Thursday, April 06, 2017

Keeping it Real

After a few years of restless uncertainty regarding the direction of my artwork, I'm finally admitting to myself who I really am as an artist. Relieved with this long-overdue acceptance, I'm going on with my bad self.

For me, it's all about the horse, but it's not just about portraying the horse in pretty pictures. Horses are magnificent creatures, no doubt, but strictly idolizing them as the beauties they are is to deny their paradoxical nature. Consider this quote from my artist's statement: "...expressing the subtle with an undercurrent of volatility."

Horses have distinct personalities. Some are sweet in nature, accepting, generous and willing. Some are sullen, nasty and psychotic - not always resulting from their interaction with evil humans. DNA and genetics play a role as well as learned behavior from other horses.

Horses are dangerous just by way of their size, speed and sheer athleticism. A spooked horse can duck violently in a millisecond, sending a rider helplessly off into space. Anyone who has worked with horses can attest to the consequences of not following the rules of sensible horsemanship. I've been kicked, bitten, crushed, stomped, run-over and otherwise had my bell rung many times. Not to mention being "unseated". I accept responsibility for my stupidity and carelessness, however some of those physical encounters entailed some frightening equine aggression.

Truth be told, our age-old association with horses is wonderful and terrible. Accidents are inevitable. People get hurt and killed. Horses get hurt and killed.

I respect this aspect of our relationship and have a lot to say about it. No morbid depictions but no 4-F's either (foals frolicking in fields of flowers). It's just how I've experienced it.
Snake, 20"x24", oil on canvas. Click here for more info.
Calling it as I see it,

Monday, March 20, 2017


Eric Rhoads, the publisher of Plein Air Magazine, interviews successful artists and generously provides podcasts of the chat. Well worth your time, check them out here.

A common denominator seems to emerge throughout the interviews: that "talent" is a subjective term that implies a romantic state of divine endowment. All of the artists agree that "talent" is more like disciplined hard work and persistence. They freely share their stories of hardship, uncertainty and frustration experienced on their journey to success.

The interview with artist William Davidson especially interested me. The term "thresholding" was mentioned by Eric Rhoads as "...pushing yourself to the point of discomfort and then obligating yourself to it..."

 I had to look it up.

The online Free Dictionary defines thresholding as: the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction, phenomenon, result, or condition to occur or be manifested. Hmm, I understand a pain threshold on a scale that's endured, but this description seems like a deliberate exercise to force oneself into a higher level of accomplishment, or is it enlightenment? 

Is it goal oriented? Is it a means for accelerated growth? Is it intensive self-realization?

The Sun Dance, Frederick Remington, 1909

Will it hurt?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Lots of Luscious Oil Paints (I Still Want to Eat Them)

I love to read about other artist's working methods. It's interesting and I'll often try out some of their techniques. However, some artists are rigid about their tools and their "correct" uses. To that I say, everyone has their own methods of transferring what's creatively brewing in their brains down onto a substrate. It's an evolution through trial and error and sometimes change and necessity rule.

Here's my technical procedures after many, many years of painting:

I've had this palette longer than I've had Michael and we've been together for almost 39 years! It came with a paint box (not this one, first one fell apart) and I've taken pretty good care of it. At the end of the day I scrape off my paint mixtures and rub the oily residue to a shine with a rag. The surface has built up to a neutral sheen over many years.

The light area is where Turpenoid "Natural", ironically, took the surface off. Ugh. 

About colors: I have a lot of earth pigments because I paint thoroughbreds who are mostly variations of brown. Yeah, yeah, I know I can mix them from a few primaries (I get it) but I don't want to. The limited palette aficionados are right and I do only take a few colors when I go out to plein air paint. In the studio there are many more colors than what's pictured here but this is my basic palette. Not so limited. I sparingly add colors like the thalos when called for.

Here's a tube of Grumbacher Pre-Tested cadmium red deep that has lived in my paint box for over 25 years. Purchased at Pearl Paint which as long been defunct, it hasn't dried up a bit. Sometimes mixing a dark with cad red doesn't cut it and I go searching for this dinosaur.
I now use primarily Gamblin oils with a few Michael Harding's thrown in which are wonderful, pure pigments but quite pricey so I stick to the adequate Gamblin, a U.S.A. manufacturer. I splurge on the Harding transparent oxides that are unequaled. Lately I've been doing some experimenting with transparent pigments and building up multiple layers.

When I begin a painting session, my standard procedure is to mix up a couple of neutrals in three values. For my grays I use ultramarine blue with burnt sienna. By the way, I can't work without Burnt Sienna. How else does an equine artist achieve the copper penny glow of a chestnut? I also mix up a violet with ultramarine and Gamblin's alizarin permanent. Those are the two mixtures at the top of the photo..
When I was in art school in the mid 70's, my painting instructor, the well-respected accomplished painter David Loeffler Smith, insisted on keeping colors pure which meant using only a palette knife to mix. I still do this and you will see clean piles of paint on my palette.

