Monday, November 24, 2014

Kentucky Inspiration

Last September I participated as a vendor at the Secretariat Festival in Paris, Kentucky. It's a funky little town that exists in another time period. No chain hotels, no chain restaurants or any other tiresome mediocrity. We were staying in Georgetown, approximately 17 miles due west.

It was late in the afternoon when we tore down and packed up my exhibit. Route 460 is a very narrow road with no shoulder, just a disconcerting two foot drop from the pavement on both sides. The speed limit is 50 mph as I recall making this a white knuckle ride.

I spotted a band of mares and foals on the left side. The light was golden and glowing. Long shadows stretched as the sun sank low behind the trees. The mares were up close to the fence by the road, unusual as they are very protective of their foals and never compromise safety. I was so excited! Can we turn around and go back?

Fortunately, there was a road perpendicular to where the horses were grazing. Michael managed to pull a daring u-turn and park on the opposite road while I jumped out with my camera. At first the mares were nervous and stood in front of their foals. When they determined I was no threat, they relaxed and shimmered with highlights in the fading light. This is the heavenly manna that artists patiently pray for.

Eventide, oil on canvas, 18"x48"
I named the painting Eventide which represents the subtle period of transition from late afternoon into evening.

While I was clicking away, a lady pulled up alongside Michael and scolded him for parking on the side of the insanely narrow road. He listened patiently, pointed to me and replied, "I'm married to an artist, what can I say?"

Bless our spouses,
Sharon

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Miles of Canvas

I completed a couple of experimental paintings this past week in between my equine commissions (and canine to come). As an artist friend wisely told me not long ago, sometimes it's about painting miles of canvas to achieve your vision. I think of her sage advise whenever the restlessness sets in. Whenever I'm uneasy because the paint isn't doing or looking the way I want it to. My thoughts have returned to wondering if I should take a workshop with an artist who's accomplished in landscape, who's wrestled with values and edges, perhaps someone who can help me find my voice within this cacophony of uncertain thought.

Indian Summer, 11"x14", oil on textured canvas
In the painting above, I wanted to loosen my brushwork. I may have gone too far as I used big brushes on a small textured canvas. One thing I am pleased with is my return to a brighter palette. For a while I limited and toned down my colors. Don't ask me why. We all love happy colors.

Studying other artists continuously - the modern masters, plein air painters, or just keeping track of what my peers are up to - I've observed that unless a landscape painting has an unusual focal point, or any focal point for that matter, it's boring. A pretty picture yes, but where's the intrigue? Even some technically excellent pieces are just that.

In the other piece, I struggled with the waterfall, cooled it, warmed it, brightened, toned it back, added rocks, spray, rivulets, scraped, smudged and generally worked the thing to death. In contrast, the deer took about two minutes to apply with a few simple brushstrokes that I got right the first time. A nod to all those hundreds (if not thousands) of horses I've painted.
 
Wahconah Falls, 11"x14" oil on canvas


So thank you to my artist friend Sue Johnson for assuring me about all those miles of canvas I'm determined to crank out. You're so right. Just this morning Michael and I did an inventory on what to scrap heap in order to reuse the stretchers. Now that's an accomplishment from the days of wrenching a bad painting out of his reluctant arms.

It's a bittersweet symphony,
Sharon

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thank You Clarity

It's been a whirlwind three months. Six solid weeks at Saratoga followed by two weeks of filling orders and shipping, then on to Paris, Kentucky (Secretariat Festival), more order filling and shipping then onward to Middleburg, Virginia (VA Fall Races). While it's been a non-stop grind, don't get me wrong, I'm feeling extremely blessed to be so busy.

It was a doozy, as epiphanies go. Try as I might - painting plein air, painting house portraits, painting people portraits (on their horses of course), painting pets, painting studio landscapes, painting ocean scenes (with galloping horses of course), dabbling in gold leaf (I love that), painting anything not tried before in hopes that I would experience a eureka moment, discover the next big thing, create a steady stream of cash, you name it, I painted it - I just cannot distance myself from the equine. Can't.

Many, many years ago when only a handful of equine artists comprised this genre, it suddenly began to fill with the 4-F's (foals frolicking in fields of flowers) as if equine art was a lucrative venture. I was faced with the dilemma of differentiating myself from the newly invading throngs. Thus "dynamic equine artist" was born and so followed the in-your-face, cropped, narrow field of vision large-scale canvases of exaggerated musculature dosed with a very genuine passion. And it was good.

