Friday, March 9, 2018

My Muse, My Horse, My Scottie

Two weeks ago today I lost the love of my life, my muse, my dream-come-true horse, my beloved Scottie.

Scottie had a long and well-loved life. I bought him as a still green four year old. I had just started riding lessons in middle age after many years away from horses. For you see, I'd had a bad riding accident when I was 13 which left me even more fearful of riding than I had already been. Soon after I gave up riding but never stopped loving horses. 

My lesson horse was Scottie, a very handsome sorrel Quarter Horse with a very laid back disposition. One thing led to another, and several weeks later I bought him at the urging of my riding instructor. 

You would think that pairing a green horse with a timid rider would not have been a wise combination, but contrarily it turned out to be a perfect match. Not that those early years were easy. Scottie tested me in little ways; never truly naughty or dangerous ways but just willfulness. If I insisted long enough he gave in and did my bidding. Sometimes I went to the barn with a churning stomach full of butterflies. Sometimes I came home thinking of selling him and giving up on horses again. But, I never did, and in the end it was a confidence building experience for me. 

Through the years we took riding lessons sporadically, mostly of the classical dressage nature and gradually became a perfectly matched team. Scottie liked to work but not too hard. He was rarely a horse you had to hold back; mostly he was a horse you had to put out a lot of effort to get to work a little harder. But he always tried. He was always a perfect gentleman. Never once in the 28 years I owned him did he ever buck or refuse to work at all unless he was in a lot of pain. 

Most of all, Scottie loved to go on trail rides. And so did I. In the early years we boarded at different farms where we had access to trails and people to ride with. Twenty two years ago I found a private farm which took in a few specially selected boarders of a mature age and whose owners had the same horse care philosophy that I did. It had an indoor arena for winter riding and miles and miles of very hilly trails for fun the rest of the year. 

That's where Scottie spent his last years, and he loved it there. He found a best buddy to play "wild stallion" with. He lived in a herd on pasture year round where he could eat grass and good quality hay to his heart's content. Most of all, he loved grass. There were run-in sheds and the big indoor arena where the horses could come in away from the flies and sun or snow or pelting rain. It was idyllic for any horse and a very healthy environment.  

It was idyllic for me, too. With new barn friends close to my own age, we rode the trails together often and had many adventures. Some of those trails were really steep and scary to this still timid rider, but Scottie always took care of me, negotiating them with nary a misstep. Sometimes we went off trails through the woods, dodging tree branches, shoving them out of the way and stepping over downed tree limbs and other brush. 

The years took its toll on both of us. I developed debilitating leg and knee problems which kept me from the barn and from riding regularly. Scottie developed Cushings disease and as a result suffered a severe sinus infection that threatened his life. A trip to Michigan State University Large Animal Clinic saved his life and revealed he had severe periodontal disease. From then on he was under the care of a veterinarian dental specialist. He lost most of his teeth, and the rest were worn down to the gums. 

As a result of his dental problems, Scottie could no longer chew hay and lost weight. A year ago I retired him and retired myself from riding. In spite of massive amounts of grain daily, Scottie lost weight rapidly this winter. He developed another bad abscessed tooth infection. His liver was failing, and sometimes he couldn't get up on his own after lying down. 

At the end, the decision I'd dreaded making for so many years was an easy, but sad, one to make. It was time to let Scottie go. It was the kindest thing we could do for him. He was tired and suffering and giving up. We put him down in the arena surrounded and comforted by the two people he loved most in the world. We told him it was okay to go now, and he slipped away peacefully. 

Scottie is buried up on a hill in the pasture along with his herd mates Jack and Mellissa and Stutz. Mikey will join them eventually. From there you can see almost all of the farm. I think he will like it there. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

"You're Fired!" Thank Goodness!

"Huntley" one of my early pet portraits
If  you've ever been through this ordeal, you know that being fired from a job can be a humiliating and demoralizing experience. But, sometimes it turns out to be the best thing that could have happened to you. 

