Thursday, September 20, 2018

Email to a Young Artist

I was recently asked by one of my workshop students for guidelines to help her price her work. She showed me a price list she had made up and asked me what I thought of it. Here is the price list and my reply:

Image SizeLimits UnframedPlus tax, plus shipping, plus materials,
plus frame
8X10(1 Head)$150.00
11X14(2 Heads or 1 Full Body)$200.00
16X20(3 Heads or 2 Full Bodies)$300.00
20X24(3+ Heads or 2 Full Bodies)$400.00
 Color Pencil 
Image SizeLimitsUnframed
8X10(1 Head)$250.00
11X14(2 Heads or 1 Full Body)$350.00
16X20(1-3 Heads or 2 Full Bodies)$600.00
20X24(1 or more Heads or Full Bodies)$750.00
 Oil Paint 
Image SizeLimitsUnframed
8X10(1 Head Only)$500.00
11X14(1 Head or 1 Full Body)$750.00
16X20(1-3 Heads/2 Full Bodies)$1,000.00
20X24(1 or more heads or Full Bodies)$1,750.00

Dear S,
I realized why I couldn't wrap my head around your price list in class. You have different sizes but you've combined the larger size format with the addition of subjects. You haven't determined the price of one horse in larger sizes, i.e., 11" x 14", 16" x 20". You have 2 heads, 1 - 3 heads or two full bodies, etc., but no single horse in a larger format. You're putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

What I suggest you do is structure your price list in a way that makes it easy to calculate lots of different scenarios. First of all, figure out what you want to charge for a single portrait in several standard sizes (this will make framing easier and less expensive), such as a 3/4 view head and neck or full body. Start with the smallest size ( 8" x 10") and work up to the largest size (24" x 36") in charcoal. (You can have larger or smaller sizes available. This is just a general list.) Make a separate category for charcoal, watercolor, pastel, oil, acrylic or any other medium you offer. Figure out what adding another horse would cost. (It should be at least 50% of the price of one horse and can be as much as 100%. It depends on how much work you want to do for free. The correct answer is "none.") Same with dogs, cats, goats, whatever. If one horse is $150 (that's not enough, btw), two horses on the same paper or canvas would be between $225 and $300. Painting people (riders, owners, trainers, jockeys) costs as much painting as horses. A horse and rider (head and neck) in one picture would be $300. Determine the price for just the head and neck, and a higher price for a full length portrait (200% - 400% more than a head and neck.) If a head and neck is $150, a full length portrait of one horse would be anywhere between $300 and $600. A horse and rider would be double that. You also have to consider if you're doing a background or not, such as a barn or show ring or whatever. Try and determine how much time it will take to paint all those extras. Would it take as long as painting the figures? Then you have to charge for that time as well.

You don't have to make a long list with every option; you simply need a basic price list for "horse" or "equine" (head & neck or full length) and "horse and rider" (head & neck or full length). At the bottom, you can clarify what each additional subject will cost, i.e., "Each additional equine subject is X % or dollars" (50 - 100% or whatever you've decided), "Each additional rider is X % or dollars," etc. This is a clear, concise and FAIR price structure, without any surprises for you or the client. ("Oh, you mean my menagerie of birds is extra?!")

Travel time and photos are additional expenses paid by the client. Suppose you have to drive 50 miles to photograph a subject. You spend all day taking pictures, then you go home and edit all the photos, email them to the client for approval, etc. This takes up time for which you should be compensated. A day rate of $150 - $200 is extremely reasonable.

Always get a deposit before starting any work. If you're just starting out and can't work up the courage to ask for 50% up front, start with a 1/3 payment schedule. (1/3 to start, 1/3 halfway through and 1/3 before final delivery. Not after.) I read a funny quote in a novel where a wealthy aristocrat says, "I never pay my creditors. It only encourages them."

Make sure the client knows you own all the photos and the copyright to the finished artwork. They can't use the image for promotional purposes or greeting cards or anything, unless you give them written permission or they purchase the copyright from you. (This is usually the case if you're doing some kind of promotional artwork for them, such as a logo design.) This should all be stated in your contract. You should review it with them and explain what all the terms mean prior to signing it. Both of you must sign the contract, otherwise it's not legal or binding.

