestrian theme, but as with all my blog posts, since day one, the titles of the post come from song titles... This one? Patti Smith, obviously.
I am going to talk about my life not just within the equestrian world, but also how it has influenced, inspired and effected me through life. So make yourself a brew, settle down and continue, we could be in for a long post. 
I'm going to start at the very beginning of my equine interest. I've always had a love for animals, and at one point in my childhood I cared for 27 pets that I lived with, yes, 27. Various species, some with fur, some with gills, some with six legs, but thats a story for another day... The horses... It started at a relatively young age, when I was about 7 or 8 years old. After moving away from the northern lands of Liverpool and Warrington where I spent the first five years of my life dwelling, I grew up in a Post Office down in a quaint, rural village known as St. Briavels (pronounced Brevels, as I can hear some of you pronouncing that wrong) located in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. As a focal point of the village, we also supplied tourist information and local maps. One day, being unusually bored (it was rare, as I'd happily spend most of my days, when not in school, rambling around the countryside and woodlands we lived in and getting covered in mud) I was looking through some of the tourist information leaflets we had in the post office, all local attractions and activities to do, and saw one for a local equine rescue centre known as H.A.P.P.A (Horses and Ponies Protection Association)... I pestered my dad to take me as I didn't recall ever having been before (apparently I had, but I think he was fibbing), it was only located a few miles down the road from us. After not too much pestering, he caved, and that weekend we went along to the centre. I remember getting out of the car and walking up to the yard with my dad, where one of the grooms appeared, telling us we were more than welcome to have a look around and pet the horses and ponies, and to pop by the small cafe they had in a converted stable afterwards for a refreshment if it took our fancy. Now, most young children would be rather intimidated by an animal, that to them was like a giant, and weighs half a tonne plus, hey, I know numerous adults that are scared of them due to their size alone. Me? No. Keep in mind this was a rescue centre, some of the horses were nervous around humans due to mistreatment or just lack of human knowledge to socialise the animals properly. Some of the horses were a little worse for wear as they were still in recovery. But non of this bothered me, I saw all of them as incredible, majestic creatures and wanted to know more. Myself and my dad spent some time pottering around the centre, reading about each individual equine in the centre (each horse had a name plate and a written piece about their history on their stable door). The range of horses were vast, from little 9hh (hands high) Shetland ponies, to ex-racehorses, welsh ponies, to a lovely Clydesdale measuring 17.2hh (his name was Borodin), they all had their own stories to tell and all came from rescue situations. I went around the yard making sure I gave a fuss to each and every one. I didn't seem to care if it was a 9hh Shetland, or a 16.3hh Thoroughbred, I wanted to fuss each and every one. Some horses were friendlier than others. But I quickly learnt to read their body language when they wanted to be left alone. After wondering around the yard for a good hour, we walked back down to the cafe. Inside was a sort of mini museum and history about the charity also. Including photos of some of the rescues and before and after pictures of some of the equines. They were all shocking to see. From severely over-grown hooves, to extremely underweight, to a horse called Polo who had a metal bar stabbed into his side at a market because he wouldn't walk into the pen!  To this day, I can never understand people who can mistreat any animal, whether its a mouse or a horse or anything inbetween. The lady who greeted us at the beginning told us about some of their more severe rescues and some history about the charity and the work they do. She then went on to tell us about an Adoption Scheme they ran, where you paid £10 a year to adopt one of the horses or ponies in the scheme and you could visit them as little or often as you wished. You were also allowed to groom your chosen adoptee by arrangement and take them for walks up and down the lane. As an 8 year old who loved anything animal related, this sounded like something for me. I chose a pony called Red Mist, she was a beautiful liver chestnut Shetland mare, 11hh and lots of character. She was only a year younger than myself, and although she had a cheeky nature, she also had a heart of gold.
Red Mist losing her fluffy winter coat
Every Sunday from there on in, my dad would be kind enough to drive me down to the centre where i'd spend an hour or two pampering Red and taking her for little walks around the centre. The staff at the yard would show me how to groom a horse properly and what each brush in the grooming kit was used for. My passion and love for equines was growing rapidly. I'd spend ages pampering Red, getting her beautiful coat into a show quality sheen, only to release her into the field at the end to have her roll in the muddiest patch possible... But that was her cheeky nature. The little Shetland taught me a lot in a short space of time, not only about horses, but also the full respect these animals deserve, and before I knew it, the staff would let me help out grooming other horses and doing various tasks around the yard. I absolutely loved it. We were invited to attend the centres annual summer open day they'd hold each year, where they not only raised awareness of horse care and the charity, but also put on various equine displays in their outdoor arena. We attended, and were enjoying the occassion. Next thing I know, the manager of the yard asks me if I wanted to help out with some of their displays, leading some of the horses and ponies around the arena, I happily obliged. We stayed afterwards and watched a showjumping display... Watching the rider working with the horse to get them both gracefully and successfully around the course of jumps... This was the point my dad had dreaded, I turned to him and said those dangerous words "I want to learn to do that!". From that day on, I pestered to learn to ride. Now, as most of you are aware, horses are not cheap, in any way, shape or form. Whether it's keeping them, competing them or wanting riding lessons. It's definitely not a cheap hobby by any means. From the cost of lessons, to the cost of the riding gear and essentials needed, so it was understandable my father was hesitant. After continuing to visit H.A.P.P.A, and continuing to pester, it was soon a few days before my 9th birthday. My dad gave me the surprise of a riding lesson! I was more than ecstatic, with a mixture of anticipation, excitement and nerves, the day came where my dad drove me down to the local riding school.
We arrived at Severnvale Equestrian Centre, just outside of Chepstow, one typically miserable British evening (my birthday is at the beginning of February, we were lucky there was no snow), we were greeted by my instructor, Juliet, who fixed me up with a riding hat. She introduced me to my noble steed, a lovely 13.3hh chestnut gelding with four white socks and a blaze down his face named Solo.She helped me get on, adjusted my stirrups and took me up to the outdoor school. This wasn't my first ever riding experience, I'd done so before on a family holiday in France at the tender age of four. But I can't say I remember the experience, apart from a few photographs that are possibly lurking in my dads loft as evidence. This time, I was a little older, and I remember it like it happened yesterday. Again, I have photos from this day, and again, they're highly likely to be gathering dust in a loft, I should retrieve them sometime soon. Juliet put me on a lunge line, for the non-equestrian, a long tether attached to the horses bridle one end, and she holds the other end but with a 10 foot gap between myself and the instructor, this way I could get a feel for riding without feeling I was just being towed along by a human, yet she still had control of the horse if I had done something wrong. We started off like every beginner, with the basics. What the reins are for, how your body should be positioned, how to steer, and how to get the horse to halt and walk forward. We moved on to trot. At first I found this a little concerning, bopping around all over the horses back and finding it difficult to contain control of my steering. But after a few circuits, I soon picked it up and was able to balance in a sitting trot, followed by a rising trot and reading the rhythm of the horse. Juliet told me I seemed to have a natural rhythm and position for horse riding and I had done excellent for someone with near enough zero riding experience. My lesson seemed to be over in a flash. I didn't want it to end! But alas, my dad dragged me home. 
