Bringing a slain painting back from death’s door.

I think most people would agree, moving is hell. It’s something I dread, but Moving happens. To be fair, things actually went fine overall with our move a year and a half ago, at least until I discovered one of my paintings did not come out of it unscathed.

The grand canyon sized rip.

A personal favorite of mine, Dun Workin’, suffered a wicked laceration at some point over the course of the move. It was probably inevitable as we moved around 60-80 pieces, so my initial response was relief that it was only one (I’m a glass is half full kind of person). Once I got past my optimism, though, I stared at this ginormous chasm in this painting I’d created… and felt a bit sad.

The damage on the back of the canvas.
The damage on the back of the canvas.

I’ll be honest, I spent the past year so bummed about it that I essentially wrote the painting off, almost disowning it. But after pulling it out recently and realizing I REALLY did like this piece… I decided it was worth a try to save. What’s the worst that could happen? After all, it was already damaged goods, a waste of precious storage space.


I had some idea what repairing damage like this entailed, but some additional research would be called for. So after an intense training montage (complete with 80’s music – think Eye of the Tiger) with  Google and YouTube, I formed a plan.

I started with patching the back with a piece of spare canvas and some gesso. Then I let it set overnight with a stack of books (and a 7 lb kettlebell, I knew it had to be good for something!) to help it flatten it. Now I had something to work with. A bit of sanding and priming on the front side of the spot and it was ready for some paint to blend it with the rest of the background.

Patched in the back, ready for work in the front.
Patched in the back, ready for work in the front.

It was done. Finally this painting can come out of the closet again and be seen by the world… it might even look better than before. Yes, I’ll admit I slipped in a touch up or two on a couple spots that had been bothering me. These exist with virtually every painting … if I didn’t have the common sense to find a stopping point with each piece I’d never be done.

Close up of the finished product!
The finished product!

There IS an ever so slightly visible artifact when it’s looked at from a certain angle or in a certain light, but you’d have to be looking for it to see it. Art is not about perfection, it’s about perfect imperfections. So I’m checking the mission accomplished box on this one – time to mark it available again (with full disclosure, of course)!

Dun Workin’ is now available at 50% of it’s original price (and yes, it qualifies for my current Etsy special!). Check out the listing right here on Etsy!

Dun Workin’


Bisbee-cation ‘16

A photo journal of the epic 25th anniversary tour through southern Arizona of two artists who happen to also be married.

Old Bisbee.

When your job entails hours and days and weeks in the studio, which is also your home, the occasional outing is necessary for refreshing the well of inspiration. When your husband shares the same job, you’ve both done this for as long as you’ve been married, and your 25th anniversary is coming up, it’s time to go big or go home.

So we planned an extended venture patched together from many of our favorite day trips… over a period of 4 days. I know, it’s not Hawaii or Cabo, but we’re artists… we do quirky so much better than conventional. For this trip our primary destination and base camp is a little town we love called Bisbee, a place that’s THE definition of quirky, as you’ll see in the photos (see the full gallery here).

Hey there, OK Corral!

Bisbee is an hour and a half southeast of Tucson. Getting off the freeway at Benson puts us in the San Pedro River Valley. Then there’s the serene and pastoral town of St. David, followed by a quiet stretch where the riparian area gives way to desert. Next thing you know you’re in Tombstone, with about 30 minutes to go to get to Bisbee. Tombstone IS a lot of fun, but when you’ve been in Southern AZ long enough that’s rarely a serious stop unless you have out-of-town company. Normally we just wave at the OK Corral and press on.

Emerging from the Time Tunnel.

After Tombstone we start to approach the Mule Mountains. Climbing up the winding and mildly rugged terrain, we come to a tunnel just over the highest hill. This is the “Time Tunnel”… you enter after driving through sparsely populated mountains, and get spit out right into the heart of Old Bisbee, homes and buildings clinging to the hilly, never flat terrain, stacked on top of each other, the classy Copper Queen as it’s jewel in the crown.

Roadside fireplace without a home…

Bisbee, like so many western towns, is an old mining town. The Copper Queen mine is close by and pretty impressive. In recent decades, it’s attracted a diverse and unconventional citizenry. It’s an interesting combo of old west, rural, hippy and artsy-fartsy, and everyone seems comfortable with it. It’s always felt like a different universe to us, which is maybe why we are drawn there. It’s a true escape, one we clearly needed.

The Blue House

We headed up the main drag, called Tombstone Canyon Road, to our dwelling for three nights… the Blue House. Located about a 5-10 minute walk from the heart of town, it was set up on a hill overlooking Castle Rock, a tall rock formation in the midst of everything.

One thing to note about Bisbee, don’t go there if you won’t or can’t do stairs. There is no flat in this town, everything’s up or down. They even have an annual walk called “Bisbee 1000: The Great Stair Climb” – and yes, it includes over 1000 stair steps.

The Blue House – Inside

So up the stairs we went to get to our front door for the next 3 nights, which opened into the most charming little house with a kitchen, a comfortable nook to relax in and a loft in which we’d sleep, oozing all around true Bisbee chic. One feature which proved valuable a few days after such a heated election was a distinctive and intentional lack of cable or wifi. The “world” felt far, far away, and all was good.

Spookiest alley – yet no history of ghost sightings, go figure.

After precariously hoisting our luggage up a basement ladder masquerading as “stairs”, we settled in and headed into town. We had an appointment with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours. Engaging and informative and a little bit creepy (as opposed to outright scary), the tour was a literal trip through a different Bisbee… Bisbee at night. It’s a town that seems to completely shut down after the sun goes down. We didn’t see or hear any ghosts (that we know of), we did, however, hear some engaging tales. Of course the one mistake we made was planning to eat after the tour… it ended just before nine and virtually every dining establishment in town closed at nine. Lesson learned.

