Thursday, September 13, 2018

Upgrades, Updates and Uplifting Thoughts

Once again, it has been quite a while since my last post.  I started creative writing for others in a paid capacity, and I find it satisfying.  I love the flexibility, the outlet, and the variety about which I learn and write.  However, there is still Gift Horse Farm, things change, and I'm ready to fill in some of the gaps from the past year.  

Danny in his trail gear.  Danny is my 19YO green bean; he was a rescue.
My horses continue to grow and develop, and I as a horsewoman do so along with them.  We started out with a new trainer in January who came to the house off and on.  She was supposed to help with Danny and Aragon getting better about the trailer, and with Neeko on a few of his minor quirks, but that simply didn't gel.  She was a complete dud, but we found another trainer at the beginning of summer who helped quickly and immensely with Danny and Aragon.  Little by little, things are falling into place.  Everyone now loads in the trailer reasonably consistently, and they are all decent trail partners.  I need to put some time into each of them for different things, but we are finally at a good point for me to do that.  Everything in time.

I did a little painting recently, and am looking forward to incorporating that more into my routine again.  I mostly am doing still life subjects to get back into the swing of things, and enjoying every minute of it.  I plan to put together a website soon, and I'll update this page when I do.  

Some turnips I painted, as yet untitled.

Red onions, also not yet titled.

Things always come together in time.  Just as we are promised, all things work together for the good of those who love Him.  

I am compiling some thoughts for new horse owners, words of advice for horse keeping and management.  Some are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is information I wish someone had shared with me when I got my first horse.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Self-Promotion for Artists

In order to be successful as an artist, whether professionally or for a hobby-business, it's imperative that you find some outlets for marketing and promoting your work.  There are many ways to do this but some artists are shy about outreach.  You will have to find some means to build your business, and I have some simple starting points to help. 

Art Close to the Heart
I mentioned in my last post that working with charities is one way I have developed my own clientele.  What charities are you passionate about?  Is there a local nonprofit that is having a silent auction?  What do you enjoy as a subject matter but don't have much calling to create?  In answering those questions for myself I have successfully developed more clientele.  I have donated pieces to silent auctions knowing they could not only use the help but would publicize my involvement.  Gift Horse Farm always has pugs in the family, and of course I have a soft spot for the shelters and rescues that help dogs.  I have donated certificates to do pet portraits to their auctions.  Similarly, when a local horse rescue wanted to do a T-shirt fundraiser I offered to do the artwork for them.  I visited, took photos of some residents, and did a watercolor that included several horses and a fun miniature horse.  I gave the rescue a partial copyright release which allowed them to use the image on stationary as well as the T-shirts. 

"Sammy", one of my favorite pet portraits.

Brand Recognition
Speaking of stationary, use your artwork for your own.  Images of your work on greeting cards, letterhead, websites and business cards can help you develop a level of brand recognition and presents a professional image.  I like to see some level of consistency in the look of these items.  Using the same fonts, color schemes, and a handful of your favorite images or of work that has won awards helps to create a recognizable presence.

What is it Worth?
Another stumbling block to artists is valuing their work.  The values you place on your work is inherently linked to your marketing.  The better known you are, the more you can charge for your time and talent.  I take into account the cost of materials, the time spent researching and developing my reference, and the actual time creating.  If a piece is being sold framed, obviously you need to add the cost of framing as well.  Please note that for insurance and tax purposes, your work is only valued at the actual cost of materials until it sells.  There are no exceptions.  If you donate to a charity auction, the value you may claim for the piece is whatever the winning bid was, not what you would price the work in a gallery setting.  Also, as a rule of thumb if your work is accepted into a professional, juried competition the value of the piece increases.  If work wins awards at those competitions, the value increases that much more.  

"Bubbles," which I did as a gift to the bride and groom.
Paperwork and Communication
Another important tip: keep good records.  As your work sells and you develop a body of clients, it is helpful to have a mailing list at your disposal of those who are interested in your work.  Whether you mail post cards or send email blasts, every time you have an opening or win an award is a great opportunity to communicate with your clients.  Let them know you are working and the piece purchased from you should be growing in value as you become more accomplished.  

