One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

31 January 2014

Pony Up

by Lyn StClair

From the very beginning, I loved horses.

As a baby, my parents would entertain me by bouncing me on their foot and chanting the song "Downtown Pony".

As soon as I could hold a crayon, I started drawing them.

When I was a just a toddler, I decided that the inimitable Paul Brown needed help illustrating one of Mom's horse books…
<<  This is what I added to the book

All through my childhood, I read every book I could find about horses (over and over again).  The Black Stallion, Misty, and Black Beauty...I fell in love with the West reading My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and The Green Grass of Wyoming...

When we'd get one of those bags of plastic cowboys and indians...I'd pick out all the horses and throw away the people.  I would even pretend to be a horse.

It was Breyers, not Barbies, for this girl...I put Barbie in her convertible and drove her off the cliff by the house (kinda wish I'd kept her car, though).

Even though we HAD horses, I wanted to ride every merry-go-round, every pony ride and every single one of those dime horse rides that used to be out in front of stores.

Besides drawing and painting horses...I "sculpted" them with my silly putty, with pipecleaners and with the piles of wire that my TVA electrician grandfather brought home for us.  My school papers were illustrated with horses.

Fortunately, my parents were artists...and they loved horses.  We always had horses and ponies to ride...and there was no shortage of art supplies or encouragement.

When it came to riding, my brothers and I learned to ride on Shetland ponies.

For those of you who think "real men/women don't ride cute little ponies": well, let me tell you something...

Shetlands will buck, kick, dodge, parry, thrust... They will stop suddenly in mid gallop, they will lay down and roll in a creek (with you on board), they will try to scrape you off on trees, and if (when) they dislodge you they will often run home without you. They can be inordinately obstinate and endlessly frustrating....on the other hand, Shetlands can be wonderfully sweet, tough as nails, gentle as kittens, incredibly patient and the best friend a kid could have. A kid that rises to meet the challenge of a wily Shetland probably has a head start on the challenges that will come through the rest of life.

A couple of years ago I was riding with a couple of Wyoming ranch women, real cowgirls. The subject of Shetlands came up and it turned out we'd all learned to ride on Shetland ponies...and it was our unanimous opinion that "if you can ride a Shetland, you can ride anything".   

My first pony, when I was two or three, was "Downtown Pony" (I named him for the song Mom and Dad would sing when they bounced me on their foot). My parents were picky about our ponies and Downtown Pony didn't quite make the cut...he moved on to be loved by cousins.

When I was four, my second pony came along: "Blackie"...she was already almost 20 when we got her. You could put a baby on Blackie, start her walking in a circle and she'd go quietly until you told her to stop. That is, if you could catch her in the first place.

I remember Dad trying to rope Blackie from his Quarter horse "Ben"...and my brothers and I running from end to end of the 20+ acre pasture trying to corner and catch her. Sure, Blackie was gentle once you caught her...probably because by the time you caught her EVERYone was exhausted! Kids not getting enough exercise? Send 'em out to catch the pony! Blackie was 34 when she left us to teach life lessons to a new family's kids...at 34, you still had to work hard to catch her.

When my brothers started riding, we got "Twilight" to join Blackie...a sweet little grulla Shetland who was VERY fast (well, for a pony).
As a girl, there was probably nothing I loved more than riding any horse as fast as I could possibly make it go. Of course, any horse (and especially a Shetland) has a mind of its own...often they would decide to stop dead in their tracks without telling me first. Needless to say, I learned a lot about riding...and a LOT about falling.

One of the first rules of horsemanship instilled in me by my parents was the "if you fall off, get right back on" philosophy. The first fall I remember was from Blackie (I must have been about 4 or 5)...I had her tearing across the yard when the girth loosened and the saddle slid sideways...then under her belly. Well, I had been taught to stick to the saddle...so I went right under her with it. One of the nice things about shetlands, though...the ground isn't very far. I remember cracking my head pretty good...and being put right back on her. 

That "get right back on" philosophy has carried me through a lot of life's little (and big) falls.

Throughout my childhood and into my teens, I drew horses…constantly.  As a preteen, I would draw horses from life at the local saddle club between gymkhana classes.  That love of ponies and drawing was a great foundation for an art career.  Without realizing it, all those horses I drew turned out to be "practice"…and I got a LOT of it.  