Patches lollygagging…

After a good, cool night’s sleep we got up, had some breakfast at the Bisbee Coffee Company and headed out for our next adventure… horseback riding into the Chiricahua Mountains. We met up with Bucky from Blue Sky Ranch, where we were introduced to our patient steeds. We both had Tennessee Walkers, mine was a perfectly behaved mare with one blue eye named Midnight, while Lemorris got the notoriously lazy but always a gentleman gelding Patches. For the duration of the ride Patches took up the rear… waaaay back in the rear… taking his own sweet time. Apparently he’s the most sluggish as well as potentially the fastest of the three horses, guess he feels there’s nothing to prove.

Best view ever – from the back of a horse (Midnight).

It was beautiful country and perfect weather, with all the rains this past monsoon the grass was high enough we could touch it sitting on a horse… without bending over! This, of course, was a bonus not ignored by the horses, especially Patches who took advantage of every opportunity as well as my husband for whom this was maybe his 2nd or 3rd time on a horse. At least Patches took great care of him, and we didn’t have to worry about a runaway husband.

Midnight (left) and Patches (right), with Cricket in the back.

All along the ride we heard the kind of great stories about the history of the area that get passed on person to person, no Wikipedia needed. Thanks to Bucky, Midnight and Patches (and Bucky’s horse Cricket) for a perfect ride! As a fairly experienced (albeit not as much recently) horse person, I assured my husband we would feel it the next day. And we did. On each and every hill and flight of stairs walking around town.

Screaming Banshee Pizza

After returning we ate at a place across from the house called Screaming Banshee Pizza. The pizza was very good, and they had live music going on throughout the weekend. Then we headed out to find a bar where we could watch the one thing we needed cable for… the U of A basketball game. We stumbled upon the Old Bisbee Brewing Company, where we enjoyed some local brew and a winning game from our Wildcats (in Tucson they’re pretty much the only game in town)!

The view and my sketch

The next morning breakfast at the High Desert Market was a great way to get started, the shortest walk of all from the house, since we were naturally feeling the ride from the day before. We had planned a really nice day of just kicking around town and actually having some down time in the Blue House. Our kids even drove down for the afternoon to buy us lunch!

One neat feature of the Blue House is a drawing pad and sketching supplies left for guests to sketch in (sort of a visual guest book). I don’t doodle as much as I used to, but took advantage of this chance to sketch Castle Rock from a perfect vantage via our little balcony. It wasn’t my best by a long shot, and certainly wasn’t my typical subject, but it’s fun to throw caution to the wind and take on the challenge of “different”.

Screaming Banshee Pizza

The next night, we were sitting on our balcony, which was all lit up with blue lights, enjoying a nice cool evening in Bisbee. We’d been hearing a number of musicians playing around the area as part of the Sidepony Express Music Festival going on the whole weekend, but suddenly one voice rose above all the others. A woman was performing at the Screaming Banshee, her voice and her music stuck a chord (pun intended) with both of us. Even though we were “in for the night”, we pieced ourselves back together and walked stiffly over to enjoy the music of Carolyn Toronto. Two purchased CD’s later, her music became the soundtrack of our trip, give it a listen!

One of our favorite parts of any trip to Bisbee is the coffee; both Bisbee Coffee Company and Old Bisbee Roasters have amazing coffee, we’ve actually made day trips there just to get a pound coffee beans.

The Gadsden Hotel

The last day was the scenic route home. After packing up and heading out, we drove about 30 minutes southeast to the town of Douglas, right on the border of Mexico. I wanted to check out the amazing and historic Gadsden Hotel, with a phenomenal lobby that has to be seen to be believed. It’s in danger of being gone, so I wanted to make sure to at least walk in the doors and take a few photos. Then back through Bisbee continuing west along 92, which runs parallel to and just north of the border before curving up along the Huachuca Mountains towards Sierra Vista.

92 headed west towards the Huachuca’s.

Instead of heading up to I-10 like normal, we headed west along 82 crossing over from Cochise to Santa Cruz Counties, and detoured down through Elgin (wine country), all the way to the “not even a ghost town anymore” of Canela, AZ… and took moment to get some photos of what may be the only building left of Canela, the school house. Of course after that an additional stop was required when we saw a pasture full of horses from the road, I believe these guys belong to Whispers Sanctuary (also a Bed & Breakfast), this one is on my list. From there it was up through Sonoita and back home where we were brutally mobbed by happy pets.

Horses in Elgin, Arizona

Bisbee truly is balm for the creative soul, if you’re ever in the area give it a look see, you might find your bliss, or at least some great coffee.

If you’d like to see more photos, visit the full Gallery for the trip here.

Silver City Art Show & Workshop

It was 3:30 am in mid September – not quite fall enough for it to be cool, but at least it wasn’t hot – when my husband and I started on our trek east and up into the mountains towards beautiful Silver City, New Mexico. I was on tap to judge an art show and teach a workshop… my first time doing both.

Sunrise on I-10
Sunrise on I-10
The Hearst Church, Pinos Altos, New Mexico
The Hearst Church, Pinos Altos, New Mexico

Arriving in plenty of time for the 9 am judging, we met up with superstar show organizer Carolyn Paez at the McDonalds. After some confusion finding each other, we connected and headed a few miles up north into Pinos Altos where the show was being held at the historic Hearst Church. It was a beautiful drive, climbing up to over 7000 feet and cozying up to the continental divide. Among a number of other shows and events, the Grant County Art Guild has held the Purchase Prize Award Show (featuring artists from New Mexico) every year for 31 years.

The Art Show

My husband next to Best of Show - "Early Morning from the South Rim" by Timothy Gordon
My husband next to Best of Show – “Early Morning from the South Rim” by Timothy Gordon

The old adobe church, built in 1898, had some truly unpretentious old world charm and made a splendid location to hold an art show. Walking through the church itself perusing the show’s work, I was taken with the range of techniques and styles as well as subject matter. I can honestly say that every piece there gave me something to look at, to hold my attention and feel connected. It was hard to choose but in the end I felt very confident in my decisions. The reception, held later in the evening, was very well attended. It was wonderful to see the closeness of the community and the passion for art everyone had.

The Workshop

Workshop introduction.
Workshop introduction.

The next day was the start of the three day workshop, generously hosted by Cross Point Church. We started out talking about methods and all the work that goes into a painting even before paint is applied to surface. We began our work by transferring an image to our canvas via the grid method, an old school and low tech means of sketching whatever image you’re going to paint on your canvas with reasonable accuracy.