From that evening on, all I done was pester for another lesson. My dad was hesitant, as previously discussed, it's not a cheap hobby. I'd still go along to H.A.P.P.A on a weekly basis to visit and pamper Red and the other horses. Luckily though, my mum had a friend, Hilda, who lived in Blaenavon, situated south of the Brecon Beacons, approximately 30 miles away from St. Briavels (when you live in the countryside, 30 miles is nothing, ha ha), she owned horses and competed regularly in showjumping competitions across South Wales and South West England. She was kind enough to invite me to go and ride her daughters horse. Her daughter had gone off to University and because of such, her horse didn't get much exercise when he needed it. My mum drove me up to Blaenavon, where Hilda's home and stables where sittuated on the hills above the Big Pit (one of the largest coal mining pits in Wales). Hilda introduced me to her daughters horse, a 14.2hh dark bay thoroughbred called Sam (he was a thoroughbred that never grew, usually they range between 15.2 - 17hh). He was lovely with big doughy eyes and a fluffy mane. She tacked him up, and her husband, Terry, took me across the road to the field for a lesson. Sam was a calm natured horse, especially for a thoroughbred. Again he had me attached to a lunge line to begin with, after all, this was only my second ever lesson. We practiced my trotting, and before long, I was off the lunge line and controlling Sam completely by myself. It felt amazing to have control of such a large animal. We worked together and Sam helped me gain more confidence, that was until he slipped on the grass, went off into canter to get his balance back, I lost my balance and ended up falling off into the mud. Terry soon got me back in the saddle, I was a little shook up, but I knew Sam didn't mean to throw me off. We continued with the lesson and I gained better control of my steering. After that day, Hilda invited me to visit whenever I liked, even if I wanted to stay for a weekend where I could look after and ride Sam as if he were my own. From that weekend on, I would spend pretty much every weekend staying in Blaenavon. Hilda taught me more about horse care, from mucking out, to feeding, and she was kind enough to take me out on hacks around the valley too. She was even generous enough to teach my mum the basics of how to ride on her other horse, Andy. We'd go around the mountains and moors on the horses taking in the fresh air and scenery. During the summer, Hilda competed at a show held at Chepstow racecourse, she invited me along to be her groom for the day. It was a wonderful day, dry, and I also tried my first Ostrich burger there (delicious by the way). I watched Hilda blitz around the showjumping courses both on Sam and Andy. She won her class on Andy, and got a third with Sam. This day made me want to better my riding more, get to a level of being able to compete and I ended up completely immersing myself into the equestrian world.
Towards the end of the summer, my dad was kind enough to allow me to have official riding lessons on a weekly basis at Severnvale. Each Sunday, we'd visit HAPPA, followed by a trip to Severnvale for my riding lesson. Bless my dad for putting up with this every week, i'm forever grateful! Juliet remained my instructor, I gradually progressed, and before I knew it, I was able to walk, trot and canter with ease. I rode a variety of horses at the school. But I had two clear favourites. One was a 16.2hh bay Thoroughbred gelding named Ranjit, a large horse for someone of my age and size, but a gentle giant non the less, and a sweet 15.2hh mixed breed dun mare named Suzie. One day, my dad dropped me off at the riding school, then went to go and pick up my brother from a few miles down the road whilst I had my lesson. My lesson finished, I put Ranjit back in his stable, untacked him, gave him a pat and realised my dad still hadn't returned. I went up to the office in the yard, where the receptionist had just got off the phone to my dad, telling me the car had broken down, but he'd pick me up as soon as possible. To kill the time, I started helping the grooms with the yard work. Mucking out, turning some of the horses out to the field, sweeping the yard. I had just finished sweeping the yard when my dad showed up. Carol, the yard manager, was there also, my dad apologised, but she turned around to say I had been excellent, she hadn't seen the yard so tidy for a long time, and that if I wished, I was more than welcome to come and help out on the weekends in exchange for a free riding lesson per day I worked. I jumped at the chance, and of course, my dad didn't have any hesitation. After all, he would no longer have to pay for my addiction. From there on in, I would be at the yard from 7:30am until 6pm every weekend. 
Christmas arrived, and my main gift that year was riding gear, helmet, boots, jodhpurs. It was official, I had become an equestrian! Over the next year or so, I continued working at Severnvale, learning more and more each week about stable management and gaining more experience in the saddle. I'd started learning to jump. At first, jumping terrified me, but with the help of Suzie and Ranjit, my confidence grew, and before I knew it, I was able to do a course of small jumps with ease. I've had numerous falls over the years. Every time i'd dust myself off, wipe away the tears and get back on (more so, thanks to Juliet who would make me get back on). The summer soon arrived once more, and Severnvale had their annual summer show. Juliet encouraged me to enter one of the smaller showjumping classes, not only to gain confidence in jumping various courses, but also to gain more experience. I entered one of the lower classes using Suzie as my steed. I looked fairly smart, with a little blazer jacket to look the part. Even though the jumps were small, I was pleased myself and Suzie got placed second out of 16 entries! I also finished the day by entering some gymkhana games, gaining more rosettes of numerous placings, and falling off an appaloosa pony named Domino in the barrel racing. It was a brilliant day, and the buzz I got out of competing was incredible. I didn't care if I won or not, all I cared about was completing the task and not ending up on the floor (I nearly succeeded on the latter, stupid barrels). 
Myself and Suzie on our first Showjumping competition where we came second place.
Towards the end of the summer, whilst the evenings were still light, Juliet would take our group lesson down to the cross country course that Severnvale contained. Now, if you don't know the difference between show jumps and cross country jumps, the main difference is show jumps fall down when knocked, cross country jumps don't. They tend to be solid, and made to represent natural objects and obstacles like logs, hedges, ditches and water. As we had all been competent enough to complete a course of small showjumps, she knew we could do small cross country jumps also. After all, Severnvale is not only a riding school, but an Eventing yard, producing Eventing horses up to 3* International level. The first time we went out onto the cross country field, everyone was nervous. Juliet took us down to a jump called the House Jump. It was basically a natural wood cross pole (even though this could be adjusted in both shape and height) with a roof over the jump, so you and the horse jump between the poles and the roof. It wasn't intimidating, as it seemed like a showjump but with a roof above. Safe to say we all went over it with no problems at all. Then Juliet progressed us to the water jump. The water jump had a variety of routes through it, from the novice, to the more advanced. We all trotted the horses through the water to not only get used to the different ground underneath, but also to learn how to encourage the horse to actually go into the water. After all, the horse doesn't know how deep it is, many occassions I have witnessed riders going for an unwanted swim after not riding towards the water with confidence (have you ever watched Badminton Horse Trials with anticipation someones comes off in the lake? No? You should!). I am however happy, and thankful, to report i've never taken that swim. We finished the lesson all being able to canter through and up out the step at the other side of the water. Whenever it was dry enough, Juliet would take us to practice cross country, getting us to do more and more precarious jumps as we gained more experience and confidence. From logs on top of mounds, to ditches and drops. My equestrian life was going pretty good, I was happy working at the yard, gaining more knowledge and progressing well on my riding skills. By now I was 12, I ended up doing Pony Camp that summer, four days camping at the yard, fun, games and horses. We were introduced to the game of Horse Ball. I can see the 'WTF?' look on your face as you read this so allow me to explain... Five riders to a team, a football with straps attached around it. The idea of the game is to pass it between three of your team members before you can score a goal in a large basketball style hoop either end of the arena. You can tackle your opponents for the ball. If the ball drops on the ground, you must reach down from the horses back to get it, you can not dismount! It's pretty much netball, combined with rugby on horseback. It's fun, it's fast, it's on the dangerous side... I loved it! The last day of Pony Camp consisted of a one day event (dressage, showjumping and cross country), again I came out second. 