There are a number of excellent books on the market about making a living as an artist, The Art Calendar puts out a number of good titles - Making a Living as An Artist, Getting the Word Out, Getting Exposure, etc. I looked up pricing in one of them and it states that pricing artwork requires doing your homework. You should be pragmatic about pricing, keeping track of how long it takes you to create a work, including conceptualization and execution, as well as overhead and cost of materials. I find this to be a very practical approach, especially if you have little or no prior selling experience. This will give you the confidence you need to stick to your price, since it's based on the actual amount of work you did and what it cost you in materials. If you follow this approach to price one or two of the large drawings you showed me, you'd be surprised at how much you should actually charge for them. (Think minimum wage times number of hours. That's $7.25 x X = the price. If you feel your time is worth more than $7.25 an hour, good for you! Decide what your hourly wage should be and go from there.) I find these guidelines to be extremely helpful to someone like you who is just starting out. I think it's even good for a professional who's been in the field for many years and might need to re-examine their pricing methods in the ever-changing equine art market. It's also useful when pricing commissions for other subjects. Use a similar work you've already done to figure out how long it will take you to produce another one like it. Don't forget the frame and shipping costs. If the price doesn't seem like enough after all these calculations, adjust it higher. If it seems too high, don't lower it. Get used to the idea of being fairly compensated for your work and talent.

I think your suggestion for a workshop about the business of art is a really good one. I'll be submitting that as an idea for a workshop for the Academy!

Best regards to you and your "support team,"


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Deja Vu All Over Again

Last month I drove down to Virginia for a second crack at photographing some the hunts I've been assigned to for the upcoming AAEA exhibition. I had been planning to go to the joint meet between Princess Anne Hunt (PAH) and Deep Run, two of the hunts I didn't visit on my last trip in March. I couldn't believe my good luck when I discovered that Loudoun was hunting on Saturday, the day before the joint meet. If everything went according to plan, I could catch Loudoun way up north in Leesburg on Saturday morning, then drive down to the Richmond area in the afternoon and be ready for the joint meet on Sunday morning. I could maybe even take a detour and see Colonial Williamsburg all decked out for Christmas, before heading home on Monday. E-Z P-Z, right?

I don't know if you read my post from my visit to Virginia last spring, but a late winter storm around the 10th of March crippled most the Northeast, as far south as Virginia. It wreaked havoc on my meticulously (sort of) laid plans for which hunt I'd be visiting on which day of my ten-day visit. So I didn't get to photograph two of the five or so hunts I was planning to on that visit. No need to panic. After all there was still a full year in which to go back and visit the hunts I'd missed.

Fast forward to December 2017. A rare, early season winter storm blew in for the weekend of December 9th, and I was pretty much sunk. Loudoun canceled early on Saturday morning, just as a light snow was beginning to fall. I talked to the huntsman, Ronald Johnsey the night before and was given permission to come to the kennels in the morning to see the hounds anyway. I had a wonderful visit. Ron explained so much about kennel life, breeding and feeding that I thought I'd died and gone to hound heaven! There were new puppies, 2-year-olds and old veterans, and he patiently explained over and over, their names, breeding and characteristics. I strongly urge all sporting artists to take every opportunity afforded them to learn about hounds and kennel life. Kennel life is at the very heart of the sport.
Loudoun Hunt's "A" puppies eating breakfast

"We want to go out and play in the snow!"
Joint Masters, Mr. Lawrence Dale, Mrs. Mary Sell, and Mr. Donald Johnsey (Ron's twin brother) and a few other intrepid souls arrived soon after the hounds were fed, and we walked out. The kennel is situated on the edge of Leesburg, and new McMansions have gone up all around the kennels. I took lots of photos of hounds in the kennel being fed, walked and returning home, so I consider it a very successful outing. There are a few photos I'd like to work up as paintings, especially some of the very first photos I took - the ones of the 6-month old puppies at the feed troughs. There's something to be said for first impressions. I can't quite figure it out, but perhaps it's the immediacy of taking photos before I have time to think about what I'm seeing or what's happening. Of course, I've taken some good photos of scenes with stories behind them, like the one of the puppies standing on their hind legs looking out of kennel fence. Their eagerness and curiosity would make a great subject for a painting, but I consider the first few photos among the best of the lot.
I always like to pick out favorite hounds too, the ones I feel connected to in some way. That would have been Argo. His presence was so compelling. Sitting on a "bench" (a shallow-sided box filled with straw) with his brother beside him, he quietly observed me, while his kennelmates jumped, whined, barked and scrambled to get my attention. I couldn't get a very good photo of him through the doorway, but it's enough to jog my memory of him and his brother Aspen. Elegant and graceful, almost pure white, they don't look like your typical foxhounds. I just couldn't take my eyes off them. I'm already planning the painting I'm going to do of them!