Cow under painting after using the grid method.
Cow under painting after using the grid method.

We then worked on a monochromatic under painting using burnt umber. The general idea here was to lay out a value map on which to build color later. On the second day the under paintings were dry, so it was time to start having fun with color! I had brought a stack of reference material for people to work from (though everyone was welcome to use their own) with a print of the image in both color and black & white (for the under painting). We had paintings of everything from desert scenery to wildlife to my personal fave… horses! It was a delight to the eyeballs to walk around the room!

Over the three days, we all had a lot of fun working together, helping and encouraging each other and sharing an appetite for learning. We also, at times, enjoyed the help of my lovely assistant Lemorris, aka my husband (also an artist – an amazing automotive artist). I had a lot of fun answering questions, sharing my knowledge and just talking art, something I don’t often get to do with non-artist “civilians”. Be sure to go to the bottom of this post for a photo gallery of the workshop!

Finished Painting

I worked on a couple of pieces right along with everybody else during the workshop, so we could all feel the burn together. I finished the pronghorn piece, though I still have work to do on the cow which will be shared when it get’s my stamp of approval.

My pronghorn started in a blue underpainting.
…after the first layer of color.
Finished Painting “Sonoran Seniorita’s” 14 x 18 Oil on canvas

Exploring Silver City

A couple of cold ones at Little Toad Creek Brewery.
A couple of cold ones at Little Toad Creek Brewery.

While we were there my husband and I made sure to take time to have some fun exploring downtown Silver City when we could. Right off the bat our artist-senses were tingling and led us right to the local art store and gallery, Leyba & Ingalls Arts, a great supporter of the arts in the community. One evening we had some tasty Mexican food at the Jalisco Café, and another a delicious meal (not to mention great beer selection) at what appeared to be quite the happenin’ joint in town, Little Toad Creek Brewery.

Bienvenidos! Kountry Kitchen Mexican Food.
Bienvenidos! Kountry Kitchen Mexican Food.

Closer to home (or hotel), we even had a nice breakfast at Kountry Kitchen Mexican Food… yes, Country with a K, clearly Mexican 😉 . Everywhere we travel one of our priorities is to find great coffee… and we did, just off the beaten path at the Javalina Coffee House. I also have to give a shout out to the EconoLodge, it was a great stay and the friendliness of the staff and all around customer service was top notch, not to mention the fact that the accommodations were awesome!

Almost home!
Almost home!

Heading Home

Our drive out of town through the Gila National Forest and eventually through Safford was slower but even more scenic that the drive there (I-10 to Lordsburg). It was a nice time to reflect on the trip and talk about next year… since I was honored and thrilled to be asked back! It’s now something I can really look forward too because I know it will be great fun, rather than an adventure into the unknown (as it was this year)!

Be sure to follow the Grant County Arts Guild’s site for info on next years workshop held in September, reminder: the Art Show is for New Mexico artists only, but anyone can sign up for the workshop, space is limited!  I can, however, attest to the fact that the location and weather are phenomenal, it’s worth the trip just for that alone!

Workshop Gallery:




A Portrait’s Journey; Painting the Pharoah

I’ve been chomping at the bit (see what I did there?) to get around to painting American Pharoah, Triple Crown and Breeder’s Cup Classic winner, and the 2015 Horse of the Year. Now with the holidays long behind, and my schedule finally clearing, it was time.

Pondering on it for a few months, I had long ago decided to start with the most basic, traditional of poses… the classic head shot. Sticking with the comfortable & familiar the first time out of the gate allows me to get my feet wet and become more in tune with the subject. And yes, that means I do have plans for other paintings of the first Grand Slam winner in horse racing history, stay tuned!

Photo Reference

American Pharoah the day after winning the 2015 Breeder's Cup Classic.
American Pharoah

The first order of business is chosing the reference photo. I decided on one I took at Keeneland the day after he won the Classic. While the lighting was rather poor due to a dark, overcast day, it had enough information and an appealing enough angle to make it a good fit for a traditional style portrait. I’m not gonna lie, I toyed with including Bob Baffert with his stylish headband in the painting, but then I decided that image would stand out WAY better as a painting all on it’s own, maybe double life sized or bigger – but that’s all for another day when I try out a Peb inspired shift in style ;).


Sketch on Canvas
Sketch on Canvas

After working up a sketch from the photo, I’ve transferred it to the canvas. Now is the time to make some hard decisions. This and the underpainting stage (next) are the best opportunities to lock down any changes. There is much greater clarity on what will and won’t work once it’s on the canvas and it’s much easier to adjust and change things at this stage. So after looking at it for a while I’m not sure about the halter. It’s a constant dilemma, some horses look amazing and some not so much in a halter or bridle, this one could go either way. If he had been facing the other way it I would lean more towards keeping the halter as the gold name plaque is usually on the left side of the bridle, and while I could “flip” the direction, I really wanted to show his mane (horses are pretty consistent on which side their mane lays, sort of like a person always having their hair parted on the right). It’s standard in thoroughbred farms to see horses in these classic leather halters, and they look good, but a horse like this also stands so well on his own, naked as a jaybird. There’s a certain dignity and prestige in showing him “au naturel”, so I opted for that.



It’s not something I always use, but an underpainting is a wonderful tool for the artist. It’s sort of a map, a (very) rough black and white layout of the values in a piece. Sometimes they are toned in muted colors opposite of the subject (for me a blue/greenish tone works for most horses, the Old Master’s used a green for people). It sounds strange, but since paint layers are always slightly and imperceptibly transparent, light bounces through them in a way that scientific people can better explain and this creates a sense of depth. There’s many variations of this technique, some more complicated than others, but they all have a use, for both the experienced artist and the beginner needing some guidance. This is also the point where I’ve tested the look without a halter, and I’m satisfied enough to continue without it.

Bring in the Color…

Now the real fun begins, at least until I hit the (or one of many) ugly stage, then back to fun again – it’s that roller coaster ride that seems pretty universal to artists. Those that master surviving the ugly stage will go far. But this is MY playground, my own little universe in which to play God, and I am drunk with the power, or perhaps it’s that second glass of wine.

