Sunday, January 22, 2017

Observing

I decided to take the month off from working in the studio and it was both a positive and negative endeavor. The latter was a bit troubling because I didn't miss painting or experience a yearning to return as Michael predicted I soon would. The positive side was that I didn't experience a yearning to return soon at all! Contradictions aside, the time off was well-spent in contemplation, research and meditation.

Always studying other painters and their work, I find that looking at the work of my living peers reaps the most beneficial results. It's impressive that there are so many extremely masterful painters among us.

Here a few of the many I admire:

Tibor Nagy's loose translation of both urban scenes and landscapes are beautifully abstract. The surface contains wonderful mark-making: brushwork, palette knife applications and incisions, scumbling, scraping, etc., leaving the first layers to show through to the surface. His color palette is subdued and sublime:

Nancy Boren is a risk-taker. I have studied this painting over and over and I believe it's a perfect example of pushing the envelope. The background heron is overlapped by the figure's face and touched by the far wrist. It works - as evidenced by winning the Bronze Medal at the National Oil Painters of America 2016 exhibit. Gorgeous piece:

Swedish-born painter Odd Nerdrum's art is influenced by the likes of the great masters such as Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Figures on large-scale canvases tell modern yet timeless stories of human experience in a lyrical landscape. Surface texture and a classical subdued palette inspire me to simplify, simplify, simplify. And always tell a good story:

I couldn't make it this year but it's on my bucket list to study with Morgan Samuel Price. She's a remarkable plein air painter, tackling complex subjects that she seems to effortlessly pull together. I want to observe her edit the complicated Florida flora (and fauna) as she works her magic with light and color:

Mark Boedges works in layers of transparent paint, removing, re-applying, adjusting until he achieves his desired effect. Hints of Richard Schmid? You know it...living and working in Vermont alongside the Putney Painters but emerging with a distinct and beautiful voice of his own. Strong stuff.

Fear not, I'm back at work with a vengeance and with renewed inspiration,
Sharon

Monday, January 02, 2017

Chaos

I'm beyond mid-life crisis age-wise but I'm experiencing the symptoms. Bored with the muse and disillusioned over changes in the racing biz, I'm restless about the future direction of my artistic life. There's a new crowd in the paddock who possess different goals and priorities. Ownership has undergone major restructuring and the "Kings & Queens" in the sport no longer reign supreme. Race track management have their own profit-driven agendas with little respect for tradition and history within a very old and storied sport. Loud, repeated calls for proactive changes in medication use, infractions, after care for retired horses, moral responsibility, etc., are agreed upon by the industry insiders but are rarely enacted and those that attempt to implement change are confronted with bickering power struggles. It's wearisome to an old race tracker like me who dearly loves the game.

Over a year ago I channel surfed onto a PBS documentary that quickened my pulse rate. I won't spend a lot of time explaining, you can read about it in my blog post here. The abbreviated version: Indian Relay. Tribes compete in a horse race (of a very different color) that I found to be excruciatingly exciting. I was so jazzed and inspired. Re-energized, if you will.

The plan was to attend their national championships taking place in Billings, Montana after the Saratoga race meet concluded. For reasons that would require another blog post, it was not to be. Undaunted, I returned to the documentary, studying it in it's entirety - frame by frame. With my knowledge of equine anatomy and referencing the scenes illustrating this extreme, dangerous sport, I decided to forge ahead anyway.

This is the first of several planned paintings:

The title is Chaos, and for good reason. This is the thrilling part of the race - the exchange of riders as the team catches the incoming horse (at a gallop) while the rider simultaneously leaps off in mid-air and then frantically swings/jumps/leapfrogs onto the next. Collision and confusion. Pure adrenaline. The riding skills and horsemanship are superb. All bareback.

You know I'll be there this year, for sure.
Sharon

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What the Election Means to Me

I have a dear friend who's name is Bill. He's our house sitter when we're exhibiting out of town. He puts his feet up and relaxes to the latest on Netflix while his lady reads bedtime stories to our cats. There's a rare trust between us. Leaving the care of our home and beloved pets to another is an act of faith.

Bill also takes care of our lawn, especially during the race meet when time is precious. If I can, I love to sit outside with him for a few minutes as he re-hydrates after mowing in the summer heat. He is the only person I enjoy discussing politics with. Thoughtful, intelligent and open-minded, Bill and I listen to each other and offer opinions without judgement.

Therefore, given the aftermath of the election, I will not tell you who I voted for. That would incite the incendiaries and I'm not going there nor will I tolerate the overwrought opinions of out of control emotions. But I have asked myself what the election means to me as an artist. And over the past several months, I've given this question a lot of thought. A lot.