Personal Presents
I also do the occasional piece as a gift for very special occasions.  There is little of more meaning to a bride and groom than an original work from an artist they know personally.  I have also given gifts of work for showers and as baby gifts.  Also consider graduations or award winners.  One client asked that I do a portrait of her grandson with his award winning heifer as a gift to her daughter, the boy's mom.  As you do work for friends and family for special occasions, you will find their friends and family come to you when a very special and personal gift is needed.

In the News
The last little tidbit I want to share is that anybody can submit a press release, including artists.  Collect local and regional media contacts and don't be shy about using them.  This is a simple way to greatly expand your outreach, and takes minimal time and energy.  Remember that if you want to be successful you need to embrace self-promotion. 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Freelancing Basics for Artists

A good friend of mine dabbles in art, and she asked me for some pointers on how to get started selling her work.  She was intimidated and didn't know where to begin.  I am fortunate enough to have some formal education on the subject, so it hadn't occurred to me what a giant leap it may feel like to many folks.  In case you are considering taking that leap, I thought I'd compile a handful of starting points.  I considered trying to prioritize these, but they are all pretty important, so note that you need to be mindful of each piece.

What's Mine is Mine

"Sidewalk Divas," which I based on what I saw.
We often think simply about creating - if I create it, it's mine, right?  Not necessarily.  There are legalities that protect both you and others that come into play when you start freelancing.  For instance, copyright laws protect your work from being used by others for pretty much anything.  If you create a painting, you own the rights to the image; nobody can take photos of or download your image to use or sell, even if the client buys the painting.  If you create a sculpture, you own the rights to the image as well, and nobody can create a painting that looks just like your sculpture, or is even a reasonable likeness.  So on and so forth for all media, regardless of whether you purchase a copyright license.  I'm not an attorney, nor am I an expert on copyright laws, but the basic gist of it is that art must be original, all of it, from your inspiration to the drawing board to the final sale.  If you want to be safe, work from something within your mind, take your own photos, set up your own still life, do plein air get the idea.  Don't use images from other people's Facebook accounts, or magazines, or anything like that - create your own content and subject matter and you are good to go.  Mostly.

Who's Who 
That brings us to a little complication.  What about people?  People on the streets, models, and such?  If you are doing a portrait of someone and their likeness will be recognizable, you should have the subject sign a model release form.  I use a standard model release I found on the internet, nothing fancy, but it's there to protect me when I do portraits. 

When it comes to "everyman" you are pretty safe.  Football stadiums, people at festivals or on streets, anyone that can't be picked out easily as an individual should be fine.  If you don't want to do paperwork, make sure you keep away from dipping into portraiture.  And as a rule of thumb, you also have the right to creatively capture anything you can see from a street view, such as buildings and landscapes.  If you aren't going into private property or otherwise trespassing, you probably can use what you see as creative fodder.  If you enter someone else's property to see it, get permission to be on the safe side.

"Laughing Planet Cafe," a painting I did which did not require model releases.

What about paintings of known groups?  This can get mildly complicated.  For instance, I did a painting of a well known, annual holiday event, led by a well known musician - so well known the event is named after him.  There were other musicians involved, but they were in Santa costumes and not recognizable, nor were they notable enough for introductions.  As a group, however, and given the event is a popular, recognizable, public event, I visited the lead musician at his home and he gave me a model release before I ever started a sketch.  For the other musicians, I didn't feel an obligation.  Wearing their costumes, they would not be physically recognizable even in the context of the event. 

"Unlimitation," my portrait of friend and author Robert Kaplowitz.

Tax Collectors
So you are building a body of work that is all yours - you have your own material, you have model releases, you have ideas and dreams and you're ready to start creating and selling.  Before you get too carried away, don't forget that good ol' Uncle Sam wants his piece.  Become familiar with sales tax and property tax laws in your state.  This may be as simple as an internet search, or you may need to make some phone calls or complete forms.  The best place to start would be your department of revenue.  Where I am, I needed to acquire a certificate to collect sales tax, and I have to charge that percentage on private sales in my state.  Most galleries will collect tax for you, and online services vary.  Become familiar with what is required where you live before you make that first sale, and read carefully what you agree to with any gallery or website.

