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?