I start by building up the neck. I always work left to right since I’m right handed, if I work the other way I end up wearing half the painting on my right sleeve, in spite of trying to make good use of my mahl stick.

I’ve worked in the basic shapes, tones and value…

Then I start refining areas and adjusting blends and tones…

Now I’m getting it close to finished, a final tightening of the details and finishing of the overall horse along with adding a background is all that’s needed…

And here is the finished painting, as done as it gets for me (if I could I would probably work on certain pieces forever). I think one under appreciated skill that an artist develops is knowing when it’s finished… it’s harder than it sounds, though some paintings helpfully cry “DONE”, with a painful few scream “Get your hands off my you untalented hack!”. This one hit the sweet spot where I really couldn’t find anything else to work on.

American Pharoah


6 Things I Fear Painting The Most

Happy New Year!  I’ve been doing some spring cleaning, and redecorated the place, enjoy!

My first post of 2016 may seem a bit dismal, but if looked at through the rose colored glasses I like to sport, it is really a call to action to forge on and overcome that which can hold us all back!

Fear is a funny thing. When given in to it can keep a person from realizing their full potential, and finding new confidence in things they thought they couldn’t do. Artist’s have fear in spades, many mirror life in general; like rejection, failure, and even success. Some of the more specific and unique fears can be interesting and even enlightening.  Sharing these battles can be validating and inspiring to other artists… many of whom may think that they struggle alone… you don’t, sisters and brothers of the easel, you don’t!

This is a list of my personal fears in painting. Many artists (especially equine artists) will probably find some, if not all of these familiar. All of these I have spoken to other artists mutually about facing. And please note that each item on this list I have actually chosen to face (to one degree or another) rather that give in to fear with avoidance.

#6. Hooves

Spa Day 16" x 20" acrylic on canvas - SOLD
Spa Day 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas – SOLD

Ok, this one’s pretty darn specific, I know. I’ve mostly conquered this one, but for years there was a reason all my full bodied horse paintings had the subjects standing in tall grass. I had nightmares of horses standing on pavement, feet fully exposed or worse… in full action with hooves flailing at strange angles and shaped oddly. I finally decided enough was enough… I would make the extra effort to paint the hooves and get them right, no matter how long it took. Some critical problem solving and hard work made this one a former fear. I leave it on here for others to know it can be conquered… grass is a beautiful setting but a lame crutch!

#5 Landscapes

Gabbi and Billie 18" x 24" oil on canvas
Gabbi and Billie 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas

Of course I love a beautiful landscape or scene, on it’s own or as a backdrop for a subject. But sky and clouds and foliage… oh my! There’s such a clear difference between landscape done right, and landscape done wrong. I can get a lot of depth and richness with the shades of browns found in most horses… but light blues and greens are hard to keep from looking garish and just plain wrong in my hands. I’m working on it, with some success and even more failure, but I will never give up, never surrender!

#4 Poor Photo Reference

A very poor photo of my own QH filly Mahogany (circa 1987)

This is one where there’s little substitute for experience. It’s always challenging creating a portrait that is a true likeness of a subject when the photos you get to work from are of poor quality (especially, as is often the case, there’s no way to meet the subject or get better photos). Developing the critical eye that’s needed to glean the relevant info out of a fuzzy Polaroid from 1983 is as important a skill as that of knowing how to control the pencil or brush.

#3 Dogs

Flicka 14" x 18" oil on canvas
Flicka 14″ x 18″ oil on canvas

Not near as scary as cats (see #2), but I always have to take a deep breath before attempting. If anything, it can be the expectations that are most feared with dogs… if the dog is a purebred, especially one that is show worthy, it can be additionally hard to please the owner who can have a long list of very particular points – not always about the animal itself, but the presentation (grooming, pose, coat etc). Still, I love dogs (I have three, something you don’t usually find with people who don’t like dogs) and find capturing their expressions and personality in paint a delightful opportunity!

#2 Cats

Cabot_MikaMeme_smFor some reason, painting cats is just plain hard (for me). They are my kryptonite. I guess it fits with the nature of the beast, so to speak, as cats are every bit as mysterious and unfathomable as dogs are open and honest, wearing their hearts on their imaginary sleeves.

Occasionally I get a spark of bravado that leads me down a path of inevitable struggle and sporadic cries of “what was I thinking!!” – another well meant attempt to paint a cat. Well, I’ve firmly planted myself right back in that regretted position again.

A dear friend of my mother has so wanted to have a portrait of her beloved cat, and I agreed to do so. It was a necessary favor to the woman who put up with me for quite a bit more than the 18 years it should have been. And in spite of her brave and mighty attempts to fashion me into a teacher, or a vet tech (which did stick for a while)… I eventually, outside of her influence, reverted to my natural state as an artist. Sorry mom.

My own cat, Cabot (see photo), has been assisting me with this piece.  I’ll know I’ve arrived in the “comfortable painting cats” department when I have the courage to attempt to paint my own. And that brings me to number 1…

#1 My Own

Self Portrait 14" x 18" oil on canvas
Self Portrait 14″ x 18″ oil on canvas

For some reason painting an animal that you own (or a person close to you) is different. Having that face there day in and day out is a never ending reminder of how far off your painting is. I honestly believe I’m too close to “see” my own animals, or kids, with the same sort of perspective needed with other subjects. This was never more obvious that when I tried to paint a self portrait last year. If I could, I would still be working on it. It was a constant battle of finding that elusive “me”, never quite right, like painting a moving object. Maybe this is the next hurdle to overcome; heaven knows I have plenty of material to work with!


Shake It Off!!

So it’s not easy being an artist, but it is awesomely fulfilling for those that have the gift of the desire to do it! Sure, it’s far from the worst struggles we face. But art, a valid and valued profession, is not for the weak of heart, or those who like things to come easy.

Falling in Love With Kentucky, Again! (Part 2)

If you haven’t already, read Part 1 here!

