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.
  • 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,

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.
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.

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,

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,

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,
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


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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mental Workouts

One of the advantages of plein air painting is learning to improvise. The selected scene to paint is subject to change quickly and not just the light. After spending the summer painting the Oklahoma barn area at Saratoga almost every day, I've become very familiar with the architecture of the barns. The structures basically are all alike and they're a similar putty green-gray throughout. Throw in some fall foliage and you've got yourself a pretty picture of complementary colors!
Autumn at Oklahoma, 10"x8", oil on panel, plein air

I surprised myself over the summer at what my memory is capable of. As the horses and riders were weaving themselves between the vehicles, I made a quick mental note of their height in comparison to nearby objects. That provided the scale and size they should be and I quickly and simply sketched in the figures. Try'll be amazed at how it builds your confidence.

Here's a quick cell pic of basically what I was painting. Because it's the off-meet, restrictions on parking have relaxed and the cars sort of come and go.
Mere calisthenics,

Thursday, October 08, 2015


Last week I participated in the Seneca Lake Plein Air Festival. Prior to the event, the weather was gorgeously warm and sunny. On the first day of painting the temps dropped into the low 40's with brisk winds to boot. Michael urged me to pack long underwear and I was soooo grateful that I did. Concluding the event on Sunday, the temps went back into the warm and sunny 60's. Go figure.

I struggled with the cold as all of us artists did. The first morning at 7:00am, I set up in a pretty marina. Because the water was still warm (70 degrees I was told) and the air temps were rapidly descending, an ethereal mist rose off the surface. I went big, 16"x20".

Temperature Change, 16"x20", oil on panel
I didn't win any prizes but I thought this painting was decent enough. I managed a couple of smaller pieces but they were so-so. The organizers encouraged us to bring extra work for the Sunday public display. I brought the better plein air pieces recently painted at Oklahoma. Guess what? I sold horse paintings. Horse paintings! It was all anyone was interested in. The marina painting brought barely a passing glimpse. Go figure.

In hindsight and giving this situation lots of thought, I compared it to horse paintings in Saratoga. Equine art saturates galleries, restaurants, banks - you name it - until everyone is sick of them. In Geneva's culture of water and lakes, perhaps a similar scenario holds true, and, when I recall what the other artists were selling, it was the rolling landscapes of farms, nocturnes and urban scenes with a possible sliver of lake way in the understated background.

Isn't it ironic?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Quick Return to Oklahoma

The weather this past week was nothing short of spectacular. Even though I have orders and commissions waiting, I couldn't resist getting back to the Oklahoma training track, this time without the pressure of time constraints and alla prima demands. Four consecutive mornings of two hour sessions (7-9) produced a studied piece. I went bigger, the biggest I've plein air painted to date, 16"x20".

With the change in the weather giving us cooler nights (50's) and the hot horses just returning from the track, the steam resulting from their baths was abundantly beautiful! In fact, I could have put more in. I painted the background and let it set up a bit in order to apply a light, warm tone which I scrubbed in with my finger, otherwise I would have been dealing with a muddy mess (something I'm very good at...making mud). I can tweak a few things but I'm letting this remain a 100% plein air piece.

Cool Morning, Hot Bath, 16"x20", oil on canvas (sold)
There are several pieces from the Forty (Thirty) Paintings in Forty Days project that I want to revisit, this one being the back of Weaver's barn. The first one I completed was subject to a hazy, overcast day and a two hour deadline. What a difference, huh?
Behind Weaver's Barn, 8"x10" oil on panel