Sharing is Caring
Now you have some customers and sales; what about when you have a client who wants to use your image?  Remember, if it came entirely from you - your experience, your vision, your hands and eyes - it's yours and any image of it is yours.  Full circle back to copyrights, because there is another aspect to copyrights you should keep in mind.  You also have a right to release your copyright.  This is another form you can find on the internet.  Any good printer should ask to see it, although many won't.  If you maintain a habit of keeping things in writing, your clients will expect it.  Paperwork give you validity and you want your clients to see you as professional, so don't be shy in requiring it.  

Only one time have I given what was virtually a full copyright release.  In that case I built compensation into the sale agreement as an upfront lump sum, and it still hinged on the client giving me credit for my work with every use.  In that case I felt it would be in my favor because of the notoriety of the client and the heavy use the image would receive.  In essence, I gave the release as a form of promoting my work.  By the same token I do often give partial copyright releases to nonprofits, usually if I am completing a work my client will use for T-shirts or greeting cards, and the agreement states that with specifics about timeframes and quantities.  Nonprofits are just that - they don't make any money.  If it's a cause I believe in, I like to lend a hand.  Usually the client will give you a generous mention in doing so, too, and promotion is a key pivotal piece in sales so try to be shameless in getting your work and your name out there.  You may produce wonderful work, but wonderful work from an unknown isn't as exciting to potential clients as almost any work from an artist that is known.

Ready, Set, Go
Once again, I'm not a legal expert, but this gives you a starting point.  In a nutshell: when in doubt, get it in writing, and get familiar with requirements where you live.  That's plenty to digest for anyone taking the plunge into freelancing.  I have some more great ideas I'll share next time about shameless self-promotion and valuing your work. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fleeting Beauty

During the summer months, Gift Horse Farm is visited by a nice variety of moths and butterflies.  I always admire these little wonders.  Not only are they beautiful, they are amazing little flying machines.  

I discovered recently that a gal I am connected with on social media raises moths and butterflies.  My friend collects larvae or little cocoons.  She then sets them up in an appropriate environment, helps them along to adulthood, and releases them.  She also informed me that some of the loveliest of these creatures don't live long, and don't even eat once they have their wings.  They live to procreate, then pass soon after.  In my early years of grade school we studied the monarch butterfly, and I recall learning about them migrating and overwintering.  It had never occurred to me that others have such brief life cycles. 

A luna moth lingering by my barn.

Conversation Piece
The moth that started the whole conversation was a luna moth, so named because of their nocturnal habit.  I see them routinely, and she happened to mention a caterpillar she was raising.  After they leave the cocoon, she explained they have a very brief existence.  They emerge in the morning with small wings, climb to a safe area and pump them for a couple hours to fill them with fluid and enlarge and harden them so they can fly.  The mouth of this lovely creature is too small to function for eating.  Instead they spend about a week playing the mating game, and pass on.  I enjoyed her brief education, which inspired me to learn more about these tiny, winged wonders.  I picked through my recent photos, including this beautiful luna.

The black swallowtail, a pretender.
Pipevine Pretender
The next winged visitor that came to mind was this lovely spicebush swallowtail.  I did some surfing and found they mimic pipevine swallowtails.  Apparently a lot of butterflies wear a similar disguise.  The caterpillars of the pipevine eat nectar from plants that are toxic to most critters, but not to it, which makes the appearance a common costume.  The toxin remains in the adult butterfly, hence the costume.  The spicebush swallowtail has some other tricks as well, including a bit of its own toxicity because of the plants it ingests.  It's also a quick and adept flyer, able to out maneuver many would-be predators.  Because of its many tricks, these butterflies typically live a couple of weeks or so, but might manage to eek out as much as 45 days.