When Tex Ritter made an appearance at his "Tex Ritter's" restaurant in Nashville, my parents talked me into doing a drawing of a horse so that he could autograph it.  He signed the back.  It was 1973…I was ten.

My childhood memories are full of horses and ponies...I rode them (fell off them), cried into their manes, talked to them, drew them and loved them.

In turn they taught me to be tough, resourceful, patient, independent and creative. They carried me into the outdoors, the backwoods and the wild places of my imagination. They exercised my body and my soul….and they inspired me to draw and draw and draw...

30 January 2014

The NEW New Year's Eve

It's New Year's Eve, again…in exactly 12 hours, at 12:20 am, the Year of the Horse begins.  

It seems appropriate that my life has become more horsey than ever…and that it will be even more so through the coming year.
This time last year, my two horses were being boarded.  It was nice, a beautiful facility, gorgeous barn with horsey shower stall and overhead propane heaters…HUGE outdoor arena with wonderful sand surface, nice indoor arena for the cold or windy or rainy days…and lovely mountain views.  

The managers took care of feeding the boarders…so, if it was bitterly cold and I was in the middle of a painting…or just didn't feel like doing the hour round trip drive…I could rest assured that my ponies were being cared for.  

The down side…with all those mountains bordering the ranch, we were not allowed to ride the trails…and it was expensive. 
When I moved here, I was thrilled to have the ponies on the main ranch, just two miles from my house.  I loved that they were in a huge pasture with other horses and that they could be, well...horses. 

Not only did my wonderful landlord let me bring my horses, he offered the entire ranch to ride...a ranch that backs to National Forest and Wilderness.  I could ride to Yellowstone and beyond via backcountry, if I chose.

As winter rolled in, I knew that it would be more work.  They'd need to be fed…no matter what the weather.  I thought I'd miss having someone else do that…especially on the really rotten weather days.  To my surprise, I don't really….even when I ended up feeding not only my two, but the other seven, as well. 

Some days it is a serious pain trying to loosen frozen chunks of hay from the round bale with the pitch fork.  Sometimes the weather is miserable…cold, windy, wet or all of the above.  Sometimes it is brutal to roll the cart of hay back and forth through the deep snow…or across the skating rink of re-frozen snowmelt.  Some days, like today, my fingers and toes are numb well before I am done.

Still…it makes me happy.  There is something very peaceful, very Zen, about going up to throw hay, put out grain, play with them a little and watch them eat.

I love that they all see my truck and come to the fence.  If they aren't already waiting in the corral, they come running down from the pasture.  They nicker to me as I get out.  

They come up and nuzzle "hello"s.  I love that I don't have to catch Karma and Lang to put blankets on…I just walk out and throw the blankets over their backs.  They have learned the routine...Karma and Lang run to the gate where I put out their grain and the others wait in the corral. 

Since I was a wee child, I have passionately loved these magnificent animals.  The horses and ponies that have shared my life over my five decades have inspired so much art and have taught me wonderful things about life.

Over this next year, I plan to bring them even more into my life and art…

Hope you will share my little journey through MY Year of the Horse...with new posts, new art and new adventures coming soon!

23 January 2014

Fox Me a Copy

by Lyn StClair

In the Fall of 2012, I debuted this painting
titled "Grasshopper"...

A week after the Georgia show where it was first exhibited, by chance, I walked into a little art show in Nashville...and saw this:

When I spoke with the artist (who, up until then, I had considered a friend), it went something like this:
Lyn:  "There is a fox painting out front that looks extremely familiar"
(Copycat):  "Yes, I was inspired by your use of color"
Lyn: "It is exactly the same"
(Copycat):  "Oh no, the pose of the fox is COMPLETELY different"

That, and seeing copies of work by other artists hanging in his booth, was the conversation ender. I picked up his card, photographed the copy and contacted my attorney.  

As I was taking a photo of his copy (he'd even copied my framing!), a customer walked in, looked at his piece and exclaimed..."Wow!  That is what I love to see, a completely original work of art!"  When I showed her the image of my original painting on my iPad and replied "it is a copy of my painting", she shrugged and took a photo of his painting.

