Monday, March 27, 2017

The Straggler

I'll be writing about my Virginia trip at great length over the next few weeks, but a few events really stand out as quite memorable or funny. My day with Farmington provided one of them.


B. J. Korol, Crickett, M.F.H. Patrick Butterfield and Dugan
Farmington, in Charlottesville, VA was the last hunt on my itinerary. The MFH is Patrick Butterfield,
 a friend and supporter of sporting art. Farmington's closing day meet was Saturday, March 18th, and I thought that might be an excellent opportunity for some photos - Pat leading a large, nicely turned out field at the end of the season. Pat's wife, Kaye, introduced me to Sherry Buttrick, the Master of the Farmington Beagles and suggested I follow her, since she knows the country.
Sherry Buttrick discusses the game plan with huntsman, Matthew Cook


Sherry invited me to ride with her instead of following in my car so we could "do a little driving and a little walking." I thought it sounded like a great idea. I like to get out and follow by foot whenever I can. I should have known that Sherry was Master of the Farmington Beagles since I've seen her many times at the hound shows, but in my defense, I can't possibly know everybody and everything. In case anybody reading this doesn't know the significance of this little detail, beagles and bassets are foot packs. Master and field follow on foot, not horseback. Get the picture?


We walked down to an open field above the river and watched the hunt for twenty minutes. When the hounds went into the next field, we quickly walked back to the car and drove off after them to get a better view. We made a right turn onto an unpaved road with a sign pointing to "Percy Woods" about a mile down the road. We got out and watched and listened for about 15 minutes before Sherry said she was going to the next field. Granell Delaney had joined us, and the two of them started off at a good clip. I hesitated for a minute before going after them, which was a mistake. As I ran after them to catch up, I realized I wasn't making any headway whatsoever. I shouted to them, to let them know I was behind them, but they hardly turned to look back. The country they hunt is extremely hilly, and as I was walking down the second steep incline, I was thinking to myself, "I have to walk UP this on the way back!" I kept expecting the "next field" to materialize at any moment, but all I could see through the trees was Pat and another rider on the road - way up on the next hill with Sherry and Granell not far behind them!
Whippers-in negotiating a steep hill


I finally reached them at the top, where they had stopped to listen, but no sooner did I get to them, than they took off again. I was pretty winded and had to take a minute to catch my breath. At this point I was thinking I must be terribly out of shape, even though I walk five days a week at the Manasquan Reservoir.
Thankfully, it was pretty level going at the top until we reached a clearing by a house. Percy Woods perhaps? Sherry and Granell bounded down a steep hill to the right of the path, but I heard the hounds somewhere off to the left and decided to wait and see what unfolded. The hounds were on a coyote (they pronounce it without the "e" on the end) and were in full cry! They ran right past me. I didn't see the coyote, but I saw the pack. The huntsman was hard pressed to stay with them. He rode by three or four minutes later. The field had been running hard as well.




A couple of stragglers. I know just how they feel!
Sherry & Granell bounded back up the hill like a couple of deer and then followed the field as it disappeared down the hill once more.
I realized I just couldn't keep up and decided to go back to the car. I ended up walking all the way back to the meet where the trailers were parked. I now know what those straggler hounds feel like when they can't keep up with the leaders and loose the pack. They stop and listen for a while, and if they can't hear anything, they just keep truckin' back to where they started.


Later that day, I saw Pat, Kaye, Tom Bishop and a few other members of the hunt at the Warrenton Point-to-Point. One of them laughingly asked me how I liked walking out with Sherry, and had I ever been out with her before. With a wink and a smile, I told them I'd actually been out with her twice - my first and last time!

Ex- M.F.H. Tom Bishop demonstrates his inimitable style - in a comfy chair, smoking his pipe

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Writing On The Wall

Since prehistoric man first applied colored clay to the walls and ceilings of caves in Lascaux, France, humans have been painting pictures of animals and horses. This morning, I think I heard the death knell sound for sporting art. The reason? I was just informed that Bonhams, one of the largest auction houses in the world, is no longer hosting it's annual "Dogs in Show and Field" art auction in New York City. Instead, it's being included in their Sporting Sale in Edinburgh, Scotland in May and October later this year. I was disappointed since it's one of the events I look forward to during Westminster week in NYC, but it didn't really surprise me. In the last decade there have been many warning signs of the decline of sporting art and when I heard Bonhams had finally given it up, it seemed like the end of the line for a wonderful tradition. They were the last survivor of a species on the brink of extinction - an auction house with a stand-alone sale devoted exclusively to equestrian, canine or sporting art.


