Drawing Horses

Amongst the most testing, yet thrilling details I made for NEWCASTLE 2018 Biro drawing, were the seahorses or hippocampi from Greek and Roman mythology. These mythical creatures are the supporters on the city of Newcastle coat of arms.

I seem to gravitate towards drawing horses.  Perhaps it's because of their primeval beauty and powerful physiques or because horses were in my life from a young age. Or maybe it's their graceful fragility and the sense of freedom they exude when they toss their manes and gallop.

I adore White Mane Albert Lamorisse's short film made in 1953, set in the Camargue region of France. With masterful genius, Lamorisse portrays the wild beating heart of nature and man's propensity to tame or destroy her, through a touching bond between a boy and a wild stallion. A shimmering masterpiece of cinema, it is both visually and emotionally captivating at every hoof fall.

'White Mane' 1953 Albert Lamorisse photograph of tv screen: Jane Lee McCracken

Often known as true seahorses Carmargue horses, although now semi-feral, are indigenous to this region and continue to splash through the marshes of the Rhone delta with wild abandon. So without hesitation I took inspiration from these ancient horses and White Mane for the creation of Newcastle's heraldic equines.

Photo of White Mane playing on tv screen: Jane Lee McCracken

It's not the first time Camargue horses have appeared in my artwork. On White Horses 2013 Biro drawing below was also inspired by White Mane.


Films play such an important part in my working method. I photograph tv screens while films play to produce images that capture movement.  These images in turn are used as inspiration for my drawings with the aim of giving them a cinematic quality. I also draw the pixelated patterns I see within the photographs, in order to suggest a sense of movement.

It takes weeks of research, followed by weeks and months of drawing to make my artwork. I cannot begin to count how many images of Camargue horses I looked at to use as inspiration for the NEWCASTLE seahorses, but it ran into the thousands! Having had my breath taken away last year, by the hippocampi of the Trevi Fountain, I wanted to include a personal reference to what was a very special trip to Rome. So the wings and tail of the seahorse in the forefront are inspired by Rome's most famous horses. The River Tyne is a mighty force as it flows through Newcastle and it was important to try and convey a sense of movement coursing through the hippocampi. I therefore also studied the horses of the Bartholdi Fountain in Lyon, designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, whose other masterpiece, the Statue of Liberty, I sailed past earlier this year aboard the Staten Island Ferry.

Finally the seahorses sodden, sea salty manes were inspired by the Camargue stallion featured in White Mane. The horses come full circle through a very personal journey, galloping out to the North Sea where I walk alongside or paddle in most mornings, with my dog and muse, Lily. In my mind, when drawing the seahorses, they were crashing past me, through the waves and out to sea, just like the white stallion with the boy on his back, swimming towards "the island where horses and children can be friends forever." (translation of the Narrator's closing words, White Mane).

'Meet the Maker' video for Wolf & Badger, screen shot

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