Right out of art school I got a job with a billboard company as a keyliner. As it turned out the job entailed more than that. My boss also gave me billboard design jobs to do along with the keylines for billboards. Keylines are boards that contain the type and artwork that are used by the painters when sizing up the designs onto huge billboard panels to be painted. Everything has to be accurate and precise because any tiny mistake on the keyline is magnified many times on the huge billboard panels. 

Designing and doing the layouts is much more exciting and rewarding. We were given a few guidelines, like the text to be included and the images wanted and then it was up to us to arrange everything in an eye catching design. A billboard has three seconds to grab the attention of drivers passing by. We used a type setting machine for the type and created color layouts of the designs using markers, just as I had been taught in art school. I loved working with markers.

There were only three of us in the art department in a tiny upstairs studio at Dingeman Advertising in Traverse City. We listened to NPR on the radio a lot, and I particularly remember one day listening to a reading of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" as we worked. It was one of those mesmerizing magic moments that you never forget. 

It came as a shock, then, when my boss's boss instructed her to fire me for being too slow. It wasn't that it wasn't deserved and that I hadn't been warned, but it was still a shock. 

It took me maybe half a day to get over the shock and to embrace a new way forward. Being fired gave me the freedom to do freelance design work which quickly broadened into a pet portrait business. 

When I returned to riding after a thirty year absence and bought a horse, pet portraits expanded into horse portraits. It wasn't long before I was creating equine fine art too, going to horse shows and horse expos with my booth and entering juried art shows. The rest is history, as they say. 

After several years of doing freelance design work, I realized it wasn't where my heart was nor where I was most skilled. I gave it up and concentrated on using my graphic design skills to design my  own marketing materials and a website for the fine art business. 
"Lavender Light" a college art still life

If I hadn't been fired all those years ago, all of this might not have happened, or at least it would have been delayed for who knows how long. So, today I am grateful for being let go from a job that I wasn't suited for in the first place. Today I celebrate my long career as a fine artist and occasional illustrator. 

Today I am fulfilled.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Stepping Stone Art #2; "Spring Lamb" painting

"Spring Lamb" 8x10 oil painting on linen canvas panel

I guess by now it's no secret that I've been in a bit of a creative slump for some time now. There is no need to dredge up the reasons for said slump; something akin to airing one's dirty laundry in public; so we'll just proceed as if there hasn't been one. 

This little painting was recently completed and is now in an art show at a local restaurant. I started it several years ago as just a quick study, worked on it a little last Fall, but then holiday duties took precedence and it was set aside - again. After that came end of year business tasks and then tax season which left the little painting once again languishing on the studio wall.

Several weeks ago I was asked to donate art to an art show benefit event for the animal rescue from which we adopted our dogs two years ago. I jumped at the chance and immediately thought of the lamb painting which was sure to be an appealing image that would hopefully earn some much-needed funds for the rescue. Down from the wall came the painting and onto the easel it went. 

Where I started from to finish the painting
Now, many artists will tell you that most paintings have their difficult moments during creation when nothing seems to be working and the artist considers junking the whole project. Being an artist is not all Fun and Games as the general public seems to think. But once in a while a painting almost paints itself. The studio is in harmonious abandon, and there is much joy in the heart of the artist. 

Such was the case with this little painting. The lamb was partly painted already so I proceeded  to finish it while making a few corrections as I went. Even the corrections went smoothly. I didn't have to wipe out and redo any troublesome areas. 

All the while I had no idea how I was going to finish the background. Should I leave it as an unfinished toned area or should I try for a full landscape? Up until the very minute I started on the background I wasn't sure what to do. Taking a risk, I decided to try for a full background and see how it went. After all, I could wipe it out if it didn't work. 

Wonder of wonders, the background practically painted itself! At every moment it told me what it needed, and when it was done the result was very pleasing and complementary to the lamb. Over all, I am very pleased with this painting, the first one I've finished in a very long time. 
Close up of the lamb

I think my creative block has finally broken, and I'm ready to move forward once again. Perhaps that polar bear I started last year? That should be a challenge!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Stepping Stone #1; "Morgana", a Morgan Horse Drawing

"Morgana", graphite pencil drawing, Morgan mare

After several more hours and many revisions to the drawing, "Morgana", I am declaring it finished. It is the first piece of art (other than sketches) that I've completed in over two years, so its significance can't be under estimated. 