By the way, I'm on my second ever palette knife, the first wore out and this one won't be with me much longer.  It's nicked, bent and could cut a steak and I'm not easily finding a replacement.

Brushes: I've been moving away from bristle brushes and using soft synthetics that I purchase at A.C. Moore for $3.99 each. Called Simply Simmons, most are firm brights and I like their smooth application and the chiseled stroke. Yes, I have several Rosemary's but I paid a whole lot more than $3.99 for them.

Pictured is a "retired" bristle #6 long flat, dented ferrule, warped and peeling handle and missing a lot of hairs. This one served me well for many years and I'm sentimental about it's valiant service for some reason (I've thrown out too many brushes to mention...they wear out eventually). It's one of the first brushes I ever bought upon entering art school. Made by a company called President which apparently no longer exists.
David Smith was also adamant about cleaning brushes with only Ivory bar soap, another habit I can't shake although the Master's Brush Cleaner is a very effective (and expensive) cleaner. It even restores brushes with dried-on paint.

Now you know about my basic tools,

Monday, February 27, 2017

Headin' Westward (ho!)

To my delight and surprise, my Indian Relay paintings have been accepted into the Phippen Museum's Western Art Show and Sale. I say "surprise" because the other participating artists are so impressive. As I drool over their artwork, I embrace a personal challenge. Whenever I encounter artists of accomplishment and considerable skill, it spurs me on (pun intended) to become a better painter.

Located in Prescott, Arizona, it's a journey of many miles taking place on Memorial Day weekend. We've booked lodging via AirBnB for a very reasonable rate and will be driving all my paintings cross-country to the show. No doubt the price of gasoline will increase due to the holiday as well as the expense of the booth fee, insurance, a required business license from the City of Pescott, meals, and not to mention the deepest expense - framing.

Also on the schedule: a reference gathering trip to one of the season's first Indian Relay races in Pine Ridge, South Dakota taking place the weekend following the show. Might as well go for it, we'll have traveled so far at this point.

So how to afford all this? I consider the expense an investment in my career revival and mental well-being. And that esoteric statement doesn't pay the bills.

Michael and I are working on a crowdfunding project to help out. You may recall a Kickstarter campaign I launched in 2013 in which I painted historical scenes of Saratoga to coincide with their 150th Anniversary at the track. It was meant to be a prelude to a bigger project and it's success effectively got my feet wet and gave me a feel for the mechanics.

This time around I have a clearer understanding of the "rewards" and can offer more effective incentives. And then there's those cool innovative techie things like going "live" on Facebook, enabling backers to travel vicariously along with us in real time.

So stay tuned for the "launch" of the funding campaign, certain to be more interactive and offering something for everyone. It's an exciting time for me and I hope you enjoy following along with my always daring exploits.
Triad, 16"x20", oil on panel
On the move,

Tuesday, February 07, 2017


When I look over my resume, especially when I'm feeling invisible, I'm impressed with my career accomplishments. Working all over the country, I've enjoyed lots of publicity from very early on and have been involved in multiple varied and interesting projects.

Recently, it's occurred to me that not even my close friends are aware of my background. Michael has decided to create a brochure that showcases the highlights of some of these achievements.

In 1988 I was hired as a contract artist by the scenic arts department of Sea World of San Diego. The new Shamu Stadium was nearing completion and a 600' mural around the top perimeter of the seating area was proposed. I, along with several other artists were assigned the task of making it happen...quickly (why these projects are always last minute is beyond me).

The days were long and the work intense. Predictably, several artists quit. I recall the paint quality not being all that great either. The design evolved as we progressed, changing and tweaking to fit the space. The head designer wanted to create a native northwestern Pacific feel, and I think we did.
 This is a small segment, the entire mural wrapped around for 600 feet.

The sculptors in the scenic arts department made the totem poles out of fiberglass. The top border of dugout canoes and orcas was over 8 foot high.

We created a wash to resemble wood and then painted these very cool totems. The fun part.

When the stadium was completed the main designer, impressed with my ability and work ethic (obtained from the race track of course), sent three artists plus myself to Sea World in San Antonio, Texas to complete murals in Cap 'n Kids Land. The entire facility would have it's grand opening within seven days and there was so much to do! Construction crews burned huge lights (like you see on the highway) to work 24-hours and we painted from sunrise to sunset.

This 20' mural was a Huckleberry Finn theme and there were lots of adjustments for the existing space and light. Construction operated all around us, or, I should say we painted around the construction.

You can see the drainage pipe and flags at the bottom. I believe when we finished it was landscaped.

When we competed the murals on the afternoon before opening day, I asked the project boss if I could go into downtown San Antonio to see the tourist sights: the Alamo and the River Walk. None of the other artists would go with me...they were too whipped and opted to nap in their rooms.

The department must have been pleased with my work as the head designer wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for me.

I still have it,

Sunday, January 22, 2017


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 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,

Monday, January 02, 2017


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.

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,

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,

Monday, October 17, 2016


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,