My equestrian life was going well until one day when we had a cross country lesson. Suzie was being ridden by another girl, one with less experience, therefor Suzie was more appropriate for her. Ranjit was on stable rest after a ligament injury. And all the other usual horses I would ride regularly were being used by other clients. I was on Rosie, a huge, chunky 16.3hh dappled grey Irish Draught mare. I'd ridden her once before in the indoor arena. She was a strong horse, sometimes unpredictable and could be spooky. But this time we were out in the fields, doing cross country. I didn't have the walls of the arena to save me. I remained calm, and we completed some of the jumps fine. We came to the water jump, full on canter, as we exited the water, a rabbit shot out from behind a log next to the step directly in front of Rosie's path. Safe to say she freaked out, and bolted up the field with me on her back. I tried to pull her up but she was too strong and I couldn't stop her. I managed to gain control by the time we'd reached the gate. We turned around and started to trot down to the bottom of the field to join the others. Suddenly, she bolted again and threw me forward, I lost my balance and fell off. Landing on my feet. You may thing 'Huzzah! You landed on your feet!', but it was the worst thing ever. All the pressure had been forced into my knee and I twisted it upon landing. I was in agony, and was shaken by Rosie's bolting and her sheer strength. I limped back to the yard and phoned my dad to pick me up. For the next week I could barely put weight on my right leg, on the plus side I got out of PE lessons in school, after all, I hated field running. A visit to the doctor confirmed I had just badly twisted my knee and needed to rest it for a few weeks. I took a week off riding but soon enough I missed the horses and returned to the yard the following week. My knee was still sore, but I could bare weight on it. As long as I didn't do any heavy duty work, and took a sit down every so often, I was able to continue to work on the yard with the help of paracetamol. I didn't ride the first week back. My knee was still too sore to keep my leg bent in the saddle and stirrup. But the following week I felt ok to ride again. I was on Drummond, a rather handsome black 16.2hh Hanovarian cross, he was known as Mister Nasty of the yard, purely because he'd try and take your face off if you approached his stable. But outside of the stable, he was a gent. I got on, but as soon as I did I was filled with nerves. We were riding in the indoor arena, I knew Drummond was a great horse, yet all my confidence had gone. I didn't want to jump as I was filled with dread that the horse may bolt and i'd lose control again. It was like starting back at square one. It took a number of months and a lot of encouragement from Juliet to gain my confidence again. During this time, she also took time to show me Natural Horsemanship, or Horse Whispering if you'd prefer. She has a diploma in the subject, and not only did I find this fascinating, but it also helped me understand how a horse thinks. Understanding the psychological aspects of a horse, how natural aids and not artificial ones (whips, spurs etc) can be used to benefit the horse and using the knowledge to work with them better. That Christmas, we took our annual yard trip to London to watch the Olympia International Horse Show. We would watch some of the top showjumpers competing, the Whittakers, Peter Charles, Nick Skelton, Geoff Billington... It reminded me of how I wanted to learn to ride in the first place, and upon return from the event, I managed to get my head into gear and 'man up'.
By the time I was 15, I was still in the saddle and in full swing. I still worked at the yard every weekend and throughout the school holidays, getting to a point where I was in charge of 15 - 20 horses on my own every weekend. Along with my free lessons, I was getting paid a small wage on top. Id also been given two horses to work with. One belonged to the riding school, she was called Kim, a 15hh bay welsh mare. She was only 5 years old and although sweet natured, needed a lot of schooling as she was very green (uneducated), the second horse was on the yard, but belonged to a lady who kept her there, the horse was called Poppy, she was a stunning 16.2hh bright chestnut Swedish warmblood mare. Her owner wouldn't allow anyone to compete on her. But after a conversation with this lady one day, she agreed, if I took the time to school her in showjumping properly then I could compete her. So I took up the challenge. Poppy was a great horse, a little inexperienced, but with hard work and perseverance, she was jumping courses with ease. I progressed through my jumping and was jumping much larger and more complicated jumps and courses, both in showjumping and cross country. I was competing at every chance possible, in both showjumping and eventing. I never enjoyed Dressage, both competing in it and observing, and would only do a dressage test as part of a One Day Event. I even began to win competitions, taking home prize money and 1st place rosettes. Pony Camp came around again. And on the final day on the One Day Event, I came second on Titch, a 16hh bay Thoroughbred ex-racehorse. We lost out first place by 0.26 seconds! What a rip! 
Sadly, this was to be my last competition.
A few weeks after Pony Camp, we moved house, and although we still remained in the Wye Valley, it was too far for my dad to be driving me to the stables at 7am. And being a rural location, the public transport was pretty much non-existant. With a heavy heart, I left Severnvale, along with all the friends, both human and equine, that i'd made.Every now and then I still had an equestrian trip. My mums partner had shares in racehorses, so i'd visit the racing yard fairly often. I even got a chance to ride one of the horses, but it didn't work out too well. I discovered I was not made to be a racing jockey. I got on with life, being a teenager, I was already into my rock and punk music and continued to discover more of the music world, going to gigs and buying album after album. At this time, I was also drawing a lot more. Throughout my childhood I'd spend much time drawing, whether it was horses or other animals. I even won my first art competition at the age of 7, when I drew a portrait of Nelson Mandela meeting the Queen. Kind of a heavy subject for a seven year old to draw, but we'd be discussing the occasion in a school project at the time. 
Throughout my later teens, my equestrian life became almost a distant memory. I was working in a local pub and became more involved with my punk, my horror and my art. So much so, I left the picturesque world of St. Briavels and the Forest of Dean behind and ended up studying art at Newport University in South Wales. Eventually I ended back up in the North West, Warrington. I was looking for work doing whatever, in the mean time I focused more and more on my art work. However, even though my equestrian life was in the past, it hadn't seemed to have abandoned me completely. During the beginning of my 'art life' (as we'll call it), I painted numerous pieces, inspired by the style of traditional western tattoo art. I created numerous images, discovering it was a very versatile style. One of the first main pieces I created was a demonic looking horse, entitled My Little Evil Pony.
 My Little Evil Pony - Painted 2009
