Monday, April 2, 2018
Forever Fergus: An Interview with Jean Abernethy by Gina McKnight
by Gina McKnight
As seen in the March 2018 Issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No duplication without permission.
Most certainly, if horses could connect on social media, they would "like" Jean Abernethy and her world famous cartoon character, Fergus the Horse! They would comment on Jean's cartoons with hearts and thumbs-up. They would laugh and smile at Jean's connection to the horse world and everything horse. A favorite comic of all horse-lovers, Fergus has entered our hearts and our stables. We appreciate Jean's wit; it resonates with us and keeps us motivated to clean stalls, enjoy our horses, and enjoy life in general. Thank you, Jean!
From Ontario, Canada, Jean was raised on a family farm and grew up on horseback. She attended Humber College, where she excelled in Equestrian Studies. Later, she attended OCAD University in Toronto and earned her degree in art. For over 35 years, Jean has graced magazine covers, print publications, and much more! She is the author and illustrator of several books, including her 2017 release of Fergus and the Greener Grass (Trafalgar Square Books). So far, three Fergus books are on the market. Jean is presently working on book #4 due to launch in fall of this year.
GM: Everyone loves your art! Almost every horse owner has owned a “Fergus” at some time or another! When did you create Fergus, and how has he evolved over the years?
JA: Fergus was created in 2000 after almost 20 years of cartooning using generic horse characters. I was asked “What is your horse’s name?” so often, that I decided to create a singular character. Fergus has managed to delve into many sports and disciplines, appealing to equestrians in general, rather than any particular niche. That has been the goal. I’ve also developed support characters to accompany Fergus into specific niches in the Industry. For example, he helps Russell work cattle, if I have a ranch work joke, or he is hitched to the carriage with Cleveland Ray if I have a driving joke.
GM: Are your cartoons based upon your own horse experiences, or do you have another source for content and creativity?
JA: Many of the comics are concepts from personal experience, and many from meeting horse people from various areas of the horse industry. I’ve learned a great deal from equestrian authors that I’ve made technical illustrations for. It is also important to study humor itself and the work of other cartoonists; thinking outside the paddock, so to speak. That is why I’ve added the talking pasture rock, and the piano-playing armadillo. I invent characters as I need them.
GM: There are so many wonderful Fergus (and friends) cartoons! Each one resonates and makes me laugh! To date, what is the most famous “Fergus” cartoon?
JA: The bucked-off snowman comic has become a classic. I invited Facebook followers to make a real one. A snow sculpture created by Monika Graf in Austria was a hit! The image is still zooming around on the internet. What fun that was!
GM: Besides Fergus, your still paintings are beautiful. Tells us about our love of art and design. What mediums do you use?
JA: Thank you. My greatest inspiration as a kid, was the Billy and Blaze books by C. W. Anderson. I loved those drawings and poured over every one of his books I could get my hands on. I even traced the drawings to try to figure out how he drew so beautifully. I eventually became good at it. There was something very satisfying about making a beautiful drawing of a subject that I loved. Those early studies were done in graphite. Later when I got into Art College I was shown various mediums to explore. Most of early illustrations were watercolor and ink. Oils are my first choice of painting medium now. The cartoons are all made in my computer.
GM: We would all like to know where you create. Describe your studio…
JA: I am fortunate to reside with my sister, Ruth Abernethy (also an artist, though not an equestrian). The house is surrounded by woods and farmland, so I have a delicious view out every window. Kitchen, dining, and studio are more or less one continuous open living space. Three saddles on stands reside in this space, each with its own story. A wooden rocking horse that I built when my boys were little stands beneath a Kreighoff print of Quebec pioneers racing their little horses on the ice. In one window shelf, rests a pony skull. In another, a series of very old iron stirrups collected over the years. My computers reside in one corner. That is where the artwork is created.
GM: The aesthetics of your creative space sound divine. Throughout your career, have you had a muse, mentor, or other inspiration that drives your creativity?
JA: My saddles, I would say, are my greatest passion besides the horses. I love saddles, have built a few, and had a few antique western saddles over the years. I find leatherwork highly satisfying. I’ve written a few songs, too. Music has been a part of my life.
JA: My earliest memories of being with horses involved my cousin Laurie, who had two ponies on her dad’s dairy farm. I longed to visit her and ride the ponies with her. That was a mile’s walk across the fields. I was about six. When I was seven, Santa delivered a pony to our farm. She was skittish, fast and very green. I did not ride her much until my big brother got her going. Then he got a bigger pony, and the two of us rode for miles on the snowmobile trails. We didn’t have saddles. (If you’re going to fall off, do it in a snowdrift. That’s the best way!).
Fresh out of high school, I enrolled in an equine studies program at a local college. Then I had real riding lessons, learned some solid fundamentals. That education opened all kinds of doors for me in the horse industry as an artist, consequently I pointed myself towards Art College. While I was married and raising two sons, I made friends at local barns and did whatever I could to keep horses in my life. Over the years I’ve worked as a barn hand, and a carriage driver and a trail guide.
GM: Who is your favorite artist?
JA: As mentioned, C.W. Anderson was a favorite from my childhood. There are so many artists now focusing on equine subjects and making stunning work, it seems unfair to start pointing fingers, as I discover new artists regularly. I do love to revisit the drawings and paintings of Lucy Kemp Welch, and Sir Alfred Munnings. Welch made studies from life and could really capture the emotions of the horses. Munnings knew things about light and color that could set a powerful mood for his entire composition.
GM: You have been featured in many publications, including the Paint Horse Journal, Quarter Horse Journal, Chrome, Horse Illustrated, Horse Canada, Young Rider and more. A rewarding career, the world loves your creations. What are your future plans; what are you writing, creating, and where will Fergus go next?
JA: Thank you. I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to create illustrations for books and articles by professional equestrians. It’s been a grand education. There is more hilarity ahead for Fergus! I’m presently working on book #4, which will launch in the fall. Watch Facebook for details.
GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
JA: I suppose I would define horsemanship as one’s rapport with the horse; one’s ability to work around them, and with them to get a job done. It is a process of noticing their nature and honing one’s skills until ultimately there is a sense of teamwork; of purpose for both parties. Like visual art or music, it is a lifetime of learning, and striving to do better.
To purchase a copy of Jean's books, visit www.jeanabernethy.com. To find out more about Fergus the Horse, visit www.fergusthehorse.com.
Gina McKnight is a freelance writer from Ohio USA. gmcknight.com