“Starting a New Life”

This is the title of the mural in my town of Dowagiac, Michigan which I have been occasionally posting about all summer. It is now complete, and was officially dedicated to the city and accepted by the Mayor last Saturday. Here’s a wide shot of it to give you an idea of the size–it covers a wall below the parking lot of the post office.

I put together a little movie I shot as I walked along the length of it, with some subtitles to explain the illustrations. Feel free to pause the movie at any time, as it’s a little hectic trying to read and look at the images at the same time.

Here’s the story as detailed in the brochures distributed at the dedication:

In the mid-1800’s, homeless, orphaned children roamed the streets of New York City. In 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to care for the children. Brace came up with an idea to send the children west on trains to new families (Michigan, at that time, was part of the western U.S.). The Children’s Aid Society sent the first train of 46 children west in September 1854 with one destination–Dowagiac, Michigan.

After an arduous journey of two train and two boat rides (including one across Lake Erie), the children arrived safely in Dowagiac. Over the course of several days, 37 of the children were taken in by local families. This experiment led to 75 years of Orphan Trains placing out 250,000 children across the continental United States. Not all children had positive experiences, but many children got a new start on life.

“Starting a New Life” honors the first trip to Dowagiac and the subsequent 75 years of Orphan Train journeys.

“Starting a New Life” is made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Oh oh oh–so excited!

Yes, me super excited. That almost never happens. But I’m 99.9% sure this painting is complete, and I won’t even go into all the second thoughts I had about it as I was working on it which led me to be ecstatic that it turned out so well.

Just so nobody loses confidence in me, it’s a regular occurrence for me to think I don’t know what I’m doing right in the middle of a painting. That they turn out fine in the end doesn’t mitigate future anxiety in the least. Every painting is an adventure for me, even if (or maybe especially if) it’s similar to one I’ve done before. I always forget how I got some neat effect and then have to reinvent the wheel. In this case I forgot which brushes I used to get those nice overhanging trees. I did figure it out before I got past the point of no return, though.

So, here you go! Carroll Cottage #2:

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Short and sweet

It’s moving along

Several more layers on this one, especially on the tree trunks and the house. Tree trunks probably have four layers–took that many to get a good “bark” look. Will be tackling the foliage next.

I visited the cottage a few days ago about an hour before sunset and stuck around to see what kind of light I would get in that hour. The trees are still stubbornly refusing to get fall color, but I did get a nice atmospheric shot that will be outstanding when we do get some color. All I have to do is make sure I get the same angle when it counts. No problem, right?

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Sun dance vs rain dance

If you were to look back over several years of my posts about the Reins of Life benefit dressage shows, you would notice a consistent theme having to do with rain on show days. This year threatened to be the same until, in stereotypical Midwestern weather fashion, it wasn’t. The sun shone brightly for both days this past weekend and the temperatures were ideal. So, let’s go outside and see a bit of what was going on.

We’ll start with Western Dressage. This show had quite a few WDAA competitors, and Western is an up and coming popular activity. Some dressage trainers don’t like it, thinking that the horses are still being ridden in too much of a Western Pleasure style–in other words, not getting the true benefits of dressage. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how that shakes out in the future.

Here are some shots from my phone (ugh) because I didn’t feel like dragging my heavy SLR around. Should have suffered the weight for better photos!

The old-fashioned Western walk

“Stretch-ier” Western walk

Still looks amusing to me to see a Western rider in a helmet and saluting the judge…

They called it a lope in the test, but this looks to me like a nice canter

The regular dressage classes at this show seemed to have a peculiar requirement–you must have a gray horse in order to enter. Kidding of course, but I saw more grays than I ever have, and the only way I could tell these two apart–as an example–is because one rider wore tan breeches and the other wore white.

One gray/white

One gray/tan

In honor of the grays, or perhaps just because I felt like it, I worked on a dressage-themed Aquabord™ watercolor featuring a (sunbleached?) gray while I sat in my portrait booth.

I titled this Aquabord™ “Anticipation”. Should be available on my website shortly–www.allifarkas.com

Oh yes, and speaking of the booth–

The booth for all occasions

There is something missing with this booth–as in, a roof perhaps? The best part about those mesh panels I won a while back is that they get almost everything off my table and also allow me to hang a whole lot more oil portrait samples on the walls. I decided to see what would happen if I brought the tent indoors but didn’t put the roof on it. After all, it wasn’t supposed to rain indoors. So it worked perfectly without the roof and the mesh panels did their usual stellar job of getting passersby to hang out longer looking at my stuff. The Reins of Life director, who always does her best to accommodate me, also had a little surprise after I set up the booth. See the corner of that table in the lower left portion of the photo? She used the table to put the score sheets and winners ribbons out for pickup by the competitors, thus insuring that almost everyone at the show had to pass by my display sooner or later. The score sheets were also oriented so that the winners had to be facing my booth when they picked up their results. It was wonderful!