Excuse the crude painting... I was still exploring this style of art, as well as the acrylic medium I was using. But around the same time of creating this piece, I had an urge to return to the equestrian world. At the time, I was 21 and I was residing with my Dad in Warrington. I found a riding school a few miles away and booked a lesson. The lesson was a one on one private lesson, I was on a horse (who's name I don't remember) but he was a 16hh black cob type. A slow and steady fella, not what I was used to, but probably for the best considering I had been out of the saddle for five or six years. We went out into the field, and it was like learning to ride a bike... You don't really forget. The instructor put me through our paces, first with flat work, followed by some jumps situated in the field, including a water jump, I aced it and the instructor said she'd place me in an appropriate group lesson the following week. Sure enough, a week later I turned up for my lesson. I was on the same horse again, for whatever reason. I started my lesson, I had a different instructor from the previous week and I noticed all the other members of the group were children, no older than 10 years old. I felt out of place for sure. I found the instructor patronising, and upon development of the lesson, discovered these children were only just learning to canter. Not only did I find it frustrating, but I didn't feel comfortable either. I spoke to the instructor after the lesson, where she'd clearly seen I was able to canter and more, only to have her tell me this was the lesson the previous instructor said I was suitable for. After not getting very far in convincing the instructor I was better than that, I left, and didn't return. 
I continued to focus on my art, eventually setting up an online store, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. Over the next few years, my life was pretty much art, I was able to make a profit and had quite a lot of success selling work mainly to the alternative USA market. My work was published on numerous sites, blogs, zines and magazines across the world. It was enjoyable, and as with the equestrian work, I found myself just as dedicated. Over those few years, not only did I progress with getting my work seen across the globe (mainly thanks to the advancement of technology and social media) but my painting quality improved and the horses would creep back every now and again. 
I had been on holiday back in 2008 to Italy. We visited various towns and cities across Tuscany, including Rome and Florence. Whilst in Florence, there was a vintage fair in the square. As a fan of vintage and Victoriana, I took plenty of photos. There was a beautiful, fully working Victorian carousel in the centre of the square, with the most glorious carousel horses in a range of colours and flair. A few years later, whilst rummaging for a reference photo I'd stored on my computer, I came across the photos from my time in Italy, including the pictures of the glorious carousel. It prompted me to paint the next piece, not only was it an interesting subject to myself, but the colours were bold and it was equine related. 
Carousel Horse - Acrylic on Bockingford psper 2010
The art continued, but towards the end of 2011 the work and demand were starting to dwindle. I needed to get a 'proper' job and to leave Warrington. 
Equus Serpens - Acrylic on Bockingford paper 2011
I found a job working in fashion retail. It was ok, not a dream job, but it paid the bills and enabled me to move out. Just after Christmas 2011 I ended up in Manchester, purely because it was a lot closer to work and I was able to commute much easier. The retail job lasted around six months, when I quit due to the idiot of a manager who would treat me differently because I was more 'alternative' with tattoos down my arms and metal in my face. It was for the best that I left. I wasn't happy working for the company and knew any skills I did hold were going to waste. It wasn't long before I found a new job, it was still within the retail sector but with a twist. I ended up working at Hard Rock Cafe, where I still am today. Again, it's not a dream job, but it allowed me to be me. Skip forward a few years, I was still painting and drawing, but it was clearly getting less and less. This was mainly due to the time my job consumed (and still does to this day). Over the last few years, I glimpsed back at my equine career I once had. I missed being around horses. The only equine encounters i'd had were seeing the odd police horse every now and then around Manchester. In the August I went to visit my brother in the Isle of Man. I've been going to this island all my life, since I was a toddler. I decided to visit parts of the island I hadn't for years. I remembered they had a horse sanctuary on the island, predominantly for the retired tram horses who pull the passenger trams along the promenade. It was a free activity, so I popped along. It gave me a yearning to be around horses once more.
At the Home for Horses Rest, Isle of Man August 2015
 Late last year, I had a yearning to get back in the saddle. I was off work one day in December, the weather was miserable and cold, so I decided upon a sofa day in front of the television. Flicking through the channels, I came across the coverage for Olympia International Horse Show in London. I hadn't really been following the showjumping world for a number of years and was a little out of touch with the latest top level riders and rules, but non the less, I settled down with a brew and watched away. I was surprised to see that a lot of my equestrian heroes were still competing, including the Whittakers. The excitement of the sport was still there, and once again, it reminded me of why I fell in love with these creatures to begin with. Watching the power and grace these animals hold, I realised I needed to get back into the saddle as soon as possible. After a quick Google search, I discovered a yard, John Shaw Equestrian Centre, based in Urmston, I was able to get to it easily using public transport direct from my house, and I could also just about afford the passion that equines cost. Over Christmas I ended up getting new riding gear, I hadn't even booked a lesson, but felt it would force me to get back in the saddle as not to waste the money for the equipment needed. Sure enough, I phoned up the riding school where I was recommended to try the 'Adults returning to riding' class they held at weekends. I booked in for the following week and turned up at the yard on a rather damp January Sunday. I had a mixture of nerves and excitement. I was introduced to my steed, Teddy, a cute black 14.2hh cob type. He was forward going, but lovely. Throughout the lesson, we done the basic three paces and popped a jump at the end if we wished to. Lyndsey, my instructor, told me I was far too good to be in the class and advised I moved up to the more intermediate level the following week. For the next few weeks I remained in the intermediate class, gaining confidence and trying to remember how to do all the aspects of riding correctly. I rode a variety of horses, and enjoyed my lessons. Before I knew it Lyndsey said I would be suitable for a higher level class again, where the work is based around jumping practices. This appealed to me greatly. I moved classes once more, and had to change instructors in order to progress. From mid-February onwards, i've been riding on a weekly basis, getting back into the swing of the equestrian world, and determined to do some small, in-yard, competitions before the year is out. In the past six months, i've made new friends, both human and equine, as well as taken part in events such as a 13 mile trek to Dunham Massey and back.
Myself and Samson at the Dunham Massey ride.
I've grown to find favorite horses, including a seven year old 16.2hh Anglo-Arab, Sparky, and my latest buddy, Bruno, a rather cheeky 15hh brown cob mix, who, last week, thought it'd be fun to take me down to the far end of the field to play with bunnies! I'm progressing through my showjumping, and I know before long I'll be back to where the 15 year old me left off. I hope to return to the equestrian world in a more full-on basis. For the long days and the hard work involved with these creatures, what you get in return is priceless. It's incredible how an animal, somewhat seen as intimidating, dangerous and untrustworthy by a large number of people, has infected me with a passion that has never left. I urge anyone to take up horse riding, not only does it give you a sense of freedom and self power, but it's incredible exercise and will give you a passion that lasts a life time. Working in harmony and building a partnership with these graceful and magnificent animals. Hopefully sooner, rather than later, i'll be back at a yard, shoveling poop and picking hooves.
If you've managed to make it this far, well done. And thank you! Please be sure to check out the links below for more information on some of the places mentioned in this post.
The toublesome, but lovable, Bruno. June 2016