The history of sporting art goes back centuries. The list of art dealers and auction houses who've fled the once profitable sporting art market is a long and distinguished one, but I'm only going to focus on the major forces of the last century or so.


The Past
Once upon a time there were two giant auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's, which dominated the art market. One area in which they excelled was sporting art when it was thriving in the 1970's and 80's. Twice a year, they'd hold their annual sporting art auctions of paintings by such renown artists as George Stubbs, Sir Alfred Munnings, John Frederick Herring and John Fernelely. These auctions were usually held in June and December in two locations, New York and London. They were very popular due to the competitiveness of the art market. Not only did the buyers frequenting these sales want the fastest racehorses and best hunters, they wanted the most expensive sporting paintings as well. This often resulted in record breaking prices for paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings, the newest darling of America's "old money." When the market softened in the late 1990's, Christie's and Sotheby's (and many smaller firms) merged the sporting art with their Old Masters sales, and this is the model they still follow today.


For the last twenty years or so, smaller auction houses and galleries in New York City have rolled out the red carpet for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square with special events to coincide with its arrival in early February. Dog art exhibits, special previews and "Barkfests" - brunches and cocktail parties where owners are encouraged to bring their dogs - were hosted by the cream of New York society. These events were fun for the dogs and gave owners and competitors the opportunity to preview the artwork before the dog show. Alan Fausel created the specialty dog art auctions when he worked for Doyle New York. They held their auction on the afternoon of the second day of the dog show, but that proved to be too much a conflict for dog owners who wanted to be ringside when their dogs were being judged. Buying paintings of their favorite breed had to take "reserve" to watching their canine champions parade around the ring. When Doyle discontinued their auction in 2009, Bonhams found they had a monopoly on the market. Their changed the sale to the day after the Westminster Dog Show, giving dog owners and fanciers the opportunity to attend the auction without missing a single minute of the dog show.


An earlier casualty of this downturn in the market was Frost & Reed, the British art dealers who've been in business for over two hundred years. They completely quit the equestrian art scene in 2004. I'm not even sure if they're still in business. The firm got its start in Bristol, England, publishing high quality art prints and engravings in the 1800's. In 1908 the firm moved to London, where they began selling originals as their reputation and the demand for sporting art grew. This was due to an increase in the demand for racing, foxhunting and polo pictures by wealthy American industrialists who now enjoyed the same leisurely past times as their aristocratic British counterparts. Frost & Reed attributed their success and longevity to "...consistently aspiring to keep abreast of change." They didn't rely on auction sales, where bidding wars could send prices artificially soaring or plummeting. They initially sold to galleries, but eventually sold directly to clients with whom they had carefully cultivated relationships over many decades.
They began an earnest and well-planned takeover of the American market in the late 1960's, exhibiting paintings at sporting events in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Kentucky, where wealthy horse owners gathered to watch their horses compete. In 1979, they settled on a permanent venue in Saratoga Springs, New York, where racing's elite converge every August to host lavish parties to celebrate their champion racehorses' victories on the turf. Twenty-five years later, in 2004, after what can only be described as "a very good run," they pulled up stakes, never to return. They saw the writing on the wall. They knew it was time to get out. They kept their new gallery on the upper East Side of Manhattan open as a way of maintaining a presence in the States. The gallery featured mostly contemporary art, with a few dog art and one-man exhibits thrown in, but it was closed in 2007.
The Present
William Secord has always done a nice business with his gallery dedicated exclusively to dog art on East 76th Street. He also wrote five books on the subject of dog paintings and they're essential for any dog lover or painter. I suspect it was another sign of the struggling market when he moved his wonderful gallery from the upper East Side to his loft on 15th Street near Chelsea a few years ago. The new space is sleek and modern, but I loved the cramped little rooms tucked away on the third floor of an apartment building, with creaking floorboards and an elevator that barely fit two people. The new space sharply contrasts with the antique dog paintings in ornate gold frames by such revered masters as Arthur Wardle, Maud Earl and John Emms. It speaks volumes about the need to downsize in a shrinking market.
The Future
Looking forward, I was very encouraged by the return of many faithful clients and a good number of sales when I exhibited in Saratoga for the first time in a decade last summer (see my August 2016 blogs). The gallery scene there has always been cyclical. There are always fewer galleries in Saratoga in the lean years, and if last year was any indication, it's been tough going for a while. As the market picks up, which it invariably does, more and more galleries and artists will appear on the scene. Eventually, the market gets flooded with too much art, too many artists and not enough clients. Galleries start falling by the wayside until once again, there are only a handful left. Very few dealers are willing or able to take a financial hit for three, four or five years. The market is still depressed and I haven't any idea when, or if, it will ever recover.
So, what's a painter of dogs and horses supposed to do in such an unpromising climate? A niche market that has enjoyed only limited success is now in further decline. Animal painters have never been regarded with the same respect as artists of other genres. Artists like George Stubbs and Alfred Munnings are considered mere "horse painters" in some circles, in spite of their considerable talent and the astronomical sums of money their paintings command.
The art market is changing. More people have direct access to art and artists than ever before, thanks to the Internet. This is great news! Gone are the days when only a wealthy patron could afford to commission an artist to immortalize his prize hunters, or an artist was at the mercy of an unscrupulous dealer! Social Media, which has done so much for so many, is the answer. The Industrial Revolution has given way to the Tech Age, and artists need to go along with this new wave if they want to survive and flourish. Twitter, Facebook and a website are all tools to be utilized to maximize exposure and sales. If you don't know how to create and regularly update your own website, hire someone who can do it for you. Don't like Face Book? Too bad. Use it anyway. It's one of the best ways to get your work and ideas OUT THERE! Make a "How to Paint _______" video and post it on YouTube. Write a blog. Don't know how to Tweet? Ask Donald Trump what he thinks of Twitter. Got the idea? Familiarize yourself with all the options and decide which direction to go in. Sooner or later you'll find the right mix of social media outlets that work for you. Who knows? Perhaps we'll engineer a comeback for sporting art!