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Part 2 of the 4-part journey

Could be a watercolor, except it isn’t

I decided to start the second of the cottage paintings more in the process I usually use. Which of course means that if you aren’t already familiar with that process you have no idea what I’m talking about. So, briefly, my favorite way to paint is to lay down a “blocked-in” layer, then refine it with two or more semi-transparent layers over that. The result in the middle of the process is an oil painting that looks somewhat like a watercolor. This photo shows two layers. It needs at least one more, but I may not put the final layer on until I’ve worked out the rest of the painting.

In the first painting something just possessed me to finish every section of it as I went along, but this one seems to demand a more gradual approach. I guess I will never be a formulaic artist…or else, I just like to keep everyone guessing.

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Round 2

Here we go, version 2 of Carroll Cottage is ready for paint. Still waiting for leaves to turn so I can get photos for number 3. Maybe in another week or so. I already scoped out the sun track–the third one will have the sun coming from the opposite direction, so different angles on the light splashes both on the ground and on the house. The change in direction is necessitated by the way the house is sited and the fact that since last July the sun has positioned itself way farther south. Hoping for a brilliant carpet of fallen leaves along with the color splash of leaves still on the trees.

Looks kinda cool just like this, maybe?

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Miss Sassypants and the year’s final show

Charm and I went to our last show of the season yesterday. It was in the 90’s when we trailered there on Friday, but fortunately our ride time was 9:19 (yes, dressage shows are that precise) in the morning on Saturday. The ring was still half in shade. Any small advantages appreciated.

We got the lowest score of our entire dressage career. But I’m not disappointed, and I will explain why. I had a different goal for my intractable mare. We had been doing some serious work on paying attention and this was our opportunity to see some improvement.

First, Charm’s “personality” shot–

Miss Sassypants’ general attitude about horse shows

We did not warm up in the usual place, which is a large Cover-All indoor ring with eye-level window openings that terrify her if anything is going on outside. Instead, we utilized an enormous grassy outdoor space between the Cover-All, the large ring, and the smaller dressage ring. I told her we were going to warm up out here because this was where we were going to be riding our test and she might as well get used to the scenery. Instead of doing the usual warm-up, which would have been a progression from walk to trot to canter to test movements, I concentrated on keeping her attention on me at all times, not on the golf cart going by, or the other horses pounding the turf, or people wandering around, or arriving horse trailers. So far, so good. Here’s what she would rather have been doing–

What she felt like doing if she could get away with it

So I tested out my aids to see what kind of reaction I was going to get and what counter-measures I was going to have to take in the ring to keep us looking at least normal. I had been forwarned that our judge (an “S” judge, which means they are qualified to judge at Grand Prix level in national events) was extremely picky. So since Charm and I are basically discombobulated most of the time I did not expect a high score, hence my not being disappointed by the results. I inquired if she was ready to give me a decent leg yield. Yes! I inquired about a trot-canter transition. Nope–the Princess and the Pea was bothered by one braid at her poll that was a teeny bit too tight, and let me know about it with some expressive head-shaking. We worked on that, and got it down to some perfunctory head-shaking. I asked if she would like to give me an instant trot out of halt, and by the way keeping her nice frame as she did it. Yes! I asked if she would adjust at the canter, faster-slower. Yes! I asked if she would give me a consistent circle. Yes! Would she do all these things all the time in a perfect First Level frame? Well, not really–but I knew that.

What she could have done if she felt like seizing the day

So we upped our standard results from 3rd out of 3 (or whatever last place is) to 2nd out of 3. Charm was totally with me through the entire test, but wasn’t nearly “up” and “round” enough for this judge. I suspect the judge is on the edge of applying a Grand Prix standard to a First Level test, but that’s just my opinion. Anyhow, we got 50.735, which as I mentioned previously is our lowest score ever. But the winner was only 1.324 points above us. Which goes to show that everybody got scored severely. Which is, as I keep repeating, exactly what I expected. I met my “attention” goal and showered my mare with neck rubs and carrots, and we both went home quite happy.

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