As promised, a Saratoga 2015 review:
  •  Many fans were disgruntled due to several track changes this year and freely vented their unhappiness on us. At first we politely listened and then - we'd had enough negativity. We suggested that they contact NYRA management and express their views to them as there was nothing that we as vendors could do and the powers-that-be should be made aware.
  • My booth has not been located in the same spot for six years and I wonder how many people who wanted to visit couldn't find me. The new location was fine, but will I be there next year?
  • The weather was simply gorgeous. Warm, wonderfully sunny days and it only rained on Tuedays (dark) or during the night! 
  • Fifteen thousand plus fans showing up early Friday morning before the Travers just to witness American Pharoah gallop was a phenomenon we will not see again any time soon. His defeat to Keen Ice affirmed this track as the "graveyard of favorites." I thought he ran a stupendous race in the Travers and has nothing to apologize for. Nothing. Not with his resume.
  • I spent little time in the booth as that was the deal Michael made with me. Didn't miss it either!
  • Plein air painting almost every day under the pressure of creating a completed piece is one of the best challenges I have ever taken on. What I learned and experienced couldn't be duplicated in any other situation. Don't get me wrong, a workshop with the likes of Scott Christensen is still on my bucket list! I painted some mediocre pieces, some real turkeys but also some decent ones. Even sold several. Michael put up a sign at the booth entrance inviting people to come in and see the "painting of the day" and they did! As I photographed for this blog I harshly self-critiqued each piece and that's where the accelerated learning took place.
  • The biggest takeaway? Confidence. My uneasy self-consciousness melted away daily as I met so many supportive people who thought it was a hoot that I set up my gear all over Oklahoma to paint. As one owner told me, "I love seeing you do this - that's the way Saratoga is supposed to be."
And it's not over,

Sunday, September 13, 2015

OPA Paint Out

Oil Painters of America encourages members throughout the country to organize plein air paint outs . Today I attended one in Londonderry, Vermont, and although the weather was not quite cooperating, it was still lots of fun and a relief to not be rushing through a painting. Organized by accomplished artist Hilary Mills Lambert at Taylor Farm (a real working farm), it was a great way to unwind from the stress of the Oklahoma plein air series and meet some new artist friends.

The farm offered plenty of cows, horses, goats, hogs, chickens and one turkey. The horses were out in a large paddock and would not come visit, so I settled for some very sweet and friendly young cows.

It was a dark and drizzly day but I set up under the hatchback of my minivan. The cows were terrible models and wandered off when bored and/or filled up with hay. It's great practice for a lazy and defiant memory.

I decided to pack it in when the moisture invaded my oils, plus I was getting chilled from the damp and cooler temps. Before leaving, I grabbed my camera to take some photos. I love this series - this artist set up her easel and moved to the right where her vehicle was parked to retrieve something. The chickens were overcome with curiosity!

Here's the list of upcoming paint outs, and most are open to non-OPA members.


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Day 30 - Forty, er, Thirty Paintings in Forty Days

I didn't hit the forty mark but I did manage thirty! Whoo hoo!

Those other ten days I had to be in the booth (every Saturday), work in the studio (coating giclees and one rush order commission), give Michael a couple of days to print orders, and one sick day. I thought I could make up any missed days on Tuesday (our dark day) but that was filled with packing and shipping, running to the art store in Albany and/or to one of our suppliers, and the rest of the usual errands of grocery shopping, the cleaners, bank, etc.

Today I'm faced with the herculean task of tearing down the tent, washing grid walls and the tent itself. My house is a disaster...looks more like a warehouse with hoarder-like pathways. The cats are feeling horribly neglected but they'll get over it in a few days when they realize life is returning to normal. Funny how they become sullen when they don't get attention.

It's all good though.

I've fallen back in love with blogging. I used to post 2-3 times per week before everyone jumped on the Facebook bandwagon and I determined no one was reading my posts. The problem with FB is we don't own that little piece of cyber real estate and someone else decides what we can see and who will see us.

I admit I dashed this one off yesterday:
Last Day, 8"x10", oil on panel
I was close to Union Ave. on the outside of the old Horse Haven track. Michael and others were waiting for me and I was anxious to join them. Ironically, as I painted, someone across the street played a bagpipe! Just when you start taking yourself too seriously...

I'm glad I'm not at Oklahoma today, watching all those vans pack up the outfits and head out. My heart is filled with love and admiration for not only the horses but also the people who work on the backside. I know firsthand what their lives consist of. I didn't feel this compassionate when I was one of them. From the outside looking in, I guess. Distance. I met so many dedicated trainers and workers and they were all wonderfully supportive of my efforts.

I'll go into more detail in a few days after I analyze the summer and muck out a bit.

