The Arty Side of Aiken
AAEA Workshop with Booth Malone at the Studio of Louise Mellon in Aiken, SC
By Deanne Cellarosi
The American Academy of Equine Art holds workshops in painting and sculpture throughout the year. Booth Malone’s Workshop is held in Aiken, SC at the home studio of Louise Mellon. He has been holding his workshops here for several years. Some of the students come back year after year to paint with Booth for a week in February.
Having recently joined the Board of Directors as Dean of Education of the AAEA, I wanted to learn more, meet our artists, and, over the course of a year, experience all of AAEA’S unique Workshops.
The snow was falling outside our home in Maryland. The Wind Chills were below zero. Our driveway was a sheet of ice. It did not take much to convince my husband, Mario, of the wisdom of a February trip to Aiken, SC.
We arrived Sunday evening. The temps were in the fifties. You could see the grass. We checked into the Hilton Garden Inn and shed our layers of Under Armor.
Monday morning, we followed the instructions on the GPS down Whiskey Road, made a right, then a left. There the pavement ended and our car slowed to a crawl. We had been forewarned. On these sandy, hoof-pocked roads, horses have the right of way.
A light rain was falling as we drove alongside the Training Track. Through the mist, you could just make out the graceful shapes of young thoroughbreds going out and coming in.
We made a left and there we were. An iron gate gently opened to Louise Mellon’s spacious, pea-graveled driveway. To the right was a very English, brick stable flanked by a carefully enclosed, fox-proof chicken yard. Above the hen house gate were whimsical hen and rooster sculptures.
Everyone was arriving, unloading paints and canvases, choosing an easel, finding a spot in the large, light-filled studio that Louise has added to the back of her house. I have heard for years about this studio – how you can bring a horse in and paint from life – now here I am. There are some places that are a privilege to paint in – and this is one of them.
Louise Mellon is a wonderful artist in her own right. The walls of the studio are lined with paintings and prints of the art that she has created over the years. My eyes are immediately caught by two oversize prints of polo ponies in dramatic action. Aiken is home to at least thirty polo fields. The colors found in Louise’s creations, are vibrant and dramatic. Her paintings are modern and yet classic in their form and action.
“I draw a little sketch on the bottom border of each of my prints, so that each one is unique”, Louise tells me.
Louise loves to paint her little animal friends, Ruffles and Cricket, the Corgis, Miss Tizzy, the adopted cat, and others, lived with in years past.
“Some of my favorite paintings of my pets are upstairs in my room. I could never sell these”, she says.
She shows me a coveted print of Ruffles holding a carrot up to an eager pony, poking his head out of his stall.
”People think I make these images up”, she laughs, “but I don’t”.
Louise also paints whimsical animals, cats, dogs, horses, cows, dancing and cavorting over a canvas. Some of these have graced the cover of the Chronicle. Some are in children’s books. Right now, Louise is working on a complex scene of a polo game in action in front of the Polo Club. She is donating this to be used as a poster and fundraiser for a local benefit.
There is Booth – at the back of the room – greeting each of us. I had a mental picture of Booth as an imposing, businessman type. He once was an executive for Coca Cola. Now, he is a successful artist – a stunning painter of horses and dogs as well as human portraits. Here, in the flesh, he is tall and boyish, with an easy Southern charm. He comes from nearby Midland, Georgia.
He talked to us that first day about the business of art. How to say “No” when a client asks you to do some impossible task or something you know you will have trouble with. “ Some clients want you to paint the picture in their head, but you must paint the picture that you see.”
Booth is a humorous guy. He gave us a handout folder with a list of “The Ten Commandments of Failure”. Thou shalt be lazy…and paint only when inspired, was the first.
He described his inspirations as a young man with the artist, John Singer Sargent.
“I wanted to do what he did”.
He told us of the courage and perseverance it took to evolve from a business executive to a painter of portraits, horses, dogs and sporting life.
Booth is also a writer. He is inspired by the Civil War and its place in his own history. Some of his ancestors fought and died in nearby battlefields. He has written a sizable book –soon to be sent off to the publishers – on his family’s place in this conflict.
There are six other women besides me in this group. Elizabeth (Liz) Cummings has a winter home here in Aiken. Every fall, she and her husband, Ben, bring her four horses from their home in Middleburg, VA. Liz does Dressage. Often she rides four horses a day, as one might guess from her thin, youthful figure. Liz worked for many years as a marine Biologist. Later in the week, Liz will have all of us over to dinner at her house.
Michelle Robbins also comes from Middleburg. Michelle is a very sweet, petite blond with a background in design. She is a good friend of Liz.
