Sunday, January 17, 2016

Revisiting a Subject

As I engaged in my intense plein air project last summer, I made note of several subjects I wanted to revisit. Due to extreme time constraints, some days were slap-dash and left me feeling frustrated. I was especially drawn to this back-lit fence of white bandages - promising myself that I'd go back to it with care and intention.

Bandage Laundry, 8"x10" oil on panel, plein air
It's the perimeter of what's called the wash rack, as in horses, not laundry. Horses are bathed in this fenced-off, concrete designated area after their morning workout, and when all have been tended to, the rack is cleaned and the laundry (including saddletowels and other misc. pieces) are hung to dry.

Rudy's Saddletowels, 5"x7", oil on panel
My studio interpretation would not be possible without the plein air studies. I've read over and over about these little paintings informing the studio works of  accomplished artists and now I finally understand the concept. For instance, if I relied strictly on my photo reference, the shadows would be much darker due to the contrasting nature of photographs. I can't tell you how often I stood still and stared at the backside morning light taking in all the nuance and glory and making mental notes. It's no wonder I attracted so many inquisitive looks and head shaking!

Track Laundry, 18"x24", oil on canvas, studio
This was a joy to paint. First, because of the realization of how deeply the Oklahoma stable area has impressed itself upon my psyche, but also because I love the random dance of the bandages in the light and the breeze.

Tidy whities,

Monday, December 28, 2015

Year in Review 2015

Already...the annual review. It's funny how you think you haven't accomplished much until you think back over the year.

In sort of a monthly/seasonal order:

  • The frigid winter was miserable but it kept me in the studio without the distraction of any pleasant weather or fun things to do. The more I worked the more work came to me. That in itself was a huge epiphany and I was very productive.
  • It's important to me to have a good relationship with the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame located right here in Saratoga Springs. In the early spring I served as judge for two of their student art shows. The young talent is impressive...and painting horse racing to boot!
  • For the second consecutive year I created the cover program art for the High Hope Steeplechase in Lexington, Kentucky. I didn't make it to the event due to weather concerns. Springtime in the bluegrass can be extremely volatile but wouldn't you know it...the nasty storms cleared in time for the races. Dang.
  • As the weather finally warmed I stepped out of the studio to plein air paint, participating in the Paint the Battlefield plein air event on the hallowed grounds of the Saratoga National Battlefield.
  • In early June I traveled to Cumberland, Maryland as an accepted artist in the Allegany Arts Council's Mountain Maryland Plein Air Competition. The weather was miserable but all of us artists had to cope. This was only my second competition and I struggled to learn the hard way. The awards ceremony overlapped with the running of the Belmont Stakes and I sneaked out to a nearby bar in order to witness history as American Pharoah clinched the Triple Crown. It was a surreal and joyous end to my week of frustratingly bad painting and I was euphoric!
  • I gave two of my decent paintings to an honorable local organization to assist them in raising funds for their cause. The money raised didn't even cover framing and it wasn't because my paintings were substandard. Being a glutton for punishment I did it again with another organization (this one very well-heeled) in a live auction and suffered through the embarrassment of a pitiful final bid. Will I do it again? Of course! But let any other artist heed my advice and do think clearly about giving away your original artwork to fund raisers. It's a complicated affair and no, your donation is NOT tax deductible.
  • Participated in the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm's Open House. Sales were slow but these wonderful people work so hard to preserve an important piece of horse racing history and I was glad to help.
  • It was time to prepare for my big yearly exhibit at the Saratoga Race Course. Those of you who follow this blog are familiar with my self-imposed plein air project: Forty Paintings in Forty Days. I managed to create thirty and that was no small feat. It was exhausting, stressful and an exhilarating learning adventure on so many levels. I made some decent paintings along with some turkeys, sold several and made important connections. This was clearly the best and brightest highlight of my year.
  • A week after the race meet concluded, I painted plein air in Londonderry, Vermont at a working farm. The event was indirectly organized by the Oil Painters of America.
  • The Seneca Lake Plein Air Festival in Geneva, NY was next. This would be my third competition and again, the weather was cold, windy and overcast. I was much better prepared after my intensive summer of painting at Saratoga and I finally sold. Yup, that's me in the photo below.
  •  This Christmas season was my best for custom commissions in many years, renewing my faith that the economy is improving and patrons are beginning to collect art once again. 
So there you have it. Lots of plans for 2016 and I'm optimistic. I'm currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic. I don't think she'll mind if I share a quote with you that's very affirming to creative types:
"You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures." - Elizabeth Gilbert

If that's true, then I've had a very good year.