Still wired,

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Day 29 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

PBS used to air a program, Landscapes Through Time with David Dunlop. Dunlop, who is a very accomplished artist and passionate teacher, would travel the world to places know to have been painted by famous masters. Dunlop would present not only a history lesson but also discuss technique, science, materials, the social and economic milieu, etc. One episode in particular that I remember is Renoir's Olive Groves in Cagnes Sur Mer, France. Dunlop pointed out how Renoir would use trees to frame a focal point.

The Farm at Les Collettes, Cagnes, by August Renoir, oil on canvas
Dunlop would also be in the company of student artists who traveled with him to plein air paint the same views as best they could search them out. He would offer an encouraging critique, however, never hesitant to take the brush from their hand and have at it with their paints on their canvas. I loved it!

When I saw this scene this morning I thought of Dunlop emphasizing this technique with a student (he took her brush and created window-like draperies with the trees). My view is from the opposite direction of an earlier piece that I painted on Day 12.

Tree Canopy, 8"x10" oil on panel
Only one day to go and the meet will conclude. I'll go out tomorrow morning to paint Day 30. Then back to the booth to celebrate.

Maybe drink some vodka,

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Day 28 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I'm going for thirty paintings in forty days and I think that's worth patting myself on the back. Just two more after today. However, I'm embarking on a marathon studio painting session tomorrow for a client - leaving the weekend to finish up. I think I'll make it.

Fatigue is setting in for both Michael and I. The days have been insufferably long but I'm always amazed at what can be accomplished with dogged fortitude. My brain shuts down before my body which seemingly switches to autopilot without me.

It was difficult to concentrate today. This spot had a picnic table that I left out to focus on the light and shadows. In the background is a building, probably a dorm, and a wash rack. The fence is the remnant of the old, old track.

Shade, 9"x12" oil on canvas

It occurred to me today that I've painted 28 quick draw pieces without the luxury of time.The smaller panels (5"x7", 8"x10") take 1-2 hours and the 11"x14" are 2-3 hours. That's it. There are too many demands to keep this summer freight train running efficiently. Plein air is a process and not necessarily an end result although there are plenty of artists who are great at this. Now that I've given myself this self-taught crash course, I'm curious about how I'll apply all I've learned to slower, calmer days when I can return to tweak and highlight the next day.

It will be good to spend a day in the studio,

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Day 26 & 27 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I was quite under the weather since Travers evening, however, I managed this painting on Monday. In the last four days I've taken about 40,000 mg of vitamin C. I can hear the groans from the health professionals but this has been my cure for many years and it works for me (placebo effect?). I believe that Dr. Linus Pauling was a genius researcher despite an avalanche of criticism when he first published his paper advocating mega doses of vitamin C.

This old cottage-type building is currently being used as a dorm. Late last spring when it was finally warm enough to venture out with my paints, a lady parked close to where I was set up. She began calling out names and setting out food for...cats. Of course, being the cat lover that I am, I walked over to her and inquired about what she was doing.  Apparently, there is a colony of feral cats that live in Oklahoma year-round who are lovingly and tirelessly cared for and fed EVERYDAY by an angel named Michele Jennings. She explained that she has not missed a day in seven years!

Feeding Station, 11"x14", oil on canvas
She has financial support and help from the Moore Foundation, NYRA and Quaintence House. Maintenance helps keep the snow plowed so that she can reach the feeding stations in winter. This is a labor of love beyond the highest calling. Teresa Genaro wrote some informative blog posts about the cats, like this one. I've since heard that Keeneland has a similar program.
 *    *    *
Today I wandered back to Campfire Court to paint Dutrow's shady barn straight on. I found that most of his horses have shipped out and I was suddenly overcome with the bittersweet emotion of the meet's culmination. Glad that it's almost over, sad that it's almost over. Not much gray area in my vacillating passions of extreme joy and sorrow! His help assured me that Tony is still here and they have some big guns ready to send over to the races this weekend.

Campfire Court, 11"x14", oil on canvas
I'll be too busy to be depressed next week. Lots of commissions to paint and several paint outs to attend. More on all that later.

