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  • Writer's pictureLinda Gruenberg

The Making of Good Luck Chestnut

Good Luck Chestnut started when my friend Kimmy challenged me to paint her a picture. Kimmy’s challenge went something like this: “Let’s paint each other pictures for Christmas.”

When Kimmy sent me the message, I was in Michigan visiting home (my mom), but lived in Lapland, Sweden. It turned out I had taken my watercolor paints to Sweden, too. But I found one tube of raw sienna plus a few student-grade tubes of blues, greens, and a black. The horse was obviously going to have to be buckskin on a green and blue background—those were the only colors I had.

So I thought about Kimmy. My first memory of her was her visiting in the dead of winter, pulling a winter hat down over her eyes—completely un-abashed to look silly in a winter hat—and then being delighted to sit on one (or all) of our horses as we hung out in the barn—literally. Together she and I hung over the horses like bags of potatoes, arms around their necks, lying backward or frontward, loving on those horses like teenage kids know how to do best.

So I drew Kimmy as I think of her, hanging out on a horse, thus:

Watercolor Buckskin Horse and Child
Kimmy Hanging Out on a Buckskin

Then, because the buckskin was so pretty, I carried on and painted two more buckskins (I still had some raw sienna left).

I was afraid to paint the child’s face, as you can see.

That’s when I noticed a pattern: Kids getting comfortable on horses. What if … what if I started painting kids and horses in every position of hugging and jumping on and off and hanging around that I could think of? And what if I made the horses in every color? And—excitement building—what if I made the kids in every color?

As for the text, what if I made silly or funny or merely happy rhymes about the horse colors, with a bit of “find it” built into the pictures? For instance …

Palomino jalapeño maraschino cherry?

Chestnut, good luck, gold fish and canaries?

Watercolor palomino horse and happy small girl
Palomino Jalapeño Maraschino Cherry

So I painted the first horse for the project—knowing it was for the project this time. I painted our Quarter Horse, Sage, with a tiny, happy child aboard, thus:

And that was the beginning of a three-year art project that took me into a Craftsy class along the way, with art instructor Ann Thomas teaching me and the others how to draw children. I painted a couple of my very favorites in her class, getting braver with faces all the time.

Here are the paintings I made with Ann's encouraging help:

You know when you’re a kid, you think you might die before Christmas? That’s how I felt—for the entire three years. I thought I might die before getting to the last painting of my Good Luck Chestnut project. And sure enough, before my book was done, the world got hit with the Covid 19 pandemic.

But I was painting happy children and beautiful horses, and I didn’t die, and I have this set of picture books in two languages that pleases me beyond all [slant] rhyme or reason. Gotta love my friend Kimmy. And Ann. And Kenneth who helped me with the Swedish version. And all those kids who showed up by plan or accident on the pages of Good Luck Chestnut and Lycka till flaxfux.

Ann Thomas's website:

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Solveig Aaro
Solveig Aaro

Hello! I love the horse pictures, cards that I bought from you at the Pajala Market. Though, I have not written and sent any of them yet... just looking at them, still. Now I, we are back home in Uppland/the county of Uppsala. Left Juhonpieti/Pajala and Korpilombolo a week ago. Planning for Pajala Market next summer, and hope to se you there.

// Solveig Aaro.

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