Sunday, June 10, 2018

American Pharoah: Finally the One (and Justify, too!)

"And they’re into the stretch, and American Pharoah makes his run for glory as they come into the final furlong. Frosted is second. With one-eighth of a mile to go, American Pharoah’s got a two length lead. Frosted is all out at the sixteenth pole. And here it is! The 37-year wait is over! American Pharoah is finally the one! American Pharoah has won the Triple Crown!”

Photo by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
A number of years ago, I began painting the American Triple Crown winners. I intended to paint all eleven, and I started with the last three from the 1970s, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, thinking they'd be the most popular. I then went back to the beginning and painted Sir Barton and Gallant Fox before becoming distracted with other projects and other Thoroughbred portrait models.

When American Pharoah was crowned the twelfth Triple Crown winner in 2015 after an agonizing 37-year wait, I knew I had to pick the project back up again, starting of course with him. I was busy trying to clean out my commissions backlog, but I squeezed in work on him between painting other models. It took me two years to finally finish him up, and while I posted a picture of the model to my Instagram feed and started writing this blog last year, for some reason, I never finished it.

My Pharoah
Three weeks ago, the day before the Preakness as a matter of fact, my sister and I traveled to Kentucky to see our hero. As kids, we always watched the Triple Crown races together, and even now that we're older and live in different states, we talk horse racing regularly. When Pharoah won the Belmont, we both shrieked our excitement to each other across the miles through our phones. Seeing him together in the flesh was a dream come true. It was an amazing, wonderful, perfect day.

The horse of a lifetime
The next afternoon, we watched Justify roll to victory through the fog at Pimlico, and we got to scream and cry and hug in the same room for once. And now, with that big chestnut's almost unbelievable performance at Belmont yesterday, I find that I am hoarse from shrieking again, and I need to paint another Triple Crown winner! I can hardly believe it. Thirty-seven years of miss after miss after heart-breaking miss, and now we've had two Triple Crown winners in just three years. Thank you, racing gods! I am a happy, happy fan.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

NaMoPaiMo 2018

The calendar says it's March, but Mother Nature hasn't even thought about spring yet here in Chicago. It even snowed yesterday just to remind us we've still got a good 6 to 8 weeks to go before the weather turns warm. I've experienced colder, snowier winters here, but the longer I live in Chicago, the harder they are to slog through. I know I suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and that combined with several weeks-long stretches of single digit temperatures in January and February made getting ready for NaNoPaiMo a challenge for me. Not only was it too cold to spray primer or fixative, the constant cold grey gloom was downright exhausting. Alas, hibernating until May doesn't pay the bills.

NaMoPaiMo is an event meant to encourage people to paint, especially people who are new to the hobby or who have never tried painting a model before. As someone who's been painting for a number of years, I feel like a bit of an imposter participating, especially when I have been steadily painting and finishing models this last year in order to clear out my backlog of commissions. Nonetheless, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up, and I had a blank copy of one of my new favorite molds just begging for some love, so I decided to go with a challenging color again this year to see if I could improve my techniques.

Greys, whether light, dark, medium, or flea-bitten, have always been the hardest colors for me to paint. I have experimented with airbrushing them, hand-painting them, pasteling them, and combinations of all three with varying success. In the last year or so, I have figured out a technique combining pastels and airbrushing with a little bit of hand-painting that I think works reasonably well. I would still like to finesse the shape and placement of my dapples, but this is definitely an improvement on past attempts.

After priming the model, I base coated it in soft white paint. I then used an old, worn brush to apply black pastel dust. (In this case, it was technically charcoal dust because I ran out of proper black pastels. The pastels are a tad softer and easier to blend, but charcoal sticks work nearly as well.)

I then used an eraser pencil to create dapples...

Which I blended a bit with the worn brush and a little more pastel dust.

I then sealed my work with Krylon fixative and moved on to the barrel using the same technique.

With each body section...

I repeated the same steps...

And I used the eraser pencil to gently tease out highlights in the muscle grooves, elbows, flanks, and other "warm" areas where horses tend to grey out first.

Once I had most everything but the head pasteled, I came back over the topline, shoulders, and rump with another layer to pastels to darken them up and add some contrast. I did the legs as well, but forgot to snap a photo.

I then airbrushed a very fine layer of dark grey and then a bit of black to add a little more of a contrast than I could achieve with just pastels.

