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!
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!
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” ;)!
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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!
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!
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!