Sunday, September 20, 2009


Remembering Willie - oil on canvas board

Twenty years ago tomorrow, September 21, 1989, I bought my horse, Scottie. This date represents not only my return to horse ownership, but also to the world of horses in general and to horse art in particular.

I bought my first horse when I was 12 but had a bad riding accident a few months later which completely destroyed what little confidence I’d managed to build up. The following summer I sold Willie when it became clear that she was just too much horse for me, and I didn’t ride much after that. That decision haunted me for decades to come until the summer of 1989 when I decided that it was time to face my fear of riding and find out once and for all if I could overcome it.

I found a sympathetic riding instructor and began riding lessons on a wonderful sorrel horse named Scottie. The first day at that barn I had an overwhelming feeling of coming home to something that I had lost many years ago, and I vowed never to give it up again. Six weeks later I bought Scottie, and we began our journey together. He was only four years old at the time and was still very green, but he was very laid back and safe for anyone to ride. Even so, the first two years were difficult ones as Scottie tested me constantly to see how much he could get away with. I learned that if I persisted with him, he quickly gave up and did as I asked. That alone helped to build my confidence, even after a few inevitable spills. Eventually, he quit testing me and Scottie turned out to be the perfect horse for me.

Through my new horse ownership status, I met other horse people, and it wasn’t long before I began to do horse portraits and attend horse shows and events. My childhood dream of becoming an equine artist was realized, and I haven’t looked back since, no matter how bumpy the road.

I confess, however, that the past two years were a bit of a bumpy road, and I found it difficult to get myself to the barn. This summer my enthusiasm for riding has returned, and I’m once again going on trail rides and having a ball.

Yesterday was our first annual group birthday celebration at the barn. It began with a beautiful fall trail ride through the woods and fields and ended with a delicious potluck lunch back at the barn. I think it’s safe to say that all of us “mature” ladies enjoy each other’s company and look forward to our next outing together when the fall colors will be at their peak. There is no better trail riding than at this time of year when the woods are ablaze with color, the temperatures are comfortable and the bugs are few.

On this ride I took along a small digital camera and share a few of those shots with you below. This camera has definite limits, but you can get an idea of what our rides are like here, minus the uphill and downhill parts. It’s really hard to get shots going downhill when your horse is pitching back and forth or going uphill at a full gallop.

Here we are leaving the barn on a beautiful Fall day.

Here we stopped to let the horses pick apples right off the tree.

The driveway looks mighty long and steep at the end of a ride.

Our group photo. Scottie and I are on the far right.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The First Annual Michigan Schooner Festival

I’ve always had an interest in sailing ships going back to when I was a little girl. One of my father’s colleagues once gave me an American Heritage magazine that had an article on clipper ships with lots of beautiful paintings in it. I treasured it for years and even copied one of the paintings, but it turned out pretty crudely.

So many of us humans are fascinated by the sea and great bodies of water. After all, what is more romantic and adventurous than setting sail into the unkown on a beautiful sailing ship? Since Michigan is surrounded on six sides by waters of the Great Lakes, sailing ships are very much a part of our heritage, whether they were helmed by explorers, armed navies or merchantmen. Even today there are replicas which sail from port to port to educate the public about sailing these beautiful ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and even into the early days of the twentieth century.

Many years ago I did a series of drawings for an older gentleman who loved Great Lakes ships. Not all of them were sailing ships, but doing that series rekindled my interest in the subject. I did a small watercolor and ink version of one of the ships for my own benefit; the well known Christmas Tree ship, the Rouse Simmons, which used to deliver Christmas trees to the citizens of Chicago from the northern Michigan woods. I sold prints of it for a while along with the story of the ship and how it was lost in a storm in 1912. But, my version paled in comparison with the two paintings that Charles Vickery has done of the Rouse Simmons so eventually I stopped showing it.

Frankly, I know next to nothing about the subject of sailing ships, which is one reason I’ve hesitated to do a ship painting since. I know that people who collect marine art are sticklers for accurate details in rigging and so forth; just as many horse art collectors are fussy about accurate portrayals of horses and their tack. I did, however, buy some books on rigging and Great Lakes ships and shipwrecks to educate myself but haven’t had much opportunity to observe these beautiful ships in person on the water.

So, when I read in the paper on Saturday that the first annual Michigan Schooner Festival was being held in Traverse City this weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. We headed for TC good and early Sunday morning, and took in the activities on the waterfront. Several ships were moored along the breakwall, and crew members were giving tours, some of them complete in period pirate costumes which thrilled the little kids. There was even a marine artist who had some very nice paintings of sailing ships.