Donna Doyle is an Associate with the American Academy of Equine Art and has had several paintings accepted into the fall juried shows. This year she is invited to the Spring Invitational Art Show at Spindletop Hall in Lexington, KY. Donna paints beautiful steeplechase and hunt scenes. She comes from Richmond, VA every year to Booth’s Workshop. She claims that each year she gets a little closer to her goals as an equine artist.
“Put”(think golf) Spaulding from Charlottesville, VA, is another horsewoman in the bunch. She comes to class each day in her Dubarry Boots and Barbour jacket. At home she hunts her older thoroughbred mare with the local hunt.
“We go out to have fun”, she says.
When we go on our horse “sightings” around Aiken, she is the one who sets jumps and trotting poles and otherwise pitches in.
Nan Cunningham is our Southern Belle from Auburn, Alabama. She talks in that soft drawl that is so captivating to Northern ears. A lifelong artist, Nan simply picks up a brush and starts painting. She told me she brought twenty canvases with her in the car. She probably used half of them up during the week. I admire Nan’s quick creativity.
Georgann Crawford is a native of Aiken. She worked for years for the Franklin Mint making copies of Old Masters paintings and sculpture. She is now, with Booth’s help, making a foray into Equine Sporting Art. Georgann’s husband works as a farrier. But he is also an artist of a different kind. He melts down used aluminum horseshoes and then pours the molten metal down the burrows of the dreaded Fire Ants. When it cools and hardens, he digs out the nest, dusts it off, and ends up with an elaborate, gleaming aluminum labyrinth of “tentacles”. Amazing. Georgann presents one of these original ant tunnel sculptures to Booth at the end of our class.
Booth is a generous teacher. By that, I mean he is ever willing to share what he has learned over the years. He wants us to be better artists. On the first day, Booth stops by my easel. He looks at my collection of elegant sable brushes.
“Where are your giant bristle brushes?” he demands.
I admit that I don’t use them much and didn’t bring any.
“Why don’t you use them?” He asks.
I am embarrassed to say it but I find them difficult to control when painting the tiny details of horses.
“Like this”. Booth takes one of his large, white, boar bristle brushes, turns it on edge and skillfully carves out a muscle on the front leg of the Master’s horse that I am working on.
After class, I go to the local Hobby Lobby. I am in luck. Brushes are all 50% off.
The next day, I lay out my new brushes.
Booth tells me, “Choose a brush that will cover that riding coat in three strokes”.
I pick up a half-inch brush.
“No, that one,” he says, and points to the next larger size.
Then, there are those tiny faces of riders in my hunt scene –
“Paint them all in with the shadow color, then carefully pick out the highlights to establish the features. Don’t try to paint around the little eyes and nose and mouth that you have drawn.”
Booth is simplifying things that I often labor over.
Booth has some interesting colors in his palette – especially as he begins a painting – mauve, viridian and aqua – not colors that I ordinarily use when first setting up a painting.
“Those colors will push through later on in a painting and give it life.” He tells us.
Booth talks about warm colors and cool. He tells us to arrange our palette in an orderly way as we work.
Like his brushes, Booth likes his palette knives large-“the better to mix with”, he tells us.
He holds up one of my dainty tools.
“What kind of palette knife is this?”
I’m so glad that Hobby Lobby is right on the way to our hotel.
Booth suggests we spray our paintings with retouch varnish as we start work on yesterday’s efforts. He lends me his for a trial. I feel a new “tooth” to that first paint that I laid down.
This last trip to Hobby Lobby is not successful. The ice in Tennessee has held up their delivery truck and they are out of retouch varnish. The sales lady looks at me kindly.
“It will probably be here tomorrow when you come in”, She says.
Louise is the most thoughtful of hostesses. She tells me how important it is that everyone feels supported and confident. “We all come here with different levels of experience and ability, but each one wants to learn and excel.” She visits each of our paintings and admires the good points.
“That’s just lovely”, she says, as she looks at my new color scheme.
Each morning she leaves a useful art gift at each of our easels. One morning it was some paint rollers to squeeze our paint tubes as they empty. Another morning was a handy bamboo brush holder, then some drawing paper and pencil and a canvas art bag to hold all our treasures.
After lunch there was always a small bit of chocolate – little foil wrapped rabbits, carrots or coins, “to keep our spirits up”, she said. Mid afternoon was another special time for us. Louise would bring around a homemade treat, often made from the eggs of her own hens, lemon bars, custard with chocolate, chocolate covered crackers. Everything is organic and “healthy”, we tell ourselves as we have just another little bit.
Louise, herself, often contributed to the class on health issues associated with the use of oil paints. She discusses the dangers of heavy metals like Cadmium, which is found in many of our most useful colors. The mediums we use are mostly petroleum products that can be hazardous to breathe. Louise urges us to be neat and careful as we work. Her studio is equipped with powerful ventilation fans to periodically clear the air. We dispose of all our cleaning materials at the end of each day.