Happy New Year to everyone in 2016,

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Full Circle

 “Horses make a landscape look beautiful.” ― Alice Walker

I took advantage of the amazingly warm weather we're enjoying up here in the arctic circle. Temps were in the 50's and that's toasty enough to haul out my plein air easel and get some fresh air.
Listening, 8"x10", oil on panel, plein air

I'm painting what I know. Seems obvious but I struggled with this deceptively simple concept on many intriguing levels. Desiring to move away from equine art, especially horse racing, I set out on a journey of exploration with an attitude. It's always conducive to artistic growth to step away from our comfort zones. However, spending last summer intensively painting plein air at the Oklahoma barn area at Saratoga raised some serious questions concerning my direction as an artist. And then there was that little documentary about the Indian Relays that set my heart soaring and my creative juices on fire!

You could say I've come full circle.

So, about my piece: I set up to paint in horse country, close by McMahon Thoroughbreds and Saratoga Glen Farm. My chosen site was a crumbling old farm with decent pastures that appear to be leased out to board a few well-maintained broodmares.

Here's the glorious thing about painting solo outdoors: your senses become hyper-sensitive and hear every little rustle, far off rumble and creature calls. I heard a faint, distant neigh and so did the subject of my painting.

And a not few moos, either.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Indian Relay

There are moments, events, people and places that fill an artist with transforming inspiration. Not merely ah-ha moments but big, bold epiphanies that occur when least expected. Ranging from stopped-in-your-tracks introspection to heart thumping excitement, they're rare and deeply welcomed.

Early one morning last week I channel surfed onto a PBS program called Independent Lens. The featured story was a documentary titled: Indian Relay. I was stretching through my usual yoga routine and, wow oh wow, did I sit up and take notice.

The title is aptly descriptive: a relay horse race belonging to the Indian Nation. Different tribes compete at various locations and through a process of elimination, the winners vie for final championship races in Billings, Montana during September.

It's three times around a track of varying distances, most being a half to five-eighths of a mile. The same rider races all three but must change horses twice. That's the relay part, three times around on three different horses. As the rider completes the first trip, he dismounts (at practically full gallop) as the "mugger" catches his horse and the rider jumps on the next. Now here's the thing: these horses are ridden bareback. No saddles. And the riders must swing up on the next horse with no help from the team handler. Crazy, huh? With the exception of a set of blinkers here and there, it's a simple bridle with no tongue tie, nose band, figure eight or any other racing equipment.

If a horse gets loose, the team is disqualified.

Training begins out on the open range when the weather breaks.

The riders are supreme athletes and possess the confidence and fearlessness of youth. Considered an extreme sport, the element of danger and risk is prevalent. It's pure adrenaline overdose. The timing is critical, the horses are intensely excited and the team stands poised to embark on a mid-air transfer that combines chaos and collision.

I felt elated after watching the documentary. Yes, there's danger but there's also respect, love, honor, devotion, cooperation, ritual and of course, bravery. Everything an artist could ask for. Speed and movement. It's the rhythmic bass of hoofbeats felt deep down in my solar plexus.

True fact: every night my dreams are of horses. Every...single...night. I still honor and obey the muse.

Beyond excited,

Sunday, November 08, 2015

It's a Wrap

Last week was unseasonably warm up here in the arctic circle. My studio is demanding that I leave the plein air studies and buckle down. Did I listen? Of course not. I managed this piece on a warm morning before all the color disappears.
Guard Shack, 10"x8", oil on panel
Melancholy sets in as I observe the constant stream of vans load and leave. Some stables will stay in New York while others head south for warmer climes.

There are very few outfits left at Oklahoma and they must all be out by November 15th when the barn area packs it in for the winter. It's depressing but I remind myself what a great run I've had. Since the summer I've produced well over 60 plein air pieces, each one a valuable painting lesson during it's creation. I also met many horse people who were amused yet supportive of my efforts. Even security was tolerant as I imposed myself almost every morning at a different location.

My biggest takeaway was immersing my psyche into the history and milieux of Oklahoma. The spirit of the place is powerful and embraces your soul. I now understand why so many plein air artists become addicted to painting outside from life. And why horse people can't wait to return year after year. My mind quiets as I attentively listen to the sounds that surround me. The effect is intoxicating and time slows. History has left it's imprint for those you wish to absorb it. The future feels certain but distant and there is only...right...this...moment.

