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Flag Horse Part 1   |   Flag Horse Part 2  |   Flag Horse Part 3   |   Flag Horse Part 4

The Painting of a Flag Horse

Part Two of a Four Part Series by Bette Largent

This series is dedicated to those tragically lost September 11, 2001 and to those "patriots" who carry on the fight in order to "let freedom ring" through out the world.

Even though I have painted a few flag horses, I don't have a preference of theme - cool or warm. If the body is white, the theme is cool (snow, ice, winter). White will make all the trapping colors seem brighter as well. If the body is dark (brown, gold, black) the theme will be warm. (earth, sun, summer). The dark or black colors will make the trapping colors more intense as well.

In my selection of the body color for Patriot, I reviewed the photos of the other figures on this Dentzel carousel. They all were warm earth-tone hues. I also assessed the use for this horse. It will be a spare horse and will be given the job of riding in the empty spaces created as each individual figure is restored to their original glowing colors on the Rocky Springs Carousel.

I chose to use those colors that are easily touched up and will apply clear coats of Minwax Polyurathane for durability. The Spokane Looff was gifted with such a spare horse by the carvers of Chuck's Thursday Night Group. It is rarely off our carousel. It has saved us thousands of dollars in that it allows us to work on figures during the "restoration" winter months instead of having to do emergency work for one reason or another. When not on the carousel, it is on display at various locations as an ambassador for our carousel as well. This figure will do the same for the Lancaster, Pennsylvania project.

The horse arrived in one coat of primer

The horse arrived in one coat of primer and the silhouette proudly announces that it is a classically styled Dentzel complete with bended knee. After sanding and spot filling, two more coats of primer were applied. I prefer to apply the first coat of primer with a brush which enables me to push the cut edges of the carving full of primer. As this area may fur or spread apart, each fiber of the wood needs to be full and sealed with primer.

If you do not do this, you will pay dearly at the end of the painting when you try to get clear, crisp paint edges! Quite often the first coat of primer is sanded nearly off in order to get the furred wood completely smooth. This is part of the process.

The next two coats of primer can be sprayed on to save time. Krylon and Kilz are both very good brands of spray primer. You can even set the tone of the horse by using colored primers. I prefer Kilz for it's shellac base, especially for restoration of old wood.

Areas that need to be filled and sanded will appear as you go
I then set the tone and build the depth of color by mixing my selected final colors with primer. I can also get an idea of how my color choices will look. This also will assist in the overall wear appearance of the figure. As the nicks and scratches of ridership happen, it will appear fresher longer with this base coat of colored primer.

Apply the buckskin gold, then when dry, apply the shading
And yes, areas that need to be filled and sanded will appear as you go along. They seem to always pop up when you have a paint brush in hand, as if by magic. The body color will be applied in two steps. This is due to the combination of color to make the warm, gold color. If you try to shade it as you apply it in the common stipple method, the dark shading will turn to mud. It is better to apply the buckskin gold, then when dry, apply the shading. I do stipple the highlights as I apply the base buckskin body coloring.

It is better to apply many thin coats than several thick coats
The final coats are being applied. There are several areas of brown so I must be sure to use colors that are different. More orange in the mane and socks and more red in the saddle brown. A burgundy red for the other reds and purple for contrast. This is a natural combination as blue and red make purple. It is in the same color "family." All of these applications will take 2 to 3 THIN coats to achieve the effect I want. Most new painters quit too soon, or one coat short of a good paint job. Take the time to apply that one more layer of paint. Remember the rule, fat over lean, which means it is better to apply many thin coats than several thick coats.

The eye, muzzle and muscles are shaded
At this point, the eye is in place, and is shaded as well as the muzzle and other muscles. All this is done with a dry stipple method. Very little paint is on the end of the dry stipple brush and it is pushed, dabbed and rubbed over the body surface to get the effect needed. I will even put some purple on the blue loops of the bridle using this method, to pull the circle of color up to this area.

The blue of the straps has turned the eagle into a blue-black

This is where I check my temperature . . . of the shades and tones . . . not mine. My colors have all been mixed warm, but you can see how the blue of the straps has turned the eagle into a blue-black. In actual application the eagle is brown/black with the tips in tan. (warm). I have begun to exaggerate the folds of the flag, but not by adding blue. By adding the brown/black of the eagle, I keep the shading "warm" and also continue my circle of color. I will use the brown/black to darken the red stripes and orange to lighten the red. This is also "warm."

This style of patriot horse has been quite popular through the years. It has appeared in white, black, gold, and natural wood body colors. I did not refer to any previous photos on purpose. I wanted a logical and fresh approach to how I painted it. In the last part of the series, you will see some surprises in the final painting. I will also feature some flag horse photos sent to me by readers. If you have a favorite one, please email me your photo and I will include it as well.

Flag Horse Part 1   |   Flag Horse Part 2  |   Flag Horse Part 3   |   Flag Horse Part 4

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Bette Largent is a professional carousel horse restoration artist from Washington State, and the author of Paint The Ponies, a guide for those who are interested in learning the art of painting carousel figures.

Click Here for information on ordering her book.

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