Back to the Painting

Friday and Saturday after our trip to Keeneland were spent building the underpainting while watching the Breeder’s Cup. Aside from a break to watch the big event, the Breeder’s Cup Classic, it was a two day painting marathon. Witnessing the history that was made that day by American Pharoah, even just on TV, was a powerful moment. To experience this in the heart of Old Louisville, minutes from Churchill Downs and an hour from the Breeder’s Cup itself while painting a racehorse… priceless!

Saturday evening the client returned from attending the days Breeder’s Cup races, and after some time spent basking in what had just happened in the sport of horse racing, we turned to the painting. I then made the one suggestion that would kick the fun factor with this piece up quite a few notches… “how about we make this horse American Pharoah”? At it’s current underpainting phase, the details that needed changing were negligible, and I don’t know of any horse that I wanted to paint more at that moment. The client agreed, and we were off to the races!

Really not much of a stretch to turn this into the "Pharoah"!
Really not much of a stretch to turn this into the “Pharoah”!

The Day After: Meeting the “Pharoah” At Last!

So with the final plans of the painting settled on and ready to implement, we took the opportunity to head out in the wee hours to see if there was any chance to get a peek at the big guy, the Champ, American Pharoah.

Unlike the previous three days, Keeneland was a ghost town. We were able to park right near the Breeder’s Cup barn area, and having received some inside info on which barn he was stabled in we easily found the right spot… it was where a growing crowd of press and photog’s were gathering. Eventually, a car pulled up and owner Ahmed Zayat and his family emerged, and took a moment to revel with the crowd over yesterday’s victory. Then, as anticipation was at it’s peak, there was a commotion down the row at bit, as Bob Baffert, American Pharoah’s trainer and hometown boy-done-good for Southern Arizona (U of AZ graduate, started his career at our humble track Rillito) brought him out through a different door… sneaky bugger!

American Pharoah, with the famed "Look of Eagles".
American Pharoah, with the famed “Look of Eagles”.

He was everything he’s been billed to be… calm even when surrounded by the crowds, yet engaged and interested in all the attention he could get! You wouldn’t guess by his demeanor what he’d just accomplished a day ago. I have to make a confession, I actually passed on the opportunity to pet him, the crowd was too thick and I dare not miss a moment of photo taking, and even I can’t paint a “touch” ;)!

American Pharoah; Attention Hog!
American Pharoah; Attention Hog!

My husband, Lemorris, long since separated from me somewhere on the other side of the crowd (normally slow moving and easy to find, I can be hard to keep up with when there are horses around), did not hesitate at the chance to touch the Pharoah and made contact with the big guy’s soft muzzle. I’ll admit to being a bit jealous, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I got some nice images and am already working on painting idea’s (yes, that’s plural). Bonus, Lemorris’ arm (holding his cell phone) can be seen photobombing many pictures, not just mine, including one by Barbara Livingston used in a Blood Horse article (here). It’s his blue sleeve that stands out…

American Pharoah - the blue sleeve is my husband's photobombing arm.
American Pharoah – the blue sleeve is my husband’s photobombing arm.

You can see many of the better photos I got got in my American Pharoah album:

Finishing the Painting

Pumped up even more than ever to get to work on this piece after meeting the subject, we returned and I got down to another painting marathon. Fortunately there was no shortage of images to help me get details like the tack and silks right. Working over the next three days, this piece was like riding a bike downhill with a back wind pushing you forward.

At first I worked on making little changes to the details (tack, rider’s gear, etc), including his trademark perked ears and chewed off tail (both of which I adore). Then I started building color in transparent layers…

Starting with color in the Zayat silks.
Starting with color in the Zayat silks.

The finished piece will look great on the wall it going to hang on. At the clients suggestion, I varnished only the horse with a gloss finish, leaving the rest matte… enhancing the impact. Unfortunately none of the photo’s do it much justice, so you’ll have to trust that it looks much better in person.

American Pharoah - Finished!
American Pharoah – Finished!

The Reward for Completion

Not that a carrot on a stick was needed, but mine was a trip to Churchill Downs Wednesday before leaving the Bluegrass at O’ Dark Thirty the next morning. Things didn’t start out like we had hoped… apparently they don’t allow public access for morning workouts (except for Derby week, the last time I was there), so we headed across the street to what had become our go-to breakfast joint… Wagner’s.

Wagner's PHarmacy, Louisville, Kentucky
Wagner’s, Churchill Down’s staple… good old school breakfast and lunch!

Directly facing the backside entrance for the track and with a large dirt parking lot filled with horse trailers, Wagner’s is THE place… a down to earth, old school blue collar eatery (and Pharmacy), opened back in 1922. With every exposed wall space adorned with endless Derby win and racing photo’s, this place embraces it’s connection to it’s neighbor. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t open until 8 am… for breakfast… near a racetrack! Oh well, on to our other regular stop for an awesome cup o’ joe… Sunergos.

Churchill Downs
Churchill Downs

We got to Churchill Downs later on just before the races, and being the first time my husband had been there, it was fun to re-explore, and easy on a quiet day like a Wednesday. This track is amazing, and after Keeneland the difference in size was tangible. It was also nice to see a full page ad in the program with my Woodford Reserve label. After a nice afternoon watching the races under the twin spires, we headed back to the house to prepare to head to our next destination… Florida.

Florida Bound

We flew out early enough the next morning that we arrived in Tampa hours before banks opened. It was nice to see the sun again as I’ll begrudgingly admit (as much as I complain about it in the desert). We drove inland to Dade City, where the humongous VW show, Bug Jam, would get to experience the unique presence of my automotive aritst husband, Lemorris, the feature artist and creator of a shirt design that had already been selling like hotcakes long before the show…

Hot selling Bug Jam "Bug Wars" Shirt Design by Lemorris.
Hot selling Bug Jam “Bug Wars” Shirt Design by Lemorris.