Postscript: I spoke with Alan Fausel of Bonhams about the factors influencing the sporting art market and he said there are many complex issues at work. The banning of foxhunting in Britain, Millenials not being interested in conspicuous consumption, dogs and horses relegated to pet status as opposed to having jobs (herding, ratting, hunting) and protests by animal activists groups such as PETA against purebred dogs (as opposed to shelter pets), have all contributed to the decline in the market. He feels what an artist should be most concerned with is trying to get their viewer to see what they see themselves, or show the viewer something they've never seen before. I think it's great advice!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

I haven't got much time because I'm heading in the city for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I go every year, and this year is no exception. I wanted to share some information with all dog and animal painters out there.
If you can't make it to the show, you can stream it live on your computer. Go to www.foxsportsgo.com to watch the individual breed judging all day today and tomorrow. For the evening events, it's being shown on the fox sports channel in your area.
The great thing about the live streaming is it puts you right in the middle of the ring. You'll never get a seat this good no matter how much you pay! I spent all day sitting in front of the computer sketching from the live stream last year, when I couldn't make it for one of the days.
You can order programs and posters from the Westminster Kennel Club website, www.westminsterkennelclub.org
Have fun!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Painting White Horses

I recently checked out some artists' websites who paint animals, and I was dismayed to see how often they use white straight out of the tube. It seems to me too many painters out there are using white without mixing it with other colors. The white pigment is applied without any thought to shadows or form.
Here's a reality check. Look at the painting of hounds (below). Although there appears to be a wide range of colors and values, including white and black, there is no pure white in it. I never use white straight out of the tube, even in the areas that are the lightest, i.e., the white areas in direct sunlight. My white is always mixed with blue, yellow, red or a combination of all three. I never use black. Straight out of the tube or even mixed with other colors, it has no place on my palette. One of my workshop students once asked me, "What have you got against black?" Well, I just don't see the color black when I look at nature. I mix Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber for the deepest blacks, so that I can control the "temperature" of it, but that's a post for another day.


