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

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