Little Everglades Ranch

That same afternoon, the Bug Jam organizer and “Head Honcho” Randy was kind enough to arrange a private tour with the owners of a beautiful property called Little Everglades, up until recently home of steeplechase racing, as well as fox hunting, a working cattle ranch, mud run’s and many other fun events and purposes. There were only a few horses on site, but the facility was amazing, and seemingly endless. Our hosts were more than gracious; it was like we’d just met old friends, I can’t wait to have some paintings from their place to share with them! Besides the neverending cattle dotting the rolling hills, we saw many different types of water fowl, a few Sherman Fox Squirrels, and (a highlight for my husband, at least as long as he was safe in the car) an alligator!

Steeplechase course at Little Everglades Ranch - wish I could have seen the races here!
Steeplechase course at Little Everglades Ranch – wish I could have seen the races here!
Alligator in Florida
Alligator in Florida

The Mighty Bug Jam

The next two days it was all Bug Jam… a cornucopia of cool events like a camp-out, cruise and poker run. On Friday afternoon, downtown Dade City streets were closed accommodate all the cars that arrived from the cruise, and then everyone headed over to the fairgrounds for a great multi-band concert. On Sunday, the actual car show (the main event) had anywhere from 700 to a gajillion cars (or at least more that I was able to see before my feet gave out). It was a visual feast of creatively where the medium was a volkswagen… all the colors, accessories, and sheer brilliance of presentation fed all the senses!

Bug Jam!!

They Lost Me at “Oh Look… Horses!!”

Of course once the the local sheriff’s posse showed up on horseback… I succumbed to a more narrow focus. “Volkswagen’s? What Volkswagen’s?” I talked with some of the deputy’s for a while about horses and American Pharoah, and even forgot about the humidity for awhile. Did I mention the humidity? Sweat apparently doesn’t evaporate in Florida, it just accumulates and hangs on you like a bad haircut. Aside from that, though, the weather was amazing… OK, a bit hot (upper 80’s), but once again… SUN!

Horse make everything better!
Horses make everything better!


After two days of being on our feet enjoying all these events, we were both starting to show some wear and tear. So as the show wound down and all the cars started rumbling off into the sunset, we said our goodbye’s and hobbled our way to the car, heading back to Tampa to spend the night in a hotel near the airport (we were flying out of Tampa ridiculously early the next morning). We checked in, grabbed some fast food and slowly hobbled like the walking wounded that we were up to our room, and completely passed out for the night. It was our 24th anniversary, and after a trip like that I’d have to say this’ll be hard to top for number 25!

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Falling in Love With Kentucky, Again! (Part 1)

The Opportunity Arises

It was the kind of commission I would have dreamed about as a fledgling equine artist; a valued client wants a large mural sized piece painted on location in Louisville, Kentucky. What to do? Well, for starters… plan it in autumn (or as we call it here in Arizona… summer) during the Breeder’s Cup, conveniently to be held for the first time ever at Keeneland in nearby Lexington, then make haste to hop on a plane with paint brushes in tow! So started our 2 week lateral trip from the southwest to the south, including over a week in Kentucky, followed up by a visit to Florida!

Typical homes in Old Louisville.
Typical homes in Old Louisville.

The Setting

Old Louisville is the largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions in the United States, which means it’s an amazing wonderland of old houses and large, ancient trees adorned with full on fall color. The whole area is positively dripping with character and class. There’s also a prestigious Art Fair held every fall at St. James Court, the heart of Old Louisville that includes notable historic buildings like the Conrad-Caldwell House. I’ll most certainly be looking into that event. The fact that all this was located less than three miles from Churchill Downs just added to the mystique. It was also the first time I’d experienced “real” autumn in over 30 years, bringing back fond memories of my childhood in Minnesota (perhaps if I’d had any “adulthood” in Minnesota the autumn and winter memories would be less fond)!

St. James Court in Old Louisville.
St. James Court in Old Louisville.
The Conrad-Caldwell House on St. James Court in Old Louisville.
The Conrad-Caldwell House on St. James Court in Old Louisville.

Getting Set Up to Paint

First thing we tackled almost right off the plane was to head over and pick up the 4’ x 6’ canvas I’d had on hold at a local art store. Even though I’d reserved a mid sized car, it was very fortuitous that they instead, at no extra charge, gave us a much roomier Ford Edge crossover. We arrived at Preston’s Art Center to retrieve the canvas, and immediately felt right at home. It had the comforting feel of a cozy hometown art store cluttered with fun art stuff, like a heaping slice of home cooking for us. 

The house.
THE house.

The Temporary Studio

The house itself was a beautiful, grand old red brick piece of history. My working space was in the basement, while we’d be sleeping way up on the 3rd floor. Our joints were quickly reminded how unaccustomed to stairs we were, having lived in Arizona 30ish years where most homes are only one story (no basements. either).  The basement was very comfortable, with a large TV that picked up TVG so I could keep up with racing… and the perfect chair (hint: I want one – see photo below). It also featured walls lined with colorfully lit shelves inset into the wall to showcase expensive bottles of bourbon and other libations. One of these alcove’s, of course, held the 2015 Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottle featuring my artwork on the label, which naturally acquired the artist’s signature before we left.

I found this chair as comfortable as it was awesome… would love one for my studio!
My Woodford Reserve label is the one on the right!
My Woodford Reserve label is the one on the right.

Getting Ready to Paint

This whole painting adventure had clearly shaped up to be a practice in flexibility, something that’s actually part of my working method, so it didn’t phase me. If any painting I’m working on seems determined to take another direction, I’ve learned not to fight it, and giving in to that inevitability actually makes for a fun ride.

Two Horse Race
Two Horse Race

I started prepping the canvas while the game plan was nailed down. Similar to my piece Two Horse Race (above), a race horse or two galloping across the canvas, but almost life size. I couldn’t imagine anything more fun to paint… or so I thought (foreshadowing). I chose to do this piece in acrylic, as the shorter drying time would help me be more productive with my limited time. Not really a problem, acrylic used to be my primary medium, so aside from some rebuilding of my supply inventory, it wasn’t an issue.