Tuesday, 8 December 2015

I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement

It's been a hell of a long time since I posted anything on this thing. Nearly two years in fact... That isn't good. A lot has gone on in those past two years in the life of Vicki Death. I feel I seem to have neglected a lot of the social media aspects of my art, as well as, sadly, the art itself. By no means have I or am I going to give up art. For those who don't know, I have a full time job on top of doing the art stuff that I do. It's a job that is within the service industry, it's time consuming, can be long days/hours where you're lucky to sit down for 10 mins out of 10 hours. But hey, it is a fun place to work, I've had worse jobs and it pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head. Sadly, on the other side of the coin, it eats into a lot of art time... I mean a HELL of a lot of art time. You do a long ass shift, come home and all you want to do is crawl into bed and never see another human being for the rest of your life. Any hope of returning home, breaking out a sketch pad and pencil seems to diminish. Completely.
The point of this post is not to whine, or to just post a piece because I haven't done so in a long time. But more to let you guys know, that even though I may not be creating on a daily basis, I still like to crack out the paint brushes now and again. So, without further a do, we're going to have a look back on those pieces I have given my spare time and devotion to throughout 2015. So here goes:

BatGirl
This lady was inspired by an old Vintage early 20th century Halloween greeting card. I obviously made her my own, she was a blast to do. I felt the need to keep that classic look about her, but this works well with a classic pin-up look anyway. You can find her for sale HERE at my store!

If In Doubt, Freak 'Em Out!
This one is an ode to all Drag Queens out there, more so, one of my favorite drag queens there is. Sharon Needles. Winner of Ru Paul's Drag Race season 4, Sharon is one spooktacular ghoul. Doing the most deadly and desirable Drag there is. I couldn't not paint this punk rock, horror loving fiend! You can find this original painting of Sharon HERE! Please excuse the poor image, far too big to fit into my scanner, the black sheen is difficult to lose in the photo. 

