Sunday, July 17, 2016

Butterflies

All last week we began to prepare for our six week exhibit at the Saratoga Race Course. The tent is up and the grid walls and lights are in place. As I write this today, I'm feeling a mix of anticipation and nerves. So many vendors, not just us artists, have invested an enormous chunk of time and money to ensure a quality product and/or service and are now fussing over the presentation of such. I want my tent to be pleasing and welcoming. My originals are for sale with galleries this season, which leaves us to sell the giclees and the sublimation products. This was my intention.

My husband and business partner, Michael Bray, is the most reliable fellow workaholic I know. He has lived with this demanding perfectionist for over thirty-five years and rises above my expectations to produce top-quality products. After all, the images on the products are reproductions of my original paintings. While I realize that the substrate will cause differences in color and contrast, I still choose to sell something I can be proud of. I also don't mind cropping, as long as it isn't a nose, a foot or a tail and the composition remains strong.

We've always worked well together, even back when he was training horses. I know how blessed we are (at least I am).

In addition to the products and their display, there is the consideration of inventory tracking. With so much new merchandise that offers a wide choice of images, this, I think, is going to be a work in progress. PLU's and bar coding may be implemented later as we have focused our concentration on creating and displaying the product. Sometimes I feel a bit of trepidation as I wonder if we don't offer too many choices. However, that may be the very asset that helped our giclee reproduction business become so successful. If we can launch this new machine and keep it running smoothly, which I believe with all conviction that will happen, then we'll have added another dimension to what I call my "art business."

This Friday, baby. This Friday, the 22nd.
Sharon

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Horses!

I'm honored to be included in a group exhibit at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, NY. The title of the show is "Horses!" and runs now through September 2nd. Also participating are Sue Clark, Connie Bush and Sharon Castro. Our show is sponsored by the Carousel Equestrian Boutique in Glenville, NY. Owner Susan Tybush Stuhr has personally decorated our exhibit and it looks fabulous! I'm so envious of designers...they have such a knack for making everything lovely and visually appealing. She also designed our poster:


Be sure to attend the artist reception on July 29th from 6:00-8:00. We'll also have face painting for the kids by Tina Rodriguez and decorated horse shoes by Isabella. Plus, you'll enjoy a presentation by cowboy poet extraordinaire
Mark Munzert
. If you've never heard the stories of these cowboy poets you're in for a big treat!

My tent goes up today and now the real countdown begins.
Opening day is July 22nd.


It's a love/hate relationship. On one hand, I miss all the summer fun that I pine for while watching my family and friends enjoy the season. I equate it to exhibiting at a weekend art festival times six weeks. Exhausting. On the other hand, everyday I'm at the greatest race track in the U.S. It's a  privilege to see the best horses and their connections up close and personal. And, best of all, I get to paint there!

Going to the races,
Sharon

Monday, July 04, 2016

A Hint of Color

For the past couple of years I've toned down my colors and experimented with neutrals. I'd begin a painting session by making piles of cool and warm grays. Cobalt and cad orange, cad red and cerulean, different reds with greens, and my favorite: burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. Then I'd put in a surprise of high key color into my focal point to make it pop. It was a technique that was especially useful when I began painting plein air because - and please don't hate me for saying this - I think most plein air paintings (especially landscapes) are a bore.

This reminds me of a quote by the late, great, Robert Genn regarding a device he used often: "From a painter's point of view, a 'red surprise' is most effective for bringing focus and heightened interest to many works."

Then there were complaints from the partnership, even to the point of suggesting that I could possibly be developing cataracts! So, I took a scrutinizing look at my recent work and realized it was indeed slipping into the snooze category. It was therefore such a pleasure to step back and acknowledge where I'm comfortable on the color spectrum.
Orange Bucket, 11"x14", oil on panel
I've also been experimenting with transparent oxide pigments. Toning the substrate has been eliminated as I want the white surface to shine through the layers. I love them! Transparent red oxide is a spectacular color and has largely replaced burnt sienna (except in making those lovely neutrals). Even the brown oxide is beautifully vivid with an orange-y tinge (goodbye burnt umber).

Why does everything have to look so real? It doesn't. It's our job as artists to create intrigue, mystery, audacity and even a little absurdity.

Funnily (as Robert Genn would say),
Sharon
 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sharon Crute's Artful Gifts

I really had nothing to do with this. The exception would be tweaking some html code. My sweetie, Michael, spent an inordinate amount of time building this store that features lots of my gift items. It's an entirely new website via Shopify that even required a new domain.

I asked him to keep it simple at first (KISS). I have an entire career of painted images to apply to unlimited products. Plus, he'll customize anyone's image. He invested in a sublimation system that enables him to put an image on just about any darn thing you can imagine which I found a bit overwhelming. Limiting it to a few very cool substrates made it much more manageable.

The most impressive (to me, anyway) are the prints on aluminum. My first reaction was "why?" After seeing the finished product, I have to say they are more than I expected - beautifully vibrant, glossy and contemporary. In fact, it's the latest new art thing.
The above image is a triptych Michael created out of my painting "Harrowing". The hanging system in the back creates a one inch profile away from the wall, creating a slight shadow effect. It's gorgeous and I envision these hanging on someone's office wall.