Did someone say "Cookie?" (That's Aspen, Argo's brother on the left with the blue collar.)

I got to ask Ron all sorts of questions, like is there a pecking order in the pack when they're hunting? Don't ever be afraid to ask questions, because you never know what the answer might be! Apparently there is a pecking order, where certain hounds get to lead the rest of the pack. Or certain hounds are more reliable than others when finding a line. It's all about understanding the sport and all it's nuances. One could spend a lifetime with hounds and still learn something new every day.

To end my story, the next day the joint meet with PAH and Deep Run was canceled. I thought I might have a chance to visit Deep Run's kennels, but the huntsman was sick and I certainly didn't want to have him get out of his sick bed just for me. So there I was, on Sunday morning in Richmond with no place to go and nothing to do. I decided I'd go to Colonial Williamsburg to see the place in all its Christmas finery. I've always wanted to go around Christmastime, and this seemed like it was just meant to be. I had gone once before, in the unrelenting heat of a Virginia summer, and it was quite miserable, so this seemed like a great way to save the trip and come away with something for my troubles.

Colonial Williamsburg interior. I wanted to capture that thin sliver of light.
I took a tour of the Governor's Palace, the Christmas decorations on Duke of Gloucester Street, had lunch at the Trellis restaurant and ended with the Illumination of the Capitol ceremony at 5:30 p.m. It was really wonderful. (Sadly the snow which had canceled all hunt activities melted or never materialized in Williamsburg. I was a little disappointed, but not too much!) I started the long drive home and stopped for the night in Fredericksburg, which is about halfway between Richmond and Washington, D.C. I slept late so as not to catch all that commuter traffic and was home by 1:30 in the afternoon.

Williamsburg is famous for its Christmas Decorations
All in all, I'd say it was a successful trip. I don't know what to do about PAH and Deep Run. The weather is always a roll of the dice after Christmas, and with my luck, I can't say I wouldn't get snowed out a third time. It's a long drive from the Jersey Shore (over 8 hours) and I'd rather spend my time painting, so I'll just have to wait and see. I'm in the middle of an early winter blizzard as I write, and the weather forecast is something right out of North Dakota (0 degrees with -20 below wind chill for the next two days!)

I think I'll make a nice big pot of Scotch Broth and get into the studio for some uninterrupted painting!

Last year, I made a New Years resolution to join the Pastel Society, The Oil Painters of America and Society of Animal Painters. I didn't get in last year, but will try again this year. Hope springs eternal! Remember, don't be discouraged by rejection. I know that sounds impossible to do, but don't take it personally either. Just keep trying!

On a more positive note, I rejoined the American Academy of Equine Art (AAEA), exhibited one painting in the annual fall show in Aiken, SC and have been elected to the Board of Directors. I hope to make a difference to the organization by leading by my example, teaching workshops and inspiring young artists to submit work to our shows, attend the workshops offered throughout the year and aspire to becoming juried and signature members of the organization!

Here's a few links for great Scotch Broth recipes. I usually make an amalgam of two or three recipes to get the best results. I recommend following the recipe as written the first time. After you taste the results, you can change or amend it to your own preferences the next time you make it. The important thing to remember when making a good Scotch Broth is to use lamb shanks, pearl barley (not the pre-packaged, parboiled variety) and let it sit/cool overnight to skim off the fat. Yum!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Painting From Photographs

Monmouth County Hounds waiting to move off.
While working on several paintings using the photos I took in Virginia this past spring, I realized I had some great ideas for a blog about working from photographs.