Many years ago I was here, in a much different incarnation, getting dumped or run off with by my buckskin pony, Spit. What a journey. We do evolve, don't we? Now it's an entirely new generation who do not recognize me.

Feral cats await their turn,

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Oklahoma Lore

I managed this little plein air sketch this week when the weather warmed up. My biggest challenge to painting outside as the weather cools is keeping my hands comfortable. Everything else is easy...long underwear and my Ariats with Thinsulate keep my core and feet warm, but the fingers - even with hand warmers - get painfully cold. It's always been a problem even when I was young. As a last ditch effort, I ordered SmartWool gloves today as suggested by another artist. Realistically, I have to accept that temps under 40 call for studio work, as much as I'd love to paint outside in the snow.

I set up on one of the trainer's viewing stands, facing the back of one of Pletcher's barns across from the track at Oklahoma (Saratoga Race Course). The brilliant gold of the tree against the barn in shadow on an overcast day was irresistible.
Gold Tree, 8"x10", oil on panel

Because I was next to the clocker's stand, a few trainers came and went, ignoring me for the most part. An older trainer, Leon "Blue", was curious about my painting and told me an interesting little snippet of history. He stated that over 40 years ago (Leon's probably in his early 80's), another old timer informed him that the stall on the far right was used by Man o' War. He added that he didn't know how true that was but it's interesting anyway and could indeed be possible. I emphatically agreed.

If it's not too cold tomorrow morning, I'll try to get to the track to take advantage of the fleeting time I have left while the horses are still here. I'll go and stand in that very stall and attemp to invoke the spirit of one of greatest race horses in history. I'm not the zen master I wish I was but sometimes...just sometimes...if I'm quiet...I can pick up vibes.

It's just so wonderfully romantic,
P.S. Talk about history - the fences in my sketch enclose the remains of the old Horse Haven track...easily 150 years old.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


I park my website with host FineArtStudioOnline. A daily article via FASO is delivered to my inbox and I think anyone can subscribe. These short newsletters are written by artists, their spouses, marketers, gallerists, webmasters, etc. Some are very informative.

You know how once in a blue moon you will seriously resonate to some uncanny pearl of information that's tossed your way? This particular FASO piece did that to me. Authored by artist John P. Wiess, it had me nodding in agreement. Here's the link to his article and be sure to scroll down to read the interesting comments.

As I immerse myself in the now big and popular genre of plein air painting, I too have thought so much of the artwork is mediocre. Perusing my copy of the glossy and lovely PleinAir Magazine, I find myself saying meh *(on the inside) in response to some of the ads and featured articles. Don't misunderstand...most of the artwork is gorgeous and provokes yearnings that inspire me to be even remotely close to that good.  However, a lot isn't. Especially the ads in the back by the artists. I find myself thinking that the ads should illustrate their very best work but most seem to fall short. Meh.

Okay, I admit to being a newbie at this direct painting thing and what the heck qualifies me to judge? Nothing, but I have been painting for 35 years and making a living at it for the past 19 of them. So this morning I went through the issue page by page and asked myself what is beautiful, passionate and most of all...intriguing. What am I attracted to, what do I find compelling amongst this collection of art?

Here's one that got my attention by artist David Tanner:
This painting is so good on so many levels. The usual accolades of great brushwork, rhythm of movement, great use of color and all that...but mostly because as a viewer I feel such a part of the scene that if I don't get out of the way, one of the laborers will walk right into me.

Right on Mr. Weiss,
*meh as defined by the Urban Dictionary: indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mental Workouts

One of the advantages of plein air painting is learning to improvise. The selected scene to paint is subject to change quickly and not just the light. After spending the summer painting the Oklahoma barn area at Saratoga almost every day, I've become very familiar with the architecture of the barns. The structures basically are all alike and they're a similar putty green-gray throughout. Throw in some fall foliage and you've got yourself a pretty picture of complementary colors!
Autumn at Oklahoma, 10"x8", oil on panel, plein air

I surprised myself over the summer at what my memory is capable of. As the horses and riders were weaving themselves between the vehicles, I made a quick mental note of their height in comparison to nearby objects. That provided the scale and size they should be and I quickly and simply sketched in the figures. Try'll be amazed at how it builds your confidence.