I decided to go with one dark leg to give him a bit of character. I hand-painted the mane and tail, hooves, and face markings...

and voila! I'm pretty pleased with him. I managed to finish him up with about an hour and half to spare on February 28th, so right down to the wire in typical fashion. (These photos were taken late at night with soft lighting, so the color's a bit off.)

Having tried this technique a couple of times now, I have more ideas for tweaks and refinements, especially to the dappling. More practice is warranted, maybe on a Proud Arabian Mare?

I am still hard at work finishing up commissions---check out my Instagram feed for more pictures of models on their way home---and I will find some time to blog about them here, too, in the near future.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

More finished commissions headed home

The end of the year is rapidly approaching, and while I haven't finished clearing out my commission backlog as I had hoped, I am much closer to being done than I was when I first resolved to close my books and admit that I was in way over my head. I will be out of town briefly for the holidays, but I have a few more nearly completed horses that I plan to mail out in the last week of December once I return. Then if all goes according to plan, I hope to have the last of my commissions headed home in January and February. In the meantime, here are a few more ponies that have shipped out. Huzzah!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Squirrels at a Rave

A funny meme came through my Facebook feed last week that said something along the lines of, "I don't have ducks in a row. I have squirrels. And they're at a rave." Given my last studio update, I thought it only fitting to recreate this title with Hagen-Renakers, too, because cosclay is apparently what my sister and I do now.

Seriously though, while my life is hectic right now with turnover at my real nine-to-five job and some large projects in the offing, it thankfully hasn't been all squirrels and glow sticks all the time, and I have been making steady progress completing commissions this spring and summer. Just since BreyerFest, I have mailed out 9 completed pieces, and boy does that ever feel good!

I have about two dozen commissions left to complete---they're all in some state of being partially painted, several nearly finished---and my goal is to have them all done and mailed by the end of the year. If I continue working at the rate I have been, I should be able to meet that goal. I am so much looking forward to having all of these models back in their owners' hands and feeling guilt-free about working on non-painting projects like writing, sewing, updating my sadly neglected website, cataloging my collection, decluttering, and even cleaning! (You know you've gone 'round the twist when you're actually looking forward to chores...)

Once I'm done with my current slate of commissions, I do not plan to take on more any time in the near future. It's much too stressful and I am simply too slow. I will be offering sales pieces periodically though. I'm looking forward to having a chance to try some colors and patterns I don't often get asked to paint like champagne, double dilute cream, and splashed white. I'm also itching to experiment with appaloosa patterns and brindling.

I will post more photos here of completed models as I send them out. It's a good morale booster to me to see progress even if my shelves of commissions still seem crowded (especially as the weather turns colder). I'm getting there, slowly, but steadily. Thank you all again for your patience! I am eternally grateful. <3 br="">

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Man O' War's 100th birthday

"He was as near to a living flame as horses ever get, and horses get closer
to this than anything else." - Joe Palmer

One hundred years ago today, a true legend was born. Even now, after a century has passed, he remains the benchmark against which all great horses are measured. Few have come close and none have been his equal. The simple notation below in the Nursery Stud foaling ledger gives no hint of what was to come. And how could it? Who would dare dream up such a horse, such a career, such a legacy? Who would believe it if it hadn't really happened? And yet it did, and the echoes of his greatness still ring down the years despite a world very much changed since 1917.

"March 29th, 1917 - Mahubah foaled ch colt by Fair Play. Star, narrow broken
stripe from right of star down center of nose. Height 42 Girth 33"
(Nursery Stud foaling ledger, collection of the Int'l Museum of the Horse, Kentucky Horse Park)
Mahubah's chestnut colt by Fair Play was of course Man O' War, the greatest Thoroughbred to ever grace the track. I have blogged about him and the models made in his likeness on my collectibility blog in the past, but as today is his 100th birthday, and as he is the source of my lifelong passion for horse racing, I thought I would write a bit about him here, too.

My earliest recollections of horse racing are of my dad reading C. W. Anderson's horse stories to me. Anderson wrote about Man O' War with the greatest reverence, and when I was old enough to read myself, I devoured every horse book I could find to learn more.

My love of horse racing was thus formed early on, and I have collected a number of books, art, figurines, locks of mane and tail, win tickets, race programs, and other bits of racing memorabilia over the years. My Man O' War memorabilia collection is small (if you don't count the books), but here are some of my favorite pieces.

