Perspectives ~ With Artists Augusta Hammock and Hannah Andersson
~ With Artists Augusta Hammock and Hannah Andersson
By The Arabian Horse Project
Preface by Lisa Abraham
The creative process is a fascinating one. If given free rein, it can take one to faraway places never imagined. As a writer and photographer and one who also has painted semiprofessionally, I can share that my style in anything creative is to start with an open mind. In my professional life, I have had the luxury of following whims without being required to maintain a specific structure. Because of this, my process can often be unorthodox and admittedly, drawn out. But I firmly believe that even media work, which has been my primary focus for many years, deserves to be more than content for the sake of content, and should retain relevance.
At this point, nearly all my writing is commercial as it pertains to current events in the Arabian horse business. But as shows and/or events have personality, I approach each with the goal of communicating its unique character and sharing underlying stories. To do this effectively, I free my brain and commit to “seeing”. Although little by little, thoughts and ideas germinate, it is with the actual writing that the magic begins. Through the process of recording thoughts, my mind reveals what seems to have been unknown. Thoughts come to me in the form of words and phrases, then sentences upon sentences, to eventually form a complete thought—or a story.
“Perspectives ~ With Artists Augusta Hammock and Hannah Andersson” is the result of work done by Augusta Hammock (USA), Hannah Andersson (SWE), Claudia Darius (GER), and myself—and has been one of the most enriching projects in which I have ever participated. Collaborative projects are rarely easy, and, in this group, each participant had an equal vote on all details. But the uniqueness of this endeavor was that we agreed to take it slowly with the only goal of being able to produce something of interest—and we wanted more than just questions and answers. Our goal was to share an intimate insight into the creative development of two contemporary artists. To do this, we trusted the process to be our guide. The questions were just as meaningful as the answers and we took them one at a time, as it was agreed that the direction could change at any moment. One of the most interesting things that came out of this project was that we learned how similarly as individuals we approach creativity. I can say for myself, that some of my best work came out of what felt like nowhere—it just evolved.
Claudia and I formed The Arabian Horse Project for the purpose of contributing, in an enjoyable manner. We have approached projects without the stress of feeling that we had to produce and the agreement that quality was more important than quantity. As for our shared achievements, Claudia and I have been “in step”. Our thought processes are far from identical, but they are complementary and when there have been grey areas—we trusted each other’s intuition. At present, we have several projects mid-stream, and we have found a free approach to formulating content to be our best strategy for producing interesting material.
Augusta and I have been friends for many years and have also successfully collaborated. In 2012, I purchased a drawing from her that I cherish. But my respect was earned just prior to the actual acquisition. The drawing was of a horse, and there was a single issue I had with the conformation. Augusta not only listened to me, really listened, but she graciously made the adjustment. Since then, our friendship grew, and she has also been professionally instrumental in helping me stay current with graphic representation. As for the Arabian Horse Project, her expertise and time were invaluable for our initial artwork and logo. But even on a personal level, Augusta and I have developed a comradery in which we can safely bounce ideas off one another and navigate difficulties together. However, the most valuable results of our years of friendship have been mutual admiration and trust.
As Augusta and I share a love of art, it has been a common subject in our conversations. Most of my knowledge of Hannah Andersson came from Augusta who has been a collector and has also commissioned pieces. However, in 2020, Hannah posted a picture of one of her paintings. It portrayed a grey horse in motion with a colorful, interesting background—and I wanted it. Although I was sure it had already been sold, I contacted here to confirm. When she said it was still available, I instantly purchased it. Hannah and I communicated briefly and then once I received the painting, our communication dropped off. But, in the meantime, Claudia and I discussed our appreciation of Hannah’s work. In 2016, Hannah had been commissioned by Kathleen Ohlsson, of Sweden Arabian Stud, to do a painting that included a portrayal of Claudia’s stallion, Massai Ibn Marenga. As we both grew to appreciate Hannah’s charming, whimsical style, so did our interest in the possibility of working together. While at the same time, Augusta and I were having similar conversations. So Claudia and I came up with the idea of creating a platform for the two artists to communicate with one another. First, we presented our idea to Augusta, and then to Hannah.
Upon completion, I would like to comment that the most interesting aspect of being a member of this project was that our work exemplified creativity in its purest form. As a result, our journey together not only took the subject matter further than I had anticipated, but also deepened our relationships, respect, and professional kinsmanship.