Originality…what is it made of?  As artists, we strive for originality in a world that makes copying "okay".  There are knock-offs of everything you can imagine being sold on street corners, online and in stores everywhere.  What has happened to us?  Where did we lose the appreciation for true originality?  Artists are admired and revered for their originality…but what about the ones who copy other artists?  Why do some people choose to copy the work of others?  Is it laziness, a lack of integrity or simple ignorance…is it possible they just don't know any better?

Throughout the history of art, artists have learned to paint by copying one another or other people's photos.  The comic books that many artists grew up with (my Dad and I included) had adverts on the back asking you to "Draw Me!", copy a drawing in the ad to send in to their "scholarship" competition.  For centuries, students of art have stood with easels and sketchbooks in front of the art of masters (old and new)…to learn by copying every brushstroke.  Heck, I started my professional career doing dog portraits from life (at age ten) after copying a lovely portrait by Betty StClair (my Mom…and she said I could).
Copying as a tool to learn is one thing…

Where does it cross the line into "theft", though?  

First, lets get the dry stuff out of the way...a little about the legalities of copyright.  According to the U.S. Copyright Office/Library of Congress:
"Copyright is a form of protection provided by U.S. law to authors of  “original works of authorship,” including “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” The owner of copyright in a work has the exclusive right to make copies, prepare derivative works, sell or distribute copies, and display the work publicly. Anyone else wishing to use the work in these ways must have the permission of the author or someone who has derived rights through the author."
"A work is automatically protected by copyright when it is created, that is, “fixed” in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. Neither registration in the Copyright Office nor publication is required for copyright protection."
"Before March 1, 1989, the use of a copyright notice was mandatory on all published works, and any work first published before that date should have carried a notice. For works first published on or after March 1, 1989, use of a copyright notice is optional."

As per that last paragraph:  If you see a work that does not have "copyright" on it…it does NOT mean it is free to use!!!

For visual artists…copyright of every original image belongs to the creator of that image (this includes photographs).   That means you may not copy a work of art (or photo) without express, written permission of the original creator.  To put it bluntly, if you copy a painting, sculpture or photograph created by anyone other than yourself without written permission:  it is stealing, plain and simple.  By the way, it goes for writing, as well.

What if you"change" it…where does it become "safe" or "derivative"?  Here again, words from the Library of Congress:  
"A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”."  

Copyright law takes a narrower view, defining “derivative work” as “a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.” (17 U.S.C. § 101)

This is important because one of the rights given by law to copyright owners is “to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work.” 17 U.S.C. § 106. That means the original creator of a work has the exclusive right to produce derivative work…anyone else has to have the permission of the creator.  Even Hollywood cannot make a movie of a book without obtaining the " rights" from the author…the same goes for photographs and paintings!

As artists, we often find "inspiration" in the works of others. Where is the line drawn between "inspired by" and "stealing from"?  "Fair Use" is a defense available to someone who uses the work of someone else—without permission—in the creation of (his or her) own.  "Fair Use" does not mean "okay to copy"!  This is what the U.S. Copyright office says about Fair Use:

"The doctrine of fair use has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years and has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.  Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair."

Fair use is a slippery slope, though… the court's interpretation of  those four factors is subjective and can bring  unpredictable results.  You may think your use is fair, the original creator and the court may well think otherwise.   Essentially, if someone recognizes any similarity between your work and the original: you're in trouble. 

A few simple rules to remember:

If you didn't create it yourself, someone else did…and it belongs to THEM!
It does not matter if you are selling it or just using it for your own purposes…copying without permission is stealing.
Just because it is on the internet…it is NOT free to use.
Just because millions of other people are doing it…NO!  Hello?  Heard of lemmings?

Now to the "art" of the matter…and the original point:  What true artist would WANT to copy the work of another artist?  
Having stared at my easel for seemingly endless hours over the years as I work to draw something original from my mind/heart/soul…I can tell you it is not always easy (understatement!).  THAT, my friends is why they call it "art"….if it were easy, it wouldn't be special.