Gir' Off Me Land
This fun little piece was completely random. Rummaging through some old sketch pads, I came across the rough stuff of this. He was fun and quick to do. Weirdly, since I've done this piece and posted it on my shop/facebook/twitter etc, I seem to have had numerous people presume I'm vegan, or at least vegetarian. Some seem to think of this as a message of vegan support. However, I eat meat, I'll happily gnaw on a steak. It's just a cow as a farmer for some ironic fun. Don't read too much into it. Have some bacon. And pick up the cow HERE


We're A Happy Family
For those of you who have been living under a rock this entire time and aren't aware, I love the Ramones... One of my fave bands of all time. This quartet piece came about not just through my love of their music, but I also had four days in a row off work (super rare occasion) and felt I should use the time wisely to dedicate myself to a piece of awesome proportion. I want to think I succeeded, it took two and a half of those four days to get the piece done. I remember drawing and re-drawing and then re-drawing some more to get these portraits to turn out how I wanted them. But, if I have another four days off in a row, i'd happily do it all over again. Here I present to you Johnny, Joey, Tommy and Dee Dee in beautiful monotone glory. And yes, you can purchase the original set HERE

Mental Mind Fuck
I started the year with this portrait, I hadn't done any portraits in this style since the Adam Ant piece I had completed nearly two years prior. But I thought Tim Curry deserved this treatment (maybe not, I am very much possibly tooting my own trumpet here). I have loved the Rocky Horror Picture Show for many years, and Tim Curry's character, Dr. Frank N Furter, is by far my favourite character in the show, He's eccentric, outlandish, has better legs than me and can walk in heels without killing himself. It was a blast to do this piece. I recall staying up until 5am working on this on the first night. I'll put it in the top 5 pieces I have ever created, you can disagree if you like. Keeping the colours monotone and pastel with a blast of red... The contrasts were super fun to create. I need to do more portraits along this style. Sadly this dude has sold, but I know he's in a loving home where he can continue to create more mayhem. 

Halloween Cat In Pumpkin
This was just a fun, quick little piece I whipped up in the run-up to Halloween. As you know, Death loves cats, and Death loves Halloween, combining the two together is like the truest romance in history... Or some shit like that anyway. Inspired by vintage Halloween art (I believe from a greeting card, but possibly advertising?) this lil' kitty in a pumpkin was hand painted on hand made cotton rag paper, you can pick it up HERE.

Vampira
Before Elvira, there was Vampira. This spooky 50's pin-up presenter is truly to die for. This again is hand painted on Cotton Rag paper. This year was the first time i'd used this type of paper. Whilst lurking the art shop, I came upon it and ended up purchasing a small pack to try out. The paper is hand made and has a rough quality to it. Although it can be challenging to line on, over all it's great paper to work with. And the rough edge adds a nice touch too. Nothing in this world should be clean cut. In my opinion anyway. You can purchase this ghoulish delight right HERE.

Gamorrean Guard & Princess Leia
Star Wars. That is all. Get the Gamorrean Guard HERE And Princess Leia HERE.

From Beyond Martian
Ack ack ack! Honestly, this martian was intended to resemble the ones from Mars Attack! But, ya know, maybe some subconscious action was in play? I love painting ray guns, so felt I needed a reasonable excuse to paint one, hence creating a martian. He was a blast to do. Sadly, he won't be able to join your planet as he went off to invade someone else's home long ago. But enjoy non the less.

The Worm
'Ello! Spending a few days off watching movies (I do this where possible), it just so happened that Labyrinth was one of those movies. The Worm, being a notorious tea lover, came across as a blast to want to paint. I wasn't wrong. For those hoping i'd have painted Jareth, i'm sure sooner or later i'll have an obscure urge to paint Bowie with a bulge. Again, this worm has sold... Like I always say, you snooze, you lose. 

3D Movie Mogwai
Having a day with zero inspiration, I turned to Facebook where I asked my fellow fiends what they'd like to see me create. Gremlins was one of those suggestions. I chose the 3D movie Mogwai, just because he seemed far more fun to paint than cutesy Gizmo... Nothing against Gizmo by the way. He's gone to a new home, with strict instructions not to feed him after midnight nor take him anywhere near water. 

BOO!
Again, because Death loves Halloween, and had an hour to kill. This lil' ghost was formed. He's cute, he's simple, and he's available right HERE

Bat
Another piece created on the cotton rag paper. Because we all know bats are awesome creatures. So much so, I even get the pleasure of watching them fly around my garden on a daily basis (true story). This guy was fun to make. With his little pig looking nose and some gnarly fangs, he's everything you could want in a bat. Get him HERE before he flies away.

That's it folks. As you see, I haven't been completely slacking on the art front this year. I feel I have also missed one or two pieces, but hey ho. Lets hope I can get more work done in the near future. My aim for next year is to release some enamel pins and maybe even some t-shirts. But we'll see how the funds go for that. See you at the graveyard! Stay Dead!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Shout At The Devil!