Augusta Hammock: I would like to begin this discussion by jumping right into one of the most important considerations in equine art—conformation. I have been drawing horses ever since I could hold a pencil. But even after years of studying their anatomy, I still have so much to learn about the intricacies of how a horse is put together and its overall physique. Using reference photos as well as spending time with my own horses have been valuable tools for improving this knowledge. I find legs to be the most challenging part of the body to draw accurately, as they are one of the most heavily scrutinized areas of a horse and are easy to get wrong, even if only by a slight degree.
How did you learn about equine conformation?
Hannah Andersson: The topic of equine conformation has always been an important one in my family. I grew up on a horse-breeding farm, where we had about 10-15 foals each year, and stood a handful of stallions. Although we didn’t show many horses, our breeding was a source of income, and the stallions were our focus. We were primarily interested in horses with unusual pedigrees that were preferably not mainstream; and, in the preservation of sire lines. With a concentration on stallions and sire lines, good breeding requires stricter requirements for conformation and other qualities that can be inherited by progeny.
My family shared a keen eye for horses and were very choosy--even the polish warmblood geldings purchased for driving were beautiful horses. But all our horses had to earn their keep and were used for riding, mostly for driving, and for breeding. In addition, at the time it was necessary to license stallions for the purpose of reproduction through the Swedish Horse Breeding Society (Hästavelsförbundet), while mares remained optional. However, because of our commitment to the quality of our program, we chose to license both our stallions and mares. Therefore, strong conformation was an important consideration in all breeding and purchasing decisions—and as a family, this was a topic that was often discussed.
As a child, I started drawing at the same general age that most kids started to learn about art. As horses were a primary focus in my family, they also were what I wanted to draw. Because I learned early about the importance of “correctness” in a horse, I wanted to be accurate in my drawings. So I would often ask my parents for advice on proportion—they were my first teachers.
What is the most challenging part of a horse to paint in your experience? Hannah Andersson: To be honest, I think the whole horse is a challenge. But I guess I find the ears to be the hardest feature to portray with accuracy. In equine language, so much is communicated through the ears. While in the drawing process, there are many variables to consider such as placement on the head, size, shape, and how they are positioned. I spend a very large amount of time doing and re-doing ears.
Augusta Hammock: Many artists, including myself, started out using regular paper and pencils for recreational sketching. Over time, we learned more about how we like to produce art and what we want our end results to look like. One of the most foundational decisions we make concerns the mediums which best communicate our intentions. Personally, I have experimented with acrylics, charcoal, and graphite, but am most pleased with my work which has been done in watercolor. To me, watercolors have an earthy, organic, "perfectly imperfect" look and feel, and despite its challenges, I love how water interacts with the paper. On the other hand, I also love digital art. There are intrinsic limitations with traditional mediums, and digital overcomes all of them, which allows me to create literally whatever I can imagine. Of course, digital art often lacks the look of something handmade, but as technology evolves, it's becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between traditional and digital art.
Can you describe the mediums you have used and which are your favorites?
Hannah Andersson: When I was younger, I really wanted to be an illustrator for comic books. I loved children’s books and found the black and white illustrations to be a great inspiration--and they still are. I particularly admired Pauline Baynes (Chronicles of Narnia), Norman Thelwell, and Harold Foster (Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur). In my teens, I mainly did drawings in plain pencil and ink. So at that time, most of my work was composed of black and white sketches, which I still love to do. For many years I also worked with watercolors, until I tried gouache, which became my absolute favorite medium. Gouache allows for the same effect as watercolor but has a touch of oil feel to it. It allows me to create the light-medium of watercolors as well as the thicker layers that you can feel with the tip of your finger. I have done some oil painting and even have one waiting to be finished for several years now. But as gratifying as the finished oil painting can be, I don’t have the patience for it.
Augusta Hammock: Creating artwork for professional purposes can be both fulfilling and daunting at the same time. In the case of commissioned work, there is tremendous pressure to create something that either fulfills its commercial purpose or reflects the intended personal meaning, such as in a portrait—and it is not for the faint of heart! The paintings I have done for commissioners have been some of my most successful works and I approach them by trying to see the process from the client’s perspective. In the case of portraits, I have also found it helpful to discuss the relationships and understand the feelings associated. Although we share a love for the Arabian horse, the feelings that we have for our own horses are deeply personal and clients often expect this to be effectively communicated through our work. Furthermore, artistically, from this perspective, when working with the ideas and visions of others, I have opportunities to express myself in ways I have never considered, therefore increasing both my knowledge and skill level. For me, the greatest reward is to have successfully contributed a meaningful message or created something of significant personal value.
