Five minutes with Ali Bannister
By Katy Islip
20 February 2012 09:00
We managed to grab five minutes with Artist and War Horse film contributor Ali Bannister - take a look at what she had to say:
How did you become a full-time artist?
I never thought I was good enough to make my art a viable career and fell into it really – I started a drawing of my horse and a friend saw it asked me to do one of hers, which someone else saw and asked if I’d do one for her, paid, and through word of mouth it grew from there. Eventually there came a time when I had to decide to give up my ‘proper’ work as a designer to draw full-time, and here I am!
Describe a typical day
I get up around 9.30am, light a fire in my studio and check my emails while I have breakfast. Then I’ll start work and I’ll draw for around five hours a day – it doesn’t sound like much but it requires so much concentration, it’s like an exam. Then I’ll do more admin, packing up prints people have bought and doing preparation work for new portraits on the computer. When I’m commissioned for a portrait I like to meet the animal in the flesh, it gives me a sense of their character and with horses, the owner can show me the expressions it can show and it also shows me how the owner likes to see the horse, so I can base the portrait around that look. I take lots of pictures, and it’s never rushed – I’ll spend all day there if necessary so I can the right shots.
What did your role as equine artistic director for War Horse entail?
It was two-fold, one part was producing the drawings you see in the film in Captain Nicholls’ sketchbook and the other was as head of equine hair and make-up which was very hands-on. I was initially working on the original design of Joey’s markings, and Stephen Spielberg chose which he liked best. We’d also work on different looks the horses needed for different parts of the story – one day we had to match 80 horses to a certain look, and for continuity you have to record exactly where every mud splodge and marking is, in case you have to reshoot the scene, and there was a lot of mud! All the stages of Joey’s life, from a foal to a grown horse, had to match across all the different equine actors, and all the background horses – with around 250 horses in total on set we were very busy! We also had to research things like the way manes would’ve been plaited in that period, but sometimes it was an aesthetic choice over historical accuracy, which at first I found hard because as a portrait artist, being true to your subject is crucial.
What’s the most interesting portrait you’ve done and why?
Every portrait I do sets me the challenge of capturing that animal just right, and it still gives me a thrill. I enjoyed the portrait I did of dressage stallion Donnersong for his owner Kate Carter, I worked very closely with her because the pictures we had were of Carl Hester riding him. I had to take Carl off the pictures before I started work, and a horse will go in a different way if he’s being ridden so there were a lot of adjustments to be made. In the end I just took loads of pictures and worked with Kate, going limb by limb to make the changes to get it just right.
The portrait of Joey I did for Michael Morpurgo was also very special. [The author of War Horse commissioned the picture after revealing the painting of Joey he described as hanging in Iddesleigh village hall didn’t exist.] They did an unveiling in the village hall down in Devon which was a huge deal for me. It was the first time I’d done a portrait without reference pictures and also the first time I’d worked in oil so I was there watching ‘how to’ videos on YouTube like a beginner! To paint a fictional horse was very different, and it had to be in a particular period style as well. I took a lot of inspiration from a painting my great-great-grandfather had done of his horse in 1879, it was like history coming full circle.
Find out more about Ali’s work at her websites - www.alibannister.com and www.warhorseart.com