With a heavy heart and an ironic smile,

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day 25 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

This is last Friday's effort. I'm falling behind schedule due to the incredible Traver's weekend. I finally met Thomas Allen Pauly in person who is American Pharoah's Official Triple Crown Artist. He's a great guy and multi-talented artist. Spent a bit of time showing him around Oklahoma and talking art/horses in my booth.

I photographed this scene with my good camera from several angles to use as reference for a later studio painting. I love the light filtering through the translucent white bandages and I want to spend more time getting the hang of this backlighting. However, this one is purely plein air:

Bandage Laundry, 9"x12", oil on canvas
Today I'm debating if I'll attempt to go out and paint later this afternoon at all. I'd love to but my body is not cooperating by giving me a very sore throat (and not from screaming during the Travers). Just a reminder of what a breakneck schedule we keep, sleep being non-existent on the list of priorities.

Cough, sniff,

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day 24 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

This scene is similar to the first one that I painted of Pletcher's wash rack. The light was different this morning - not really overcast, but a gauzy curtain of light that produced defined highlights like hotspots. Sunburn weather. This is my last panel and the rest will be on stretched canvas. When I regain the luxury of time, I'd like to revisit this spot to exploit those hotspots that I'll recall from this plein air piece. Put in more horses, too. It's behind George Weaver's barn close to Elmer's gap.

Note the sagging roof showing it's age on the middle building. One of the backstretch guys visited and told me that the door on the left side was to his room.

Behind Weaver's Barn, 8"x10", oil on panel
 We have to open at 7:00 tomorrow morning. Michael is planning on being in the booth all day and I'll get to head over to Oklahoma nice and early. Not sure if I'll make it over to watch the big horses train but that's okay (notice the priority shift). I've had the honor to be in the company of many good horses throughout my prior life...and yes, they are different and extraordinarily special.

Did you visit with Funny Cide today?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Day 23 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I painted on a stretched canvas today. After becoming familiar with the slick surface of the panels and loving it, the canvas felt awkward. The fabric is 12 oz. with a defined tooth that grabs onto a thick bristle brush full of paint. Great for large pieces. I've been using soft hair brushes on the panels and I think they enhanced my ability to loosen up.

To compensate, I rubbed the surface with a mixture of linseed oil and turps. That decreased the drag and was helpful but the soft brushes still struggled to fill the weave while the bristle brushes felt clumsy and not very malleable. I've just about used up all my panels so this will be interesting.

Here's another ancient building, the maintenance office. Odd diagonal shadows fell across the surface from the giant pines off to the left and I sketched them in quickly as they would soon change or be gone. Originally, I wanted to paint the other side with more interest but I couldn't find any shade to set up in. We're having a lovely warm and sunny summer so no complaints!

Maintenance Building, 11"x14", oil on canvas
Pharoah arrived today and the frenzy begins. We've been told to expect over 15,000 people Friday morning as the Travers entrants gallop between 8-9.

We're all paparazzi for a few days,

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day 22 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

It's official. The Big Horse is coming to Saratoga. As he should. After weeks of speculating will he won't he, it's exciting that the scales have tipped in favor of - YES he is!

Today I painted at Elmer's Gap, one of the entrances onto the track. Wedging myself between a guard shack and a tree, I managed the best view of horses coming and going without actually standing in the middle of the horse path and annoying everyone. Eavesdropping on the radio chatter, security is readying for superstar horse detail. The number one horse on the planet will need it as he'll be followed by a batallion of admirers aiming three foot lenses at his every move. My tiny lens will be one of them if possible.

Back to plein air. I'm exercising my drawing chops and memory. The way I painted these horses and riders from life was to draw stick figures first. This provided the gesture and feel of their movement as they walked onto the track. I went back and modeled them more carefully but did not get too detailed. This is plein air after all.

Elmer's Gap, 8"x10", oil on panel. 
The buildings in the background are those mult-million dollar homes on Fifth Avenue that back up to my favorite horse path (see painting at the top of this blog). Imagine this: relaxing with morning coffee out in the back yard while viewing thoroughbreds in training. Nirvana.

Moving forward, there's a tangle of uneven PVC piping that encloses the turf course (and other stuff) which I wouldn't even attempt to portray accurately. A few knife strokes gives you the idea. Trees are everywhere in Oklahoma and provide the dappled shade of a beautiful summer. Oh, and it's fun to paint, too.