Greetings my ghastly fiends! I am aware it has been some time since Miss Death has updated this thing... Yes, for shame on her. Anyway, enough of the third person narrative. Lets get down and dirty and to the point. 
I haven't written a blog for some time, I keep forgetting about this thing. But, I do have a few hours to kill so felt I should put in some effort. I won't bore you with what's been going on in my life over the past few months. But this blog is a post that reflects some of the works I have been creating over the past few months.  So I guess it will involve me explaining some events in my life since my last post... Schmucks! Here it goes:
OK, so we roll back to October. That beautiful month that myself, and i'm sure many of my fiendish followers adore (if you don't, then why the hell are you following me, huh?!). Yes, the month that brings us golden leaves, pumpkin pie and all things spooky and awesome. The best holiday of the year: Halloween! 
For Halloween last year (2012), myself and some of my buddies made a trip up to the old creepy city of Edinburgh... Yes, that freezing cold place in Bonnie Scotland. The purpose of the trip was for an epic Halloween night of awesomeness. This Halloween night of awesomeness was to see the one, the only Alice Cooper!!! Apart from possibly giving me one of the best Halloween nights that I've ever witnessed, he also inspired me on the art front. How? I hear you cry (maybe not). Some of my older, more long term followers may remember the days when I used to draw a hell of a lot of photo-realistic style portraits. Whether it be of musicians, movie monsters or well, that was it really. If you follow me on the likes of Facebook and Twitter then you may have noticed that until October it had been a long time since i'd done any form of portrait work. When I say 'long time', I mean over a year! (See HERE and you'll get what I mean) Mr. Cooper however inspired me to get back into portrait mode and draw faces again! Huzzah! So here I am again to show you some work. First off i'll start with the Alice Cooper piece. Makes sense considering it's what I've been yabbering on about for the past however many minutes. 
This piece was challenging for me. Apart from not drawing anything photo-realistic in over a year, I also had pretty much forgotten how to draw full stop. It was like when you're learning to ride a bike and your dad thinks it's fun to take off the stabilisers... At first you're off to a really shakey start, crashing into every obstacle  But by the end of the day you're pretty much there and running smoothly along. It also reminded me of how much I hate drawing hair. I need to draw more bald people! Why the hell do all the super awesome folk have so much hair? Curses! But below is the result of the Alice Cooper portrait. Completed in   November 2012, using graphite on A4 cartridge paper. 
Click on the image for a larger, more detailed view. 
From this moment on, I was back in the swing of art, more so, portraits. My next one was a long time coming. Why the hell I didn't draw this face sooner, who knows? As one of my 'idols' and inspirations in life, Joe Strummer was the next to be recreated under the sharp point of Death's pencil. Let me explain some more... You may notice that in this portrait I have zombified him. Not a bad thing really. But that wasn't originally the plan. I sketched him up with the 'living' Joe in mind, but alas, I came across a bump in the road, messed his eye up/got frustrated because I couldn't get his pupil quite right so ended up zombifying him to make it a little easier on my impatient self. I think it turned out for the best. Joe Strummer + Zombie = FUCK YEAH! But i'll let you be the judge. I should really get some scans instead of crappy camera pics, but meh, you know.
After this I decided on something a bit different, and a sort of experiment. I realised I'd never done any coloured photo-realistic portraits. Ok, that's a lie. I have. But usually it's a piece created on canvas using acrylic. Completely different materials to pencil and paper. So this was my challenge  Create a piece that was colour and was created in pencil. For this, the subject chosen was David Bowie, circa Aladdin Sane era (yes, those infamous 'lightning bolt' images). Perfect for a part black/shade, part colour portrait. The results are what you see below. Excuse the shady picture. As previously explained, i'm too lazy to scan so resort to the camera on my phone. But all in all, it came out better than expected. So all is well. Although I still want to change some shit on it!
Finally, i'm going to 'finish' this post with a brief tuition. As I get asked quite a lot 'How do you draw like that?/How do you create your portraits?', well here is your answer. Using my latest portrait piece of the dashingly beautiful Nikki Sixx (purely because it's the only one I seem to have progression photos of all stages from for unknown reasons) I shall show you/try to explain such. Hopefully it'll give you fiends an insight and stop asking me the same questions where I wish to record the answer on a dictaphone to prevent me having to repeat myself over and over (wishful thinking perhaps?). Ready? No? Well tough tits... I'm continuing non the less.

Step One: I start off by sketching out the basic lines. Including guide lines of various shadows/shading, small details and other basics, ie: hair, eyes, clothing etc. Note, these are not necessarily the final lines, just GUIDE ones to give myself a starting point and map out what goes where and basic shapes. Most of these lines and shapes tend to change or vanish come the final image.
Step Two: Once the basic lines are drawn, it's time to decide where you start on the actual shading and forming of the piece. My usual and most chosen part is the face, in particular, the eyes (after all, they are the window to the soul, or some shit like that anyway). Then I gradually expand and work outwards from the chosen part. Tip though: Choose a part of the drawing that's on the opposite side or away from the hand you hold your pencil in... This way you don't keep smudging stuff.
Step Three: Hair! One thing I dread. And again, I choose someone with a shit tonne of it! CURSES! As you can see in the image below, I tend to draw each hair individually. I feel it gives the more realistic look than just doing block shading. Something I have learnt over the years. Tedious? Yes! Worth it? Definitely!
 Step Four: After hours of drawing hair, and a bolt of hand cramp, we have a completed 80's mop that is a thing of beauty! Ok, I realise this isn't really a 'step' as such, but shut up!
Step Five: Making a start on the clothing/costume/body. This is the stage where I realised the reference image had far more detail than first imagined. But as I had spent an age battling with 80's hair metal do's, I felt i'd come too far to quit! I'm right handed, so as you can see, I worked from left to right (as previously discussed) to prevent smudging the image. I tend to do the darker parts first and then blend out with the shading. On the more finer detail parts, i'll do the fine lines before the shading (in most cases anyway). I use graphite sticks and woodless pencils for these images. They blend awesomely and you can gain brilliant textures and smooth blends with them. 8B and 9B tends to be my choice for the 'black' parts of the image, then a 4B is the most common I use for the lighter shadings. The mechanical pencil is used for finer detail, the lead in it is again 4B, I find them brilliant for those teeny tiny details that can suck with your standard pencil or graphite sticks. 
Step Six (or should that be Sixx?): Continuing on with the detail, I discover drawing shiny metal looking objects sucks, as does leather... But at the end of the day, it's practice. And with most things, practice is good. 
Step Seven: The final step!!!! Once I've finished on the shading, I go over some of the darker parts again, as with the blending. Using an eraser, I create the highlights and white parts. Finish any small details I may have first missed or think need to be added to slightly, create some sort of basic background (as it's a detailed piece, a simple background is best to make the image 'pop') then once one is happy, I fix the piece to prevent any further smudging. Walah! We have one Nikki Sixx! 
Possibly one of my favorite portrait pieces to date. He came out far better than first thought, plus I learnt how to create metal and leather shading a bit better. Although, I do have no plans to draw so much hair in the near future!
If any of you fiends have any questions you want to ask me, then feel free. I'll try and answer them as best as my rotting brain can manage. In the mean time, stay dead! Until I blog again, back to my crypt I must go!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Return of the Living Dead