After some time, one of the ships, the Appledore, a two masted schooner, headed out into Grand Traverse Bay. To my disappointment, she was pretty far out before she unfurled her sails and continued sailing away from us into the hazy dawn. Before long she was out of site.

Meanwhile, we watched two crew members climb the masts of another schooner, the Denis Sullivan of Milwaukee Wisconsin. I presume they were unfastening things so that the sails could be unfurled. It wasn’t long before the Denis Sullivan also set sail. Instead of heading straight up the bay as the Appledore had done, she went out a ways, turned and sailed past the breakwater as she unfurled her sails. Everyone got excellent photo opportunities and thrilled to the sight of this beautiful ship.

The Inland Seas was also scheduled to sail, but my very patient husband was getting bored and didn’t want to wait. Here she is moored to the breakwater.

Two other ships present were the nineteenth century replica schooner the Madeline and the sloop Welcome, a replica of an eighteenth century ship that sailed the Straits area.

There were many dogs which also visited the festival, and I was particularly taken by this beautiful pair of standard poodles and the wonderful backlight in this shot.

It was truly thrilling to look out onto Grand Traverse Bay to see tall ships sailing its waters; something that was a common sight a century and more ago. I will definitely be back for the second annual Michigan Schooner Festival next September. I am now inspired to paint these beautiful ships, even if it’s just for my own pleasure.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"GOOD Happens"

On the way home from Traverse City yesterday, I saw this bumper sticker on a car ahead of me. It read, “GOOD Happens”. Now, we’re all familiar with the other version, and I thought, “What a refreshing turn around on this well known saying!” It got me to thinking about how our point of view can color our lives and that we can find good that “happens” if we just look for it.

In the past couple of days, some small good things have happened for me. On Thursday I finally made it out on another trail ride with my riding partners from the barn, and I had a fabulous time! The weather was perfect, there were no bugs, and no monsters jumped out at us. You could hear the tree frogs as we rode along, going in and out of the woods on trails so familiar. We walked, trotted and cantered for over an hour and arrived back at the barn just as dark was falling. It is such a cool feeling to ride up the driveway to the welcoming lights in the barn and then to look out at the twilight sky from atop the farm hill. That night it was a spectacular red.

This afternoon I ran up to Central Lake to take in an art fair (a rather sad little affair with very few vendors and only one painter), but I did have the opportunity to chat with one of the arts council members who invited me to display one of my paintings in a local bank. I also voiced my regret that there weren’t more opportunities for art shows for the artist members and a desire to have a meet and greet event for artists to get to know one another. She agreed and said she would bring both matters up at a future board meeting.

Both coming and going from the art fair, I took some side roads I’ve never been on and did a photo shoot. I was particularly looking for cows; dairy cows; and did find one herd although they turned out to be steers. Oh, well; with some artistic license, they can easily be morphed into cows.

Here are just a few of the photos I took today.

There was a long row of these sunflowers on both sides of the road at one spot where there is a very neat and prosperous looking farm.

Here are my Holstein "cows". I had the iso speed way too high so the photo is washed out, but I corrected that later.

At the very top of a hill on this road, I spotted this spectacular view. The nearest blue patch is Torch Lake, and beyond it is East Grand Traverse Bay and beyond it is Old Mission Peninsula (for those of you who are familiar with this area).

This horse lives on a farm on my way to Bellaire. I've long wanted to stop and shoot some photos of him. He looks to be an aged Thoroughbred, but I'm not sure.

Around the corner from this horse, on a new road, I found this wonderful stone house. I'm sure it's being lived in because it is so well kept.

These two horses live around the corner and up the road from me. They are two older Arabs.

When I stopped to take a photo of the bull below, I noticed how much color is in this maple tree. It won't be long before there's a lot more showing in all the trees.

This bull lives on my road. As I went by him, he reminded me of Ferdinand, the bull who preferred to smell the flowers in the field rather than fight in the bull ring. He looks so peaceful and content with a wave of his tail every now and then. Take it from me, this bull is HUGE though! One of these days I'll capture him when he's standing up.

Well, not literally of course!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kentucky Dreamer Comes Home

It had been quite a while since I took anything new up to the gallery shop which sells my art in Central Lake. Adams Madams is a fabulous shop with an outstanding mix of home decorating merchandise, crafts and artwork. It is light and airy, and everything is temptingly displayed. Unfortunately, the past two years my sales have been very low, and I’ve been wondering whether it is my art that just isn’t appealing to people now or if it’s been the economy. I got my answers.

