5. Working With Powerful Imagery

Post Date: March 23, 2017


I would like to begin this by saying a large, heart-felt 'Thank you' to all the students who have embraced these Lessons With Lesley since I began writing them in 2011 as a 'pay it forward' thank you to life!

Since then, I cannot tell you how touching it is to have the most incredibly gifted students showing up to my workshops with binders 3" thick because you've printed them all out!  I can't believe I've written so much!  Your enthusiasm inspires me to keep going! 


ESPRIT (In process)  - 60" x 60" oil on canvas - (Available at Solo Show, New Editions Gallery, Lexington, Kentucky.  November, 2017)


It has become clear to me through the demos, workshops and Newsletter contacts (click here to sign up) that you want to know the following:

  • How do I find powerful images; my 'vehicles' for artistic exploration?
  • How do I infuse my paintings with a certain expression/emotion, even when the image is a horse?

I consider these questions to be perhaps the most important for any aspiring artist who likes to work with imagery, and I will try to help you understand them from my personal journey and perspective.  (I don't want you to think I consider myself 'an expert'; This is my practice, based on my own explorations, inner and outer.)

For me, often times it begins with being.... 


Here is the story of one my favorites, so far....

We've all been there at some point, haven't we?  That search for 'the' image... You've hauled your camera equipment up hill and down dale shlepping your long lens and your sketch books in the hopes of capturing something that inspires you.  You're shooting this and that, hoping you caught that special moment; hoping your equipment and your expertise was up to the job... You arrive home, tired and dusty but can hardly wait to see 'what you got', so you grab your laptop and plug in the memory card.... It's like Christmas for you as all those images begin to load, and with the expectancy of a 5-year-old, your eyes swim over everything, hoping... hoping that at least one of the images will contain that 'certain something'; that essence of something intangible; a rare beauty.

What if random chance is not your thing? What if you know a certain horse, animal or person, and you are so moved by his presence, her kindness, their innate spirit? It's possible to set yourself up for a greater chance of success. This is what I was trying to do when I shot one of my favorite horses, the magnificent Tentador, and Andalusian stallion. Thanks to my friends Patty, Linda and Neal the Bear, we were able to chase him around with a plastic bottle of rocks! At 17 years old, he pranced and played with sheer delight and I snapped away, hoping I had 'caught something'... And I caught this...


TENTADOR photograph by Lesley Humphrey, copyright 2000


When the prints came in and I first looked at this image, I was shaken, and not because it was gorgeous, which it was... There was something else.  Could it be the beauty of the horse, the gesture, the light, all of those surface/visual things?  All those were valid but there was something more; I was actually shaken in ways impossible to describe!  I had an extremely visceral response to the image, an instant, strong feeling "from the neck down", completely divorced from any aesthetic or technical appreciation.  In the years that have followed, I have found that I cannot put this particular image down, and even after all this time, it has strong, inspirational energy for me still.

This doesn't happen often.  Most of the time the finite mind cannot fathom such an internal reaction but when it does, I believe we're supposed to work with it until we do.... How do we?

When an image won't put you down, if you keep working with it, eventually you might find there is meaning in it just for you.  How do you find out?  Well, you paint it, and paint it, and paint it again....as in a series; You can write about it if you like to journal.... Or you can explore it in a variety of unique ways such as doing a Soulcollage®.  Allow me to explain....

As artists, I like to think we're never done; In other words, we're always learning and discovering things.  I know I am... and I discovered the Soulcollage® process 5 years ago while studying at the Jung Center, Houston and 3 years ago became a trained facilitator.  It works upon the principal eloquently described by Meister Eckart, as follows:

"When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image before her and seeks to embody the image."

I've used the following process in my workshops from time-to-time and it works so well.  It's a wonderful way to introduce students to greater understanding of their own likes and dislikes, and a great way to help students to find out why one image is more dear, more worthy of creative interpretation than another.  Here is how I recommend you use it:

1.     Go through some images you've cut out, photographed, sketched, torn out of magazines/books, etc.  It doesn't matter if they're yours or not. 

2.     Scatter these images on a table or around floor...

3.     Walk around silently, evaluating them only as they 'feel' rather than 'how good they look' or 'how great a painting they would make.  We're after a strong "below the neck" energetic response from you rather than a thinking, brainy choice!  (Can be scary or lovely - don't over-think!)

4.     Pick up 2-3 that have the strongest energy for you.  Take them to your favorite spot.  Get a cup of tea or something.

5.     Using a recording device, or your journal if you like to write, imagine YOU ARE THAT IMAGE, and pretend that the image is speaking, not you!  Begin to talk or write.  Begin every sentence with "I am one who" or "I am the one who...." and just keep going until you run out of things to say.  No rules at all.  You can even speak from any other item in the image. 