How do you approach creating artwork for others?
Hannah Andersson: As a teenager, I started accepting commissions from a Swedish magazine called "Hästen" (The Horse) which was the oldest horse magazine in Sweden. Because it was printed in black and white, my work was done in ink. I was rarely given any specifics, so my hands were free creatively—and I loved it. I drew a wide range of subjects that included ladies in sidesaddle, four-horse carriages, racehorses, western horses, and even unicorns. Although lucky for me, it was quite backward, the editor would then write articles to fit my illustrations. The magazine owner was a wonderful person and because I was not restricted, it never felt like work.
Creating artwork for others is always difficult, especially if it is something elaborate. Once the commission process begins, I normally ask for photos, and then in most cases, better quality photos. Then with the client, I try to understand their objectives. From there I start with some light sketches to ensure accuracy. I have some clients who give me a free hand to create and, I must say, this is when I do my best work. The more restricted I get, the harder it is for me. I prefer to not create exact portraits from photos as I don’t see the purpose. In my opinion, a painting should be something else.
Augusta Hammock: Unlike your upbringing, I was born into an American middle-class family that had little experience with horses, so my journey to the Arabian breed was far from linear. As a horse-crazy kid, I was ecstatic for any contact. I loved all breeds and learned to ride on the backs of Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, Paints, and Appaloosas. Although I had always heard about Arabians and how beautiful they were, I dismissed the idea that I would see them in person since they seemed far too exotic and glamorous to be found anywhere near where I lived. When I was 15, my family relocated to middle Georgia. Once there I was determined to find an Arabian farm to continue my lessons. I decided that if I was going to keep riding, I wanted to do it with the “pretty ones”.
Fortunately, there was an Arabian farm within 45 minutes from where I lived that focused on an Amateur show division, and my parents graciously agreed to continue paying for instruction. It was there that I became enchanted with a grey weanling colt named Valentino. With a little bit of coaxing from my grandmother, my parents finally agreed to buy him for me—a moment that feels both like ages ago and just last week. Since that time, I have purchased more horses--all Arabians of course, bred a handful of foals, and in recent years taken up Amateur Halter.
Creatively, horses have always been my inspiration. And, although my immediate experience was minimal, my doodles from early childhood portray horses with undeniable Arabian features. Over time, and as I became a member of the Arabian horse community in Georgia, my inspiration continued to blossom, and my skill level grew. I found that the subject of Arabian horses satisfied my creative soul—and this is still true.
What was your introduction to Arabian horses?
Hannah Andersson: The stories about Arabian horses were always fascinating to me, and I tried to find as much literature as I could. In the early 1980s, a family friend had a daughter who was living in the United States. At one point she sent home several Arabian Horse World magazines, some of which I was able to borrow—and wow—a whole new world opened. Then in 1986, my mother took me to the Swedish Arabian Horse National Show, and I still remember the impact it had on me. Although many of the horses shown were imported from Poland, I loved the horses from Blommeröd Arabian Stud. In the show catalog, I found the farm’s contact information and after inquiring about work opportunities, started to work there when I was 18.
Initially, I was attracted to the general idea of the Arabian as being an elusive fairytale horse. But my interest grew from more practical reasons as well. In Sweden, when using Arabians for outcross breeding, it was often said, “An Arabian can do no harm.” But the more I experienced Arabians, the more I liked them. I was particularly drawn to the Polish lines and the horses of the State Studs. Not only did I find their breeding philosophies to be natural, but I was also captivated by their dedication to the breed and courage to maintain through very difficult times in their history—the stories were incredible. As pedigrees were also of utmost importance to me, by the time I started to work at Blommeröd, I knew all their horses and was grateful to work at what I considered to be the best stud farm in Sweden.
As an artist, I was first inspired by the photos in those initial glimpses into the magazines. I particularly remember one of Bask Flame. He was a gorgeous flaming, red chestnut, portrayed against a black background, and everything about this image made me want one--so I painted him. Then there were the wonderful flea-bitten greys with metallic, shining coats, huge black eyes, and long necks. So they could be mine, I tried to capture them with my pencils. For me, I guess creating art has been a way of being able to stay in moments that I love and holding on to that which was fleeting.
