Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to Saratoga

View from the Backstretch, oil on canvas, 4 x 12 in. work in progress

Ever since my first trip to Saratoga, sometime back in the 90's, I've returned several times, always seeing something new, and getting inspired to paint. When I realized my last trip there was in 2006, I knew it was time to go back. Several of my artist friends have been gathering there for the last few years, renting a house, visiting the track, and consuming a lot of ice cream and Mrs. London's pastries. I queried about joining them this year, and thankfully, they were happy to have me join their group.

My previous trips to Saratoga usually consisted of making the rounds of all the galleries and hotel conference rooms exhibiting equine art. This time around, I found that the art scene has changed quite a bit. There are still a few galleries and hotels showing equestrian themed art, but it is mixed with art of other genres, and some of the galleries and artists I remember are no longer there. This trip was less about the art and the horses, and more about the camaraderie of six like-minded individuals. We enjoyed just hanging around together at the house, relaxing and enjoying the time out from our busy lives.

Of course, it wouldn't be a trip to Saratoga without the horses, and on the first day, we all visited the track. We met up with an assistant trainer who was so kind to escort us around to the backstretch, giving us a vantage point that the public doesn't get to see. The beautiful shed row barns of the Saratoga backstretch, with mossy roofs and old-growth trees are so clean and peaceful compared to the noise and clamor of the track.

The following morning brought us to the Oklahoma training track, across Union Avenue from the main track, and now open to the viewing public. We watched horses being galloped, and then washed down, and we even stayed to watch Wise Dan work out. You could tell Wise Dan was a big name by the number of railbirds that turned out to photograph him. Quite likely, at least thirty other people got the same shot I did. The names and reputations of the horses mean very little to me. I am enthralled with the beauty of the sport, the light and the color.

In the morning, you also get to see a lot of Thoroughbreds enjoying a sudsy bath.

And here is a sample of that special light that exists here.

On Saturday, we had the privilege of watching a painting demo by Kimberly Kelly Santini, at Spa Fine Art Gallery. The rest of us meandered back and forth between her demo and Juliet Harrison's book signing for her book Track Life, showcasing her beautiful racetrack photography, with contributions from many other people writing about their impressions of the track.
On the last day, it was one last visit to the track, where I managed to win 7.70 with my only bet of the day on this number 2 horse in the second race. Disclaimer: It was actually my husband's bet. He asked me before I left to put $2.00 on the 2 horse in the 2nd race. He didn't specify which day. It my luck that there were only four horses in the race, thus increasing my odds, since many had scratched because of the muddy conditions.

And I leave you with this. Aren't you glad your job isn't this dirty?

Monday, May 12, 2014

As many of you know, I am somewhat known for creating this Horse Alphabet poster. This began as an art school assignment, to create an alphabet, and the first version was in pen and ink. After graduating, I reworked the alphabet in color, and had it printed into a poster. It was my first foray into entrepreneurship, and a sizeable investment in four-color printing. I soon had a stack of brown-paper wrapped 18 x 24 posters, one thousand of them, and I began selling them at the RISD Alumni sales, and other art show venues. A few shops ordered wholesale, a t-shirt company licensed them for shirts, and slowly, my investment began to pay for itself. I had to hire an accountant to learn how to file a Schedule C, report sales taxes, do inventory, and such. I found a supplier for poly bags, paper tubes, and then bigger tubes for wholesale orders. The posters were my bread and butter at art sales. I could always count on poster sales to at least break even on my booth fees. After some time, my pile of brown wrapped packages began to dwindle, and I ordered a second printing. I designed thank-you cards using my alphabet letters, and licensed my design to a lovely local company called Wild Horsefeathers, which has used the letters for tees and sweatshirts, totes and other things.
I have always been happy to honor requests to use the image for charitable functions, and it has appeared in online articles and blog posts, usually with a credit given to me or a link to my website. Sharing the image in this way is much appreciated. Once I got a flurry of online orders, and discovered the source was a link from New York Magazine online, as a Christmas gift idea.
I have been selling this poster for 25 years, and of course, it is out there on the internet in many places. I cannot control who reposts it, photographs it, shares it on Pinterest or Facebook, or any other social media sites. Anyone who owns the actual poster could scan it, photoshop the letters together, and do anything they want with it. It doesn't make it legal to do so. I don't even have to have a copyright notice on the online image for it to be protected, like the ugly text I have placed over the image above. I would prefer to share my images without a big copyright notice across them.
Recently, a friend alerted me to a use of my alphabet letters on facebook. The facebook page owner had found an image where someone used the letters to spell out Happy Mothers Day. It looked innocent enough, and I assumed the person who posted it simply found it somewhere on the internet and didn't know where it came from, and thought it was free to use. I thought about ignoring it. It wasn't even very well done. The scaling and the spacing was poorly executed.
But I posted what I thought was a relatively friendly comment that simply pointed out that the alphabet letters were my copyrighted material, and I added a link to my website, for proof. If I had been in the other person's shoes, I might have simply said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I should give credit to Alecia Underhill as the original creator of the alphabet." I would have gone away happy, and all would be right with the world. But the person chose to turn the blame on me, because obviously it's my fault for putting the image on the internet in the first place. My artist friends chimed in on my behalf, in an attempt to politely educate this person and her followers about intellectual property rights and copyright law.
Then my favorite comments were the ones that shouted at me (in all caps)that it is all over Google images and Pinterest. Using the search terms they indicated, I had a tough time finding it, until finally, I found a pinterest post that had the mother's day message, unlinked, uncredited, and untraceable. I did find several postings of the alphabet poster that linked back to me. It would not have been difficult to find me and simply ask if it could be used. Here's another illegal use that I found, where someone put text of different horse breeds on there, which don't really make any sense. The letters are all skewed and the text is all over the place. Not my work, I assure you.
The bottom line is that I post images of my work online because that is what I have to do as an artist to market my work. I love when images are shared, and even when someone doesn't ask permission, I don't ask to be paid for an online use of my web images, because the images are at a low resolution that wouldn't print very well, anyway. All I ask in return for their use is a credit, or maybe even a link back to my website. That's fair use, right?