The Eyes Have it 
I hadn't heard of the pipeline swallowtail so that costume was new to me, although I was familiar with the costume the luna wears, with "eyes" on the wings to confuse predators.  That leads me to this next handsome specimen, a polyphemus moth.  These fellows are named for the mythological Cyclops, Polyphemus, because of their prominent markings resembling eyes.  The one I found had a wingspan of at least four inches.  These big beauties are another particularly short-lived moth, with only about a week to sow their wild oats. 

A lovely polyphemus moth.

Wild and Wolly
Notice the golden droplets on the wings of this giant leopard moth.
The giant leopard moth was my next discovery.  These are the adult version of woolly bears.  Woolly bears are plentiful here, so at first I was surprised I don't see these moths more often, but they are also nocturnal.  One notable thing about these moths is they have a particularly long mating session, often lasting a full 24 hours.  During that time, the female carries the male around, moving to the shade if the sun is too hot, that sort of thing.  Apparently these moths are another kind that doesn't eat as an adult, just gets to the business of procreating, and after a handful of days they die.  

A small side note, when frightened most of these creatures emit a distasteful goo, and often the goo is toxic.  That is the likely identity of the golden drops on the sides of my giant leopard moth.  I thought they were bits of pollen when I took the photo, but it's more likely they are self-defense secretions.  

Last but not Least
Last in my little collection is this gorgeous zebra swallowtail butterfly.  The zebra swallowtail is unusual in that its caterpillars feed on the nectar of pawpaws, a fruit which grows on trees in a small part of the country.  Interestingly, they also are cannibalistic and will feed on each other, so the mother lays eggs singly.  The adults feed on flower nectar and minerals from the soil, and they live a whopping six months, which is by far the most generous for these little aviators.

A zebra swallowtail - what a beauty! 

We have a section of woods on the back side of Gift Horse Farm and I suspect there is a pawpaw or two in there, although I haven't spotted any yet.  I explore the woods routinely to harvest blackberries and black raspberries, and in fruitless searches for morels.  I understand pawpaws are delicious in pies.  Hopefully soon I will stumble onto those trees, and I'll whip something up to share. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Springtime and Healthy Choices

It's springtime in Indiana, and everything is turning green.  Spring for our little farm means it's time to transition horses to pasture, which involves easing them into grazing so their bodies have time to adjust and produce the proper enzymes to digest grass.  However, not everyone is enjoying the same treatment.  Aragon and Neeko are eating grass, but Danny is going to have to wait.

Danny hanging out in the dry lot.
When I introduced Danny in the last post, I mentioned his family had come into a difficult situation and he needed to be rehomed.  While he was in excellent overall condition, he did arrive with neglected feet.  To be completely frank, he had never seen a farrier - he didn't even know how to pick up his feet for cleaning, much less anything else.  But he was sound, and of a good mind, so we got to work.  I have an excellent farrier.  I touched base with him right away, started lifting feet twice daily and picking them out as soon as Danny would allow. 

Danny's first farrier visit was about two weeks after his arrival.  By that time, he was picking up his fronts well enough that we were able to get a rough, basic trim on those two feet, but we had to let the backs go for the time being. 

This brings us to our next issue.  Danny was sound, but his feet tell the story of a history including bouts of acute laminitis.  Laminitis is serious stuff, and if he hadn't been sound initially I wouldn't have been comfortable taking a chance with him. 

Laminitis is the inflammation of the laminae of the hoof.  Basically, laminae is connective structure that holds the innards of the hoof to the outer hoof wall.  It can become inflamed from diet, illness, or mechanical stress.  Horses with a history of laminitis need to have sugar intake monitored.  Danny will likely be able to be on pasture in summer months, barring drought since drought raises sugars in grass.  Bermuda grass is predominate here in the summer, which is good news for Danny.  That grass is higher in fiber and lower in sugars than what is growing right now. 

Danny's fronts November, 2016, after his first trim.

By his second trim, we were able to get all four feet shaped up, and at this time he is growing in a healthy hoof and still staying sound barefoot.  In fact, our farrier told me a couple months ago he felt we could begin saddle training.  Danny was basically a clean slate when I got him, but he is now nicely started with me riding him walking and has the basics of his steering pretty well figured out. In the six months since his first trim, his hooves have become quite healthy looking and the remaining distortion is minimal.  He is feeling good enough to run and play with the other horses, and while he was sound when he arrived he has become noticeably more energetic and moves more freely.  