No politician, no official, no election, no government nor any other outside entity will help me sell more paintings. The most brilliant economic proposals will do nothing for my art business. Nor will the stock market, trade agreements, rate of unemployment or projected gross national product. Here's where the ball lands in my court - I am in charge of my art business and how well (or not) it performs.

Attitude is everything and if I don't fall prey to race consciousness, I will maintain a positive course to success. It all begins and ends right here with me. I have control, not the president-elect. All I have to do is show up everyday in the studio and do my best. If it's not good, learn from my mistakes and start over. Demand the best, expect the best and unseen forces will assist. Have faith. Be confident. Listen to the voice within, not the cacophony of chaos surrounding our very beings.

Today's artists have access to tools that help them self-promote while maintaining control of the focus and direction of their goals. Use them...often.

It's a wonderful time to be an artist,
Sharon

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Thoroughbred Makeover

We traveled to Lexington, Kentucky last week to participate as a vendor at the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium organized by The Retired Racehorse Project. I'm not an overly emotional person but several times throughout the event my eyes misted as I felt a surge of wonder.

Barrel racing thoroughbred
 The race track has no shortage of critics. Most have never experienced the life and harshly judge by appearances. Some don't possess the fortitude required and become disgruntled. Some formulate an opinion from hearsay. Here's my account gained from twenty-five years of working at the track not because I had to and certainly not for the money.

Thoroughbreds waiting to cut cattle
It's immediate and it's fast, almost as fast as the horses. Daily occurrences are unpredictable and outcomes unknown. Routine exists in repetition that can quickly derail. Flexibility rules throughout the twists and turns of managed chaos. In this environment, there's not much time for those who long for nurturing, patience and most of all, the sweet essence of bonding. There's not much time to accomplish honorable goals with an eternally revolving door of horses and their connections.

Big, bad, high-strung thoroughbred being ridden off into the sunset by a red-caped five-year-old child.
When the horses are sold, claimed or otherwise leave the stable, all we can do is whisper a prayer on their behalf and wish them the best. This is why I was so profoundly blown away as I witnessed these thoroughbreds being transitioned into second careers. Show requirements state that eligible thoroughbreds must have raced within the last year. The people who take them on are keenly respectful of the talent, athleticism and intelligence inherent in the breed. I've always said, after they come down from the demanding race track life, they're just like any other horse...only much smarter.

Thoroughbreds are natural cross-country competitors.

This horse is ready to jump a 10-foot fence, if you ask him to.
Two-time Horse of the Year, tough as nails, incredible champion, Wise Dan.
God's horse,
Sharon

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thunder

Isn't it peculiar how tidbits of help turn up to support you when embarking on a new project or venture, especially one filled with emotion? Assurance whispers through a song lyric, an article sitting in your inbox or from ideas that seemingly arrive via the cosmos. They can make you smile in recognition or take your breath away in a mind-blowing epiphany. Makes life interesting, huh?

I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic. Her description of poet Ruth Stone sticks in my mind and I'd love to experience the dramatic journey of an idea thundering from afar, heading straight toward me. The catch is, if you don't act on it quickly, it continues on without you, searching for someone who will.

My ideas mercifully linger, sometimes for months. I've been preparing for a series of paintings unlike any I've ever made. October has been a very busy month and two more shows loom. That doesn't mean that I don't visit the studio and stare at the prepared canvas. Visualize. My inspiration is patiently waiting for me to make manifest. No thunder, just a lot of tidbits of help.

And no rules either,
Sharon

Friday, September 23, 2016

This and That

A few thoughts, experiences and happenings from the summer.

August 24, 2016 was the tenth anniversary of this blog. Web logs, soon to be called blogs were the latest thing ten years ago and there was a full-out popularity contest for readership and numbers of comments. Monetized blogs actually made a profit and blogs like mine were public journals of trials and successes. Michael was nearing the limit for his tolerance of the unscrupulous ethics in the racing biz and I was at the zenith of a successful painting career.

Some of my posts were negative and I pissed off some individuals by invoking my first amendment rights. However, some of my posts were quite good...like this one: Pulp Fiction written in March of 2007. It's interesting to read over some old posts from back when I was trying to find my voice.

Summer at Saratoga was hot and steamy. It was politics as usual and because I desire to exhibit there again next year I won't go into detail (no way gang). Overall, it's an honor to be there as an artist and I willingly persevered the bull***t. It's still the best racing in the country and witnessing the champion horses, trainers, jockeys and owners is a privilege even though it's an exhausting feat beyond measure. We achieve the marathon only with a huge reserve of adrenaline.

The best sellers were the prints on aluminum. They are vividly colorful, contemporary and something new. I also managed to create two oil portraits of champions Frosted and Songbird who both raced at the track twice. We experimented with prints on paper and that turned out very well.

