Friday, February 13, 2015

Winter on the Farm

I thought I would write this blog post to give you an idea of what we're dealing with in New England this winter.  Ironically, it was the winter that almost wasn't.  Christmas was in the fifties, and no snow until mid-January.  Then wham!  Here in Connecticut's northeast corner, we've been hammered with huge amounts of snow, at least once a week.  

Now I'm somewhat of a winter person.  I love to cross-country ski--an activity that I can do right from my backyard, or drive five minutes to a local park where they groom trails.  It's the kind of skiing that requires real snow.  There are no snow machines for cross-country trails, just the natural stuff that falls from the sky.  There have been years when it's been hard to find much snow around here for skiing, and it's an incredible form of exercise.  You don't have to wear very heavy clothing, because the physical activity keeps you warm.  It's just you on your skis in the cathedral of the snowy woods.  

And let's look at the advantages of snow when it comes to horsekeeping.  The horses stay amazingly clean from rolling in the snow, and having no access to mud or dirt.  Manure piles that stick fast to bare frozen ground are easy to scoop off a layer of snow.  Hooves are sparkling clean and healthy.  If you can get to a trail to ride, there is nothing as exhilarating as a gallop in the snow.

The downside?  It's pretty hard to push a wheelbarrow around my paddock.  I'm pretty meticulous  when it comes to keeping the paddock clean, and I try to pick up all the manure piles every day.  In the winter, when it's dark in the morning and dark at night, it's a challenge.  Many a night I am out searching for piles in the moonlight.  And this year, I have invented the poop-sled--an old plastic toboggan that has been repurposed for hauling manure through the snow.
Here is a shot of the paddock, with the poop sled in the foreground.  You can see the paths the horses have made--leaving islands of virgin snow covering most of the paddock.  My version of the Virgin Islands.

Of course I needed a place to dump all the manure from the poop sled, so an area had to be shoveled for a temporary manure pile.  Hubby will move it all in the spring when everything thaws.

Getting to the water trough is always a challenge in the winter.  Our plow guy shoves all the snow from the driveway into a huge pile in the path of where the hose has to run from the hydrant to the trough.  Which usually means excavating a tunnel through the plow pile.  I can also get to the trough from the horses' side of the fence, but that does me no good with the hose. 

There's a gate under there somewhere.  Not going to be opening it anytime soon.

Belle is taking it all in stride, up to her knees in the white stuff.
 And I've taken advantage of snow days, hunkering down in the studio.  One afternoon yielded this quick little oil study of the scene from my studio window.
Winter Landscape Study, 5 x 7 oil on board, $100.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year

"Mother Love"
oil on paper
11 x 14 matted

It’s been a busy fall here at Underhill Hollow, despite the lack of blog posts.   It’s been a year of juggling, of making ends meet, of just trying to keep up.  The business of art has never been a full-time thing for me.   Despite steady sales, loyal clients and collectors, several galleries, I need to supplement my art business with another job, and since my other job is managing an image collection at a pretty great art institution, where I am surrounded by other creative people, brilliant art and design students, and some pretty fabulous co-workers, that’s not a bad thing.  My day job often inspires my painting, and, let’s face reality here—provides me with health benefits.  I have twenty-five years invested in my job, and that’s a rare thing these days.   When my son was born, I was able to work part-time, and the work-life balance was perfect.  I sacrificed half my benefits, and a good-sized chunk of pay to have more time to raise my son, and find creative time for myself. 

Now the boy is in high school, and when I was given the opportunity to go back to full-time, I seized it—somewhat reluctantly, but although money doesn’t make the world go around, it does pay for a good education for our son, and hay for the horses.   So I count my blessing every day—for the job I have, for the people I work with, for the relative comfort that provides.

When I went back to full-time work, I realized I was going to struggle to find studio time.  I realized something was going to have to give.  I scaled back on doing weekend art shows, and decided to focus on my gallery work and commission work.  I still spend a couple of evenings a week in the studio, and chunks of time on the weekends.  I crave rainy weekend days, when I don’t want to be outside, so I can be really productive in front of the easel.  I use Sunday afternoons—football time in our household, to escape the t.v. and hole up in my “woman-cave”. 

I can track my productivity by how many new paintings are added to the inventory each year.  2014 was a record year…although the numbers are a bit deceiving—many new works were small drawings and watercolors as opposed to new large oil paintings.  I still did two major weekend art shows, completed some commissions, designed a new poster, and gave private art lessons to a very talented fourteen-year old.   Painting is like breathing to me-- no matter what life throws at me, I will keep at it.