Here's a quick cell pic of basically what I was painting. Because it's the off-meet, restrictions on parking have relaxed and the cars sort of come and go.
Mere calisthenics,

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Last week I participated in the Seneca Lake Plein Air Festival. Prior to the event, the weather was gorgeously warm and sunny. On the first day of painting the temps dropped into the low 40's with brisk winds to boot. Michael urged me to pack long underwear and I was soooo grateful that I did. Concluding the event on Sunday, the temps went back into the warm and sunny 60's. Go figure.

I struggled with the cold as all of us artists did. The first morning at 7:00am, I set up in a pretty marina. Because the water was still warm (70 degrees I was told) and the air temps were rapidly descending, an ethereal mist rose off the surface. I went big, 16"x20".

Temperature Change, 16"x20", oil on panel
I didn't win any prizes but I thought this painting was decent enough. I managed a couple of smaller pieces but they were so-so. The organizers encouraged us to bring extra work for the Sunday public display. I brought the better plein air pieces recently painted at Oklahoma. Guess what? I sold horse paintings. Horse paintings! It was all anyone was interested in. The marina painting brought barely a passing glimpse. Go figure.

In hindsight and giving this situation lots of thought, I compared it to horse paintings in Saratoga. Equine art saturates galleries, restaurants, banks - you name it - until everyone is sick of them. In Geneva's culture of water and lakes, perhaps a similar scenario holds true, and, when I recall what the other artists were selling, it was the rolling landscapes of farms, nocturnes and urban scenes with a possible sliver of lake way in the understated background.

Isn't it ironic?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Quick Return to Oklahoma

The weather this past week was nothing short of spectacular. Even though I have orders and commissions waiting, I couldn't resist getting back to the Oklahoma training track, this time without the pressure of time constraints and alla prima demands. Four consecutive mornings of two hour sessions (7-9) produced a studied piece. I went bigger, the biggest I've plein air painted to date, 16"x20".

With the change in the weather giving us cooler nights (50's) and the hot horses just returning from the track, the steam resulting from their baths was abundantly beautiful! In fact, I could have put more in. I painted the background and let it set up a bit in order to apply a light, warm tone which I scrubbed in with my finger, otherwise I would have been dealing with a muddy mess (something I'm very good at...making mud). I can tweak a few things but I'm letting this remain a 100% plein air piece.

Cool Morning, Hot Bath, 16"x20", oil on canvas (sold)
There are several pieces from the Forty (Thirty) Paintings in Forty Days project that I want to revisit, this one being the back of Weaver's barn. The first one I completed was subject to a hazy, overcast day and a two hour deadline. What a difference, huh?
Behind Weaver's Barn, 8"x10" oil on panel

As promised, a Saratoga 2015 review:
  •  Many fans were disgruntled due to several track changes this year and freely vented their unhappiness on us. At first we politely listened and then - we'd had enough negativity. We suggested that they contact NYRA management and express their views to them as there was nothing that we as vendors could do and the powers-that-be should be made aware.
  • My booth has not been located in the same spot for six years and I wonder how many people who wanted to visit couldn't find me. The new location was fine, but will I be there next year?
  • The weather was simply gorgeous. Warm, wonderfully sunny days and it only rained on Tuedays (dark) or during the night! 
  • Fifteen thousand plus fans showing up early Friday morning before the Travers just to witness American Pharoah gallop was a phenomenon we will not see again any time soon. His defeat to Keen Ice affirmed this track as the "graveyard of favorites." I thought he ran a stupendous race in the Travers and has nothing to apologize for. Nothing. Not with his resume.
  • I spent little time in the booth as that was the deal Michael made with me. Didn't miss it either!
  • Plein air painting almost every day under the pressure of creating a completed piece is one of the best challenges I have ever taken on. What I learned and experienced couldn't be duplicated in any other situation. Don't get me wrong, a workshop with the likes of Scott Christensen is still on my bucket list! I painted some mediocre pieces, some real turkeys but also some decent ones. Even sold several. Michael put up a sign at the booth entrance inviting people to come in and see the "painting of the day" and they did! As I photographed for this blog I harshly self-critiqued each piece and that's where the accelerated learning took place.
  • The biggest takeaway? Confidence. My uneasy self-consciousness melted away daily as I met so many supportive people who thought it was a hoot that I set up my gear all over Oklahoma to paint. As one owner told me, "I love seeing you do this - that's the way Saratoga is supposed to be."
And it's not over,