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

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,
Sharon

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.
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  • 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,
Sharon 

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.
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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.
Sharon

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,
Sharon

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,
Sharon

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,
Sharon
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

Meh

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