Aiken – a go to place for winter horse sports and training – is full of horse “sightings”, potential subjects for photos that we can use for our paintings. The camera, Booth tells us, is one of the horse artists’ most important tools.
“Remember, it took the photography of Muybridge to stop the motion of the horse’s galloping stride and enable artists to paint the horse in realistic motion.”
One day, a stunning four in hand carriage trotted up the driveway and around Louise’s back paddock. We set down our brushes and ran out with our cameras.
“Think about the horses”, Booth reminds us. “Always move slowly and deliberately. Don’t crouch down when working around horses. They will think you are a predator getting ready to spring. Turn off your flash.”
The team paraded around, just for us, and we snapped away. When we went back inside, Nan immediately painted a portrait of the two lead horses.
Another day, Monica Driver of Mosaic Racing Stables, visited us and invited us to see her black racehorse, Analysis, work out over cavalletti. This was to be an enrichment activity added to his training to prepare him for life after racing. We hiked down to one of the many horse fields open to all Aiken riders, to photograph. Put made herself useful adjusting the trotting poles for the big black’s huge stride.
Booth reminded us that the camera can distort. We should be careful to aim at the level of the horse’s withers when taking pictures.
On Thursday, Louise led her Shetland pony, Little Richard, through the French doors into the middle of the studio! A live model!
“I can bring in the chickens, if you want”, Louise offers.
Nan quickly paints a portrait of Little Richard as he stands there.
The studio has permanent animal residents. Ruffles and Cricket, the corgis and the adopted stray cat, Miss Tizzy roam about the room as we work. Their presence works to offset the intensity, which we all put into our paintings. Booth tells us he lives in dread of the public displays of tears that sometimes happen in his classes. We make sure it doesn’t happen this week.
On Friday morning the sun came out after four days of rain and drizzle. This was the real Aiken in winter. We walked down the sandy road to the training track to see Monica’s horse breeze. The air was fresh and smelled of spring. A crocus had popped up along Louise’s driveway. Riders on a morning hack stopped to chat with us. At the track, owners and trainers clustered by the rail, talking about bloodlines and schedules and who did what.
“A lot of horse action is repeating”, Booth tells us. “Find a good spot where the lighting is right and you have a good background. Wait for the horses to come by your camera and then shoot. When I go to Rolex, I go out the day before and scout the scene and the lighting on the jumps and choose my spot.”
The sun is getting high in the sky. We are losing the magic hour of early morning light. Analysis finally thunders by. We snap our photos.
Friday comes. Strangers five days ago, we all part as friends. There are hugs and kisses all around. We vow to each other to return next year. Each of us signs the others canvas bags that Louise has given us. We exchange emails and addresses. We say “Thank you” to Louise for all her hospitality and to Booth for his instruction, encouragement and advice.
When we get back to Maryland, there is eight more inches of snow in our uncleared driveway. The snow blower must be got out, the bags and art supplies unloaded. But our hearts are light. Our mind is inspired. And, of course, spring is just around the corner. Didn’t the weatherman say the Cherry Blossom Parade is only six weeks away?
Here is a charming article written by Deanne Cellarosi, one of our recent students, sharing her memories from an Academy workshop in September, 2013. She is exceptionally talented and has been very successful in her growth as an equine artist. Deanne has been a wonderful student and has become a really good friend. Her joy in learning and passion for her art makes my role as an instructor humbling and fulfilling.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to pass on what has been given to me in AAEA classes over many years, by the Masters of this genre who have come before. This is the true mission of the AAEA.
Deanne’s work may be seen on the AAEA website in the archived Fall 2013 Juried Exhibition and the Spring 2014 Invitational Exhibit, which can be seen on our site right now. I know we will be hearing more about Deanne!
AAEA WORKSHOP 2013
For the second year in a row, I was taking a Workshop from the American Academy of Equine Art.
September 9, 2013 was a bright end-of-summer day as I drove down historic Iron Works Pike in Lexington, KY. Rolling green pastures outlined in white board fencing flanked the tree-shaded entrance to the Kentucky Horse Park.
The Workshop, “Classical Techniques in Equine Art”, given by Xochitl Barnes, was held in a gallery of the International Museum of the Horse. It was an appropriate setting for our quest to paint The Horse ever more expressively and accurately.
Xochitl brings years of experience in painting, illustration, murals, sculpture as well as a love of horses and a sharp, practiced eye for anatomy, color and composition to this week of non-stop painting.
