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painted carnival pony artwork by Cathy Locke

Runs High to the Clouds

By Cathy Locke

An artist's journey of exploration and process creating a painted work of art on a carnival pony.

When the pony first arrived at my studio, I heard Runs High to the Clouds whispered in my ear. It took some time for me to understand the meaning of this. 

Once I fully unwrapped the pony from its shipping container, I got busy with the task in front of me. The pony had been in storage for a number of years and needed to be properly prepared so I could turn it into a work of art. My husband was a dear, cleaning her up, doing lots of sanding and primed her to be ready for painting. 

This was a daunting project for me because as a fine arts painter I strictly work on a flat surface, like canvas or wood panels. Here was this three-dimensional sculptural object in front of me, which created a whole new set of surfaces that needed to work together in unity. I have a very painterly style that incorporates soft edges and color transitions. I was very hesitant about how my painting style was going to translate as a sculptural piece.

The first concept that I tried was painting ribbons around the pony’s front legs and having them flow to its tail. When I finished, I thought it looked way too much like a little girl’s toy pony. It was a million miles away from the more tribal image I was originally given when Runs High to the Clouds was first whispered in my ears.

I started doing a lot of research and found an image that really spoke to me. At that point I started into concept number two, making a more edgy looking Indian tribal pony. Working with a range of grays, I introduced color slowly. I exchanged the pink for a coral color, then poured white paint over its backend letting the drips run down the side of the body in hopes of creating the look of an Indian blanket. However, the paint was not acting the same on the pony as it would have on a canvas or wood panel. Again, I found that this was just not where I wanted to go. 

Meanwhile COVID-19 arrived. I was fairly frustrated that nothing seemed to be working on my pony, but I did not want to give up. It was a time for reflection. I gave a lot of thought about this, and what was it I wanted to give the world right now through this artwork? My answer was inspiration, keep climbing high, and don’t lose sight of your highest goal. 

My father had died a few months before the pony had arrived. During this time, I came across a photo of him standing behind his desk with this huge painting of clouds behind him. I love this photo not only because the painting is such a masterpiece, but because my dad’s true love was space, as he had been very involved in the NASA space program. It was then that it dawned on me that it was probably him whispering in my ear, giving me inspiration to not give up. And, hey why not paint clouds on the pony? 

I loved where the head of the pony was going from concept two, but for concept three I started adding clouds and the light of a sunrise to the pony. It took a long time to build up the clouds and the color so there was a sense of harmony on all sides of this sculpture. With this third version I felt more of sense of satisfaction and completion. 

I wanted the pony to sit on a thin vertical column. It was really hard to find a pedestal maker during the COVID quarantine. But, after searching all over the United States, the one pedestal maker who could do the job was located twenty minutes from my dad’s house north of Chicago. They did a great job, really brilliant how they made it all work and look so beautiful. 

I am very honored to be part of the Pony Up Quarter Horse Project. It has been very challenging at every step, but I kept going, solving problems along the way. It’s my hope that this piece is a daily inspiration to everyone to aspire to your highest greatness!

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