In my best Ryan Seacrest: Pharoah!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Day 21 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Today's painting is a wee one as we are gearing up for the next week of celebrations and there is so much non-stop work. It will be total madness of the anticipated kind if THE HORSE makes it here next week. Tomorrow is the Alabama and I will be in the booth all day. No painting of the day.

I didn't get over to Oklahoma until late afternoon. A strong breeze came up with the front that cleared out the oppressive heat and humidity and the clouds were zooming past fast and furious. It occurred to me that I rarely paint clouds, preferring simple skies.

Three Quarter Pole, 5"x7", oil on panel

I also don't like blue skies in my paintings but there's just a touch pthalo green and blue to indicate that it's a perfect summer day. I used my palette knife to cut in the fences in the background and the highlights in the foreground. The Phipps stable was behind me and they won at least one race. It was so pleasant to overhear the banter and activity as I worked. Those are the times I miss.

What I learned today: it is more difficult to mix a correct color from life than it is when working from a photo. So much bounce light and local color reflecting everywhere.

Like a multi-faceted prism,

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Day 20 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I'm intrigued by all these little square buildings scattered around the barn area. I'm sure they've served many uses over the generations - housing machinery, tack rooms, feed rooms, offices, dorms or just plain storage. Most are still in use. Some have old signage and one has a loving plaque honoring an angel who passed. A house I particularly love is a feeding station for feral cats but that's on my painting list and it's a good story I'll share with you when I get to it.

Everything is so green up here in the arctic circle. For now. The building way in back is one of the renovated dorms that NYRA and MaryLou Whitney have renovated in recent years. The dorms circle the outskirts of the barn area and contrast with the old wooden architecture.

Dorm in Back, 8"x10", oil on panel
I intentionally added the utility poles as I wanted to play with the wires. Because I'm experimenting with ground vs. no ground this panel was painted directly on white gesso and I was able to scrape out the wires with the tip of my palette knife. Generally I use a burnt sienna ground but lately I like the look of my transparent paints on the white ground.

Wish I had used more venetian red in my greens to calm them down. Fact is, I didn't use any.

It's not easy being green,

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Day 19 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Feeling rushed again. I relish the first day that I can work on a plein air painting at my leisure and for multiple days. That will be such a pleasure.

Don't get me wrong, I'm learning to see and make decisions quickly, trying my best to be accurate. In today's painting the values of the left side of the barn and the hanging tree boughs were almost the same. They disappeared into each other, causing me to go back and blend in some darker values. Back in the studio I thought about making them even darker. My instincts said yes but my quest for veracity told me to leave it alone (that voice again). I think as I continue on this experience I'll be able to better judge what should or shouldn't be tweaked.

One thing I'm discovering - rules are great for general guidance but there are times when they can be gladly tossed. I'm also simplifying and going for the big shapes as my brushwork loosens.

Dutrow's Barn, 10"x8", oil on panel
Tony Dutrow has three short barns in Campfire Court. The one above is mostly in deep shade with bits of dapple light squeezing through. I arrived late after morning feed time so there were no horse heads to paint.

Made in the shade,

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Day 18 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Actually painted this yesterday. Today is dark and I work harder on the off day - and no, I didn't do any housework. Giclees to coat, jockey silks to paint, packing and shipping, book work, etc. I'm trying to make a decent dinner and use up all the veggies I bought at the farmer's market last week before they spoil. Meals and eating healthy is a challenge with this grueling schedule. We usually don't get to eat until close to 10:00pm...then I pass out on the couch with a full stomach. Not so good.

Received two big boxes of frames for the plein air pieces which cost me a small fortune but they're exceptionally nice.

The location is near the subject for my painting Oklahoma Horse Path pictured at the top of this blog. It was so refreshing to paint this scene from life compared to studio painting. It's late in the morning, around 9:30 (although I started earlier) and only a few horses are finishing up training. Loved this figure who waited for the rider and they chatted long enough for me to quickly stroke in some simple forms.