"Morgana" will be my first finished piece of art in the Stepping Stone series; a series of paintings and drawings that will help me to become actively creative again after a creative block of several years. Not only was it a confidence boosting drawing but also a learning experience. Here is some of what I learned:

1. Choose the paper support wisely before beginning to draw. I fought this utilitarian drawing paper from the beginning. It has very little "tooth"to grab onto the graphite and proved very difficult to get the darks as dark as I wanted them. 

2. Measure twice; draw once. I began the drawing sitting on the couch watching TV, holding the sketchbook on my lap while holding the reference photo in my left hand. I eye balled the proportions and angles rather than measuring them, and they were off in several places. I didn't discover this until the drawing was finished. 

3. Don't proceed with the drawing/painting until you're sure that the initial outline drawing is absolutely accurate. After that, corrections are very difficult if not impossible. 

4. Size matters. If this is to be something more than a quick sketch, draw it larger or enlarge the outline drawing on a copy machine or computer.

5. If your reference is a small 4x6 inch photo, scan it at a high resolution and enlarge it on the computer. Either work from a computer screen or print out the enlarged photo.

reference photo for the drawing, "Morgana"
This latter point was the most telling lesson of all. I didn't scan the photo until the drawing was done and did so only to show you what the reference was like. When I opened the image on the computer screen and saw it enlarged by zooming in, I could see far more detail than I had been able to see in that small 4x6 inch photo print. It was a real Ahah! moment to realize how much detail I had missed putting into the drawing. 

But, that's okay. Lessons learned, and that is the whole purpose of the Stepping Stone series; to build confidence and build skills through DOING. At the same time, I'm scraping off some of the rust of the inactive years and awakening again skills and lessons learned in the past. 

What will I tackle for Stepping Stone #2? Check back to find out. 

Thank you, as always, for your interest and support.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Drawing; "Morgana"

"Morgana" pencil drawing of a Morgan Mare

While watching the Democratic National Convention this week, I've been working on this drawing in one of my sketch books. 

As reference, I'm using a photograph taken several years ago at a Morgan horse farm. Her name was Lady, and she was a broodmare. In fact, she is the mother of Bullet, the Morgan colt that I've painted twice. The reference photo shows her with mouth open eating hay; a not very flattering picture. The challenge was to change the mouth, and I'm quite pleased with how well that turned out.

The drawing needs a lot more work. I will keep working on it to get it as close to the photograph and artistically pleasing as I can, keeping in mind balancing the values. It will be excellent practice in building up my "seeing" muscles again after such a long layoff. 

So, here you have "Morgana". The drawing is not big; about 6x6 inches done in graphite mostly with a 6B pencil and a little with an Ebony pencil to get the darks more dark. It has a ways to go. Already I can see about ten things that need to be corrected. It will be posted again when it's finished. 

I've always loved to draw  and used to do it endlessly as a kid. I'm really enjoying getting back to my drawing roots again and will be doing more of it from now on as part of my Stepping Stones project of rehabilitation and building up confidence in my artistic abilities again. 

 Please let me know what you think of this new drawing (remember, it's not finished yet).

Thank you for stopping by.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Closing a Door and Opening Another?

"Feel So Fine" springtime foal is now home and available for purchase.
For several years I've had my artwork in a very nice shop in the nearby small village of Central Lake. It started out as mainly a consignment shop for local artists and craftsmen, but over the years the shop has transitioned into more and more stocking commercially made very tasteful home decor and clothing.

I had good sales in this shop for quite a few years, but in the past 2-3 sales fell off considerably to almost nothing.

This past week the owner of the shop called to ask if I wanted to come get my artwork, and I readily agreed. It was something I had been intending to do for months but hadn't gotten around to. With sales so low and the shop no longer emphasizing local artists and craftsmen, it didn't make much sense to leave the art languishing in the recesses of a side room where many visitors didn't go.

Yesterday I picked up the original art, prints and the few note cards that were left. No one had told the young clerk, who was alone in the shop, that I might be coming in or where to find my art. It took her a long time to find it in their back room, and not all of it could be found in the whole shop! I had kept very careful records of what was in the shop and what had sold over the years so arrived with my own inventory list of what SHOULD have been there. 

