How Long Did it Take You to Paint That?

Bay Hackamore horse Vaquero equine art original painting by Calgary artist Shannon Lawlor
Pedro – an authentic moment of the real West

Have you ever asked an artist ‘how long did it take you to paint that’? After years of struggling with how to respond to this question with respect, I have come to the realization that it has in fact taken a lifetime to produce the painting in question. This question is perhaps asked as a result of the viewer being attracted to one of my works, it then becomes a conversation starter where I can share my story. For me, the answer is never a calculation of dollars per hour as creativity is layered in life experiences and brush mileage.

It isn’t just about the countless hours sitting in front of a painting at the easel. It is a collective experience over my entire life. What I could paint ten years ago most definitely took me longer to execute than it would today. And how it was painted then is very different than how it would look today if I were to paint the same piece again. Collective brush mileage of each painting pays it forward into the next one and so on. And each painting becomes the recipient of the last, becoming the foundation of all future work. It is a process of increasing depth over time, over my lifetime.

When I started drawing as a child, I drew because I liked it, because it was my joy. Then I coloured in school because I liked it. And later, finding paint, I pursued that because I liked it. All the while, the subject matter generally made its way back to my default love, the horse. I imagine this is a common story of many a horse lover.

But as the years passed by, I kept drawing and painting intermittently, always emulating what I respected and appreciated in life. As my involvement with horses intensified, and my horsemanship developed, this too started to appear in my desire to put pencil to paper. As we horse lovers know, there are whole other worlds involved with the horses, breeds and disciplines. We might feel comfortable in the cutting pen, but be a complete outside observer at a dressage event. Purposeful horsemanship became very important to me, and with that came my respect for authentic gear and equipment. Learning about and appreciating what good gear was has always been a joy for me. In North America, different gear has developed over the ages, shaped by purpose depending on the lifestyle of the cowboys, the cattle and the land itself. Going back even further into history one can see when the horses and ‘vaqueros’ first came up through Mexico into California, bringing with them a strong sense of horsemanship and traditions rooted in the vaquero lifestyle. Their gear and horses were highly respected because they possessed a great sense of meaning and purpose to the vaqueros. This tradition has been carried down over hundreds of years and I find comfort in knowing that remnants of this deeply rooted lifestyle are very much alive and well here in North America.

One of my greatest joys is to embrace what I believe to be a glimpse of the Real West in my paintings. The longer I rode horses for a living, the less random my horsemanship became. I learned how to ride with a purpose, constantly honing my ability and slowly acquiring gear imbued with meaning and pride. And now, the longer I paint, the more instinctively I paint with purpose.

My latest painting, ‘Pedro’, encompasses the respect I have for great horsemanship, gear and traditions of the Real West. It emulates my philosophy that all good things take time to unfold and come to fruition. The predominant early morning light coming through the lofty arena window settled upon Pedro’s back as he took a breath from working the young horses under his tutelage. Started in the true Vaquero tradition, he was well on his way to becoming an accomplished bridle horse.  Pedro was in the hackamore stage of his training and proudly carried a roughout, partially tooled saddle accompanied by a coveted hand braided reata, as he helped work the horses that day. His moment of pause in that warm arena light became the authentic inspiration behind my latest offering. I hope you enjoy this moment of the Real West.

How long did it take me to paint ‘Pedro’? You now know the answer.