Horse staying close at New Year opener Cheltenham

staying close acrylic painting in progress kathryn sassall

In Progress

The horses are blowing out cold air as they stay close around the bends. It is the first race-card of the year at Cheltenham 2017. Jockey silks billowing, goggles down they’re all standing on the stirrups.

A grey day captured in strong palette knife and brush strokes. The horses are not jostling but they are staying close. All eyes are forward and focussed. The horses heart rates are rising. Muscles pumping as they propel themselves and their riders forward.

The turf is still lifting despite the cold weather of the start of the year.  Grass and mud is flung into the air as the metal hooves pound the ground. Coming round towards the cheering crowds. More feet stamping but from the race-goers who need to stay warm.

Staying Close  – Oil Painting

A painting like this takes several weeks to build up layer by layer. First of all the canvas was blocked out in a magenta wash. Next light strokes of charcoal are used to roughly draft the shapes of the horses and jockeys to ensure a good fit on the canvas. Then it’s the background and the turf over a couple of weeks.

Once dry enough to work on without moving the background colour,  I work from two directions – top down with the jockey silks, and bottom up with the legs of the horses. At this point the background and turf will get some re-working to balance the colours appearing on the horses and silks.

I use a limited range of paint colours so that the overall tone of the picture stays consistent as the image starts to come out of the canvas. The final layer is highlights and shadows which pull the whole composition together.  Final painting is hung in a light warm space for a couple of weeks to ensure the thicker layers become dry enough to transport the painting.

More horse racing art here.

oil painting of horse and rider racing staying close Cheltenham New Years Day 2017 by Kathryn Sassall

Staying Close
60 x 60 x 2.5 cm
Oil on linen canvas on hardwood stretchers SOLD






Coming Home at the Point to Point

photograph of a start of ladies point to point race

Coming home is a watercolour painting of a point-to-point. It captures the moment the riders have finished their three miles of riding and jumping. Point-to-point is a regular weekend fixture in a field or land near me from November to mid-June. It takes place on farms and estate land with hurdles being put up for the race card.

The riders are amateurs but the racing is not.  All point-to-point riders must have a riders qualification certificate for the current year. This is proof that they are of a suitable riding standard, medically fit and they have insurance. As the horses are coming home to the post the care and attention to preparing the mount is clear in the beautiful brushed in patterns on the haunches.

Point-to-point horses are hunters and are amazing to be close to. Majestic, proud and powerful animals. Heavy breathing. Thundering hooves. Eyes dancing and ears twitching before they set off. Pacing. Racing for three miles. The crowds cheering them along as they are coming home.

This is Year of the Woman and point-to-point is a sport that sees women riders compete over the same courses as men.  The first Ladies’ point-to-point race was won by the Duke of Hamilton’s 17 year old daughter, Lady Jean Hamilton in 1921. Women had competed in open point-to-points from 1913.  They had proved to be very good at winning so soon got their own races. It wasn’t until the late ’60s that they were allowed to compete in open races again.

Coming Home – Point-to-Point Painting

The jockey’s silks billow with the wind created by the speed they are moving. Heads down and willing the mount forward.  Brampton Bryan on a May day was glorious. The women riding point-to-point now wear jodphurs but back in the beginning they wore skirts and rode side-saddle.


horse and rider two at a point-to-point racing to the finish

Coming Home £125
40 x 30 cm
Watercolour on Paper



Over the Last – Arabian horse race

Over the last is about an Arabian horse race held at the local racecourse. It captures that moment that the jockey has been willing their mount forward for that final rush for the winning post. Hereford has had a race course since 1771. Closed for a few years, it returned with Arabian horse racing in 2013. Now leased by Arena Racing Company it runs many  Jump racing events.

The excitement of the colour and movement of horse-racing must be in my blood. My maternal grandfather used to enjoy watching the early televised events. He would be silently cheering the horses he’d backed as they came over the last fence. Waving his folded and heavily marked newspaper. Wonder if that’s why I always read a newspaper from the back?

I love the colourful silks which fill out with the air as the race gathers speed. The jockeys silk hat covers matching the owner’s colours. Pristine white jodphurs soon turn to mud and grass spattered as the horse race unfolds.

Arabian Horse Race Painting

The thumbnail image shows the stages I go through when painting. First attend the event and take photographs or watch on TV or video channels to get a feel for the race. The moment to capture is a subconscious awareness now. I may do a pastel sketch on paper just to get a feel for the layout and shapes. Generally I go straight to paper or canvas.

