catherin river and kitCatherin McMillan has over a dozen years’ experience as a professional portrait artist of both four legged and human subjects.  She has exhibited throughout Australia as well as exhibiting in the USA as part of an Australian/ American joint exhibition. A winner of numerous awards her work can be found in private collections throughout Australia as well as Internationally..  She is the owner of Animal Art House portraits.


Have you ever needed an escape? A life boat from the rush, rush, rush of life for just a few hours. Well when I first started my journey as an artist way back when.. I did need a lifeboat, and art is its name…Watercolour is the medium I studied in the beginning.. At first it is landscapes and trees, lots of greens in those trees and fields. Do you know I can get 125 and a half tones of green from a primary shade… well it took a while and some brain cells, but I did it in the end… (You known.. the mountain climbers answer.)

Now green is not my favourite colour any more, but Miss Green taught me well.

So when horses came back into my life, I really wanted a challenge to kick off my arty horsey thing. I thought black and white would be a challenge. It ticked all the boxes. It was totally out of my artists comfort zone. I’d never seen anybody using watercolours in this fashion.. It would be equine..ish.  And of course just like me, it would be unique.

The Portuguese connection

The Portuguese connection

I knew it had to be a horse, but what would my subject matter be???  I’d seen this really great photo by Eric Schneider (USA) along with numerous other by Eric.. (Which of course are all good), but this one was special.  So permission was sort and a friendship struck up with Eric and his equine pal Prophet.

What I loved about the photograph (which is in colour) is the relaxed manner of the rider and the curious expression on the horses face which showed forward movement.

I loved the way his noseband was slightly off centre. A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t straighten the nose band. Well, not all things equine are perfect especially when it comes to equipment. So as this is my work, that’s exactly what I wanted to depict.   A more relaxed realistic look to my painting..  (Does gear ever look perfect?)

I discovered as I set about painting that the breed of the horse is a Lusitiano! A breed I had not heard of here in Australia. As is my way I ferreted about learning as much as I could about this new breed (to me in any case). It is fascinating to look it up on the web…..

As watercolour is such an unforgiving medium (like a dressage judge on a bad day), I wanted to make sure I took my time starting with very light layers of colour. I worked in Windsor and Newton Charcoal grey my favourite colour (sadly It’s been discontinued, sigh.)

Technically watercolour is a demanding medium. It is a long process before you finally get to set brush and paint to paper.. Drawing the work up and making sure the image is just right before transferring to your final paper where you again draw lightly over your trace lines.

Starting with the rider’s jacket I learnt a lot about the shadows created in all those creases and folds.  In between working on the jacket I started on the horse, saddle and bridle.. Working my way around methodically till I was happy to make a start on the riders hat and face..   With all work you go over and over again tweaking here and there.

In total it over a week of full time work to create the “Portuguese Connection” about 40 hours worth.

This work is the start of my love affair with black and white watercolours I’ve since created almost a dozen of various equine or western pursuits.

“The Portuguese Connection” 14” x 21” watercolour on Arches 300gsm hot pressed watercolour paper.  Sold – to a collector in Australia.

There are more black and white watercolours on the web site some of which are available as Limited Edition signed and numbered prints.

So why do I do it … for the challenge.


Catherin McMillan