At the recent Beekman St. Art Fair we participated in, the aluminum prints outsold everything else.

I have a link in the right column to access the store. Or click here. Right now, before the Saratoga race meet begins, he's having a 20% off sale on EVERYTHING until July 15th. And, shipping will always be free. Just enter JULY into the discount code at checkout. He'll gradually be adding products so do check back.

The image on my opening page is of a tile mural he created of my painting "Sneaking Off". It's installed in a very high-end kitchen behind a Viking stove.

In an entrepreneurial spirit,
Sharon

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Past Meets Present

I know I told this story last year but it's worth repeating. As trainer Leon (Blue) Blusiewicz stood over my shoulder last fall watching me paint the brilliant foliage at Oklahoma, he said an old-time trainer from the 1950's told him (Leon) that the last stall in this barn was occupied by none other that the great Man 'O War. Here's a link back to my original post Oklahoma Lore.

You all know I love a great story. It's certainly plausible as so many famous horses down through history have passed through the stable gates of Saratoga. So I just had to return to Barn 61 and set up behind Gary Sciacca's barn to paint the scene from the opposite side. I had a clear view of the infamous stall with the training track in the distance. Right now Barn 61 and about six others are housing Todd Pletcher's many two-year-olds.

The weather was beautiful and forecast to stay that way for a few days. I worked on a fairly large panel (for plein air), 16"x20" intending to take my time on this piece and return multiple days. In three days, painting about 2-2 1/2 hours each session, I completed  the painting I'm calling Past Meets Present

I was smitten by the Italian exercise boy who snuck down to the end of the barn for a smoke and a text. Into my painting he went. Later, the barn foreman came over to check out my progress and exclaimed "hey, he's not supposed to be back here!" 

Inadvertently busted.
Past Meets Present, 16"x20", oil on panel
You can make out a chestnut in the first stall. He's possibly looking for something or someone, or perhaps the scent is unfamiliar.

Okay, I couldn't resist.
Sharon

Friday, June 03, 2016

It's Good to be Back!

So good to be back at Oklahoma!

I'm doing my best to get over there in the mornings. Kentucky trip, commissions, getting ready for a show next weekend on Beekman Street, yada, yada, yada. No excuse is good enough. The numbers of horses aren't what I thought should be there but who's counting?

The pre-race meet mood is relaxed. Lots of amiable conversation overheard in the fresh northern air as the ghosts of history welcome back the horses and their people. I've lived a former life here and feel as if I've come home. That's more than I can say about any place else...and this gypsy has traveled all over our beautiful country.

I did a quick plein air sketch, searched out a place where I can set up for multiple days without bothering anyone and, of course, took lots of photos. Please enjoy a few...






Some horses prefer to train themselves,
Sharon

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stanka Kordic

Those of you who follow my artwork and it's processes have witnessed the gamut of my experiences as a painter. Sometimes it's positively thrilling and other times, well, I struggle miserably. I don't subscribe to the tormented artist sentiment, rather, I desire that the act of creating be inspired and joyous. Even though I devote time to meditate "religiously" every single morning, I don't consider myself a deep thinker. Decisions in my art making tend to be intuitive. Not doubt, I'm evolving rapidly (I think I'm too old for a mid-life crisis).

I have a master-artist voice in my head that coaches me through every piece of artwork I make from concept to signing. Before you conclude that I've gone completely daft, let me explain. Most artists have a running dialog playing in their head as they create. Believe me, it's a good thing. There is so much to consider, so much to question, comparisons - is that color warm or cool, is that horse's leg anatomically correct, does this brushstroke convey enough energy, am I accurately portraying depth, am I convincing my viewer of the story concept, and on and on it goes.

My own personal master-artist coach has become demanding and harshly scrutinizing of late. It's still a good thing but often can be downright exhausting.

However, this is not a negative post. I took this weekend to catch up on varnishing paintings. The strong solvents require that I find something else to do outside of the studio. A newsletter I subscribe to, Fine Art Connoisseur, was languishing around in my email in-box. I finally sat down at the computer and found this great video contained within the issue. It's about the process of master artist Stanka Kordic, who I am only vaguely familiar with (hey, I'm a horse artist). I found it to be extremely inspiring and I hope you will too.


No! master-artist, you need not talk me through this blog post.
Sharon

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Joy of Mistakes

I can't count how many of these racing pictures I've painted. To repeat is to fill a request. Because my summer stint at Saratoga Race Course has become integrated into my DNA, I aim to please those who enter my booth, hands on hips, inquiring: so, what's new?

Here's a recent piece:

Assistant Starters, 24"x36", oil on canvas. More info here.
It's interesting how these paintings look after they've been uploaded to the internet. I'm intentionally loosening my brushwork because it more effectively expresses the whole, yet the edges look razor-sharp when the size is decreased for browser viewing.
In the above detail, you can see the brushwork more clearly. In the last few years I've focused on putting down a brushstroke and leaving it alone, as opposed to the fussy back and forth fiddling we artists are all guilty of.