There are a lot of opinions out there about using photos. They run the gamut from the idea that copying a photo is cheating, to the realization they're a valuable tool in the artist's arsenal. I subscribe to the latter point of view. Someone once told me they thought painting from a photograph wasn't valid because it was just copying something that had already been done. I tried to argue the point that it was just another aid in the creative process, but I couldn't persuade my colleague to see my point. I finally suggested I would give him a photo, a tracing of it, some paints and brushes and all the time he needed to reproduce the image in oils and see what he came up with. That ended his argument. What he had failed to take into consideration was the amount of skill required to "just copy" a photograph.

When I was a young girl, I used to copy the drawings of Paul Brown, Sam Savitt and C. W. Anderson from the illustrated horse books so popular in the 60's. It was a great way to
learn how to draw horses and riders. I had no idea I was more or less continuing the classical tradition of the Old Masters before me, whose apprenticeships usually began with copying classical works of art.
I began taking photographs when I started painting horses professionally. I photographed many different types of equestrian competition: racing, showing, eventing, hunting, etc. I bought a camera and taught myself the basics of taking decent photographs because for one thing, I wasn't allowed to use anyone else's photos. The copyright laws are very strict (as they should be) about using other artist's work without permission or compensation. Besides, I didn't want to use someone else's subject matter. Every photograph is a personal artistic statement, so unless you're using own photos, you're borrowing someone else's idea.

I discovered that working from photographs has many pitfalls. For one thing, the human eye doesn't see a subject like a photographic image, frozen in time and space, but rather as a series of images that flow together creating the illusion of movement. I tried to watch that movie about Eadweard Muybridge recently, but it was so terribly boring, I only got halfway through it. I'd rather just study his books with all the photographs of various subjects in motion. His studies of the walk, trot, canter and gallop are simply fascinating. The most enlightening aspect of his work is how he captures the same sequence of motion from various angles. It clearly illustrates how different the subject looks from the front and back (or side) - at the same time.
A series of photographs showing the sequence of strides of a galloping horse, from the front and back.
It's hard to believe the photos in the top row all correspond to the ones on the bottom.
If you don't have a copy of his book, Animals in Motion and the companion volume The Human Figure In Motion, I suggest you go and get them straightaway. Dover puts out an inexpensive hardcover and softcover versions, and should be on every artist's bookshelf.

The first problem with working from photographs (to my mind) is the frozen image of a horse galloping or jumping (or whatever). It's always very much at odds with the image I've formed in my mind. The subject often appears awkward as limbs are bent at strange angles and the light and shadows obscure the form. I see so many artists slavishly copying every wrinkle and blemish I have to wonder why. I suppose they think the camera is accurate and "doesn't lie," but I think it also has to do with not knowing what to leave in, what to take out and most importantly, what to add. When I first started working from photos many years ago, I copied the photos exactly as they were, but as I became a more confident painter, I realized I didn't have to reproduce the photograph exactly. I could change things around, even add details from other photos or from my imagination.

I suggest that you do a lot of observing before taking any photographs. I realize you'll be impatient to get out there and start taking pictures right away that you can convert into paintings. There might be a few missed opportunities, but the time spent simply observing will pay off afterwards. Going to a few horse shows, races and hunt meets will give you a better idea of the type of activity that interests you the most. Take a sketch book and do some quick motion studies. Once you have an idea of what you want to paint, you'll be better prepared to take photographs that you can use. Try to think about what makes a canter look like a canter, what aspect of a horse jumping a fence really typifies that particular movement or what draws you to the subject in the first place. This careful analysis of the subject will help you to snap the photograph at the right moment. How do you think all those brilliant photographers like Barbara Livingston and Tod Marks get those photos? Luck? Chance? Yes and no. They have a sense of what's happening and they're at the right place at the right time to capture it.