Hounds get very dirty when they're out hunting, caked in dirt and mud, and anybody who's ever owned a white horse knows that they never stay white, not even when they've had a bath and been put in their stalls with a sheet to keep them clean for a show! So why do I see such glaring white stars, stripes, snips, blazes, spots and socks? I think the reason is pretty simple. What the mind "knows" and the eye "sees" are two different things. Until an artist can separate one from the other, he/she will continue to paint whites that are too light and too clean. The mind dictates that the area is white, even though the eye sees the light and shadow on the white form. It's too easy to misjudge the shadows in the white parts. Beginners, and even some intermediate artists, think for some reason the whites won't "read" properly unless they're painted in pure, almost unadulterated white. Invariably, the bigger problem in these paintings is the darks aren't dark enough, which forces the artist to continue painting in an ever increasing spiral of lighter and lighter whites. But let's tackle the problem of painting whites correctly for now, since that's the title of this blog. Here's an example: Let's say you're painting a white (grey) horse. I'm going to use a plaster cast of a horse I have in my studio for this demonstartion. You can buy these online (or make one yourself). I found this one at a flea market! Although the anatomy isn't great, it's an invaluable reference source for me while painting. All the planes of the form (top, sides, bottom) are clearly delineated in a very broad way, making it easy to see the big forms - head, neck, chest, legs. It's perfect for this exercise.
White plaster model of a horse with the light coming from the right.
Let's have our horse facing to the left. The light is coming from the right (i.e., somewhere behind him). His rump or backside will have a nice highlight, as will his withers (shoulder) and neck. The back of his legs will be the lightest since they are being hit by the direct sunlight, and the front of his legs will be in shadow. His face will also be in shadow. Carefully observe the pattern of the light and shadow in the plaster model. (Munnings had a particular fondness for painting this sort of lighting. His riders' faces were often in shadow because the light was coming from somewhere behind them.) Next, look for the reflected lights, especially the one underneath the horse. The reflected lights are what make the shadows luminous and not heavy. See if you can identify the reflected lights in the Munnings' self-portrait (below).
Munnings Self Portrait. The light is coming from the left, behind the horse and rider.
Okay, now let's reverse just the light source, and place it on the left. We'll keep our horse facing to the left. The light and shadows on the model are now completely reversed. The front plane of the horse's face is light, as well as the front of his chest and legs. The back of the horse's legs are in shadow, as are the horse's hindquarters and tail. Generally what was in shadow is now in light, and what was in light is now in shadow.
White plaster model of a horse with the light coming from the left.
Tony Neville of Frost and Reed once told me, "You need to know how to paint a horse in sunlight, even on a rainy day." What does he mean by that? That we have to see the bright side of everything? No, he means it literally. Even when there is no light source, the artist has to know how light will affect his subject in any situation - from the left, from the right, from the back or front, from above or below. Until one learns the physical laws of light and shadow and how to apply them, he/she will continue to paint what he thinks he sees, rather than what he actually sees.
If you change the horse to a dark bay or brown horse with a white blaze and four white socks, the same rules can be applied to the white markings. The whites in shadow will be darker than the whites in sunlight. But even the whitest parts will never be pure white.
Once these lessons have been thoroughly absorbed, the painter can go further and begin mixing more sophisticated colors. For instance, the white stripe will never be just plain white. The top part may be mixed with some yellow ochre and a teeny amount of blue. Farther down his nose it may loose the yellow tint and become just blue and white, giving it a slightly cooler look. The area near his nose may become mixed with red because of the pink tinge of skin, or mixed with blue and umber to give a cooler gray color around the horse's nostrils and muzzle. There are endless possibilities.
Study of a Grey. Note the blues, pinks and yellows in this "white" horse
The other problem I see with artists' work, which I referred to earlier, is the range of values in the picture, or rather the lack of a wide range of values. The study of values (light and dark) is instrumental in helping artists see the true value of any color, without the chroma (color) getting in the way. I suggest working like the Old Masters and do at least one black & white study of the subject first, to establish the pattern and relationships of the lights and darks. This can be done in pencil, charcoal or gray paint, and can be very rough or more detailed. The point is to see the painting with its overall scheme of values. Some shadows should be very dark, some lights very light and middle values are everything in between. Too many paintings look "overexposed," like photographs with the aperture wide open on the camera or something. And all the whites have little or no shadows in them! Once the artist learns not to be afraid of painting shadows, he/she will see a marked improvement in the tonal balance of the painting. This takes time and practice, but darkening shadows even a notch or two will instantly improve most paintings with this lightness problem.
I suggest doing a painting of several white objects - a still life with eggs, white flowers, potatoes, rocks, cups and saucers, etc. on a white cloth background. Have a strong side light, so that you create some nice dark shadows, and use a palette of five colors - white, ultramarine blue, cadmium red light, yellow ochre and burnt umber. Experiment with how many cools and warms you can create with these five colors. You'll be amazed at the range of colors and effects you get with these white objects and five tubes of paint!
Or paint clouds. Clouds have a full spectrum of color from warmest lights to coolest darks. Use all five colors on the palette. Clouds are pink, purple, golden yellow, white, blue, cool gray, warm brown and anything else you care to mix up. The secret is understanding their form and why they look like they do. It's the light of course! Good luck!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Rejection and New Year's Resolutions

The New Year always brings New Year's resolutions, not matter how resolved I am not to make any.