I used black gesso to prepare the surface, it makes working easier when a dark background is desired. Then I went old school and used the grid-method to transfer the chosen reference images to canvas. You can see the grid below (in feet) on the canvas and (in inches) on the image, helping guide the proportions as I sketched from the source image, which was printed at 4 inches x 6 inches so it would scale up neatly from inches to feet (see what I did there). I sketched in the possible second horse to test it out and see if it helped anchor the composition, but it was unanimously decided to go with a solo horse for maximum impact.  Then I began the monochromatic underpainting, big fancy words for a black and white first layer of a painting.

Apparently I bite my lip when I’m painting; well that sure explains my chapstick addiction.
Apparently I bite my lip when I’m painting; well good grief, that sure explains my chapstick addiction!

A Break to Visit Keeneland

Painting plans in place and initiated, I was feeling good about where I was at and was ready to day trip it over to Keeneland for morning workouts and racing the day before the Breeder’s Cup (Thursday). We’ve done this “Thursday the day before the Breeder’s Cup” thing before, in 2010 when it was held at Santa Anita in the Los Angeles area. The traffic was typical LA weekday traffic, and the track had moderate crowds in the morning while pretty dead for the races later in the day. Not the case with Keeneland, it took us 30 minutes to work our way by car to the grandstand (where I was dropped off) once we reached the track and another 45 minutes for my poor husband to park and meet up with me by the rail (far enough away he needed a tram ride back to the track).

The slow but lovely drive through Keeneland's "adorned by fall" property.
The slow but lovely drive through Keeneland’s tree lined backroads, the true definition of the “scenic route”.

In spite of the congestion, it was a beautiful day in a beautiful setting. We saw (and photographed) lots of big name Breeder’s Cup horses. It was like the Oscar’s for racing fans, minus the red carpet, designer outfits and fashionistas. We did, however, just miss Amercian Pharoah’s planned workout, but since it happened on the training track we wouldn’t have seen it anyway, like most of the fans there. He was also a no-show for paddock schooling after the 3rd race (as was announced) later on, but it WAS Keeneland, a track like this was enough. Surrounded by rolling hills of bluegrass dotted with the wooden fences and pristine stables of horse farms, it’s a magical and serene location for anyone who loves horses. The specific celebrity horses that were there were but the cherry on top, though I’d really hoped to get my eyeballs (and camera lens) on THE horse… American Pharoah… was there still a chance? Be sure to tune in for Part 2 to find out!

To be continued, Part 2

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Water Horses in the Desert…

…or, how I spent my summer (and yes, in Arizona summer ends later).

I finally was able to get around to doing what I have been trying to work into my schedule for a couple of years… this summer I took a few day trips to the Lower Salt River just east of the Phoenix area in Arizona. It’s a rare desert waterway that actually contains real, bonafide water, year round, all the time! That water creates a rich habitat for everything from wildlife to recreation seeking humans, but the big draw of this field trip, for myself at least, is the wild horses.

The Salt River Wild Horses

Of course, as seems to be happening in many places across the country, there is a battle going on for the future of the horses. In early August the US Forest Service posted a notice of their plans to have the horses all rounded up within a week. Fortunately, thanks in large part to the passion of so many on social media and beyond, the public outcry was deafening and the round up was put on hold indefinitely.

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, a 501c3 already in place that has been working on researching and documenting the horses for years, stepped up to work with the USFS in hopes of coming up with a plan to keep the horses at the Salt River in balance with the other needs of this highly popular oasis. The horse’s future is still uncertain, but there’s now hope that reasonable solutions can be worked out. You can find out more about the Wild Horses and the Management Group on their Facebook page or website.

Photographer Heaven

As far as my experience visiting the area, the heat was just as billed, the day of our first visit the area hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was a labor of love (especially for my poor husband). Yet I was pleased to not be disappointed each time. It took some treasure hunting and a bit of hiking, but each time I managed to stumble across some horses, quietly observing and photographing these magnificent animals from a respectful distance (thanks to my adequate but far from envy inducing zoom capabilities). You can see some of my photos in my Salt River Wild Horses Gallery

My Unabashed Artistic Agenda

Of course for me the ultimate end game is always the paintings… I was (and still am) driven by a need to chronicle these horses and their unique life on the Salt River, dining on river grasses and surviving in a strange mixed up world that’s both a river ecosystem and harsh desert environment. Since this my first trip out there this summer, I’ve completed 5 paintings of the Salt River Horses.

Painting of Salt River Wild Horse Colt
New Kid on the Block, 11” x 14” oil on canvas


Salt River Cuisine, 24” x 30” oil on canvas
Salt River Cuisine, 24” x 30” oil on canvas


Making a Splash 18” x 24” oil on canvas On Exhibit in Tucson (see info below)
Making a Splash 18” x 24” oil on canvas
On Exhibit in Tucson (see info below)


Transcendent Bond 36” x 48” oil on canvas On Exhibit in Tucson (see info below)
Transcendent Bond 36” x 48” oil on canvas
On Exhibit in Tucson (see info below)


Bright Eyes 20” x 20” oil on canvas On Exhibit in Tucson (see info below)
Bright Eyes 20” x 20” oil on canvas
On Exhibit in Tucson (see info below)


Equine Art Exhibit in Tucson

Along with 8 other horse pieces, from western to racing (below), you can see the last three of the above pieces along with equine work by other artists in an upcoming exhibit at the Four Corners Gallery in Tucson, Arizona called “The Horse, of Course!” Please do come by and say hello to me at the opening reception on November 14 from 6-9 pm if you can, or drop by over the run of the show (through January 3) and check out all of the varied and original takes on the equine subject!

“The Horse, of Course!”
November 14th, 2015 – January 3rd, 2016
Reception: November 14th 6 – 9pm
7000 E. Tanque Verde Road
(Southwest Corner of Sabino Canyon and Tanque Verde)
Tucson, Arizona

Other pieces of mine that are in the show…

Lou, 24" x 48" oil on canvas
Lou, 24″ x 48″ oil on canvas


Painted Gaze, 14" x 18" oil on canvas
Painted Gaze, 14″ x 18″ oil on canvas


Gabbi and Billie, 18" x 24" oil on canvas
Gabbi and Billie, 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas


Simple Pleasure, 18" x 24" oil on canvas
Simple Pleasure, 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas


Spanish Silver, 18" x 24" oil on canvas
Spanish Silver, 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas


Speed Demon, 18" x 24" oil on canvas
Speed Demon, 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas


The Sprinter, 24" x 30" oil on canvas
The Sprinter, 24″ x 30″ oil on canvas


Silver Streak, 15" x 30" oil on canvas
Silver Streak, 15″ x 30″ oil on canvas

And stay tuned for an upcoming post about my recent trip to Kentucky (over the Breeder’s Cup) and Florida, including a chance to meet American Pharoah IN PERSON (or is it in “horse”?)!