If I had any regrets about leaving the shop they were quickly dispelled. Remembering that although the owner, an animal lover, had always expressed great admiration for my art, the woman she later hired to order the merchandise and approve the art and do the displays did not seem to share her enthusiasm. More than once I found original paintings of mine hidden behind lamps, and when I stopped in last year, I no longer had my own designated print rack; in fact my prints were nowhere out to be seen. Is it any wonder that none were selling? This was a big hint that it was time to go.

At this point my feelings are very mixed but mainly positive about this "loss" of gallery representation. Merry was very good to me over the years, and sales were good when I had given up other marketing outlets like art fairs and horse expos. In some years, the shop was my only source of income. 

Now that the art is home, some pieces will be available to show to honest to goodness local galleries where actual art buyers will be looking for their next purchase. That will be a better fit for me at this point, and that is my near term goal. 

That is the door I hope to open.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New Painting; Polar Bear

First layer of color on new painting
I have begun a new painting; the first in a very long time. It's a simple painting set up mostly to be non threatening, non intimidating and fairly easy. It's the first in what I'm going to call my Stepping Stone series, a series of new paintings designed to resurrect my failed artistic confidence and get me enthusiastic, confident and prolific once again. 

A famous artist once said (and I'm paraphrasing) "Behind every masterful artist are a lot of failures". That quote has stuck with me as I've struggled to get back into the game. I briefly considered calling new paintings "failures", but that seemed self defeating. Why declare a work of art a failure before it's even begun? Why bother putting much effort into it if it's destined to be a failure anyway? So, I've settled on considering them stepping stones on the path forward that I'm building for myself.  

Back to that new painting. Some time ago I bought a rather large plastic polar bear at Michaels, intending to use it as a model some day. It seemed like a good place to start with the first stepping stone in my series, a rather easy form to draw as compared to a horse or wolf or human. Stacking a couple of boxes of appropriate size, I set up a still life stand on top of a tray table next to my easel, covered the boxes with a bath towel and placed the polar bear on top, choosing a pleasing angle for his "portrait". 

Envisioning an arctic scene, I toned an 8x10 inch canvas board with thinned Naples Yellow and proceeded to draw the bear directly on the canvas with a brush. The first attempt didn't look quite in proper proportion, so I made some adjustments, painting over the wrong lines and made new ones.

The result looked better, but I wanted to check my accuracy so I did a little trick with the computer. Seated at the easel, I took a photograph of the painting and then took another one of my still life setup being sure to frame the polar bear in the viewer just as it was on the canvas. Next I brought the painting into Photoshop and imported the still life photo on top of it in a new layer. By reducing the opacity of the layer, I could see the painting underneath and just had to move the layer around a bit so that the two bears overlapped nose tip to rump tip. I was dismayed to see that the drawing was still off in some areas although the body length was spot on. 
Drawing with reference superimposed to check for accuracy

I immediately beat myself up for not getting the drawing exactly right and fell into deep despair. Fortunately at that point my Nurturing Parent stepped in to to say, "Wait a minute here, Bucko! Don't be such a perfectionist! Remember, you haven't done very much drawing from life (or still life) since art school 30 years ago. Yes, Yes, we need to do more of this and up our skills at drawing accurately. But for now cut yourself some slack."

I felt better after that and was ready to move forward. Then the next dilemma cropped up. Should I leave the drawing as it was or make another bunch of corrections to match the photograph? Would it be cheating to do the corrections now? I decided that I wouldn't be happy with the painting, knowing the drawing was still off, if I didn't, and so I did. 

Once I had the drawing set and had drawn in a rough landscape, I painted a thin first layer of color over the whole canvas. Shown at the top. It's in what we artists call the "ugly" stage, but that will be remedied in subsequent layers where I will work in more color and detail. 

Early in the process I looked up photos of polar bears and the arctic on Google. So far I'm very happy with the way I caught the diffused winter sunshine of an arctic day and the pristine blue of the arctic waters. 

Thank you for stopping by, and please visit again.