This past summer, with a Taylor Swift expression of wonderment, I realized that I can never divorce myself from the muse. It has permeated my DNA, merged with my psyche and is just as important to others as it is to me. THAT was the two by four that knocked me into clarity.

Landscape and race horses:
The horse path at the Oklahoma training track.


A few pics from my travels:
Breed demonstration, Fresian in armor.
Lovely bluegrass postcard.
Paddock at the Virginia Fall Races.
Huge, open course for the races.
Thank you clarity. A line from my favorite song by Alanis Morissette, "Thank U".

With intention,
Sharon

Thursday, September 04, 2014

My Reluctant Goodbye

It's bittersweet. I'm both sad for the end and relieved it's over. Another year at Saratoga Race Course concluded on Labor Day and I'm still humming on exhausting energy that just won't quit. I've got orders to fill, deliveries to make and people to contact but I can't seem to focus. Must be symptomatic of PSB (post show blues) or lack of sleep or a combination.

This summer I did make a commitment to eat well and I more or less managed, only sashaying over to the Snack Shack for breakfast on Saturday mornings when both Michael and I opened the booth early. There were some late nights when we were too wired/tired to eat but it didn't hurt us to skip an occasional meal.
It was an improving year for us. I welcomed many repeat clients, realizing how important it is to continue building my equine brand and be where people can dependably find me in the same location. Undeniably, it's an affirming and humbling experience to be sought out by those who love my artwork. The vast majority of folks who visited my booth were wonderful, gracious with their admiration of my artwork and fun to talk to even if they couldn't spend any of their hard-earned dollars. Others freely pulled out a credit card often enough to give me faith that we may indeed be in a recovering economy. May it please be so. It's a relaxed and ambient atmosphere as most are vacationing and enjoying their time from whatever demands the serious. 
And of course, they're visiting the most beautiful, historic and prestigious race track in the USA. Saratoga never, ever disappoints. This summer I said a misty goodbye to Tom Durkin and fell in love with Wicked Strong. Cheered on our girl jock Rosie Napravnik who made the impressive top ten list and was awed by the miraculous comeback of Wise Dan. The best of horse racing's best is all here and it's non-stop entertainment to observe the unfolding dramas from my ringside seat. How can I not show up every summer?

I did my best to do some plein air painting but it's demanding and creates an even longer day. Showed up on the Oklahoma side several mornings before fatigue began to set in. Photographed early mornings with my friend Jim in the main stable area while I picked his brain for marketing ideas (he's a former ad exec). I'm determined to to be present when the foliage changes. I promise myself.
Wonder how many submissions there will be to the Jockey Club for Splashtastic?
It's all good...no...great,
Sharon

Friday, August 01, 2014

Customizing Racing Silks

I've previously droned on about the necessity for artists to take control of their careers and become their own agents. We also have to get creative about gleaning the most out of an opportunity, mine being an artist vendor at the Saratoga Race Course for the entire summer season. Basically, it comes down to how to get the biggest bang for my buck. Entrepreneurship.

I wanted to offer something affordable and desirable. Racing fans here treat the top jockeys like rock stars and are thrilled to nab an autograph, let alone experience the sheer luck of being gifted with a set of goggles. With that in mind, I came up with a way to capitalize quickly and easily.

First, I drew a classic jockey stance. My jockey has his back to you and presents a combined hipshot pose of attitude and elegance. He's tall and graceful, sort of. Not that I have any prejudice against the short guys but this is my rendition for a pretty piece of art.

After the drawing was completed, I inked in the simplified shapes and sparingly floated some watercolor for color and form. I left the "silk" (shirt) blank to be custom painted. Voila!

I've sold several dozen or so already. Other than having to look up some silks and translate some vague descriptions (it's grass green with a big pink stripe that goes this way on the front and back), it's been easy and enjoyable. A couple of clients took the opportunity to design their own, right on the spot, using the colors and symbols they'd imagine if they ever owned a racehorse. What a hoot!

