By Karen Carruth

There is no doubt that the passion in Madeleine Juniper’s life is divided equally between painting and her beloved subject, horses.

We meet in her sitting room/studio at her home in Friockheim, Angus, and the walls are covered in paintings of horses of all shapes and sizes. Also taking wall space are lucky dogs and some livestock, which have been immortalised by Madeleine’s paintbrush.

The room we are in is cool, the windows are wide open, there’s art paraphanelia all over the place, and there is a refreshing aroma of fresh mint which is drying on a pulley overhead, ready to be used for tea. It’s very relaxing, with gentle classical music playing in the background.

Madeleine starts by telling me about her background in sculpture. She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and had a reasonably broad art training, some was figurative but the encouragement was toward abstract art. On graduating she did continue to work but not at a career level.

“It wasn’t until I was 40 that I really started working again. Lots got in the way and while children are young you have little time. We moved to rural France for a while and I became involved with people who drove the local heavy, Trait d’Auxois horses, wonderful heads full of character. Something just clicked and I knew that I wanted to start painting them.”

Having grown up on the back of horses, the love has never gone away. With no art establishment pressure she could work with her own passions. She started some of the draft horse heads. She had always seen horses as friends and characters and was now inspired by concentrating on their individuality.

“We came back from France, and after a bout of illness I was encouraged to start up a business painting portraits and in 2006 took my first little exhibition to Blair Atholl Horse Trials. There was plenty of interest and I haven’t really looked back.

“I still go to Blair and I take a stand at The Royal Highland Show in the equestrian village, like everything some years are brilliant for business, and other times print sales can be quite slow.

“But clients who have commissioned before expect me to be there and there are always new inquiries to be discussed and arranged. It’s good to see everyone at the shows, after a long winter of solitary painting.”

She loves to work to commission. “I adore meeting new characters, I visit them at their yards to take as many photographs as possible, I find it really helps me to get the essence and feel of who they are. I need good light, that’s why I’m always chasing the sunshine during the summer, seeing them at their shiny best.”

Madeleine’s training is in sculpture so she has had to develop her own painting, which she finds hugely interesting.

“I love to play with composition, the pleasing balance of line, colour and tone, if an image sits well, it effects your own confidence and how you put the paint down.”

Unlike a lot of commercial painters Madeleine uses oil paint rather than acrylic. “I started with acrylic but oil gives me something special, it has a rich, live feel and is much more fun to work with, being natural it even changes slightly depending on the light around it. Of course, it takes longer to dry, and you need to build up numerous coats, drying in between, well that’s my way, there are others. I like to allow six to eight weeks for a commission to be finished using oils.”

We talk about the creative flow and Madeleine talks passionately about how it affects her.

“I think the ability to really paint is some sort of magic. It’s the same in all the arts. At times you have to switch off your brain and work from your instincts, from your stomach. If you think too much you end up blocking the flow. I can struggle with a piece and then suddenly something just clicks and takes over. I think it is my inner self but it is more likely to be some sort of endorphin, I’m not sure but sometimes I look at a painting and wonder how I did it.”

This is her life, she paints almost every day if she can or at least thinks about it. Horses and dogs seem to be the subjects that lights the fire.

On the walls are paintings not only of horses but of dogs, particularly Sight Hounds, many, many beloved pets caught for eternity. There’s livestock, a few Connachan tups, and there’s cattle up there too. She has painted many Highland ponies and has learnt much from working with some of the most important breeders in the country. These ponies are not only characters but excellent examples of their breed and that needs to be captured.

Madeleine has done some wildlife painting. She feels that the main point of depicting a wild animal is to express not so much their individuality but their place in the natural environment.

She knows when something is finished but adds: “Often they say that you can get blind to paintings, and that you should put it away for a while then come back to it with fresh eyes, and I have to do that. Very occasionally clients say paintings need tweaked but the normal response is huge delight and sometimes tears, “Wow, you’ve really caught them,” and that’s a wonderful moment.”

Madeleine has always loved animals, being dyslexic, school wasn’t easy, but she felt she could always relate to animals, but with artist’s eyes she admires their form and movement, she waves her hands in joy at the thought of painting short fur, the kind that shines over form.

What is a little different about her work is that it is not bound to a very strict style. She says that for every work she really tries to let the subject inspire and develop itself. The working formula is pretty basic.

“I suppose I do have a style because my work is recognisable but I try not to let it control me. The characters and the photos I take of them are inspirations and I try to stay open to that. I think the results are much more exciting.”

Paintings start by sketching out the whole thing and building it up like a piece of sculpture, blocking up the broad surfaces of forms, working on the whole canvas to keep proportions in balance.

“The eye is detailed first as it is the important element that will keep me focused on who they are. Once that and the main structure is down you start to paint with smaller brushes to create detailed form.”

The creative genes are strong with Madeleine, her father was an architect, and a painter too, and she says it was always something they could discuss together in a very down to earth way.

“He has always been a huge influence on me, and even though he doesn’t paint now we can still discuss the paintings on the wall for hours.”

In the studio sits a huge printer, where she produces her own prints. She says you can’t ever recreate the magic of an oil in a print, but she realises that it makes her work more affordable.

And what of the future? “I will keep working until something gets in the way of that. I feel like I have to do it, it’s my drive and passion and I get huge rewards from it. In some ways I think I am quite selfish because I get so much joy from it but when a client shows how much they love the painting, that is the real reward.

“I’m very grateful I can do this, I run my own business, and I don’t take it for granted at all. I know that I am very lucky.”