6.     Do it for the other images. 

7.     This is your body speaking.  Your whole self.  It's called 'working with the image' and the most important thing to know is that there are no rules at all, just keep 'spewing' and pretending.  You will likely be rusty at first and this is because it's been years since you've just imagined with pure abandon, not caring what anyone things!  If you feel self-conscious, NEVER MIND, (pardon the pun) just put the image where you can see it and 'let it be'...

8.     If you want to do a SoulCollage® with it, just get a 5 " x 8" piece of matt board or card, and make a background for it (again, not trying to be good with it) and glue/collage the image on.  No rules...

9.     If you would like to explore a wonderful, inexpensive version to use with kids visit Mecards4kids or watch this wonderful video at https://vimeo.com/102700352

10.    If you want to explore SoulCollage® in more depth, or become a trained facilitator yourself, there is a wealth of information available on the internet.  You can go to www.soulcollage.com, www.kaliedosoul.com and there are a host of youtube videos.



How my photograph became a vehicle of expression; Exploration in a series


THE WHITE HORSE : 18 x 24 charcoal on board by Lesley Humphrey, 2002


Another way of exploring a powerful image is to keep painting it until it loses energy for you....  This image continues to beckon me, helping me to express the un-expressible;  Sometimes bringing courage and resolve as an icon, and sometimes reflecting the status of my spirit.

THE WHITE HORSE depicted above was the first time I worked with the image.  I was using an image to demonstrate my 'Key #2'  (How to infuse your work with personal expression.  Circa 2002).  I had 'internal content' that I wished to express, rather than replicate a perfect rendition of the surface appearance.... My choice of media, surface preparation, position in the picture and overall surface abstraction helped provide a visual language, and portray the deeper intent behind the piece.  I didn't know it back then, but this first artwork, the above charcoal was actually the first 'leap' (pardon the pun) into my ongoing "ESPRIT" series... Last year, mother reminded me that, since I could hold a pencil in my nubby little hands I've been drawing predominantly one thing; a white horse.  I realized that I've been painting it ever since I was 4!  (Interestingly, even my now famous Kentucky Derby 137 image was a white/grey horse before 'they' made me make it into a dappled gray horse, under great duress, I might add!)

Here are some more...

When everything seems to be going up in flames, it has given me courage to run into the fire....


INTO THE FIRE:  12 x 16" oil on panel by Lesley Humphrey 2015


When I am exploring new ideas and changing, it enlightens me...


EMERGENCE : 12 X 16 Watercolor on Paper by Lesley Humphrey


When I am hurt, and need patching up, it mends me....


            MENDING (detail) : 14 x 18 oil on panel by Lesley Humphrey


And when I am fully inspired, like at the moment, the image fills my studio as in this life-sized version currently on the easel... (See first image "Esprit" above)



My goal for Lessons With Lesley is to prove to you, once and for all that if an ordinary, busy little lady, housewife, mother and daughter like me can do this, you can too! 

Hundreds of students from all over the world who have seen my live demonstrations have asked for videos so they can 'see the lessons painted'.  As I was mulling this over, I recalled the words of a long-time, now very successful artist; "Once I saw you paint with such freedom and verve, I knew for the very first time that it was possible.... That's why you have to make videos of your demonstrations, because watching you paint brings it all to light." 

So I want to help you, in the comfort of your own home/studio, and prove to you that you too can do this, be creative and express yourself.  The best way we could think of doing this was to create online video lessons, and after much soul-searching and many hours of work, we've done it!


We're so excited!  In addition to my introductory videos where I thoroughly explain and demonstrate my '12 Lights', we have created and are about to launch 5 content-rich lessons/demonstrations using this very image, designed to set your creative spirit free using 5 separate media:  Acrylic, charcoal, oil, watercolor, and mixed-media.  We have to charge a little for the video tutorials as they are quite expensive to produce and offer online.  This 50 minute demo is the first in the new series!  Check it out!

Happy painting and please, please pass it on so we can bring you more!


Click here to check out our video store or go to:


Final Word….


My life is a living testament to the old statement “What comes around, goes around”’; or “What you do for others in an act of generosity, comes back tenfold”.  In honor of this code, I began writing down everything I know in these lessons in 2011 and began to offer them out, for free…. But it’s very valuable information.  The lessons constitute a lifetime of learning, and are lent to you as an act of generosity to help you on your artistic journey.  If you find this material helpful, continue to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing this website with others so that they too can be inspired with Art through "Lessons With Lesley."

We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or question on the contact page.


All content and images contained in this website, including “Lessons With Lesley” remain the property of Lesley Humphrey, along with all rights and privileges connected thereto under international copyright laws.  Under no circumstances can the content of this website be transferred or utilized for other than one-time, personal use without permission of Lesley Humphrey, or L and L Humphrey, LLC, its agents or assigns.

All rights reserved, Lesley Humphrey 1988-2018