We'd all like to be able to paint like Frances, wouldn't we?
PUBLISHED: 16:03 05 December 2017
Equestrian artist Frances Sullivan is celebrating her 25th anniversary as a professional painter
“You know how sculptors say there is an image within a block of stone?” asks painter Frances Sullivan. “I like to create an animal on the canvas or board I’m working on. And I like it to be realistic. I watch horses and wildlife – their body language and how they react with each other and with us. I try to incorporate all that. So when you get the finished piece, that connection hopefully comes across and you feel you’re there with the animal – or the animal is there with you – and you’ve got that connection.
“I love to create beautiful animal paintings, where their life and character shines through.”
Art, and the animal kingdom, have been integral parts of Frances’s life ever since she can remember. “Like most girls I had a fascination for horses, and liked to draw them all the time. Horses and birds were my fascination.”
She grew up in a small town in Worcestershire. Her mother was a keen artist, though her forte was flowers. Animals were more Frances’s cup of tea.
She didn’t just observe and admire them. In her 20s she got her own pony and rode him.
It was marriage that transported Frances across England to the Norfolk/Suffolk borderlands – to the Thetford area – her husband being a local man.
Frances was painting, and doing commissioned work, before she left Worcestershire. That continued in East Anglia, and 25 years ago it was a natural step to become a professional. “When I had my children, it enabled me to stay at home and work around their needs.” Today, as a fine artist, she specialises in Suffolk Horses (aka Suffolk Punches), rare, native-breed and farm animals, and other wildlife (even guinea-pigs!). Frances usually works with acrylic paint on canvas or board, believing deep canvases give an extra dimension. Sometimes she uses coloured pencil for a softer effect.
She’s got a passion and affinity for the Suffolk Horse.
“I started painting them about 15 years ago. Banham Zoo ran a heavy horse painting workshop, which I went to. It’s how I discovered the Suffolk Horse. Shortly after that, they had a heavy horse exhibition at the zoo, which I took part in.
“When you see a group of Suffolk Horses they look wonderful, as they glow in the sun, but all look quite similar, as the only colour for the breed is chesnut. I enjoy the challenge of making each horse, many of which I know by name, an individual − observing and capturing not only the seven shades of chesnut (and others in between) but also the often very subtle differences in conformation, shape, markings and demeanour, and that all-important glow.
“I was quite surprised, when I started to paint them and got involved with the Suffolk Horse Society, that they’re critically endangered: 73 registered breeding Suffolk females in the UK in 2017 and 10 pedigree female registrations in 2016. The Rare Breed Survival Trust predicts that by 2027 Suffolk Horses could be extinct.” On a happier note, Frances provided the image for the Suffolk Horse Society Christmas card last year and for the Suffolk Punch Trust this year.
Recently, she has begun painting more livestock and farm animals. “I do find, actually, that sheep and goats are fascinating, and interesting to paint. It’s getting the spiral on the horns. And they’ve got such lovely eyes as well!” She does seem to have something of an empathy with animals – though, to be fair, for a complete change and new challenge she will also tackle steam engines and tractors.
Frances does work from photographs, but really wants to see an animal with her own eyes “and get a proper feel of what they’re doing” before she puts paint to canvas or board. “Only when I’ve seen them in person can I use the photographs and ‘put the life’ into the painting.
“I try to make that connection between the animal and the viewer, so that in their own way they speak to you. My paintings, when they’re up on somebody’s wall, they’re very ‘homely’. They’re something you can live with and admire every day!”
Online shop selling cards, prints and gifts: www.frances-sullivan.co.uk – or call her on 07880 958 609.