This year I've rejoined the American Academy of Equine Art (AAEA), after many years of being one of those full members who let their dues lapse because the dues were too high ($350/year) for the benefits received. The juried shows were uninspiring and the venues were often the same dreary facilities (with poor lighting and limited access) as previous years. They went through some difficult times with their leadership, and the Academy lost its way as a vehicle for attracting new and/or established artists. They've recently appointed a new president, Booth Malone, who is as talented and professional an artist as you'll ever find. Under his stewardship, I'm sure the AAEA will regain its former glory and even surpass it.


The main mission of the AAEA is to teach, and through the years they've offered many outstanding workshops by some of America's best equestrian artists. That, combined with the juried shows, is what makes the AAEA a great teaching organization. Aspiring artists can learn a great deal by going through the process of having their work juried by established artists in the field, and attending workshops to improve their craft. It might seem like a trial by fire, but that's a process artists have to go through on their journey to become better painters. Think of Munnings (and every artist before and after him) who submitted their work to the Royal Academy each year. Must have been a harrowing experience to wait to see if you got into that year's show.


Many years ago, I was accepted to a juried show of the Pastel Society of America (PSA). It was when they juried the entries physically, i.e., you took the piece there and left it there to be judged. It was a portrait I had done of some young black fellow named Robert. I forget where I did it or who Robert was, but it was an excellent portrait. Encouraged by my past success, I tried to enter four or five PSA shows after that, always got rejected, became disheartened and stopped submitting entries. My New Year's resolution for 2017 is to apply for membership to the PSA, as well as the Society of Animal Artists. Might as well. Don't ask, don't get, right?

My point is, rejection is hard to take no matter where you are in your career. What you do with it makes all the difference. You can shrug it off and look for other shows to enter, you can shrivel up and never do another work of art, or something in between. There's always something to be learned from entering juried shows, and how you cope with rejection provides an opportunity to grow. It can be tricky because the curators don't often give you a reason why a work was rejected. I'm always looking for answers; a detailed laundry list of why my painting didn't get accepted. That's never forthcoming! Sometimes, if you have a personal relationship with a gallery or museum, you might be lucky enough to get some sort of blanket response, which is supposed to assuage your feelings of inadequacy. They don't have the time or inclination to tell you why you didn't get in. Of course, they don't usually tell you why your painting's been accepted either. You just assume it's because they recognize great art when they see it. I certainly never question a judge when my work gets in, do you? I remember last summer I entered a show on Long Island, Animals In Art or something. I was so sure I'd win first prize, I was already planning on how to spend the prize money. The judge seemed to like pictures with my painting style, and I had some lovely new works to show. Imagine my shock when I got the rejection notice! I never got a reason why my work didn't get in except for the usual, "Due to the large number of entries, blah, blah, blah." I used to scour the works that got in whenever I got a rejection notice, looking for clues or answers as to why they got in and I didn't. It was very frustrating. "THAT got it and mine didn't?!" It just seems like an exercise in futility now. The only way one can possibly know why something got in or not, is to be inside the judge's head, which is impossible.


One should never paint to please any judge or enter any show. This seems self-evident, but as a professional artist, I have lost sight of that. I seem to paint only what I think will sell these days. I've lost the ability to separate "painting to paint" from painting to sell. (I wonder if Munnings, et al, painted pictures with the intention of entering them in the Royal Academy show.) I'm trying to find my way back to the days when I was a fresh young art student at the Art Students League and all that mattered was painting and talking about creating art. I hope I can find my way back there. The first step is to keep painting. The second step is to repeat step one, etc., etc.



I hope this will inspire you to get into the studio today. I'm heading there now. I'm working on a painting of leaves on the water. It's very relaxing and fun to do. That's just what I need right now. No commissions, no deadlines. Just an abstract painting with no anatomy to fret over. Five colors - the Anders Zorn palette, white, ultramarine blue, Cadmium red light, yellow ochre and burnt umber. Amazing how many colors you can get with just those five colors. Keeping it simple and fun!


The current work in progress. As I look at it, the leaves begin to resemble gold fish.
For more information on joining the American Academy of Equine Art, please go to their website: www.aaea.net