Here are a couple. The first is an original design (notice the pale pink wafting from the button on top of the cap, emphasis via client request) and the second is West Point Thoroughbreds, a very well-know syndicate.
All this for the very low, low price of $75. And I'll ship it!
Riders up!
Sharon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bats in the Belfry

Opening day is here. My exhibit booth is ready and there is a palpable feeling of collective optimism in the air. NYRA has made some positive changes and we're all very excited.

As I was going through my morning yoga routine, my mind wandered to an interesting experience I had in Saratoga long before I became an artist vendor at the track. Michael and I made the yearly seasonal trek from Florida to escape the heat and malaise and to seek opportunities to exhibit my artwork. One year, an ambitious young man opened up a concierge service of sorts on Broadway and invited me to display some of my paintings.

At the end of the summer, I went to his storefront to collect the pieces that didn't sell. He had wired them to the wall for security. As he cut the wire and gently handed me a medium-sized canvas, he gasped in horror and took a few steps backward. I peered over the back of the canvas and there was a little bat hanging from the top stretcher bar. Not more than three or four inches in length, it seemed oblivious to our activity and remained motionless in a deep daytime sleep. Then it suddenly lost it's grip on the stretcher and plopped on the floor, still not moving. "Is it alive?" I asked as the concierge hurried into the back room. There it lay, leathery wings folded, resembling the shape of a sarcophagus. A mini-Dracula, if you will.

The concierge rushed back with a red Solo cup and quickly scooped up the bat, ran out to the sidewalk and unceremoniously dumped the poor critter into a flower bed. It rained earlier and I had to laugh at the bat waking up in the wet flowers amongst the crowds of downtown Saratoga Springs.

Later when I recalled the incident to Michael, he inspected the back of the canvas and sure enough, there was a little pile of guano on the bottom stretcher bar.

When I returned home to Florida, I looked up bat totems in Ted Andrew's book, Animal-Speak: the Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small. I discovered that when a bat shows up in your life, it symbolizes a type of initiation.

No coincidence,
Sharon

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Plein Air Experience

With hindsight I admit that I probably shouldn't have traveled to my first plein air competition at Finger Lakes immediately after the traumatic van fire. In addition to being more rattled than I initially realized, I lost the packed contents of the van and had to scramble for replacements. The generosity of people who want to help in trying times is humbling and I decided to go forward accoutered with the many blessings I received. A dear friend even lent us their minivan for the five days. In the end, I'm glad I did...it was a great learning experience and my ultimate intention.

I had no inkling what the competition would be like and made several dumb rookie mistakes: like using the wrong gallery cards for an exhibit, forgetting to get my quick draw panel stamped and not taking full advantage of the marketing opportunities that the organizers keenly provided. I also missed the first day and was behind the other artists in production. Not being hep to other crucial procedures determining when I should be present or when I should allow room for potential collectors was my biggest blunder.
Moi at the quick draw.
The organizers provided plenty of ongoing venues for the artists. Another mistake: thinking we could camp and cook our own food...not when returning after 10:00pm whipped.

Most of the other artists were well-seasoned and just damn good painters. I made some friends and avoided others. I'm well aware that I was distracted and definitely not at my best, ensuing major frustration after I had put in so much practice time to prepare. As a former race tracker, I've had years of showing up for the game regardless...period...no matter what...and getting the job done right.

Popular spot to paint the during quick draw.

Here are some of my observations on the business end of things:
There are a limited number of hosts available for lodging and several artists were from out-of-state incurring travel costs I assume. Our prior research resulted in no motel rooms available for under $120, hence the camping idea. So, there's that expense. Supplies of paint, supports and frames are another expense. Keeping nourished and hydrated is another expense. Most of the final paintings were smallish (11"x14") and averaged around $750. To my mind, that creates tremendous pressure to sell and sell well which several artists indeed did, however, the event takes a 40% cut. Yes, there's decent prize money to be had but also 40 artists competing for those limited funds. Pondering the financials, I'm wondering if participation in plein air events is all that lucrative.

Here are some of my observations on the artistic end of things:
We were provided with maps for both the main painting event and the quick draw, meaning we were to paint within these predetermined boundaries. The main map generously included the city area including the marina at the north end of the lake. I don't recall seeing cows and tractors anywhere but I could be mistaken. The finished paintings displayed in the quick draw event were to be created in a two hour time frame. Hmm...some of them were kinda big with lots of detail. This may be where my naivetè makes a glaring appearance. Perhaps some of these artists can paint these great paintings really, really fast or maybe my rank ignorance is rearing it's clueless head.