Off to dinner,

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Day 16 & 17 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Day 16

The stuff that I'm drawn to paint is becoming apparent. Within these acres of antique barns exists not just a treasure trove of infinite subject but also roads, paths and walkways that lead to something. Take a stroll between the two Gary Sciacca barns, along past the shed on the left to the barn in the background. I enjoy taking you on a tour into my paintings.

Full morning light makes this piece rather high key. I want a do-over when this scene is backlit with darker values later in the afternoon. Maybe towards the end of this project.

Sciacca's Barns, 8"x10", oil on panel
Day 17 

Way in the very back of the barn area is a large mowed field that sharply slopes down to a road. Vans and trailers are parked way in the back and the manure is piled high before being hauled away. In my stubborn quest to get a handle on painting trees I set up by the dorms looking out across the field. A couple of horses were being hacked up and down the steep hill and enjoying themselves immensely. I painted a high-headed, high-stepping horse right smack into the middle of the composition. So much for rules.
Back Field, 11"x14", oil on canvas panel
At the start of my painting, I got some help.

Fields of dreams,

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Day 15 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I went out early this morning, around 5:30. My original plan was to paint a backlit scene of the starting gate. As I pulled into the parking area, a young man (wearing a NYRA Parking t-shirt) approached me to inform me that I couldn't park here. It's reserved for security. What? It was fine a week and a half ago. He implored me that his boss would be very upset if he didn't enforce the "rules". There was only one other car and it's 5:30am and I'll only be here a couple of hours. I told myself to go park elsewhere and not give the kid a bad time.

I ended up in a trainers stand at the end of the chute. I loved the diagonal lines created by the fences even though my perspective was from above.

The Chute, 7"x5", oil on panel
Glad I did,

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Day 14 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I worked in the studio all day coating giclees and painting customized jockey silks. I didn't make it over to Oklahoma until around 3:30. Afternoon feed time would proceed shortly as I set up. I felt rushed and distracted and it showed in my painting. Dealing with mud again in the tree although I looked intently and it was the same value as the background of the barn except for the dappled sun. What a mess of paint I slapped on.
White Bandages, 10"x8", oil on panel
I do like the indication of the bandages. You know those horses have their heads buried in their tubs in the corner. Lots of stomping and hollering a few minutes prior.

Feed me, right now,

Monday, August 10, 2015

Day 13 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Another late morning painting. This is Elm Court which used to back up to where the horse vans parked, now it's handicap parking. The vans roll into the barn area at any time during training - that was never allowed in the past.

Three barns are perpendicular to each other creating interesting shapes and diagonals. I'm not sure what the little building in the front is but there's an official-looking red sign, probably fire-related. I'm pleased with the contrast and I'm feeling more confident. Speaking of that, after a couple of weeks of exploring the barn area, hands and arms outstretched with fingers framing a scene, my self-consciousness is melting away. I'm a curiosity. Even George Weaver's dog sat down at the end of the shedrow and quietly stared at me for several minutes. The idea is to stay out of everyone's way and that's why you'll usually find me set up between a manure pit and a dumpster!

Elm Court, 11"x14", oil on canvas panel
The substrate is a Raymar canvas panel. Not especially enamored with it, maybe because I've been painting on a smooth Masonite-type panel.

Just pretend I'm not here,

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Day 12 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

After training, after the horses are done up and fed, shedrow raked and tack cleaned, the bustle quiets down until afternoon feed time. Maybe a horse is in or being schooled in the paddock. The blacksmith may arrive to shoe a couple. Other than that, it's an afternoon siesta.

I set up my easel late this morning. There were a few horses still on the track but it closed shortly after I arrived. The special thing about Saratoga is the calming atmosphere for both people and animals. Maybe it's all the negative ions produced by the ancient trees or maybe it's the pristine northern air.

Halfway into my painting I began to really listen. The barn behind me opened the back stall doors and I could hear the horses eating hay, walking around the stalls, blowing the dust out of their nostrils, chewing on the window frame and raking their noses against the screen. An occasional whinny, foot stomp or cough broke the atmosphere. All the while a warm breeze pushed billowing clouds across a sky that could have been painted by Munnings.

