February 1, 2023
The rules for NaMoPaiMo - National Model Painting Month's International Painting Party - were few this year. Medallions and wall sculpture was acceptable. Grace eyed a piece the boss had offered up. She thought it was an Akhal Teke, by Rayvin Maddock. It was slightly larger than life-sized, and fabulous.
There was also a wonderful American Saddlebred by a European artist whose name the boss could not remember. Grace wasn't sure she could do these sculpts justice. But they would temporarily transform the tack room into an art space, as they had done a couple times before, and give it a try.
Also acceptable for NaMoPaiMo this year was finishing unfinished pieces. Skye had been looking at the orange horse since last year. They had tried out a new earth pigment on him and it was very rich and saturating.
"I bet you could do a gorgeous pinto on that Saddlebred" Skye said.
Grace shot her a look.
"Oh yeah, no more pintos" Skye whispered. "Ha! Just kidding!"
It was an absolutely glorious day in Chilao, as beautiful as any the girls could remember.
But everywhere they turned, there were linemen, contractors for Southern California Edison; in trucks, on the ground with jackhammers, operating augers and the like. The work on the power lines was welcome, but all of it was happening in the immediate vicinity, and it was a bit much.
"What if we rode across the station and then up the hill?"
Grace considered it.
La Barilla had no issues with rough terrain. It was tempting. And sooner or later she'd need to get her mount accustomed to things like big trucks. But her gut said don't do it.
They went to the arena instead, without any real plan.
"You know what we should do for MIM?" Skye asked.*
"I have a feeling you're going to tell me..."
"A performance challenge. Because isn't it a halter show?"
Grace laughed. "What are you envisioning?"
"I don't have a clue. But let's do something. A speed challenge or something."
Grace was liking the idea.
There was an empty spot on the wall. A little glue left behind from a previously attached banner. Curious.
The art supplies arrived. Grace was eager to get started on the wall sculpture. The conversion of the tack room would begin now.
"Yup. Hopefully enough to cover the saddles too."
"We've used mica powders before without this much precaution."
"Not on anything this big."
Skye thought Grace was being a bit overly cautious perhaps, but whatever. It was time to get busy on the NaMo projects, and if Grace wanted to cover the world in plastic first, fine.
The resin sculpt Skye was also working on was seriously heavy. She pushed it with effort close to the saddles, so it too could be underneath the tarp.
The girls surveyed their tarp work.
"Couple pieces of tape and we're good to go" Grace said.
Grace bathed the Akhal Teke bust in a swath of bronze mica powder, using a foam "brush" designed for house painting. It wasn't the perfect tool, but it was wide and carried the fine powder. It was good enough. The results were pleasing. But a problem became immediately evident. The palettes were difficult to navigate. You either had to stand on them and risk knocking over the sculpture, or lean way over to paint.
Skye made short work of the palettes. As she did, Grace realized the ground wasn't going to be a perfect solution either. She would live with it for tonight.
And so they worked on their first wall sculptures, Skye using copper mica powder, Grace using bronze.
"Is it just me" Skye said, "...or do they both look pink?"
Grace rocked back and forth from side to side, trying to catch the light falling on the pieces at a different angle. Finally she conceded.
"You are correct. They look pink. Let's quit for tonight. Maybe they'll look better tomorrow."
It was cold and windy outside, so the girls worked on their NaMoPaiMo InPaPa projects. But Skye wasn't pleased with the resin drafter.
"I used pan pastels for the dark color" she explained, "and I just don't feel like I can control them. They go on so dark. I think I ruined him."
"I really like your dappling" Grace said.
"Yeah but, I mean, thank you but, he went grainy on this side...either too much pastel or too much sealer, I don't know..."
"Go another layer of the dark" Grace said. Then if you still don't like him, you can always make him a roan. I think he's going to be fine once you get a little farther. Do his gray areas and get his back darker...you'll be all right."
They turned their attention to the American Saddlebred wall sculpture. "This guy...this is just the first layer of pan pastel. Too soon to say anything about it."
And then Grace's Akhal Teke. "I'm loving this guy" Skye said. "Do you like him Grace?"
"I do. I think the next layer I do will be a very light yellow. There's some wrinkles on his lip that aren't actually wrinkles, they are tiny little imperfections, and I'm not sure what I'm going to fill them with, but hopefully I can find a filler that will blend in and not mess up the color."
Puddle Jumper, Grace's first and last acrylic pinto, was finally done. At least for now. Chances are i a month she would look at it again and still not be satisfied.
"Did you see that we're hosting a performance challenge at MIM?"**
"I did" Grace said. "I guess the boss liked your idea."
"Apparently so! But I wasn't expecting that she'd make us the hosts! How cool is that? And umm, what does it mean, to be the hosts?"
"It means we'll sort of be running the performance challenge. Or at least keeping it on track. Or maybe even timing the timed events."
"And what about you riding other people's horses for a fee?"
"So, that just means that if someone shows up with a horse they want to compete with, but they don't have anyone with them to ride the horse, I can ride it for them. As long as it's western and not fancy get-up western."
"I think it's going to be a blast" Skye said.
On the south side of Chilao, the wind blew cold. Grace and Skye were worn down from it. It had been blowing for days, just hard enough to make things unpleasant. But on the north side, in the picnic area, all was calm.
