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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

After a year hiatus, the High Hope Steeplechase returns to the legendary Kentucky Horse Park. This is the first of a few planned shows that have us shaking off the dust on the grid walls as we make the anticipated road trip to Blue Grass Country. Oh man, am I ever ready!
Clearing, giclee on gallery-wrapped canvas, 22"x26
The event is this coming Sunday, May 18th. Gates open at 11:00. There are lots of activities to partake in and tailgating is always the best way to make new friends. And of course, there's the jump races. This time of year the mid-west weather can be unpredictable and volatile but the sun god (and cooler weather) is smiling on us so far.

Did I mention that my artwork will grace the program cover? If you're not in Baltimore watching Chrome win the Preakness and happen to be in Kentucky on Sunday, please stop by my booth in the Vendor Village and say hi. I'll be bringing Secretariat with me and you really have to see him in person to savor the vibrant color. We'll be taking orders for giclee reproductions that are now available.
Secretariat, oil on canvas, 24"x36"
If there's anything in particular that you'd like me to bring, please let me know soon. There's room in the van.

Road trip!
Sharon

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Small and Even Smaller

With my equine painting, particularly racing, I possess a compulsion to experiment and infuse my subject with movement by summoning every swashbuckling brushstroke I can muster. It's a drive that's so strong that I've often felt the effects physically. Yes, I can give myself a headache with overwrought obsessiveness. The intended outcome is always just out of reach, never quite attainable, the results never satisfactory and that's okay. I suppose it's that desire to communicate a feeling that supports an eternal prowling like a hungry predator.

It's a challenge to transfer this passion to my landscape painting, most likely because I've returned to the rules of basic elements. For now, I'm giving myself permission to practice, investigate and most of all to just play and see what can be.

Here are a couple of small equine pieces I produced last week. You can see the vacillation occurring as I switch from one very familiar thought process to a new one. The challenge is to merge the two into a cohesive approach to a decent painting - whatever the subject.
Galloping Out of the Fog, 11"x14" oil on canvas
Backlit, 11"x14" oil on canvas
This tiny panel sample has been kicking around my studio for months. In honor of the Kentucky Derby, why not dive out of the box and paint something miniscule? Remember, I'm accustomed to painting ten foot canvases. I had to locate my magnifying glass to sign it!
California Chrome, 3"x5" oil on panel
Far-sightedly yours,
Sharon

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Learning to Paint Landscapes

The landscape here in upstate New York is just beginning to green. Hardly a bud on a tree, it's as bleak as November before the first snow. Everything is gray and brown and quite uninspiring. A few intrepid daffodils have managed to bloom in sunny spots but that's about it. Even the forsythia is barely a yellow haze.

I'm stall walking and anxious to get out and practice what I've been studying intensely all winter. My first plein air painting competition looms in early June and I need to "practice." The challenge is to find something beautiful amongst all this taupe. Each of the sketches below took about an hour and a half as I'm also attempting to increase my speed.

This old barn down a dirt road is flanked by corn fields with short, dead stalks. It's abandoned, used to be a horse hospital and the local farmer said it was okay to check it out. Sure enough, it's a rambling structure of rows of box stalls well-built with craft and care. Only the swifts live there now. I warmed the dead grass and exaggerated the bits of green poking through.
9"x12" oil on paper, plein air
Off to the woods to see if I can simplify an overload of information and paint more convincing rocks. In both paintings the light is overcast with the sun rarely peeking through .
12"x9" oil on paper, plein air
They're not great, but I'm learning from each one. From this sketch I realize I should choose one focal point, paint it clearly and then treat everything else as minor supporting elements. As you can see, I'm still wearing my down vest. This will go down as the year of no spring.

Colorfully yours,
Sharon

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thoroughbreds & Race Tracks

This past weekend Michael helped a friend with a recently rescued thoroughbred off the track. The angel lady who brought him to her farm was a bit intimidated by, let's say, his spirited behavior. While showering him with kindness and not wanting to be aggressive toward him in any manner, the horse was taking advantage and needed a bit of tough love. I understood her stance. Who will ever know this horse's entire story? Everyone wants to practice natural horsemanship but the race track demands a totally different protocol.

After Michael established some boundaries and a few rules, the two bonded quickly. This horse is an intelligent athlete with an inquisitive sense of curiosity. Thoroughbreds are different, even the ones who never step on a race track.


I thought his injuries would be much worse. While needing time to rest and heal, this horse can be retrained for another career. How fantastic to know this story will conclude into a potentially happy ending. I have lots of opinions about the role of race horse owners and the humane responsibility they should practice but I'll save it for another post. Our friend is a wonderful, kind-hearted caretaker who will do the very best she can for this beautiful animal. Ironically, she told me that years ago she had joined PETA and now considers the organization "violent and radical." Huh.

Hats off..er...on to this critter,
Sharon