Coloring outside the lines


“I know they are popular, but it’s not like you can put kissy-spots all over his face like that. It’s unrealistic!”

(Previously posted on September 23, 2008 on the Blackberry Lane Studio Blog.)

My oldest son, Brandon, likes rules. He’s not the kind of kid that is tempted to test the limits or stray from what he is told. In fact, he tends to view mere suggestions and loose guidelines as rules. Most adults, when they encounter children like this, think of them as “easy”. It certainly does mean fewer parent-teacher conferences!

But if you haven’t lived with it, it’s easy to overlook the downside. Because rules are comforting to kids like Brandon, they are always looking for them, and they often assume rules based on too few data points. (“If I have not seen someone do this thing, then this thing must be prohibited!”) They also tend to apply hard rules to areas where looser guidelines are more appropriate. As a parent I spend a lot of time encouraging my son to examine what he suspects are rules, and to look for exceptions. I don’t want his world to be narrower, more constrained, than necessary. There are a lot of non-traditional solutions out there, and sometimes taking advantage of them requires just a bit of uncomfortable rule-bending.

Pointing this out on a frequent basis has made me more sensitive to my own devotion to rules. (I know all too well just where he got this trait.) My desire to impose a structure on things, and my tendency to look for clues that might reveal hidden rules, helped me to understand coat color patterns. But like all lovers of rules, I have to recognize that the world is a lot messier than simple rules allow. Painting horses – particularly patterned horses – without any thought for the rules would obviously result in some unrealistic pieces. What isn’t so obvious is that painting horses strictly by the rules, without any bending, results in overly stereotyped patterns. Knowing pattern rules, I am not at much risk of producing an unrealistic pattern. What I have to guard against is producing patterns stripped of the little idiosyncrasies that give the impression that I am painting a specific horse, somebody’s horse, rather than an artist’s rendering of a given color.

That’s why I like attending horse shows, particularly those where I will see a lot of colorful horses. Nothing reminds me to be flexible when painting like standing next to a living, breathing horse that just should not look the way he does. And my visit to the Carolina Paint Horse Club “Fall Fling” this past weekend didn’t disappoint in that regard. (Paint Horse shows never do!)

So here are some painting errors, courtesy of some of the unrealistic horses I met.


“Some tobianos have random roan patches, but it’s not like they form a ruler-straight line that bisects the neck in half.”


“White on sabinos concentrates under the jaw, not on the top of the neck. And it certainly doesn’t create a ring around the neck.”


“The edges of sabino markings are often ticked and indistinct – but just the edges. The whole stocking isn’t like that.”


“Nope, that’s painted all wrong. That’s a German Shorthaired Pointer leg, not a horse leg.”

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2 Responses to Coloring outside the lines

  1. Heather June 9, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    Those are some really cool markings. Thanks for posting them.

  2. Stephanie Scherz Michaud September 23, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    These are great examples of how assuming something can’t ever happen, WILL just for spite! THANKS Lesli!