After speaking with the owner and her assistant who handles the art selection and the merchandise displays, the answer seems to be the economy. They both raved about the quality of my work and the reasonable prices, but people are now coming into the shop with a set budget to spend there; between $25-$50. That’s not much in a shop with so many temptations. The interest in horsey products has also dropped off I was told which impacts my sales even more. But they both made some suggestions, and I came home with some hope that sales will turn around. Clearly, diversifying my offerings is in order.

I also brought home the original drawing, “Kentucky Dreamer” because it’s been there for quite some time now, and I’m thinking of entering it in some local shows. Either the mats have changed color slightly or my eye is better now because it needs to be rematted with better color mats. That should improve its appearance considerably.

"Kentucky Dreamer" is 11x14 inches and is a delicate pencil drawing of a young Thoroughbred foal. It's available for sale if you're interested. I named it before I even heard about the horse movie, "Dreamer", in case anyone wonders about that coincidence.

My drive to and from the shop and later to the barn has me thinking about doing some plein air painting in the beautiful Fall light. Our weather just couldn’t be more gorgeous on this last holiday weekend of summer. I didn’t even mind too much the hordes of bicyclists who descend on us every Labor Day weekend for their tours on our scenic winding back roads. You really have to slow down and watch out for them because a lot of these roads don’t have paved shoulders, and you can be on top of them before you see them.

Already some of the trees are beginning to turn, and the light has that soft diffused look that is so characteristic of Fall in northern Michigan. Yup, it’s time to paint outside.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Easy Rider" Rides Again!

Yes, I did manage to fit in some artwork yesterday, and here’s the proof!

Because I goofed off on the computer on Monday, I had to spend some time clearing away papers in the studio before I could begin, but still managed a respectable 45 minutes of drawing time before heading for the barn. It was a tough choice whether to work on the pony and dog painting which is still in the drawing stage or “Easy Rider” which needed some revision. I chose Easy Rider because it’s a pencil drawing, and once I get those legs fixed, I can quickly continue with the shading.

It’s had a bit of an unfortunate history. I took the photo at a dressage show several years ago and just really liked the relaxed look of both the horse and rider; hence the name. After experimenting with different background thumb nails, I settled on one and began the drawing. I showed it in the Equine Art Guild forum as a work in progress, and one of our members, who is an upper level dressage rider, immediately commented that the horse wasn’t going well and his legs weren’t in a balanced position. I admit that these comments really took the wind out of my sails, and my enthusiasm for the drawing plummeted. She was right, of course, but it took a while (like a year!) for me to regain interest in the drawing and to start work on it again. Then it had a mishap with the vacuum cleaner, and the paper was bent a little. I got busy and put it away again. Meanwhile, I kept looking for just the right reference photo that would help me put those legs in the proper position for a nice passage.

When I saw a picture of the Breyer model of Keltec Salinero, I knew I’d found my reference. It was perfect and I quickly ordered it, along with a few other Breyers for “models” you know. wink wink. And above you see him, all set up on a shelf by the studio window in just the angle I needed. The drawing board was set up by the window as well, a piece of tracing paper was put over the the drawing, and I proceeded to revise the legs.

Here’s the revised drawing with the original reference photo beside it so that you can see the difference in the legs. Once I get those legs revised and refined, I’ll just trace them onto the drawing and proceed to work on the shading. My next scheduled art day is Saturday. But, I wonder if I can hold off that long...

On another note, our local art supply store is closing for good, done in by catalogs and the new Michaels. It’s unfortunate that these local businesses just aren’t able to compete in today’s world, and I will miss this one even though they have downsized twice in the past and no longer carried much of what I use. Last week I made one last trip to the store, hoping to get a few of my favorite fake mongoose brushes, but it was already pretty well picked clean. I came home with two brushes and several large scraps of suede matboard which were a real steal at $3.50 each! They are all nice colors for horse paintings, too. That’s inspired me to think about doing some pastels again which can be quite stunning on suede matboard.

And, finally, here’s a bonus for you. Every year about this time, the deer visit our yard almost daily to check on the apple crop. This fawn wandered into our yard over the weekend one rainy day and was trying to figure out a way out. Across the street were two does, another fawn and a small fawn that was jumping and playing just like we see foals doing. Unfortunately, by the time I grabbed the camera, the deer were already moving on so I wasn’t able to get any photos of the playing fawn. He was pretty cute. I just wish they didn’t eat my plants when they get older.