The Horse Park itself, is abuzz with every sort of horse activity. The past weekend featured Hunter/Jumper shows. Monday, mares and foals were parading around. Later in the week there was a presentation of Rocky Mountain Gaited horses. Funny Cide was currently living in the Hall of Fame Barn. Every day, the Parade of breeds was open for all to see. Each day, as we walked to our class, horses and riders in breed and period costumes walked about and the riders talked to visitors about their presentation.
Each morning started with an “art discussion”. The first day we started with the classical technique of “grisaille”: developing an accurate underpainting in neutral tones and then putting down the color. The next day, it was the palette, the colors, the possibilities. Then we talked about composition, background and, of course, choosing our subjects, what makes a good painting. A lot of time was spent on developing the quality of our brushwork. How to lay down a confident stroke and then softly blend it to create the rounded, three dimensional form of the horse.
Frances Clay Conner, as AAEA Executive Director, runs most of the day to day work of the Academy, and arrived on that first day as we were setting up. She brought drop clothes, a coffee maker, snacks and a cooler full of drinks. We surely weren’t going to starve under her auspices. Frances Clay, who by my standards is young and strong and full of energy, was also hard at work unpacking and hanging the Open Fall Juried Show that The AAEA was opening that Friday.
Then we began to paint. Mary, from Delaware, was taking the workshop for the first time. Xochitl set her to work making an accurate drawing of a photo she provided. I brought along several canvasses that I had already prepared with my drawings transferred and somewhat started in neutral tones. We worked steadily. Every so often Xochitl would check our progress and pick out parts where we were going astray or that needed attention. Mary was having trouble getting the hind legs of the grazing pony right. On my part, the outside eye on my horses slightly turned head had gotten bigger and bigger as I had applied the paint.
Suddenly we were starving. It was way past one. We all climbed into Xochitl’s car and drove over to a local diner, Sam’s, where they served real home cooked Kentucky food. We ended up doing this almost every day. The waitress kidded us that we were becoming “regulars”.
Back at the Museum we went to work again. Xochitl was always ready to answer questions and tell us about her experiences. We were constantly in danger of being locked into the Horse Park which closed at five.
We spent the week like this: talking about art, painting, painting, painting. What a luxury to paint for all day, every day for five days!
The Grand Finale of our week of art was the opening on Friday of the Annual Fall Open Juried Show of Equine Art in nearby Georgetown, KY. We had our own private tour and discussion group with Xochitl on Friday afternoon, hours before the show opened.
It was a special week that I will go back to over and over in my mind as a work at home alone in my studio. I enjoyed so much the fun and companionship of Xochitl and the other horse artists and I have new tools to guide me as I work.
I know there has not been a lot of activity on this blog since it went up quite awhile back but, starting today, I hope to change that! With the help of our members and friends we will work to make this an informative, interesting and, hopefully, lively part of our website.
Tonight, from 6-8 PM is our Opening Reception for the 2014 AAEA Spring Invitational Exhibition! This year we are pleased to exhibit once again at the spectacular Club at Spindletop Hall in Lexington, Ky (it is right across the road from The Kentucky Horse Park). The exhibition will be on display through May 30, 2014. Please stop by if you are visiting the area, or see the show on our website. The art is for sale and may be purchased through the website or in person. Contact our Director, Frances Clay Conner for details.
Tomorrow, Saturday April 19, is our AAEA Spring Board Meeting. The meetings take place twice each year and are scheduled to coincide with the opening receptions for the Spring Invitational…when held in KY…and Fall Open Juried Exhibits.
The AAEA welcomes you to our new blog, “AAEA Quick Sketches, Academy News and Notes”. We have been looking for a really good way to keep in touch with our members and friends, and have decided to try a blog format.
It is timely – we can post whenever things happen, and interactive – you can respond with comments and questions which can be answered directly.
We will be able to easily post pictures of our events, such as exhibition openings and workshops.
We would love to post interesting and informative articles from members! If you would like to submit an article please email it first to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be very happy to look at it.
There are many wonderful things that we can do with this and we are very excited to share this new addition!
The AAEA 2013 Fall Juried Exhibition opened on Saturday, September 14 at the Scott County Arts and Cultural Center, 117 N Water Street, Georgetown, KY. The contact number there is (502) 570-8366
Here is the SCACC web page for more information on that event: http://www.scottcountyartworks.org/scac/?page_id=377
The artwork may be seen now our AAEA website.
Our Spring Invitational exhibition – Was held in TWO lovely galleries this year! The Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts Gallery in Georgetown, KY and The Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art in Marietta, GA.
The Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts Gallery in Georgetown, KY held their opening reception on April 12, 2013, with that exhibit running through May 24, 2013.
The Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art in Marietta, GA opened with a reception on April 13, 2013 and that exhibit ran through June 30. Both of these exhibitions contained not only art submitted by our invited artists but also included work from our Permanent Collection.
The art from both of those venues is still available for viewing in our archives.