When I'm working from photos, I often piece together numerous photos to improve areas that need improving. This is not always easy to do, since there isn't always the "right" reference material available. One can be tempted to just copy the photo, since it's so much easier. After all, it's right there. But even one change can drastically improve a painting, as I'm about to illustrate with the photograph below. Pop Quiz! Can you spot what's wrong with this photo?
As you can see, this is actually a lovely photograph with great light, color and composition. So what's the problem? The grey horse on the right looks like he's headless! If you look closely you can see part of his head and eye to the right of the girl's shoulder, but at first glance, it looks as though he's missing his head. Although the mind's eye might even fill it in for us since we know he couldn't possibly be walking around without a head, it would be so much better if we could actually see it. (I don't know how to use Photoshop well enough to be able to add a head. Maybe in another lifetime.) None of the other photos I have of this scene are any better, so I tried making it up. For my first attempt, I painted directly on the canvas. I wiped out two or three versions before deciding to figure it out with paper and a pencil before committing it to paint.
I traced the figure of the rider from the painting, then made up a head and neck without referring to any photos. My pencil sketch didn't look right either, so I looked through some of my vast collection of photos. I also looked through sporting art auction catalogues for ideas. Nothing was exactly what I was looking for, so I emailed a dear friend (a noted equine artist) asking if she had anything to help me. She sent me several of her photos, all of which could have worked. After comparing her photos with my drawing, I realized I had put the horse's head and neck too low and too far over to the left. I also made the neck way too long and the head way too small. Foreshortening (rendering forms in perspective) has always been difficult for me draw correctly. I think it has to do with my idea of what's happening to the forms. I think they're getting further away (i.e., the head) and therefore should be smaller. Compare the head in my drawing to the head in the photo. It's more than twice as large in the photo! Paul Brown and Sam Savitt were masters of foreshortening, which is one reason why they were such master draughtsmen.

The first photo  (left) shows the correct position of the horse's head and neck in relation to the rider. The line of the horse's neck originates somewhere in the middle of the rider's lap and the point of the knee. This was a perfect photo to use for reference. Even though the light and shadow is diffused, the pose is perfect. I couldn't have done better if I had the model standing in my studio!
This photo and the one below it are of the same pony. However, the second photo was flipped or reversed to match the pose in my painting.
In both photos, the dark lines of the bridle perfectly define the shape of the pony's head, giving me the essential information I needed to figure out the side- and underplanes of head. This helped me to determine what would be in light and what would be in shadow.
I eventually settled on the photo of the pony without the rider (left) because not only did it help me visualize the correct position of the horse's head and neck, it showed me the underlying anatomy of the withers and shoulder, which is hidden by the rider. I also liked the floppy ears better than in the other photo. In my made up sketch, I had him looking very alert. The ears are an important detail when it comes to painting a horse's expression. This position suggests a more relaxed feeling, a feeling of having a communal conversation with the other two horses, or perhaps listening for his rider's signal as to what happens next: "Do we stay here? Are we going yet?"
Next, I added some of his shoulder in front of the rider's leg because he's no longer turned so sharply to the right, and straightened his front legs a bit.
Finally, I took out the cast shadow of the chestnut pony on the grey's hindquarters. In my painting it didn't quite "read." It just looked like a big blue hole on the horse's flank. I realize this is an important detail because it creates the sense of light and atmosphere in the painting, but until I get it to look like a cast shadow, it's staying out. I will continue to work on it until it looks right, but if I can't make it work, it will just have to be sacrificed.
This may seem like a lot of extra work but the difference between the painting and the original photograph shows it was well worth the effort. There's no headless horse here, which makes it a much more pleasing image. Don't you agree?
The almost finished painting of a group of foxhunters chatting while they wait for the field to move on.
A final point: I don't like to work from tracings, but if you need to or like to, then by all means do so. I've occasionally resorted to this method when it involves a large group of hounds or horses. Some people might consider this "cheating." I don't. I say do whatever works. It's just a drawing aid. Purists may disagree, but even Raphael traced his own preliminary studies onto his canvas for large, complex designs. One caveat: I find tracing severely inhibits my painting. It stifles the brush strokes and curtails the application of the paint in a fluid manner. Like paint-by-numbers, you're not allowed to go out of the lines because the photo (in theory) is the most accurate version possible. If you look at the painting I'm using as an example in this post, there is a lot wrong with the drawing. It's definitely not been traced. Just look at some of the relationships of the shapes. They're quite different from the photo. Yet, the painting has a lovely, painterly quality that I feel might have been lost if I had traced the figures. That being said, tracing is just another tool in the paint box. If it helps you paint better, go for it! If you're tracing a photo just to save time or effort however, my advice is don't do it. Being lazy is no excuse to trace the drawing. If you have the ability to draw the subject freehand, you should make the attempt. It might even improve your drawing skills, but as I already said, one tends to be dictated to by the tracing rather than the other way around.
The point I'm making is that working from photos is not intrinsically good or bad. Photographs are like brushes and oil paints; they're just another tool to help you achieve your goals. How you use them will determine whether or not they're beneficial. I like to think of it more as working with photographs rather than from them.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Inspiration - Vasari Artists Colors