People who hear of a copyright infringement often say to the original artist: "what a compliment".  The artist who copied my fox, when confronted, said "I was inspired by your use of color".  While I can appreciate the intended compliment, what that artist did with his inspiration was WRONG.  To look at someone's work and be moved, to be inspired to reach for something greater in yourself, to push your work a little closer to the edge…THAT is a compliment to the original artist.  To copy what they did and sign your name to it…that is just stealing.  By the way, another thing people tend to say when they look at the samples of "stolen" paintings such as above:  "well, it's a BAD copy".  It does not make a difference if the copy is bad or better than the original…it is theft.

As artists, it is impossible not to be inspired by artists and work that moves us.  What one does with that inspiration is what separates the chaff, though.  Oleg Stavrowsky wrote a fabulous article for Southwest Art (Dec. 1996) called "Ten Artists I Steal From".  Stavrowsky strikes at the soul of what it is to be "inspired" by another artist.  I encourage every artist to read it if you can find a copy…if not, come to my house and you can read mine.  

By the way, if you don't know it already, photography falls under the copyright law.  If you copy someone's photo without permission…it is theft.  It amazes me how many artists hang work at shows that was copied from magazine images…seriously, do they think they're the only one who saw that photo?  This applies to images  online, as well (including FaceBook).

Something to consider if you buy photos for reference…there is not a serious photographer anywhere who does not let the motor drive run when something cool is in front of his/her lens.  Just because you buy the rights to image #27…does not mean the photographer will not sell image #25, 26 and 28, 29 to someone else…all of which could look exactly like the image you purchased.  Legally "owning" an image does not mean it is a good idea to copy it exactly.  The composition of a photo is the artistic creation of the photographer.  Faithfully copying someone else's image and/or composition, whether you "own" it or not, is not original art.  

Creative people are quick to whip out their "artistic license"…perhaps more artists should also embrace their "artistic integrity".   Artistic integrity does not mean you starve rather than "sell out"…it means you approach your work with honesty and ethics.  It means you go the extra mile to create works that vibrate with your OWN voice rather than echo others..  We should always strive to create art that draws from the unique originality that lies within each of us…it might be harder to find, but it is well worth the effort.  Remember, your art will live long after you are gone…be true and be ORIGINAL.

Post script:  As I was working on this article, I came across the prospectus for Southwest Art's "Artistic Excellence" Competition.  The paragraph on "eligibility" included this:  "Compositions based on published material or other artists’ work are NOT considered original and are not eligible. Paintings based on another person’s photograph (even if it’s copyright-free) are NOT eligible."  THANK YOU Southwest Art!  If  only that standard could become de rigueur for all exhibitions, museums, galleries, shows and competitions.   

Here are a few links to more information:

"10 Big Myths of Copyright Explained" by Brad Templeton http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

Library of Congress  http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/

21 January 2014

Being There

by Lyn StClair

It is 4:47 AM and I have been sitting and contemplating the composition of a sketch for a new painting of a polar bear and ross's gulls that is coming together on the 24"x48" stretched linen on my easel.  As I stare at the piece, I am reminded of the trip when I saw my first white bears and pink gulls…

Several years ago, my friend Cathy joined me on a trip to Barrow, Alaska to visit my friend Donald and try to see polar bears.  We arrived in Barrow in October, in the middle of whaling season.  

Barrow is about as North as you can get.  One of Donald's nieces described it best in a call to him shortly after he started working there:  "Uncle Donald, we looked you up on the globe…you're really close to the screw!!"  Yup, that about sums it up…

We managed to rent an SUV from a local hotel and proceeded to troll the limited roads of Barrow in search of polar bears.  

Toward one end of our route , a whale carcass was being dismembered by the townspeople while whaling crews continued their hunt.  

Near the other end was a beautiful cemetery in the snow with white markers and colorful plastic flowers.

Big trucks loaded with one sort of detritus or another rumbled from one end of the road to the other (there is no road out of Barrow).

Grey-green waves crashed on the beach and a cold wind whipped the landscape.
There was no sign of bears on the first day…no sign of much of anything.  The arctic fox we saw in the distance saw us and ran like lightning the opposite direction (they hunt them, here…they hunt everything here).  

