I had not, until this past Thursday, set foot in Kentucky other than a brief stint awaiting a flight change at the Cincinnati airport–which ought to be in Ohio but is really in Kentucky. Go figure. Given how unadventurous I am by nature, I was somewhat hesitant to enter the big time with my booth at the Kentucky Horse Park. I was to be in the Alltech Arena, famous for holding the reining competition at the World Equestrian Games in 2010. It would now host the Kentucky Reining Cup Finals–but–just down the way a bit also at the Horse Park and on the same days, the Rolex CCI**** three-day eventing competition would also be taking place. It all sounded just a bit heady for this small-time artist.

Front of the fabled Alltech Arena.

Front of the fabled Alltech Arena.

For the first time ever, my booth was next to a window. Not just any window, but a H-U-G-E window. Usually natural daylight at a venue is nonexistent, but in this case it was abundant, so much so that I could hang paintings on both sides of my racks (which I have never done before) and have plenty of light for passersby to see each side.

The latest version of my booth.

The latest version of my booth.

View from the floor-to-ceiling window behind my booth.

View from the floor-to-ceiling window behind my booth. Did I mention that the Kentucky Horse Park is H-U-G-E??

After I got set up I had a couple of hours to kill before the doors were open to the public, so when I discovered that the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center was not too far away I decided to hoof it up there and visit the off-the-track Thoroughbreds that they are renowned for rehabilitating and retraining for new jobs when their racing days are done. The entrance is dominated by a life-size statue of Secretariat, and even in metal you can easily see how handsome and how perfect he was.

Statue of the inimitable Secretariat, outside the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center

Statue of the inimitable Secretariat, outside the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center.

On my way back I encountered these two young ladies in one of the many pastures (yes, the park is H-U-G-E). I’m not a very good judge of a horse’s age, but these two appeared to me to be still in the filly stage, not quite old enough yet to be called mares. And close friends, too. I don’t know if they’re enjoying that famous Kentucky bluegrass, but whatever grass it is it sure looked lush.

Two lovely Thoroughbred gals.

Two lovely Thoroughbred gals.

Back at my booth, the show began somewhat inauspiciously. I don’t often make a big deal of pointing out what not to do on a horse, but the camera doesn’t lie and I have to at least mention this since it was right in front of my face. All I can say is, there are wonderful riders who, without bridle or saddle, can put a horse into an incredible sliding stop without any contact with the horse’s mouth. If they can stop a horse with their seat instead of their hands, so can the rest of us.

Poor horse. Please don't ride like this.

Poor horse. Please don’t ride like this.

A much better stop.

A much better stop.

This is how it should look. Everybody is relaxed, and it's a stunning sliding stop. Mouth closed.

This is how it should look. Everybody is relaxed, and it’s a stunning sliding stop. Mouth closed.

Now, back to the fun stuff. The freestyle reining is the most popular event, partly because the patterns that are run are designed by the riders and partly because of the costumes that range from outrageous to fabulous. The judges have to be more on their toes–they don’t know exactly how the rider is going to put together the elements of the pattern, so they have to watch carefully. Here are a couple of freestyle riders showing off their creativity.

One of the "young-uns" all dressed up for her freestyle ride in a red, white and blue theme.

One of the younger riders, who dressed up herself and her horse for the freestyle ride in a red, white and blue theme.

Some of the bolder (or more experienced) riders chose to ride in the spotlights. It worked really well for this gal on her white horse.

Some of the bolder (or more experienced) riders chose to ride in the spotlights. It worked really well for this gal on her white horse.

The reining patterns contain various elements besides the sliding stop, including speed changes from all-out gallop to slow lope, change of lead at the canter, and the crowd-pleasing spins. None of these things are a snap to master, and to illustrate the point David O’Connor (who is an eventing medalist at the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, and the Pan American Games, and who was President of the US Equestrian Federation and coached the US eventing team for many years) came over from the Rolex competition to show all of us just how hard it is to be a successful reiner. He didn’t just do a demo, he competed for a score; but we all had a good time cheering him on while chuckling at some of his less-than-stellar moments.

David O'Connor takes a stab at a spin.

David O’Connor takes a stab at a spin.