I know it's been a while since my last post. These take a while to write and the arrival of warmer weather brings with it all sorts of chores to do outside. I'm waging a loosing battle with mowing and weeding. Alas, if I had a gardener and a maid, I could write and paint more...

At first, I thought this post was going to be about Vasari's Oil Colors website videos. It is to some degree. But it's more about finding inspiration. ("Again?" you ask.) There's a myth going around for the last one hundred and fifty years or so, that artistic inspiration strikes in a flash. The most popular image is of a starving artist in some Parisian garret (whatever that is), who is suddenly struck by an idea so inspired, he can hardly paint fast enough to keep up with his thoughts. He paints maniacally, without sleeping or eating, until at last he completes his masterpiece. He's utterly spent and exhausted when he's done. Of course, he receives the public recognition and admiration he so clearly deserves and lives happily ever after. Well, I hate to break it to you, but this couldn't be further from the truth. I suppose the myth lives on because the reality is so disappointingly unromantic. It's positively dull, even boring. The fact is, inspiration comes from the day-to-day routine work, the daily grind of sitting down at the easel and painting, every day, every week, all year long.

Okay, got the picture? So you're humming along, working everyday and getting some good work done. Every now and then, you do something you feel is a notch above your usual standard. How do you know? You just do. Everything just goes smoothly and the results really show your mastery of the paint. Sometimes, however, you get bogged down in the familiar, the safe, the tried and true. You use the same techniques and utilize old solutions for new problems. You don't push yourself. You get complacent. You don't even realize you're in a rut. After all, you are working every day. Isn't that enough?

While I was at the Bryn Mawr Hound Show a few weeks ago, a colleague told me my palette is too brown and my paintings are very flat. She said they didn't have enough light in them. No one likes to hear criticism of their work, and I certainly don't agree with her, but I went home and decided to try to see my work through her eyes and fix the "problems." But where to start?

Pondering the problem of too much brown, I tried to think of the different ways to mix a color or neutralize it or tone it down. I know there must be lots of solutions. Here's where the Vasari videos come in. They have a terrific website which I visit regularly to see what new products they have for sale, such as videos, books, paint sets, etc., as well as their bi-weekly color "sales." They also have some very in-depth videos about color mixing. It's a masterful blend of sales promotion and tres sophisticated how-to color mixing techniques. You need to watch them a few times to get the nuances of what they're demonstrating, because they talk about color temperatures, density, chroma, etc., in a very quick, matter-of-fact way. Now, I think I have a pretty sophisticated eye when it comes to color, but these people are absolute geniuses. I mean, do you know the difference between Lead White and Titanium Zinc White? (I didn't.) I guess they have to be good at mixing colors, right? Duh! After watching the videos, I realized I can't live without their "Rosebud" or "Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale." Take a look at those videos and honestly tell me you can live without "Rosebud!"

My shopping list of Vasari colors includes: "Rosebud, Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale, Bice, Video Blue Extra Pale," and "Naples Orange." I'm eagerly waiting to add them to my palette. Meanwhile, I'll just have to muddle through with what I have. Which brings me to my final point. I know artists often use a palette they've customized for their particular subject, i.e., portraits, landscapes, still lives, etc. Perhaps it's one they learned at a workshop or from a book. And it becomes written in stone. It never changes. I feel I've become a little too insistent on using Zorn's five color palette, or the "less is more" ideology. I get a real thrill when I add a color or change something on my palette. When I discovered Manganese Violet a few years ago it was like a whole new world opened up! So, be open to color additions or subtractions on your palette. Try mixing up your own "Rosebud" with the colors you have. I suspect it involves Alizarine Crimson and perhaps a blue and yellow of some kind. I'm going to do it right from the computer screen as an exercise in color mixing.