This is an acrylic painting on paper. I ituitively strobe the background when painting. I don’t work from photos taken with a slow shutter speed which would ‘blur’ or photoshop the image.  Onto the background I block out the main shapes and then build. It’s layer by layer. Sometimes reworking an area to bring depth back or obtain a colour relation effect.

Finally it’s looking for those little flecks and details which either pull the whole image together or make the eye fill in the detail that I’ve actually left out.

horse and rider racing after last fence at Hereford racecourse in acrylic painting

Over the Last £190
50 x 40 cm
Acrylic on paper

Thundering hooves and skies

a photo of a jockey in blue silks focussing pre-race on a grey horse Thundering hooves certainly make noise. How so? They are metal shod ends to legs which look so slender compared to the body they hold aloft. The power in those legs. Thundering is the sound of the weight of the horse cutting the turf and soil below.

My grandfather (maternal side) loved the gee-gees. He’d watch on the television with the newspaper in hand. Later in life I lived just down from Brighton racecourse.  It fascinated me that they covered the road to the refuse tip with straw and turf eveytime a race was on.

Families in their cars with picnics. Children bored after the first race playing ball games. The horse could be heard as they approached.  Ground trembled. Nostrils flaring and their breath coming hard and fast the horses steamed by. Even the crack of silk as it flapped in the wind on the top of the hill and the backdraft of the movement.

I’ve visited Windsor, Goodwood, Ascot, York, Cheltenham, Hereford and Newmarket over the years. Sometimes trapped in corporate hospitality with a brief escape to the parade ring. Other times camera in hand getting as up close and personal as I can to the race.


The Grand National is not a race I’ve ever been to. Sweepstakes at various places of work have resulted in different results.  This painting was inspired by watching TV and video footage. It’s primarily one moment but the idea is to capture the energy and noise of the excitement of the whole race.

Yet, as is always the case, some of the jockeys and horses seem to be distracted. I love the billowing silks. The fly-like eyes created by goggles.

riders on horses galloping in grand national in oil painting

Thundering £Sold -STD
60 x 60 cm
OIl on deep canvas

60 x 60 x 2.5 cm
Oil on linen canvas on hardwood stretchers



Storm blowing by Chicago harbor light

detail of a white lighthouse and red sailed boat as a storm approaches chicago in a painting by kathryn sassall A storm can blow in to any place at any time. This particular one came as a brooding dark sky  reflected off of Lake Michigan below. The clouds sweeping across the sky. A lighthouse can be a clue of dangers below or close by or part of a harbour entrance. These boats were heading back towards harbour to anchor up. Shelter from the storm needed as the water turned into a sea of  unsettled waves. Just minutes before it had been blue and sunny with just a darkness in the distance. The storm flew across the lake fast and low.

The Chicago Harbor Light was state of the art in its day, 1893. It’s stood on the end of the breakwater surrounded by rip-rap since 1919.  A listed ironwork structure which is automated. The buildings below the tower are a fog signal room and boathouse. It is a clear beacon even in the daytime due to the white of the building.

I was strolling on Navy Pier. Distracted by the motion and shouts from the swing chair ride I was aware of a sudden change in temperature. I looked up and noticed the change in the water. The clouds looked full.  The rains had not started to fall but did follow.


This painting captures the moment  I noticed the weather change across the Lake. The dark maroon sail filled with the winds that blew the storm clouds. The darkness was brooding. An energy was created.  I chose to capture this by using a warm tone of the roof of the lighthouse buildings. The burnt orange background setting off the green hues. What dangers lurked in the water? impressionist painting detail of a boat on lake michigan in a storm

expressionist painting of stormy lake michigan chicago with sail boat and lighthouse

Storm £190
45 x 34 cm
Acrylic, brush application A2 (59.4 x 42 cm) acrylic paper

45 x 34 cm [13.60″ x 18.00″]
Brush applied acrylic paint on 59.4 x 42 cm (A2) acrylic paper.

Hues of the highlands

detail of the sky and mountains in an abstract impressionist acrylic painting by kathryn sassallNot just the hues of the highlands these colours to me are the colours of Scotland.Smoky peat soil from which the green grass and purple-pink heather sprouts. There’s that point as you drive up the motorway where the landscape changes.

The darkness created by the pine forests and the dark rock outcrops that peek through the farmer’s fields. As the roads wind around the hillsides it’s a breathtaking moment as the vista opens up to a loch. The reflection of the sky, mountains, forest and purple hues. Wheeling upwards the birds enjoy the freshness of the air.