A bit more elegant spin.

A bit more elegant spin.

As you can see from the photos, the front end of the horse is moving a lot faster than the hind end. The light wasn’t the greatest for capturing these fast movements from the distance where I was standing. It probably would have been a lot better if I’d been about 100 feet closer. At any rate, the next photo didn’t require any special conditions and the dust cloud shows why the sliding stop is also such a crowd favorite.

Dust storm of a stop from the rear view.

How to create your very own dust storm.

All done. I feel like I'm flying low when I look at this.

“Orange Frost”. All done. I feel like I’m flying low when I look at this.

And here’s the rest of the news. After a couple of years of trying, I have finally managed to get two of my “Orange” series paintings into the Michiana Annual Art Competition at the Box Factory for the Arts in St. Joseph, Michigan. Here are the ones they liked:

"Michigan Orange Bowl", oil on canvas, 24" x 36". Available on my website, www.allifarkas.com

“Michigan Orange Bowl”, oil on canvas, 24″ x 36″.


"Michigan Orange Freeze"--oil on canvas, 46" x 36"

“Michigan Orange Freeze”, oil on canvas, 46″ x 36″

The next part of the showtime news is that the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival accepted my other “Orange” painting into the Art Walk portion of the Festival–

"Michigan Orange Juice", oil on canvas, 36" wide x 30" high.

“Michigan Orange Juice”, oil on canvas, 36″ x 30″.

Next act, find a venue for “Orange Frost”.

Orange, continued

Orange, part 2

Orange, part 2

Quick update on the orange stuff. Still only palette knife going on here. The lower 1/3 may need some changes after I fill all that white space with some pretty strong-looking trees, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Oh, and there will be a bit of “leftover” snow at the very bottom eventually.

The color orange

More orange

More orange

Here’s a preview of my latest landscape-in-progress, this one to be titled Michigan Orange Frost. It’s the fourth one in the Michigan Orange series and even though it’s still quite preliminary I’m pretty jazzed about it. I particularly like the movement I’m seeing–there’s such a sweep that leads the eye across the canvas. The white space will be a treeline, but at this point one could easily imagine gigantic waves hovering over the hill of a sandy beach.

So far this one has been done mainly with just a small palette knife, even though the painting’s size is 32″ x 26″. I did do a thin transparent blue glaze over the sky with a huge brush, but everything under that glaze is palette knife. I probably said previously at some point that I really like painting with a palette knife because there’s nothing to clean up afterward–you just wipe it off!

Still deciding

Maybe final?

Cantana – Maybe final?

I “finished” this a few days ago, but propped it up so I could evaluate it and decide if it was truly finished. I still haven’t decided, so I thought I would just publish it anyway since whatever revisions I might make would most likely be too subtle to show up in a photograph. So enjoy–I’m pretty pleased with it as is and should probably pick up my paint brushes and move on!

Getting there

Hardest parts are done.

Hardest parts are done.

A vast expanse of shoulder left to do, then the mane. I’m leaving that finicky braided mane for last, mostly because I’m not feeling particularly finicky at the moment. I may glaze over the horse’s reddish coat to tone it down a bit, or not. I’ll decide about that a little later on. Final destination in sight.


A watercolor experiment with dense foliage and fog

A watercolor experiment with dense foliage and fog

Sometime last summer I looked out the back door and saw an ephemeral layer of fog floating over the Mill Pond. I grabbed my camera and raced the hundred feet down to the dock to get as many photos as I could before it all dissipated. It was fortunate that I hurried, because the scenario only lasted two or three minutes. About a week ago I must have gotten the feeling that maybe if I painted something green springtime would come soon. I also wanted to try once again to get some believable foliage since I had been fooling around with watercolor foliage (somewhat unsuccessfully) for a few weeks already. I did this one the hard way–no masking, no sponging, no scraping, no spattering. Just layers and layers of tiny brushwork. I’m happier now.

Background, rider and saddle, and bridle are done on Cantana's portrait.

Background, rider and saddle, and bridle are done on Cantana’s portrait.

In between watercolor sessions I squeezed in some more work on Cantana. I’m really happy with how this one is coming along. Just need to do as well on the horse as I have on the rest of the painting!


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