A Note: Artists should never forget they're always students. I recently bought some painting videos by Richard Schmid, a highly-regarded landscape painter. He uses a palette knife, no medium of any kind to mix his paints, and paints outdoors in all kinds of weather. In one video, the paint is actually beginning to freeze and it's snowing! He uses many different brands of oil paints, so you needn't worry if you have a paint box full of exotic names like Gamblin, Grumbacher, Winsor & Newton, etc. The only thing you need to concern yourself with is that you buy the best you can afford. No student grade, please.

Take a workshop, join an artists' organization, a sketch class or watch painting videos on You-Tube to keep your mind sharp and open to new ideas.

Happy painting!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Middleburg's Closing Day

Middleburg's young entry ~ Piper ~ negotiating a stone wall
I think I've finally recovered from my trip to Virginia, although putting the clocks ahead one hour during my trip didn't help. I always feel like I have jet lag for weeks after Daylight Savings. It doesn't matter if they're set an hour ahead or behind. My body just doesn't seem to be able to adjust. I've tried to acclimate to it by waking up earlier (or later) as it approaches, but it doesn't help. The least they can do is turn the clocks ahead on a Friday afternoon so everybody gets out of work an hour early and turn them back on a Monday morning so we get to sleep in an extra hour. Then perhaps, at least  psychologically, it would make it more palatable!

The reason I went to Virginia in March instead of June or July was to photograph several of the hunts in and around Middleburg before the close of the season. I'm gathering reference photos for an upcoming exhibition f paintings, "The Virginia Hunts." It's an invitational show of Signature Members of the American Academy of Equine Art (AAEA), and I'm very excited and honored to have been asked to participate. Hunting season was just ending and formal hunting doesn't start up again until next fall, so I wanted to get some material to work on through the summer. The exhibition is slated to open in May 2018, at the Museum of Hounds and Hunting in Morven Park in Leesburg, VA. It will coincide with the 2018 Virginia Hound Show which is held on the last Sunday in May.

I was on the road for eleven days. I left my house on Friday, March 10th and didn't return until Monday, March 20th. I headed out in a snowstorm, which proved to be a mere nuisance compared to the giant snowstorm that hit a large swath of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast areas a few days later. My trip included the Middleburg, Piedmont, Orange County, Keswick and Farmington hunts. My original schedule included Warrenton and Deep Run as well, but that was sabotaged by the bad weather. Of course, one can never be sure what the weather will be like in mid-March, so I was a bit unlucky in that respect.

I'm still editing my photos, changing exposures, color, contrast and so on from my trip. I'm not a very good photographer; I take photos mostly out of necessity, since I can't paint from memory or my imagination like the sporting artists of the past. I set my digital camera on Automatic Program and hope it knows what to do. I feel guilty sometimes, thinking I should know more about what I'm doing with a camera, but never guilty enough to actually do something about it. Life is too short.
Middleburg's huntsman, Mr. Hugh Robards, with First Whip, Mrs. Julie Robards and the hounds waiting to move off
I made Warrenton my hub, as it was central to the state as well as five or six of the hunts I had on my itinerary My first stop was Middleburg on Saturday, March 11th. I wanted to see Hugh Robards' last day as huntsman with the Middelburg. Hugh has spent most of his life as an MFH in Ireland and the States, and the last three as huntsman for Middleburg. I won't pretend I know much about him. I met him while illustrating a book he wrote in 2006 titled, "Foxhunting, How to Watch and Listen," and I attended several hunts and puppy shows during his tenure as MFH of the Rolling Rock. I know enough about him to realize this was an event I didn't want to miss. (For an excellent article on Hugh Robards please see this week's issue of Norman Fine's excellent online magazine:
Life Imitating Art ~ Libbey Gilbert strikes a pose straight out of a Munnings' painting.
Actually, this photo illustrates what a keen eye Munnings had for the action and essence of a scene.