One morning, Cathy was feeling a wee bit stressed that she'd used precious vacation time for this...and no bears.
So, I offered a suggestion…in my very best (which was very bad) Jacques Cousteau accent, I said:
"Ho-kay, tew-day ees dee day zat vee speak vis zee varra bad French accents…and ZAT eees how vee find da polar baars."
Cathy groaned "Zee mud, but ahll zere ees, ees  MUD!"
and I replied:  "And zee sheet haulers, zhey haul zee sheet in zee mud from wan end to da other"
Thus it began…

We became our own comic relief…and we couldn't seem to stop the silly accent thing (much to the dismay of our dear host, Donald, a speech pathologist).  

We weren't finding much to shoot...but we were laughing so hard our faces hurt...

Then slowly, we began to find wildlife.... discovering the snowy owls that sat in the cemetery, posted on fences and hunted the tundra on the ends of town.  We found a Jaeger cruising a frozen pond.
We tried to sort out unfamiliar gulls and eiders. 

We'd been told to look for the pink gulls, which brought a wide-eyed look of wonder at one another…Ross's gulls!  A holy grail for birders!  

So, we'd sit on the beach and scan the birds with binos, looking for the "faint wash of pink"…
"Oh, that one has pink…could it be…?!"  

Back and forth we went, scanning for bears and shooting whatever we could find.  In the long stretches between seeing wildlife, on top of the silly "French" accents, we invented the Wide World of Arctic Sports:  dead bird leaping, wind jumping…

Basically, we did what Cathy and I do best:  

we played.

One day, on the way to the cemetary, we discovered a "stink" whale that had washed ashore.  This is a whale that had been harpooned, but escaped being brought in by the whaling party.  They die at sea, then wash ashore too late to be used for food.  We visited the stink whale often, hoping for a bear…and sadly mourning its terrible fate and the waste of a beautiful life.

We trolled and searched the tundra until our eyes hurt...

We even tried doing bear dances on the beach.

 Locals suggested looking for bears in the middle of the night (it started to get dark about 4 PM and didn't get light until nearly 10 AM)…so we began cruising in the deep of the night and the wee hours of the morning.
One night we brought Donald and his partner, Mick…who rolled their eyes at the accents (Donald whispering to Mick: "make them stop"), then fell asleep in blankets in the back seat while we looked for bears.

We found a lot of bear tracks...seemed we just missed them several times...

Then, late one night we were leaving the stink whale when we saw them…a sow polar bear and her nearly grown twins.  They were ambling up the road ahead of us.  Cathy was driving and carefully tried to sneak up as close as possible so I could, at least, get a record shot with the camera.  

They were MAGNIFICENT!  Cathy and I have been very close to many grizzlies over the years we've known one another…these white bears make grizzlies look small!  As we crept closer, I aimed…and "click"…the flash bounced off the windshield.  

The sow stopped and turned with a menacing look that pretty much said "do that again and I will open that thing like a sardine can and feed you one piece at a time to my kids!"  

Cathy whispered:  "Oh sheet, she eesa verra, verra beeg!" and we were lost in a paroxysm of laughter.  

We followed at a more respectful distance as the three bears ambled on and disappeared into the night.  We giggled like leetle girls the rest of the trip over Cathy's reaction to the bear.
One morning before we left, we were scanning the beach as usual when we saw them.  A flock of Ross's gulls hunting the surf and skimming the beach.  Our jaws dropped.  

Whatever we had seen before, it was not Ross's.  The "faint wash of pink" description in the bird book could not have prepared us for these gorgeous salmon and grey gulls hunting the green-grey surf.  Spectacular.

As I work on this painting, it comes to life with memories of Barrow, of the personal experiences with these two species and the laughter shared with my friends.  

My paintings are not just a portrait of a certain animal....they are stories of places I've been, things I have learned, people I have loved and homages to the beautiful creatures that I have been so very privileged to have seen.
As an artist, I cannot paint something I have not seen in the wild, in it's natural habitat. 

Photos mean nothing...the experience is EVERYTHING. 

There is always something new to be discovered…and there is simply NO substitute for being there…

So, as I tweak the sketch and prepare to start painting, I remind myself:  

She eesa verra, verra beeg…
...and zhey vere a verra, verra PEENK!