My George Ford Morris print of Man O' War
A pretty and decorative Man O' War coaster (?)
My Hagen-Renaker DW Man O' War
Carol Williams' Valor resin that I painted as a portrait of Man O' War
I have made a few pilgrimages over the years to places where the great horse once stood at stud, like Faraway Farm where his sire and dam are buried. (Apologies for the poor film quality.)

Faraway Farm before restoration
Man O' War Farm just down the road from Faraway was also the site of MOW's original burial.

And his stall at MOW Farm where mares are still foaled out in hopes of a bit of extra talent and good luck.

Fortunately, my family settled within relatively easy driving distance of Lexington, KY, so I've been able to make the trek to BreyerFest every year since it began in 1990. A visit to Man O' War's current burial place at the Kentucky Horse Park to pay my respects is a yearly tradition. He rests under a larger than life bronze by Herbert Haseltine near the entrance of the park. A shady avenue leads to the monument from the visitors' center.

Historical marker near MOW's grave

Several of Man O' War's offspring are buried there as well, including his two most influential sons, War Admiral and War Relic. Man O' War's sire line has become a bit rare these days, surviving primarily through his great-great-great-great-grandson Tiznow. Interestingly, Man O' War's sire line is also just about the last of the Godolphin Arabian's tail male line. I worry that it may fizzle as the Byerley Turk's line seems to be doing, but the tail male line is really only part of the picture. Man O' War's daughters were phenomenal broodmares, as were the daughters of some of his best sons. The blood of War Admiral, War Relic, Intent, In Reality, Salaminia, American Flag, Wavy Navy, and others flows in the veins of many modern champions like American Pharoah, Arrogate, California Chrome, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Ghostzapper, Point Given, and so many others.

We have been blessed in the last few years with some incredibly talented horses---a Triple Crown winner at last!---and with every new crop of foals, hope springs eternal. It always puts me in mind of the last few stanzas of J. A. Estes' poem "Big Red."

"A foal is born at midnight
And in the frosty morn
The horseman eyes him fondly,
And a secret hope is born.
“But breathe it not, nor whisper,
For fear of a neighbor's scorn;
He's a chestnut colt, and he's got a star;
He may be another Man O' War.
Nay, say it aloud; be shameless.
Dream and hope and yearn,
For there's never a man among you
But waits for his return."

Happy birthday, Big Red.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NaMoPaiMo success!

She's done! And with a couple of hours to spare, ha ha! This color and pattern were a significant challenge to execute and complete because I have often felt a lack of confidence in my dun dilutions, but I'm really rather pleased this gal turned out so nicely. I am still struggling with my workload mentally (and temporally) and a big dose of seasonal affective disorder, but NaMoPaiMo has been a very much needed artistic mojo boost. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for organizing this wonderful hobby event! I have thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and enthusiasm it engendered. 

Hermosa is on ebay now. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

NaMoPaiMo: Down to the wire

Getting my ducks in a row is a slow process, but I have been busily chipping away at commissions all month. I've also managed to squeeze in some time to work on my NaMoPaiMo model. I think I'll be able to have her done by Tuesday (the last day of the month, eep!), but it's going to be down to the wire. Unfortunately, working right down to the last minute of a deadline is usually what I do. I always seem to underestimate how long painting will take, especially white layers on pintos. Which brings me to the subject of today's post.

I usually map the spots on my pintos with carefully shaped tiny pieces of blue painters tape or some form of liquid mask, but this time around, I decided not to. Because frame overo feels less intuitive to me than tobiano (my favorite pinto pattern if you haven't already guessed), I opted to draw the pattern on my fully painted model using references to have better control of the pattern. I used a white Prisma pencil to sketch that pattern and fill it in.

Then I began the slow process of adding thin layers of white paint to the pattern.

By the end of Sunday evening, the pinto markings have much better coverage than when I started, but they still have more layers to go. I often find that taking a break from the monotonous white layers is useful, so I decided to block in the basic color on the hooves and eyes. It helps give me a better sense of the finished piece, and it also seems to make finishing the piece less daunting.

Getting there!
So, with two evenings left to me to work on her, I need to finish the white layering, add pinking where appropriate, finish the hooves and eyes, and finish the mane and tail. I'm pretty sure I can accomplish this. Wheee!