Danny's front hooves at the end of April, 2017.
I started grass transitioning a couple weeks ago.  Aragon and Neeko are now on the pasture at night, but Danny is remaining in our dry lot and on hay full-time.  Having a history of laminitis means he should be considered at risk the remainder of his life.  He may be able to freely consume grass this summer once the warm weather grasses fill in, or he may need a grazing muzzle to stay healthy.  I will error on the side of caution with turnout and will watch him carefully for any signs of trouble.  In the meantime, when I turn the other horses onto the pasture he lingers by the gate, asking politely if he could join them.  Aragon has befriended him, and when I open the gate for Aragon to exit onto the grass, he lingers there, dallying, to see if I might allow Danny through with him.  When they are reunited later, Danny and Aragon are the first to sniff each other, and they then spend time in communion, nibbling hay and enjoying each other's company.

Aragon and Danny enjoying hay together.

The horses don't understand why they can't all have the same treatment.  I often wish I could explain to them that sometimes I do things they don't like but are for their good.  I am reminded in tending my animals that sometimes we are the same way.  Many times we have situations that make us uncomfortable, or we might see someone else has something we think we would like, or a situation isn't to our liking and we want it changed.  We believe we would be better off if life were different.  The Bible promises that God will work everything together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and a piece of understanding that is realizing that we can't always see that mighty hand at work.  Sometimes the trials or discomfort are for a wonderful end result, whether for ourselves or someone else.  I'm sure many times when we believe our lives should be different to be better, we are right where we should be - just like for Danny and Aragon.

Danny and Neeko frolicking.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Fresh and New

It has been a long time since my last post, and of course, a lot has happened.  Of all the changes that need to be addressed, most importantly are two significant losses and three wonderful additions.

First, in brief, our losses.

In June of 2015, I went home on my lunch hour as I always do to walk the dogs and grab a bite.  That day, when I pulled in the driveway and looked at the barn, I knew something was wrong.  Picasso was bathed in sweat, and Aragon was dry and comfortable.  I ran in the house, tended the dogs quickly, tossed off inappropriate jewelry and clothing and threw on appropriate gear, and began the difficult journey of Picasso's end here.  He was suffering from an impaction colic, and with his age and the severity of the issue, there was no helping him other than a merciful trip to the other side.  Our vet and a few friends were wonderful supports through the process

In October of 2016, after a long and difficult two years fighting one illness or injury after another, Tank was also laid to rest.  He had developed partial paralysis in his back end, and while he generally got around well he suffered a variety of complications from the issue, and eventually his quality of life was too poor to ask him to continue.  

Both deaths were deeply felt, but the first was very unexpected.  Losing Picasso was devastating to me - he was my partner in a way no other creature of any kind had been.  However with his passing, I also had a young horse in the barn who was painfully lonely.  I took a day off work and spent hours sitting with Aragon.  I hauled out a lawn chair, a book and a drink, and we commiserated.  I went back to work and spent time in the evenings sitting with him.  The weekend came and I spent time with him.  He pouted, he snuggled, he was sluggish and not himself.  It quickly became evident that I was going to have to regroup for his sake.  In the course of that regrouping I found that I could only do so by focusing on the blessings that were, the blessings that are and the blessings that are going to be, instead of my own pain and disappointment of the circumstances.  It was a tough lesson, but one I value more than I can say.  With my own wounds still fresh, I was going to have to start looking for a new friend for him.  Horses are herd animals, and he was designed in his very nature to need friends of his own kind.  Aragon enjoys my company, and looks forward to time with me probably more than the vast majority of horses do their owners, but it just isn't the same. 