The coolness of the lilacs, pale blues and whites in the clouds or mountain tops (you decide) swirl. Whilst the landscape is still my mind is whirring from the exhilaration of the climb to the top of a rock and perhaps one too many visits to distilleries of whisky.

heather and tree detail of an abstract impressionist painting of the Highlands by Kathryn Sassall


31 x 45 cm [14 x 18 “]
Acrylic paint on 42 x 59.4 cm (A2) acrylic paper

expressionist sky and moutnains of Scottish Higlands

Highlands £190
42 x 59 cm
Framed acrylic on paper


Sunflower soldiers in the fields of France

impressionistic painting of sunflower in field detail of a paintingSunflower – what does that mean to you? Perhaps you enjoyed the Vincent film last year? You may travel to France for a holiday or to a second home passing the sunflower fields which nudge the roadside. For me it is visits to friends or to Le Mans or the Tour de France in July when the sunflower fields are coming in to bloom.

The tall sunflowers stand in rows like soldiers. Their lines slightly wonky as the tiller will have hit the odd stone or bump. Perhaps the driver got distracted by a crow or buzzard. The tall strong stems may have more than one flower head. Different colours sometimes creep in with an antique burnt umber mixing with the bright yellow.

detail of an scrylic impressionist painting of sunflower in a field with green trees and blue skyAt the top of the field are the farm buildings. A line of trees partially hiding the farmstead. A stunning bright cobalt blue cloudless sky which is seen so often in France during summer.  No sign of airplane trails or birds as all is hot and still.

Standing under the heads makes me feel like a flower fairy. The pom-pom style of some of the flowers like teddy bear heads. Watch the fields as you travel back and forth to notice the sunflower heads will have followed the sun during the day. Each one competing for the warmth and light to ripen the seeds that will go off for food production.

Hellanthus – the sunflower

This painting is Field of Sun  III as  I’ve painted these beautiful flowers several times. A watercolour resides on a wall in France. Another watercolour is in Essex given as a prize for a Crohn’s and Colitis UK regional raffle in 2012.

This acrylic painting is  strident. The colours are bright. There is an energy in the brush-stroked sky and the sunflower heads beam out. They are well named.

impressionist painting of a sunflower field in France

Field of Sun III £190
46 x 35 cm
Acrylic, brush application A2 (59.4 x 42 cm) acrylic paper

Parting the waves; French KOM storms it on Bastille Day

photo KOM spotted houseIt’s like a parting of the waves as the leading group pedals hard up the stage climbs. The fans have been up early to grab a spot. They have cycled or hiked to their place by the roadside . The circus has been through. The gendarmes try to hold the crowd back as the circus comes to town. The course car leads through the spare neutral bikes car.

The fans have re-grouped after the first posse of gendarme and press motorbike riders. Holding up their mobile phones, flags and posters, the fans ripple back. The riders, team cars and motorcycles go through.

Every once in a while a maverick will chase the riders up the climb. The more reckless (strangely often dressed in a mankini) will run in front of the motorbikes hoping to be caught on camera. There’s a lot of yellow caps for support of the maillot jeune. Here too there are also white caps with red dots for the King of the Mountain.

Parting the Waves.

The painting I have created for you is to celebrate Warren Barguil.  He became the first Frenchman to win a Tour de France stage on Bastille Day in twelve years. It was the shortest road stage with three climbs. It was lucky Stage 13 for the Team Sunweb rider as he held off Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa in the final straight. The first stage win of his Tour career.

A case of earning your spots rather than your stripes, Barguil had been wearing the distinctive jersey, Maillot a Pois or King of Mountains, since he first claimed it on Stage 9 and held on to it. By the time he won Stage 18 his nearest KOM rival could not make up the points lead he had opened up. He was tenth in the overall GC classification. His tenacity and push saw him also hold the Combativity Award for 2017. Sadly he was dropped by Team Sunweb during the subsequent Vuelta over alleged differences on tactics.

acrylic painting of tour de france rider for sunweb Barguil KOM by kathryn sassall

Parting the Waves £790
80 x 60 x 2.5 cm
Acrylic on Canvas

The painting overlaps the edge by a couple of millimetres, and then the rest of the sides are painted in chalk-white paint.

The Great bears down on Bern; green jersey winner Tour de France 2016

Green jersey winner 2016 Peter Sagan takes his third stage win arriving at the home of the bear pit, Bern in Switzerland a whisker in front of Kristoff. Certainly, a tour year to remember for Peter Sagan, as after a third place on the first stage, and a win on the second stage he claimed the first yellow jersey of his career.

