Tag Archives: bluegrass

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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More to Share…

Visit my News page to read about my painting that Sold AND got Best of Show, and check out my Specials page to see this year’s Holiday Deals!

A Soggy Yet Wonderful Derby Adventure!

I must say that just being in Kentucky seems to be good for my soul.  I don’t think it’s just the saturation of pure, unadulterated horse country, though that’s a big factor; but also the mild weather… the lush, green environment and general friendliness of the people that makes being there just “feel” good through and through.

Churchill Downs in the morning…

This was not my first time in the bluegrass state, but was my first there for THE big event, the Kentucky DerbyMint Julep’s and all! While I would have preferred spending more time before the trip studying past performances and videos of the contenders… I did instead put some effort into the “standards”… dress, shoes, and of course… hat.  In retrospect I might just as well have spent my time learning about the horses, what with the rainy weather leaving my hat soaked, my heeled shoes cast aside for more comfortable flats and my dress covered by a rain slicker!  I did have a lovely dress made by my mother in law, a master seamstress, at least it got a second chance to shine on a sunny Mother’s Day a week later – so no worries!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Nothing like topping off a carefully planned Derby outfit with plastic…

I arrived in Kentucky on Wednesday afternoon. After a night in the pleasant nearby town of La Grange, on Thursday I headed out bright and early for a nice, relaxing day at Churchill Downs. Getting there in plenty of time to enjoy the morning workouts (including some Derby and Oaks horses), I then had a nice tour of to the Derby Museum, followed by some time to enjoy some of the regular races before the non-stop crowd-heavy events that Oaks and Derby days would be.

Golden Soul on Thursday morning, 2nd place in the Derby…

A friend joined me on Oaks day (Friday) and we spent 10 hours at the track getting sun burnt (in spite of sunscreen and partly cloudy skies)… but saw some amazing races. It was already very crowded, so we knew we were in for a crush on Derby day!  On a whim I bet on the 36-1 long shot that won the Oaks (Princess Sylmar), albeit to show rather than win (still kicking myself – would have won $100+) – but winning $21 was still a bit of a thrill, almost enough to buy a t-shirt!  As we left at the end of the day, it started to rain… we had a feeling this was a preview of coming attractions, and it was.

The Oaks  led by Midnight Lucky coming around the first turn

We arrived on an already rainy Derby morning during the first race (10:30 am) and soon realized we, like many of the 151,000 that were there, were faced with a choice. Stay in our exposed seats near the rail and get thoroughly soaked the full 9 hours or cram ourselves in with probably 75% of the crowd under any and all shelter available until Derby time. For some reason braving the chilly rain, leaving us shivering to the point of muscle soreness by the end of the day, seemed preferable – we’d both come a long way to see the horses live and in person… and a little rain was not going to take that away.

Emma’s Encore after a race on the Derby undercard, she looks like we felt…

I can honestly say it was the most fun I’ve had being wet, cold and miserable!  By far the most important thing I came away with – making it worth sticking out the rain – was the photos! I mean lots of photos, over 3ooo, which ultimately will translate into future paintings… and many of horses that are recognizable!  I would’ve sat naked in a blizzard to get that kind of material, ;)!  Of course it grew tiring getting photo bombed by big hats or mint juleps raised in celebration, but I found ways around that problem – meaning by the end of the day my arms were sore from holding my camera high above my head  (a big thanks for my camera’s tilting lcd screen)!

Orb, Derby winner, after crossing the finish line victorious…

I did get to see the newly enhanced outfit I decorated, worn in all it’s glory by James, friend and client… it looked sharp, he wore it well…  even in the rain!  I’d  added elements to the jacket, as well as a new hat and shoes

After the Derby my friend and I parted ways, and I headed to Lexington – spending Sunday hunkered down in the hotel due to fairly heavy rain (I think I’d had enough time standing in the rain at that point), thankfully it was not  a wasted day as I finally got a chance to look through my photos.

My Monday morning was  spent at a quiet and serene Keeneland, one of my favorite tracks, as the weather started to finally clear some.  After hours of getting photos of horses working out, the barn area and general scenery, I headed straight to the Kentucky Horse Park where, after wandering the grounds for a couple hours, I headed to the Hall of Champions to see legends like Cigar, Go For Gin, Da Hoss, and Funny Cide… to name the ones there that I am most familiar with. Upon leaving the Horse Park, I took a quick detour north to Georgetown so I could visit the AAEA show that included a piece of mine (along other really amazing artwork).

Keeneland – a beautiful track surrounded by horse farms…

On Tuesday it was, of course, wonderful to return home – even to the desert, in part becuase our weather had held so nicely, sunny and only in the 80’s – even still cool at night (last year we’d long since passed the 100° mark at that point)!  I admit to having some new found appreciation for our never ending sunshine.

Paintings from this trip are already underway, and will be posted in the near future.  Enjoy larger versions of these photos and more from the trip on Facebook or Photobucket!


Smelling the Roses in May…

As I’m preparing for my first visit to the Kentucky Derby, I’m reflecting on all the years watching it on TV wondering what the experience is like in person. While pondering, I’m also getting a collection of work ready for a local solo show in Tucson, and when I return… besides having a lot of photos (and some stories) to share, the fun will continue because I’ll be meeting more local horse and art lovers at the reception!

This show will be a great chance to share my equine passion with neighbors of a like mind. It will be hung the morning of the 1st… after I’m already on a early plane to Kentucky… by my highly trained crew of personal curators (my husband and daughter, also both artists), and goes through the end of the month.  I look forward to the reception on May 11th where I can meet everyone and talk about my two favorite subjects, art and horses and the joy of bringing the two together! 

Here’s more information on the Kirk Bear Canyon Library page… and a nice write up in the Arizona Daily Star!

Another note…  updates as I’m on my Derby trip will be made on my Facebook page, so stop by there to keep up… www.facebook.com/andreenharris!  Of course a full (but not too long) report will be made here after returning!