I decided I wanted a horse that was of a temperament and training level that I could put almost anyone on, one I could share with family and friends, and I got started quickly.  Horse shopping was an ugly adventure.  I discovered the vast majority of people selling their horses are withholding or distorting information.  Nearly every weekend for three months I traveled looking at horses, sometimes many hours away, and would return home disappointed.  Then after many miles, gas tanks, and to-go cups of coffee, I found Neeko.  Neeko was a 15 year old National Show Horse (American Saddlebred-Arabian cross), a successful show and trail horse, a current lesson horse, and was for sale at a reasonable price at a hunter jumper barn about three and a half hours away.  I chatted with the selling agent, put a deposit on him, and was on my way the first chance I got.  I took him for a test drive and decided he was the right fit.  I finally had my horse.  He has not disappointed and has been a fun, reliable ride for me as well as for less experienced riders.  And best of all, after a few months of adjustment, he and Aragon became pals.

Neeko horse pasture
Neeko, at home in the pasture.

Sweet, funny boy Liam.
Liam came along the next spring. I had been thinking of adding a dog and had applied with a few different rescues. Before hearing back from them, I spotted a web ad for a goofy little guy at a shelter an hour away.  He was wearing a crazy, blue Mohawk wig for his web ad, and would come available for adoption the next morning, which happened to be my day off. I was up early and arrived at the shelter almost a half hour before they opened - first in line for little Liam. I took him for a walk, and found him to be a bit reserved, quiet, and seemingly disinterested in me. I decided I didn't care, and he would be coming home. Liam turned out to be none of those things - he is affectionate, energetic, and very sweet. He must have been overwhelmed at the shelter because once home he became a loving, attentive, lively friend.

Finally, this past summer I decided I would like one more horse in my pasture.  After all, life is short.  Aragon and Neeko had bonded well, I had enough room, and I decided I would like a project.  I have found I really enjoy starting horses - I love the groundwork, getting them comfortable in their tack and teaching the basic skills they need for lives as productive members of equine society, so I put out a few feelers looking for a horse needing a job.  I decided I didn't want to make a big deal out of it.  The timing was good - I had lots of pasture, the two horses I had were getting along, and weather was good enough to work on integrating a new member.  If it didn't work out, I would hold off until next summer.  I mentioned it to my farrier, a couple riding buddies, and a fellow I know from social media that works at helping people in tough times find good homes for their horses.  This last source was my jackpot.  He immediately said he had one coming up that might be just what I wanted.  A few days later he sent me photos of an adorable Morab (Morgan-Arab cross) gelding named Danny who had been a pasture puff his whole life - his whole seventeen years of life.  Because of that last bit, it took some convincing for me to go see him.  After several conversations I decided to take a look.  To make a long story short, I didn't bring him home that day, but took delivery of him about a month later.  I have not regretted one moment of the addition.  Danny is smart and easy going, and I am enjoying every minute of working with him.

Danny, my Morab, at home in the sunshine.

The period from my last post to this one has been full.  During that time, the best lesson I learned is to savor what I have and not dwell on what was.  Gift Horse Farm has endured losses, but there is a new beginning in the additions.  In knowing that, I have reflected a good deal on the promise we are given as believers, that we are made new and the old passes away.  2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, "Old things are passed away.  Behold!  The fresh and new has come!"  The verse refers to personal redemption and re-creation as followers of Christ.  The message is that we are no longer held in what was, but in the promise of what is and what will be.  It's a message worth clinging to.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fresh Paint

All the rides in the garden got a fresh look this year!  

That great cherry red was fading a little so I brightened up the bike, and decided to go simple with a basket in back and some pots of lobelia and wishbone flower.  The pots are actually coffee cans that I peeled the labels off and spray painted in complimentary shades of aqua and mint, and I added a fun banner that catches the breeze.

A fresh and fun look for the bike!

Lobelia and wishbone flowers spilling out.

The wheelbarrow also has a couple cans of blooms.

Offsetting thyme and lavender, the little scooter and trike are a cool shade of sky blue.

Ready to roll from behind lavender.
Vintage scooter, seated by thyme and chives.

Elsewhere in the garden, blooms abound with comfort, relaxation, and flavor.

I love the folky sign behind this lavender bed.

Sun shimmers the plants and container alike; rhubarb and strawberries in the background.

Time for a seat on the porch!

This coneflower has a fresh seat.  The bunnies weren't letting it grow so I potted it.