I drove to the kennels early on Saturday morning to make sure I caught the hunt staff before they drove to the meet since I had no idea where it was. I'm not one to meticulously plan ahead; come to think of it, I'm not one who even does the most rudimentary preparations. Somehow, it's never been a problem. I usually figure out where I'm going and how to get there, and this was no exception. When I got to Middelburg, I just typed in "Middleburg Hunt" on Google Maps on my iPhone and Voila! A few minutes later I was pulling into the driveway of the kennels. While driving around those roads however, I realized it might be a problem if one doesn't know which meet it is or its location. I can see how one might spend the entire day driving around the back roads of Middleburg looking for a field full of trailers. Except in Virginia they have a quaint practice of putting out a sign at the entrance of the farm or field with the name of the hunt and a pointing arrow: Middleburg Hunt ⇨, Piedmont Hunt ⇨, etc. I thought it was a nice little touch, but I think it has more to do with the plethora of hunts in the area - one can hunt every day of the week and never follow the same pack of hounds twice! They also start at a much more reasonable hour at this time of year - 10:00 A.M. No crack of dawn drive in the dark, thank heavens!

The day was cold and windy, but the sun was bright and making a valiant effort. I found Hugh in his tack room, smoking a cigar and looking thoroughly relaxed and happy. Julie, his wife and first whip, and Libby Gilbert were there getting ready as well. As Hugh helped Julie with her coat and boots, I couldn't help feeling quite privileged sitting there talking about his plans after he retires. We talked for about twenty minutes and then they had to leave for the meet. Hounds and horses were already in the trailers, saddles and tack already packed. I followed behind the two trailers. The meet was just a few miles away, so we arrived well before ten o'clock.

Photographer Liz Callar discusses the game plan with retiring
Huntsman, Hugh Robards and Jt.-MFH Mr. Tim Harmon 
A large field was already gathering at Patty Mulligan's farm on Mountville Road as we pulled in. One of the first people I met was Liz Callar, a talented and prolific photographer who lives in Virginia. I was familiar with her work, but hadn't met her before. She's the American version of Jim Meads - always in the right place at the right time! Super nice, super helpful and a hard worker. We exchanged greetings and cards. I'll be writing more about her. We became friends and she was an invaluable help to me in the coming week.

Goggles. Gee, I wonder how he got that name!
I looked around the field to see if I recognized anyone on horseback. I spied Jt.-MFH Jeff Blue in a large Ram truck. He told me he'd be following by car that day. His passengers included Susan Wight of the Plains and his broken-coated terrier, "Goggles." I recognized Dick McQuade, an acquaintance from steeplechase days, who was now whipping-in for Middleburg. Tyrrell Sharp, Hugh's former field master at Rolling Rock had come down for the occasion as well. There were many prominent people in the field that day but those were the only people I recognized. There were two  sidesaddle riders in the field, who cut very elegant figures in their dark blue habits and top hats. I think this one (below) will make an excellent subject for a painting.

They moved off promptly at ten o'clock and Hugh put hounds into a covert straightaway. The sun was behind the trees, lighting the veteran huntsman in soft rim lighting. (See below) It's my favorite type of lighting, because it features the subject, dark and in shadow, softly outlined against a dark background. It's reminiscent of a pastel I did over thirty years ago titled "To The Next Covert." I can see an oil painting of this for the upcoming AAEA exhibition. I'd add more hounds and more color to the trees.

To The First Covert

There were plenty of off-road places at this particular meet where we could follow in a car to watch the hunt. A man named Gus offered me a seat in his truck since I didn't have AWD in my car. He knew the country very well and we kept ending up in all the right places before anyone else. At one point hounds were on a line somewhere on the grounds of Foxcroft, and as we excitedly waited for the fox to emerge straight ahead of us, a car drove by and turned him and the hounds went silent. They eventually found again and crossed Mountville Road, but we never saw the field until they came in at the end of the day. Hugh had picked up the hounds at Foxcroft and drove them back to the kennels. I'm sorry I wasn't there for that. I imagine it was bittersweet for him to call them home one last time.

A delicious hunt "breakfast" followed in the open field at Mulligan's farm, with fine spirits and good food, including mulled cider, hot chocolate and soup cooking over a fire pit, courtesy of the Patty and another young lady whose name I don't know. My apologies! It was an excellent end to the day and the season.
And now April 1st has passed, which is the date some hunt staff begin or end their service. Hopefully Hugh will now have time to write his memoirs. -CMC

Toasted marshmallow wars ~ may the Force be with you!