Hey fiends! Long time no speak. For shame on me. Apologies for not updating this sooner if there so happens to be any hardcore followers of this blog out there! (Possible wishful thinking).
But to the point. And update on what's been happening recently in the world of Death. I sadly haven't been doing a great deal of art recently due to work consuming a majority of my life (have to pay the rent and all that jazz). But I am trying to get back to it in whatever spare time I have. Recently I was kindly been invited to hang out at Rain City Tattoo in Manchester to try and get my art mojo back! (Greatly appreciated by the way Dan :)). So, I headed down there last week, and started a new piece. I kept it simple by doing an old school inspired pirate chick on a 15" x 11" scale. Trying to remember how to paint properly again did seem like a challenge at first (yes, really), but after hanging out for a few hours, watching other artists work, and getting somewhat inspired again, it made me more determined to get back into the art thing! Perhaps it's what i've been after? Somewhere other than my crypt to paint where I can hang out with people who create and get inspired from them? Swap ideas and techniques? Be in a different environment that makes me want to work harder and prove any art worth I may have?
I am determined to get my original Etsy store back, it seems a waste to let all that hard work go. Sadly, i've had to temporarily host my store from Folksy where there's zero traffic. But I still post pretty much every piece I create on my Facebook page, so feel free to add me on there if you haven't already, and keep up-to-date with Miss. Death. 
For those who ask me about purchasing my work, you can do so from my Folksy. Although not all my work is available on this site (I refuse to pay the little money I have to add everything then delete it when I get my original store back). But like I said, you can add me on to Facebook where ALL my work is available to view. On Facebook you can message me if you wish to purchase an item and pay via PayPal. Plus, on my Facebook items are a little cheaper due to no listing fees! I ship Worldwide and all my work is hand painted, original, one of a kind art. I also do commissions and am always open to new suggestions and ideas.So help me get my mojo back and show support for my work once more! Even by just promoting my work I am more than greatful. And hey, if you do a super awesome job of such a thing, there may even be a little something in it for you!
Think it's time to leave this here for now. But be sure to check out my work, spread the word, and if possible, get yourself a unique, one of a kind original piece!
One day Miss Death hopes to be back for good, but for now I must continue to work for The Man and keep a roof over mine and Elsa Kitty's head. Bleh!

Monday, 2 July 2012

WIN Your Very Own Custom Art!!!!

Good evening boils and ghouls! To celebrate the return of The Art of Death listen up to hear how you can get your hands on a CUSTOM piece of artwork from Vicki Death!


Throughout the month of July make ANY purchase made at my BRAND NEW online store to be automatically be placed into a draw to win a custom piece of art by Yours Truly! Custom being YOU get to choose the subject/design of the piece!!!
How awesome is that?!
The piece will measure 15" x 11" - Thats a damn decent size if you ask me! Usually these pieces retail for between £50 - £120! So it's one hell of a sweet prize.
There will also be two runner up prizes! And every purchase will receive a FREE gift too! Woop!
All you have to do to enter is make a purchase from my online store during the month of July, and you shall be automatically entered into the draw! Easy peasy! 
So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to my ONLINE STORE store now!

T&C’s
-This competition is open to anyone, worldwide! 
-This competition is strictly only taking place on Vicki Death's online store, powered by Folksy, and not through the means of any other website!
-All artwork is for personal use only. All rights of the artist and artwork are reserved. Unauthroised copying, public use, commercial use or manipulation of the artwork is prohibited.
-The winner will be notified via the email address given at time of purchase.
-The piece will be sent to the name & address given at time of purchase.
-The winner will be able to have a custom piece of artwork made for them by Vicki Death.
-The artwork will be on a 11” x 15” piece of 250lb watercolour paper! (If the winner wishes for the piece to be smaller size, this can be arranged pending on wanted design).
-The custom design will be ORIGINAL artwork! I am not a photocopier, so don't ask me to copy someone elses work. It's NEVER going to happen!
-Vicki Death has the right to refuse any design idea/suggestion etc.
-Vicki Death has the right to withdraw the competition at any time without prior notice.
-Design may take up to 4 weeks to be completed. This excludes shipping time.
-No postage cost will be charged to the winner for the prize.
-There is only one custom piece prize available. And 2 runner-up prizes available.
-No exchange or alternative is available!
-The winner will be selected at random no later than Sunday 5th August 2012.
-If the winner does not reply to the notification email within 7 days of the email being recieved, the prize draw shall re-commence and a different winner shall be selected.
-Competition is open from 0.00am (midnight) on Sunday 1st July until 11:59pm Tuesday 31st July.
-All artwork is copyrighted to Vicki Death ©2009 - 2012 Vicki Death

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Down In A Hole

Hello Fiends! Fear not, Miss Death still lives! I haven't updated this beast since September so I think now is the time to do so. The past 6 months have been a bit crazy to say the least. I moved house 3 times in 3 months followed by losing my shitty job and gaining a slightly better one (can't really complain about that part). But now I've settled back down in a new crypt it's time to pick up where I left off. I haven't been too creative over the past few months, mainly due to time and lack of space to do so. But i'm back with vengeance and determined to make a menz on the art front! So hold tight!
But with all these happenings, Miss Death hasn't slowed down too much. She's still been touring around the country (where possible) in her spare time to gigs and rocking out like a motherfucker... So not all is lost. 


I also think now would be appropriate to introduce you to the pieces I have managed ti create since my last post. So sit back, grab a brew, have a smoke and turn up the volume on your stereo/computer/iPod/whatever and brace your eyes for some artistic endevours! 


Hand painted Black and Red Swallow shoes. UK size 5 - £28.50

Hand painted Skull and Bones travel bag - SOLD - I still have two more in stock, get in contact if you wish for your very own custom travel bag.

Hand painted Zombie Cupcake Money Box - £26.50

Hand Painted Black And Red Día de Muertos Skull And Cross Bones Money Box - £27

Horror Cupcake Original Art, Framed - £32

Hand painted Love/Hate Tattoo Shoes. UK size 4 - £23.50

Hand painted Snake and Roses Box - SOLD - I can get these boxes in stock. Contact me for more information

Ruby Dagger Original Art, Framed - £40


Bloody Eyeball Hand painted Trinket Box - £13.50


The Wolfman Original Hand Painted Coffin Art - £27.50

Zombunny Original Art - £30

For more information in regards to the items above, please feel free to add me on Facebook or alternatively, email me at vickideath@hotmail.com

There is more work available for sale... To view it all, visit my facebook (link above).

Thank you and goodnight!