A Triple Crown Missed, A Triple Crown Realised

An Artist’s Triple Crown Musings

Like so many racing fans, I have been hankering for a Triple Crown winner since I knew what the Triple Crown was. Technically, I was alive for the three winners in the 70’s, if not fully aware. I just hadn’t discovered the significance yet to tie it into my already rampant horse obsession (I was 6 when Secretariat won).

Even though I was your garden variety “horse crazy girl”, it wasn’t until 1980 that I started putting aside my Breyers and developing an interest in racing through reading books like Old Bones the Wonder Horse (about legendary gelding and Derby winner Exterminator), and of course Walter Farley’s classic Black Stallion series (and yes, the cover illustrations played no small part in my inspiration to be an equine artist) … these were books I gobbled up like candy.

Then, I watched the Derby for the first time as a fan, fully aware of the importance. I thoughtfully selected my pick to win (the filly, because well, she was a girl – my handicapping skills have improved since then, not much, but some)… and she won! Genuine Risk became the 2nd filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby in 1980! That was it, I was fully and inexorably hooked on horse racing, no going back.

However, a few years before that in my earliest memory of watching a horse race I do recall seeing a horse named Run Dusty Run, and an unshakable bond was instantly formed, (of the variety that could only happen between a 10 yr old girl and a horse on TV). It only stands to reason that a horse that shared a name with my beloved Golden Retriever, Dusty, a happy go lucky dog who… and here’s the kicker… LOVED TO RUN, was destined for greatness! So imagine my profound disappointment when he ended up 2nd.

Run Dusty Run and Seattle Slew before the 1977 Preakness Stakes
I’LL GET YOU THIS TIME – Run Dusty Run (right) means business in the Preakness and glowers at Seattle Slew. (Baltimore Sun, 1977)

The year was 1977, the race was the Kentucky Derby and the winner, who’s name never registered with me at that time, was Seattle Slew. Seattle Slew would go on to become the 10th horse to win the Triple Crown. It wasn’t till years later that I learned the race “my” Run Dusty Run had fallen so short in was the beginning of Slew’s Triple Crown run. It was a great and historical moment I witnessed yet somehow completely missed. I won’t lie, the shame as a horse racing fan was substantial.

I think that’s part of what drives my need to not just see, but embrace the journey of any horse that might be the heir to the throne – along with the seemingly inevitable disappointment. Of all the horses that arrived at Belmont Park with a Triple Crown on the line, some I naturally held in higher regard than other’s. Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Alysheba all hurt… and then last years hope, California Chrome. Ouch.

I’d already started working on a painting of California Chrome before the Belmont, but afterwards the bitter pain of his loss soured me on continuing. It got put aside, halfway done, yet another near miss that I didn’t want to be reminded of. Then life got in the way, plenty of other paintings, the Woodford Reserve commission, a move… and as I was unpacking paintings a couple months ago I found this piece and pulled it out again. I remembered why I wanted to paint this horse to begin with, not because he might have been a Triple Crown winner, but because he was a striking and beautiful athlete. This needs to be finished, I thought, he’s no less a horse than he was when I started it painting it.

California Chrome Underpainting
California Chrome Underpainting

So I worked on it as I watched American Pharoah’s march into history though the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and finally, the Belmont. It served as a great reminder that there are many horses to enjoy at all levels, even as fate finally throws us a bone and delivers on something that could only be as important as it is because it’s so hard, so rare.

California Chrome

Watching American Pharoah cross the finish line first in the Belmont was even more emotional as watching the others fall short, but it was a different emotion. One of hope with a sprinkling of gratefulness that the others didn’t succeed, making this so much sweeter. Laura Hillenbrand, acclaimed best-selling author of Seabiscuit and Unbroken, sums it up perfectly:
“American Pharoah, welcome to greatness.”

Will there be an American Pharoah painting? Most likely, but as always it has to be right, and I am going to explore the possibilities while I bask in the glow of having witnessed the birth of fresh, shiny new greatness.

New Studio Oasis

It’s been just over a month since moving to my new home and studio, and I can now say with confidence that this is a true creative oasis. Surrounded by open desert and only a few miles from Saguaro National Park East, it’s filled with a refreshing and innate tranquility.

The interior is ingrained with a notably positive vibe. It’s bright, saturated with natural light and has a very open, unhampered layout. It’s a top notch atmosphere for two artists to create in.


Most important, of course… Studio Cat (Cabot) approves…

Studio Cat

The same windows that provide so much light also connect us to a beautiful desert haven, complete with great view of a man made watering hole just outside the fence – the office “water cooler” for all manner of Sonoran Desert wildlife going about their daily lives. We call it TV for the dogs and cats, but we enjoy the programming every bit as much if not more.

Dog TV

Besides the expected avian visitors (Mourning Doves, Gambel’s Quail, and a pair of Cardinal’s) that stop by almost daily and a swarm of bees that made a tree just outside our yard a rest stop for a week…


…we’ve seen lots of Desert Cottontail

Desert Cottontail



…and a family of 8 Javelina that stops by occasionally…


With all these potential painting subject’s hanging around, expect an increase in wildlife working it’s way into my portfolio! So with the open studio space that facilitate’s creating and work flow, I’m off to a good start putting paint to canvas… so you’ll be seeing more from me this year, you’ve been warned :)!

P.S.: The new studio also provided a great backdrop for some interviews I did with local news stations in regards to my Woodford Reserve commission a couple weeks ago!  You can read and watch the video’s for each story at KVOA 4 and KOLD 13.

Horse Art for the Horse Person!