I participated in a group equine art show at the Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa just south of Saratoga. Organized by my dear friend Sue Clark, it was fun and another entry for the resume. I wish I could have been more proactive with promotion but the show coincided with the race meet and dang, I still haven't figured out how to extend the day to thirty six hours.

My decision to exhibit my original oils at Spa Gallery was correct. They sold four pieces and were reluctant to hand over the ones that garnered interest. So, you can still see a few there.

Filling orders took up the weeks following the meet's end. Crossing off most from the dry erase board, we managed four days at the beach while it was still nice and warm. I was never so content to do absolutely nothing.

Last weekend I participated in a plein air event organized by the OPA (Oil Painters of America) in Londonderry, VT. No competition, just painting at a charming working farm. The drive alone was worth the effort. What a (still) beautiful state.

This week I made my way back to Oklahoma to plein air paint. Akin to a homecoming.

Next week I drive out to Geneva, NY for the Seneca Lake Plein Air Festival. It's a five day event and I sold well there last year.

Please stay tuned, some cool things in the making.
Sharon

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Bright Ideas

In our morning business meeting, Michael and I decide to try something different, at least different for us. We've never printed any of my images on paper (other than the small 8"x10" matted). The idea train takes off, along with some major derailments.

Size agreed upon: 18"x24" total including white border. Will fit in a standard frame with glass, eliminating excessive costs for clients.

Paper is chosen and ordered. Thick and canvas textured, I love it.

Backing board and glassine envelopes ordered. Will be sold and shipped flat.

A few days go by and it's last Monday. I decide to paint Frosted, in part because of his massive win in the Met Mile and because he's nominated for the upcoming Whitney on Saturday. And he's a gray and so many adore the grays (thank you Tapit for ensuring a strong generational bloodline of grays for the future). Will know for sure with the draw on Tuesday evening.

Tuesday night - he's in.

Wednesday arrives and I'd better get painting. Going well until Michael calls from the track and says FedEx tracking confirms delivery for backing boards and envelopes (and something else not related to this story, but it will be). I check the front door. No boxes. Off I go to my neighbors. You see, I have a sweet neighbor who lives at 8 Nelson Ave. and we live at 8 Nelson Ave. Extension. She and I are well acquainted because of the continuous confusion of mail delivery and shipping companies between these two very similar addresses. Guess Saratoga couldn't creatively think of another street name so they called it extension.

To no avail. I check with several neighbors. Time to get on the phone with FedEx. You all know what it's like to try to contact a helpful human being within a gigantic corporation. Time is passing.

Turns out each package requires a different case number with different agents. Will contact me in 24-48 hours after they conduct their investigation. Huh? I ask (politely at first), why not contact the driver? Can't, he's on his delivery route. I ask (getting agitated) doesn't he have a cell phone? The conversation quickly deescalates to a bad place. Bottom line: they don't give a crap.

Back to the studio in a very aggravated mood. If we don't get the backing board and envelopes, how the heck will we sell these proposed prints?

About 3:00 in the afternoon, here comes the delivery guy (in a Budget truck, no less) with the packages. Says he mistakenly delivered to 8 Nelson Ave. I say no, you didn't. He mumbles a few more lame excuses and I'm just grateful they're here and it's getting late.

Thursday: In the studio to finish painting. The acid lime green of the turf course must be an outward expression of my prior irritation on Wednesday. Now here comes the mower. I do my best to ignore the racket and concentrate. It's finished around 4:00 and I shoot it, pull it into Photoshop and create the finished file.

Friday: I'm in tent at the track while Michael is printing the new image on this new great paper. The cutter on the big plotter is not working correctly and the font I chose for the title is not in the computer running the plotter. He reminds me this computer is NOT connected to the internet when I suggest he simply download it. The image also isn't formatting like the file I provided. Several compromises and several terse phone calls later and the design is changed and the decision is made to hand cut each print. Until...the yellow ink runs out. Inks like these are not available at your local Staples and Michael pays $20 extra for Saturday delivery. Time is growing alarmingly short.

Saturday: Whitney Day. I'm at the tent by myself. As Michael awaits delivery of the ink he puts my Frosted image on some aluminum, coasters and mousepads. The ink finally arrives and now I'm sweating it out that he'll at least get a few prints to the track in time and...oh...please...may the horse win the damn race. We're about out of time.

Around 4:00 here comes my man with the goods! I'm quickly signing and numbering and putting the merchandise in place. The horses are finally loading in the gate for the Whitney and God bless that professional racehorse...he does not disappoint. We sell all the aluminum and prints in the short time left after the race.

Just another day in the life of an artist and her patient and loyal partner,
Sharon

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