Since it’s the time of year to take stock of things, I’ve been making lists in my head of all the things I am grateful for, the things that are most important to me, and I would say eighty percent of the things on that very long list are people.  My family, my friends, my co-workers, my farrier, my vets, the farmers that bring the hay every year and stack it in the barn for me.  So what else is on the list that does not fall into the category of human beings?  My animals of course!  Our good health.  And my skills at painting, the land our house sits on, the productivity of the garden.  The wild birds that come to our pond, even the public buses that save me gas money every day.

So, what doesn’t make the list?  Things.  Of course I am thankful for a roof over my head and a car that gets me back and forth, and the clothing that fills my closets, but they are just things.  The house has been around since 1825, and it’s covered in ugly aluminum siding, which used to bother me, but not so much anymore.  The septic system is failing, and there is a gaping hole in the mudroom where the apartment stairs were taken out and rebuilt differently, but even that’s okay.  My car has 150,000 miles on it, and is full of scrapes and dents and dog hair, but it gets me around.  I’m not going to be that person who worries about the appearance of my things.  Of course I love it when I can make things pretty, and yes—we’re going to be working on rebuilding the mudroom.  A new rug or piece of art, or a nice jacket make me as happy as the next person.  My horses are shaggy and whiskery, but they are happy and well-fed and live a life outdoors as horses are supposed to do, where they can roll around in the mud. 

I think most of my friends have pretty similar priorities in life.  They are kind, forgiving, generous, and considerate.  They’re the kind of people who would leave a note when they accidentally put a ding in my car, even though no one was looking.  And they’re the kind of people to whom I would say, ‘thanks, but don’t worry about it.  It’s just a tiny ding.’   So many people you encounter in life will disappoint you.  But remember to hold close all the ones who don’t. 

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?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Summer Pasture

"Summer Pasture", 16 x 20 oil on canvas
I thought I would post this summer scene to get our minds off the lingering effects of winter this year. Painted from some reference photos I shot over a year ago, I completed this landscape late last year, and only recently got it into a frame and added to the inventory. It depicts Spyder, a dappled grey quarterhorse that was boarded at our barn briefly, and my two mares are in the background. So many of my equine paintings are large, bold close-ups that are deliberately devoid of background elements. Sometimes I enjoy the practice of painting a landscape of trees. The looseness that is forced upon me having to render a complex dense stand of evergreens and deciduous trees is a refreshing change of pace from the controlled detailed work of the horses.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Winter Work

It's been a prolific month for painting. Cold weather, snow, freezing rain, all makes for long cozy days in the studio. Supplied with a brand new watercolor block, a ten-pack of 11 x 14 stretched canvases, and a few other odd-sized gallerywrap canvases around, I have been able to launch into new work, often with up to five or six pieces in progress at a time. I'll showcase the most recent oils in this post. At the top is an oil sketch of a warmblood mare. My goal here was to keep this piece loose and painterly, and to finish it in two painting sessions. Goal accomplished. It is a challenge to capture light and shadow on such a complex beast as a horse using a bare minimum of brush strokes. I loved the shot I had of this mare, the pose had so much movement, the shadows and reflected light were describing her form perfectly.
Next I completed two more in my flower series. I am enjoying the delicate forms of flowers as much as the living, moving musculature of horses. It is fun to work with colors in my palette that I rarely use in the horse paintings. Here we have two 12 x 12 gallerywrap canvases, of a crabapple blossom and a magnolia flower.

And then it was back to horses. "Arabian Light" is a more tightly finished study than the warmblood, but I wanted to really capture that crisp summer sunlight on this white horse. Seeing this image next to the magnolia makes me want to put together a display of white horses and white flowers.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Sleeping Buddies

"Sleeping Buddies", oil on canvas, 11 x 14 in. It's a new year, and I have started it off with a painting of Pixel and Maizy. These two aren't always so close and cuddly, but occasionally, they put differences aside and share the warmth. There are several new paintings in progress, nearly finished. Some works, like the cats, seem to come together quickly without much fuss. Others I can't stop fiddling with. I would like to start a new painting every day--starting a painting is the most exciting part. Finishing one can almost seem anti-climactic, since it is the process of conceiving and creating a painting that brings me the most joy.
I am not one to make New Year's resolutions, but it is the time of year to start planning the year's schedule of shows, and I must tear myself away from the easel to take care of that business.
Those almost finished equine paintings will be posted soon, but in the meantime, a recently completed panel painting:
Golden-Laced Wyadotte, oil on oval panel, 11 x 14 in.