Confident and eloquent in his speech, maybe the Cantona of cycling? “If I lose yellow, I have green. If I lose the green jersey, I have the rainbow jersey.” Peater Sagan,  declared at a press conference during the 2016 Tour de France.

We are artists

After Stage 11 he’d pulled off another fantastic sprint to upset the then yellow jersey wearer Chris Froome’s plans. When asked why he said “We are artists”. So he seemed to deserve a painting to capture a moment in such a strong year and for his wonderful words.

Sagan is shown moving towards his 3rd stage victory in Tour de France 2016, on the 16th stage, finishing in Bern, Switzerland. He beat Norwegian Alexander Kristoff by a whisker. The photo finish camera seemed to be particularly busy during this Tour.

2016 – a very good year

The Slovakian, riding for Russian team Tinkoff, ended the tour with a second place stage win behind Greipel, which meant Sagan was the green jersey winner for 2016. On the 10th stage he had finished second, but it meant he also won the combative award for the efforts he had put in.  So for Sagan 2016 was a very good year.

Peter The Great Sagan painting by Kathryn Sassall

The Great Bear £790
60 x 60 x 2.5 cm
Acrylic on canvas

The painting overlaps the edge by a couple of millimetres, and then the rest of the sides are painted in chalk-white paint.

Out of the darkness, so many stories unfold into the light

pastel drawing of time square lights during millennium celebrationsDarkness has been where a lot of my work has come from. Not in a Danish noir or Peaky Blinders way but literally capturing the light or working in the dark. In my early days various dining tables were my only supports for small works. I originally worked in pastel as it was easy to transport, has no smell and is easy to clean up.  This is one of a couple of images I created from being in New York as the new millennium arrived – capturing the ticker tape fall.

So another artist’s similar style work caught my eye in response to a competition to write a blog.

It’s been fun to look around the ArtFinder online marketplace where I have a shop to look at other artists’s work in response to a competition to find an ArtFinder gem. I thought that I’d choose either a sculptor or printmaker as those are areas I don’t work in. However as soon as I spotted Damion’s work, after following a comment made by him on one of the forum posts, I had to put fingers to keyboard. Enjoy exploring his work. Here’s my blog piece which came second (please go to Artfinder to look at the pastel paintings).

Artfinder Gem by Kathryn Sassall

Darkness – journeys by night are lit by the beauty of moving headlights, pulsating shop signs, the glow of the setting sun or the brightness of the rising moon. Driving has been such a big part of my life seeing these pastel paintings of roads and cities at night capturing the feeling of movement and mood makes me smile. The atmospheric images  of darkness that Damion Maxwell has posted on ArtFinder have made me think about so many moments from my life over the last 18 months. The bright pastel work is wonderfully drawn on dark paper.


Damion is observing what’s around him and capturing it. Such a simple thing to say, but a really challenging thing to do, when you’ve chosen nighttime for the subjects.  I love the way he appears to have painted with fast and free strokes of soft bright pastels. The perspective leads me through the pictures, but I just have to stop off several times on the way to look at other bits of action. Vibrant colours are singing off of the black background. A fleeting moment captured, giving an impression of the rush and steady stream of traffic moving.

The darkness really comes alive in “Drama on the hard shoulder” which appears to be just a random shot of vehicles travelling along the road. However, it’s one of those paintings which you can enjoy from a distance but you really should look closer. You gradually see more and more. So many individual stories – who is in what vehicle? Where have they been? Where are they going? Will the traveller broken down reach their destination? All the time the blue overhead signs calling my eyes to the back of the picture.


It’s great to then read that Damion is self-taught and still exploring mediums and styles. Interestingly his day job, which I’m sure is also very often a night job, is as a firefighter. Has that flicker of light in the darkness shaped his choice of subjects I wonder? To start with a dark ‘canvas’ and create light on it is an additional challenge. However, it does bring with it a sense of freedom to layer colours. Drawing light from the darkness. Then I read the descriptions and Damion has a good sense of humour and loves what he is creating. I think that shines through.

The latest series of pastel works that Damion has uploaded to ArtFinder include another magical image. He’s captured the rainy pleasure of “Late Night Shopping”. Those enticing windows glowing in the darkness, bright jewels of colour. the shoppers under umbrellas on a grey rainy night. Still out there enjoying the excitement of the thought of getting a bargain and probably a cup of coffee too. The choice of colours in this picture is lovely. Sherbetty yellows and pinks with a touch of orange and tourquoise blue making it shimmer. I am really looking forward to seeing more pieces.