Quiet Afternoon, 11"x14", oil on panel
These are the barns at the first turn of the Oklahoma Training Track. I know them well because Michael and I were stabled in the middle one when he had his string here in the early to mid eighties.  Generations of legendary humans and horses haunt this place. Bobbie Frankel used to be right here sitting on his bench, Happy by his side. Do you believe in ghosts? I can't say if spirits hang around forever but if they don't, I put them back today.

With reverence,

Friday, August 07, 2015

Day 11 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Some things are more important than an overly ambitious commitment to a painting project and I'm fine with that. Friends and family who take the time to check in with me are a blessing. This afternoon I had the opportunity to show off the Oklahoma barn area to my dear friend Sue with an impromptu tour. We promised to meet early some morning for a creative photo session before the meet ends. Tonight we'll have dinner with my sweet niece and her cool hubby visiting from Connecticut. My bro's daughter - so special.

This afternoon I managed a quick sketch of drying saddle towels at Rudy Rodriguez's barn. I had the pleasure of showing him my painting and we had a great chat. He's a bundle of energy and a hopeless workaholic like myself. Obviously, Donald Trump has never visited a race track barn area in his life to witness first hand the dedication of the Latin workers who frankly, work their butts off 24/7. They've all been wonderful to me and I'll write a bit more on this subject later.

Rudy's Saddletowels, 7"x5", oil on panel (sold)
Tomorrow we'll both be in the booth as it's a big day with five stakes including the Whitney. With an impressive all-star field, this could be one the best races of the year. My favorite bad boy horse, Wicked Strong, is in along with Moreno, V.E. Day, Honor Code and more.

Taking it all in stride,

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Day 10 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I'm still a day behind and I may be more so after this busy weekend coming up. My new title could morph into Forty Paintings in Fifty Days (or more).

I tried out the new schedule of going to the booth with Michael around 9:00 and getting over to Oklahoma before 10:00. I loved it. First did a bit of searching for what to paint next (although I have a good plan so I'm not wasting time wandering needlessly) and then where to park the darn car. I like being somewhat close to my vehicle.

I'll probably alternate between sunrise and mid-day. I'm learning to establish value notes of  the shadows and then commit to them so I'm not being a light-chaser. This piece was mostly in full-sun and it was wonderful to not have to rush.
Stewart Barn, 11"x14", oil on panel (sold)
This is barn 38, Dallas Stewart's barn in Campfire Court.

I had a good day,

Monday, August 03, 2015

Day 9 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

Michael has offered to help me with other time arrangements. Because the sun is rising later, I may  have him drop me off at Oklahoma before he heads over to the frontside to open the booth, around 8 or 9. I won't be so rushed and will have more time to think clearly.

First light at sunrise is difficult. It's a challenge when painting plein air. Some artists are beautifully experienced with capturing the rapidly changing light. I'm not. Soft and gentle when it first appears over the horizon, it spreads a quiet film of warm light. Then it strengthens as the morning progresses into a brighter and harder edge...quickly.

I asked D. Wayne for permission to set up on his grass next to his lawn jockey. Across the way is the back of Nick Zito's barn with a row of gigantic twisted trees, probably planted at the end of the nineteenth century. I'm determined to get past this mud and paint them convincingly. Consulted with my mentor today, Robert Stebleton who gave me some great advice and suggestions. One important tip is to slooooow down.
Back of Zito's Barn, 10"x8", oil on panel
Out of breath,

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Day 8 - Forty Paintings in Forty Days

I'm not sure who's barn this is. GRW on the sign not in the picture. I'll have to find out tomorrow morning. Rush, rush, rush. The sun is rising later and very soon I'll be looking to light up my palette and easel in order to paint nocturnes!

I was drawn to the composition at the end of this barn. I love diagonals. More backlighting. I'm learning to simplify in order to complete these pieces in 2-3 hours as I have to get back home to pick up Michael who opens the booth. Sometimes my haste creates mud and I'm well aware that needs to be dealt with. Scraping it off and repainting is time consuming.

The pony tied to a tree was a bonus.

GRW, 8"x10", oil on panel

The price is $500. framed and includes free shipping within the U.S. You can purchase it with the PayPal button below or feel free to contact me for other options. I accept installments and you can also purchase it unframed for $400.

A beautiful morning,