Another element about viewing a small image on the internet is how glaring mistakes become. When I'm close to completing a piece, I stand across the room to give it a good look, turn it upside down and view it through a mirror over my shoulder. I even turn it to face the wall so that I can see it with fresh eyes in a few days. I fix the parts that nag me, then repeat. When I'm feeling the piece is ready for signature, I declare it finished and leave it alone. After shooting it in RAW and converting it to a TIFF, it's still looking good. Sure enough, drop that baby down to a 500 pixel jpeg and it reverts back to beckoning for the brush again (to really ruin it)!

Three more:

Deep Shade, 11"x14", oil on canvas. More info here.

Warm Mist, 11"x14", oil on canvas. More info here.
Wary Hotwalker, 16"x20", oil on panel. More info here.
I recently read this quote on Facebook but there was no byline:
Go to your studio and make fantastic mistakes!
Sharon

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sublimation Products

Over fifteen years ago, when it was in it's unstable infancy, we invested in a sublimation system. The process had serious problems of fading ink along with a high rate of waste during production. We canned it.

Re-visiting the system over the past several months has assured us of the technological improvements, especially the longevity factor. So we put a toe in to test the feasibility of giving it another go.

For those not familiar with sublimation, it's a heat transfer process. Products (like a mug) have a special coating to receive dye sublimation inks which are printed on transfer paper. The paper with the printed image is then heat pressed onto the receiving product where a chemical process transfers the image.

We use to carry some beautiful sublimation mugs not too long ago that were manufactured in Texas. Due to ever increasing shipping costs, our margin of profit continued to diminish until we canned them too. Many of my clients were disappointed but now we can produce them ourselves and so...they're back!

Mugs are back!
There is now a myriad of sublimation products available. However, each one has a learning curve such as heat temperature, timing, pressure, etc., therefore we're limiting the line to a few tried and true products such as a hardboard coaster to go along with the mugs...
Hardboard coasters with cork backing.
...and tile murals. This one is produced on six inch satin tiles. We'll have the option of varying tile sizes to create larger (or smaller) murals.
Tile mural.

The same tiles can be appropriated with a cork backing to serve as a trivet.
Cork-backed trivet  
The most intriguing product and the one that has me salivating is the aluminum panel. This seems to be the latest craze in the art reproduction world and no wonder - the color is spectacularly vibrant! They will hang sans frame with an inch or so profile away from the wall providing a contemporary, clean appearance. Of course we have just begun this project so better photos illustrating the design will soon follow. I especially love the triptych look of the "Harrowing" on the table.
Artwork on aluminum panels.
We welcome ideas and will take orders customized with your own image, size, etc. Feeling very confident in the quality of the new and very improved sublimation process, we'll continue to explore different items as we become proficient with these starters.

Hot off the presses!
Sharon

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Two Old Ladies and a Blacksmith

My season of being a hermit never really was. The winter weather wasn't either, and that's why. However, I never feel I'm being as productive as I think I should be.

Our recent trip to Florida was warm and lovely. Road trips. Many hate them but I relish the boredom of miles and miles of tedious city and landscape passing by. My mind calms, the incessant chatter quiets, clearing the way for constructive thought. I can say that some of my best inspiration is achieved while the bland scenery blurs.

Here's my first painting since reentry:

Two Old Ladies and a Blacksmith
I'm always looking through the hundreds, if not thousands, of stable area photos I shoot every year. Searching for inspiration, I always pass over this particular image of complicated dappled light and intricate, overlapping figures. Plus, there was a big post and railing right through the middle of it blocking out the front of the horse. Maybe it was all the vitamin D absorbed in Florida that sharpened my memory of what a great story it portrayed.

Last summer as I was plein air painting by Elmer's Gap, a very old lady rode by on a pony leading a racehorse. Neither track at Saratoga allow ponying so I could only guess that this lady took her horses across the street, circled the main track over to the historic small oval that encircles Clare Court. It's a very good distance from where I was set up. I smiled as I observed her in my admiration, not only still riding but ponying at her advanced age. But what I was really thinking was: this scenario could be me if I hadn't made the shift from race tracker to full-time artist.

Fast forward a month or so, the main meet has concluded but there's still plenty of horses stabled at Oklahoma. Camera in hand, I'm walking around searching for inspiration and - there she is! Her horse, a mare, was getting shod and this old lady was doing her best to hold the mare AND keep an eye on the blacksmith. Her arm was stretched out clutching the end of the shank and in the other hand she swung a rub rag to and fro to keep the flies at bay. Then the mare turned her head to also observe the blacksmith and I fired off about six shots to capture the moment. Priceless. Rare. But affectionately familiar.

Michael and I both chuckled over this as we always agreed that the hardest thing on the track is to work for someone with only one horse. I respect the tolerance and patience of this blacksmith. And I hope to see this lady back at the track next year. I will introduce myself, ask her how the mare is doing and inform her that I was also once a member of the sisterhood of tough, tenacious and determined race track ladies.

Seasoned girl power,
Sharon