To the organizers and myriad volunteers, I extend a great big thank you for everything. The schedule was perfectly executed and the events were elegant and generous. Pat Rini Rohrer of Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery was at the helm and to be heartily congratulated. Special, grateful thanks to Pat.

As they say in horse racing: you don't cry when you win so don't cry when you lose.
Sharon

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fiery Passions

Ever drive down the highway and see those poor souls in the breakdown lane with their vehicle on fire? Like me, do you wonder: "...how awful, how does something like that happen?" Well, now I know.

It was a surreal site to behold...
Michael and I were on our way to pick up some frames before leaving for the Finger Lakes Plein Air Competition last Tuesday. The van was almost fully packed except for a few extras -a  cooler full of food and beverages and a large commissioned painting I was to meet a client for delivery. After a suspect odor began wafting through the vents (Michael remarked that it smelled like "fur burning") we veered off at the next exit to investigate. Smoke was already pouring out from under the hood. Skipping over the next few minutes of desperate details, we both got out safely but the van was fully engulfed in flames by the time the fire department arrived.

The fire men stated that we'll probably never be able to determine the exact cause due to the intense heat and destruction. That fur burning smell is suspect however...those cute little mice with racing stripes who possess a compulsive need to chew could have worked their mischief on wires that were not meant to be crossed.

Not much left but a metal frame. Even the hood disintegrated from the heat. Besides our only vehicle, I lost six original paintings, paint, easels, canvases, tools, clothes, camping equipment, etc. As the week progressed we'd recall what else was torched.
My poor shocked sweetie saying goodbye as the van is pulled onto the tow truck
It was traumatic but we're so blessed and grateful to have escaped unscathed. It's just stuff that will be replaced, even the paintings. Perhaps I'll create better ones from the ashes. A dear friend generously loaned us their mini van and we were able to travel to Canandaigua, albeit a day late. I know you want to know about my first plein air competition experience and I'm happy to share on the next post.

Fire in the hole!
Sharon

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Seeing the Light

It's one of those breakthrough pieces. After almost a year filled with intense self-study, dots are beginning to connect at last as I finally make sense of many, many hours pouring over numerous landscape books and analyzing paintings of artists I admire.
Walking Bridge, 11"x14", oil on canvas

What's important is that I now enjoy painting landscapes. A short few years ago I could never envision it. I'm not kidding myself though - I'm entering the domain of well-seasoned, experienced artists who have dedicated their careers to producing great paintings solely of landscape. It's a vast, wide open field (no pun intended). From genre to mainstream here I go.

In addition to the huge amount of time spent reading, looking (and seeing), listening to pod casts, watching art DVD's, picking the brains of my fellow artists and visiting exhibits, I also made a few color charts.
The chart at the top is my basic palette with a couple of colors added that I don't often use (phthalos). The bottom three are the yellows which are cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow medium and yellow ochre. The yellow charts were incredibly instrumental to help me get a handle on mixing greens and I refer to them often. My blues are ultramarine, cobalt and sometimes phthalo blue. My tube green is viridian and sometimes phthalo green. The extent of prior application of greens to my paintings were limited to jockey silks and an occasional turf course. Needless to say, earth tones figure dominantly on my palette.

Next week is my first plein air competition in Canadaigua, New York. Am I nervous? Uh-huh, you bet however I'm excited as well. Most artists are willing to share information (as moi) and I view this event as a grand learning experience.

With sunscreen and bug spray,
Sharon

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First Road Trip of the Year

It's a long drive. We followed a new route that shot due west to Buffalo and down through Ohio into Kentucky. I'm often asked how I can stand the boredom of mile after mile of repetitive scenery. Truth is, my mind empties thereby clearing the deck for fresh ideas. Some of my best epiphanies are born of pleasant languor.

High Hope Steeplechase took last year off which some suggested was a detriment to this year's attendance. I can't say. There were fresh faces among the organizers and the event hummed with efficiency. Weather was perfect. Kentucky Horse Park is a remarkable place to be, regardless of what's happening.

I'm grateful that they used my artwork on the cover of the program. Although I was puzzled at the choice of a horizontal piece for a vertical format, the result was more than satisfying. I think it's grand:


Home is where my suitcase is. I like that.

Your gypsy,
Sharon