Augusta Hammock: I am a full-time software and marketing operations engineer for a Silicon Valley company. This line of work is demanding, and my days are filled with complex projects that can be long-term and have high stakes for our bottom line. Over the years, I have found my art to be the perfect counterbalance to my intense math-oriented day job. I prefer working on creative projects that are short to medium term as they provide a higher degree of immediate gratification. Also, because the work I do during the day is rigidly predefined, I enjoy the freedom of experimenting with both subjects and themes. I love designing logos for farms, stallions, and equine businesses, but I also like creating other kinds of art such as semi-realism watercolor paintings, fantasy art, digital art, and illustrations that are aimed toward children and teens, and even product design for apparel and accessories. The combination of my profession and my artwork brings essential equilibrium to my life that allows me to continue doing both things without the risk of burnout. However, because of the variation in my creative portfolio, my identity as an artist is not one of an exclusive specialist.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of being a recreational artist is having the freedom to create when and what I like, and for whichever purpose I choose. Although many artists have formal processes and a detailed plan for each project, I am less rigid in my approach and prefer to harness the power of erratic inspiration. Creatively, I allow myself to be a free spirit. If I see something I love—whether it be a painting, a magazine advertisement, a movie, a song, or anything else—I often want to recreate the parts of it I like from my own perspective. Sometimes, inspiration can be as simple as the desire to try out a new medium; or it can be a deep and visceral response to a major life event. Because I often allow myself free expression, sometimes that means that I start a new painting or design with only a general idea of the finished product. For me, the joy of creation is in the process as each piece can represent a journey, and often an emotional one.
How would you define your style, and can you share how it has developed over the years?
Hannah Andersson: Painting is my happy place. Not only is it relaxing, but while I work, I am also able to think about other things without pressure; and the time goes by very quickly. But at the same time, if not in the right state of mind to create, I find it nearly impossible, and thus, it can become stressful. However, in these instances, I have learned to step away and give myself time. Also, I believe that I have only a certain number of paintings in me within a period, whether that be a day, a week, or a month. Therefore, when I produce something that I feel is good, I give myself time before beginning another and not force a creative process.
When I started drawing as a kid, I learned by duplicating the work of others. I particularly admired Lnea Furberg, an excellent Swedish artist who illustrated for pony magazines. I don’t think there is a horse-crazy child in Sweden who wasn’t familiar with her. Her drawings were beautiful, and I learned from copying her details as well as using photos of horses. In my early teens, I stopped copying from other illustrators and worked exclusively with photos, trying to do exact renditions. However, I then found myself to be so dependent on photos, that they became a crutch. When the time came for me to find my own style, although it was difficult to let go of the crutch, I knew I was not growing into my own as an artist and was only duplicating the work of others.
I was also influenced by Paul Wooldrige, an illustrator from many years ago, who did work for the Arabian Horse World. I found his work to be brilliant and while trying to find my own hand, experimented with his style as well. However, as my skills continued to develop, I realized that, both when I write and when I draw, my hands naturally move in circles. Once I stopped trying to create in ways that were not natural to the ways my hands work, the cartoons which have become a dominant part of my portfolio, just happened, overnight. As I continued to develop this style, I found the freedom of working entirely from my own imagination—and that the sky was the limit. Although I can still be motivated by the work of others and it enriches me to follow their progress, I also find inspiration in pictures, people I meet, nature, light, and colors…to me everything lends itself to a big canvas.
Augusta Hammock: Criticism is an important tool for artists and is a focal point in art education, especially as it applies to drawing which is the foundation of most creative work. Although there are several approaches to critiquing art, most are linear and follow steps in which evaluative considerations lead from one to another. In one sense, it can be compared to the point system which Arabian horse judges use to determine the quality of horses being presented in competitions. In these methods, whether judging horses or evaluating art, preferences are not considered. The purpose of critiquing is to decide if a piece of art has successfully achieved its perceived purpose. And just as judges require extensive knowledge of the physicality and character of the Arabian horse, true art criticism must come from a depth of knowledge that would include history, materials as well as the myriad of factors that comprise the creative process.
As one who has been self-taught, my education did not include formal and/or professional critiquing. This was an area I had to navigate on my own. Over time I understood that if I create art, I’m going to be criticized by someone, somewhere for some reason—whether I asked for it or not—and that it can hurt. I have had to learn the nature of separating myself from my work so that I do not take negative assessments as personal attacks. On the other hand, I have found that criticism is worth considering if it comes from a place of experience and integrity. In fact, some of my greatest breakthroughs were the result of earnest critiques from friends, colleagues, and mentors.
What are your thoughts on criticism, and how has criticism affected you in your career as an artist?
Hannah Andersson: I paint because I can--because it gives me pleasure. I am happy that my art is appreciated by some, but even if no one liked it, I would still do it. I love colors, the feel of the paper, and the challenge of creating what I see in my mind. When I work, I enter a very special state of mind, a meditative one in which time evaporates. An artist friend once advised me to never paint for money. As my work has become more commercial, I often think of this. Because I have been self-taught, I also don’t have experience with formal critiquing.
Since childhood, my sister and I both painted. As opposed to my struggle to learn and improve, she was a natural. But we never compared or discussed art, we just strived to be better, each to our own. Any inspiration I took from her, or any other artists for that matter, was from the perspective of methodology, not my work specifically. However, as I started publishing in my early teens, I knew that my drawings would be seen by the entire county and by people who knew horses—so that made me very careful to do my very best.
Publishing is like letting people read your diary, and in the beginning, I was scared to death. Even today I can still be wary of people talking about my art because even well-meant comments can hit the wrong spot and screw with my head. I take all remarks to heart—both, those in which I agree and those in which I don’t. I also tend to shy away from too much adulation. When I work, this is my time and my place, and I don’t want other people in my head. Because of this, the role of outside criticism in my career has not been an important one. I know my flaws and work very hard to improve. Although I am much identified with my cartoon work of Arabian horses, I am aware that I can get too extreme in my portrayals, so sometimes I go back to other breeds just to straighten my pen.
Postscript by Augusta Hammock
I have admired the work of Hannah Andersson for years. In fact, in addition to being a collector, I have commissioned her on multiple occasions. So when Claudia and Lisa approached me to share a project which included Hannah, I was thrilled. Although we have different ways of expressing ourselves, I've always felt that Hannah and I were kindred spirits. Every creative professional has a life story that contributes to how they use art to communicate. Because of the complex dialogues that have taken place throughout the creation of this article, I have a greater context for Hannah’s life and who she is. As a result, I feel even more strongly about the richness and depth of her vision and talent.
Sometimes I put the people that I admire on a pedestal and revere them as being far above and beyond anything that I could ever attain. I can also find it difficult to allow myself to become vulnerable enough to acknowledge areas that need improvement. Working with Hannah has been a priceless exercise in self-belief. Her humbleness and transparency have been incredibly reassuring as I see that as creative people, we share some of the same struggles. However, as much as I have enjoyed learning about Hannah, this process has made me reflect on the uniqueness of my path as well. I have been reminded of my goal to grow and learn indefinitely and to become better than I was yesterday. Lastly but importantly, I'd also like to extend a sincere thank you to Claudia and Lisa for creating this opportunity. They too are creative professionals with perspectives that have been invaluable to the depth of this project. We go farther together and working with all three of these amazing women has been an enlightening, enriching experience.
Postscript by Hannah Andersson
When I was first approached by Lisa for this article, I don’t think she found me to be enthusiastic. Truth was, I was surprised and, at the same time, flattered to be included in this amazing group of women. But I was also hesitant of attention. I don’t consider myself to be shy and when it comes to horses and breeding, I can talk all day, at length, and with anyone--no problem. However, the subject of my painting is a whole different ballgame. My creative work involves places in my head and heart that I don’t know how to express, and honestly, have never even tried. I rarely go to shows and wouldn’t dream of doing gallery work. In these public instances, I often get approached with the few same comments to which I don’t know how to respond--I just try to be polite, all the while thinking about how I can disappear. Lisa didn’t let me get away with being elusive. She kept digging and forced me to think of ways to express myself in words. For me, painting is like eating and sleeping--something I do, not something I discuss, let alone critically analyze. There were moments in this process when I was annoyed at being dragged out of my comfort zone—a nice quiet, undisturbed life with my horses, my lovely dog, and painting. However, in the process, I did come to some realizations about myself, and others, and have formed new friendships. Although there were moments of discomfort, working on this article was a very rewarding experience.
Postscript by Claudia Darius
On behalf of The Arabian Horse Project, Lisa and I would like to thank both Augusta and Hannah for the courage to share their experiences honestly and transparently. This project has been months-long and has taken several twists and turns throughout its development. As opposed to working with a structured format, we allowed the information provided to guide us. Both artists worked hard to communicate some of their deepest thoughts, and it was not always easy. Artists are most comfortable communicating through their choice of creative production. However, this process required them to be vulnerable and express themselves in a way that was not dependent on letting their work speak for itself. Because of these remarkable efforts, I feel we have shared a unique insight into the creative process of two contemporary artists in the Arabian horse business.
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