So they took the big red truck that Grace liked to refer to as The Pavement Queen, and they went to the north side of Chilao where there were more trees, and sunshine, and far less wind.
"This is so luxurious" Skye said as they crossed the creek, meandering slowly through the picnic area.
"Are you looking for something Grace?"
"Sand" she answered. "Good sand."
The best sand in Chilao was presently under water, and being trampled daily by line workers in big auger trucks.
There was no shortage of sand in the forest. They came upon quite a bit of it.
But it was coarse, rocky...not at all what Grace was hoping to find. They returned to the south side, to the ranch.
When they returned, the wind had finally ceased, and the day was lovely, and beginning to warm. A variety of soil types eroded down onto the ranch property from Yucca Peak. Grace decided to investigate the red stuff. She had thought it to be some kind of clay a few weeks ago, when the ground was saturated to such degree that riding out to inspect it was impossible.
Dry now, they found a quite different scenario. The ground had frozen several times before it dried, and the going was difficult. They went slowly.
"This might not have been the greatest outing for this old girl" Skye lamented.
"Do you think she needs her blanket today, now that the wind stopped?"
"She loves her blanket" Skye said. "But no, I don't think she needs it. Especially not being black."
The line workers were operating helicopters from the fire station, but working elsewhere in the forest.
La Barilla was untroubled by the rough ground, which gave to a kind of gravelly powder under his hooves. Skye and the old black mare were a bit slower, but it looked like Skye might have been enduring more hardship than her horse.
"Do you suppose this is where red ocher comes from?" Skye asked.
"I don't know" Grace said. "It looks like it might be decomposed granite. Or decomposing granite, maybe. Or clay and granite combined."
"What makes the red color...iron?"
"I think so. Maybe. I don't know. But this isn't going to be any good for arena sand either."
"Oh heck no" Skye responded.
Grace watched the helicopters working, skirting around them, around the buildings, making short trips to move poles, then landing again.
"You are more concerned about those helicopters than the horses are" Skye laughed.
Skye needed to keep her head down, watching her footfalls on the rough terrain.
"Why don't you ride that horse" Grace suggested. "She's not struggling near as much as you are, and we'll find an easier way back."
Skye used a rock outcropping to give herself some height. The old black mare was very tall. And fortunately, patient.
They went along, slow and careful. The day had gone glorious. Any day on a horse was glorious, but today was especially so.
February 18, in Skye's studio
Skye had fallen rather silent on her NaMoPaiMo projects after the boss knocked down the resin drafter while it was wet with sealer. The damage couldn't really be fixed except by going even darker on th top line. Grace seemed to think it was a happy accident.
"I think you've the color pretty much spot on. But what I'm not seeing too much on this horse is dappling." Grace had made color prints of two pictures of a horse very much the build and color of the piece Skye was working on. There were no dapples to speak of, just light and dark reds.
"This might be the same horse" Grace said. "I got these off the internet and there wasn't much information to go with them. This guy is in his winter coat so I wouldn't expect to see dappling here. The pangare on the eye and muzzle is really nice. I'm not sure you could get the effect around the eye at this point, but you've got room for it on the muzzle. Good thing you didn't listen to me and make it gray. All in all I think your piece is looking lovely. But let's give this a rest for a bit. The boss said we should come down to the indoor arena."
When they arrived, the arena lights were off. The girls could see there was a horse in the arena. Then something like a spotlight came on, following the dancing horse.
Anamar. In what appeared to be traditional regalia. They stood, quietly, and watched the stallion move under saddle, riderless. Then Grace took the reins, and a stirrup, and swung herself up.
"This is a sweet saddle" Grace said. "Generous seat, sits well down on the horse."
The boos continues to offer them the romantic spotlight, following Grace and Anamar around the arena.
There was just enough daylight left to go outside, so they did.
"Where did his regalia come from? Africa?" Skye asked.
"No" Grace answered. "Denmark. From Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech." It took Skye a long time to respond.
The girls decided to come in before dark. Something had been prowling around the night before, and they had no desire to meet up with it.
"Did I tell you I talked to the boss about the performance challenge at MIM?" Grace asked.
"No you didn't."
"I asked what all we would need to do. She laughed and said 'pretty much everything.' But, the cool thing is, we will for sure be responsible for the cattle wrangling."
"Calves, to be more precise. That whole part of the operation will be up to us."
"I'm down! We'll be real cowgirls!"
The tack room was a bit crowded.
Calla lilies weren't made for sub-zero weather coupled with a blizzard warning. So the girls brought them inside. Along with all the current NaMoPaiMo projects. The calla lily project was a bit frustrating. Very few pairs of pots had well matched callas.
And two of the plants were clearly not going to follow the bonsai script. Their leaves were huge. Healthy, lovely...but huge, and their partner pots...nothing.
Skye's Saddlebred wall art was not too much farther along.
"This one is not going to get done any time soon" Skye said. "I'm okay with it. This one will be a slow and patient affair."
And obviously working dark to light had gotten frustrating on her drafter.
"I'm not as scared as I should be" Skye said.
"I don't think you need to be scared" Grace said. "I was wondering if you shouldn't do another pangare coat around the eyes. Just to make sure it's smooth and consistent."
They moved on to look at Grace's Akhal Teke. "Time for the eye" Skye said.
"It should be blue, right?"
"Yes" Grace said. "And I should be able to get all kinds of detail in it, because it's huge."
"Are ya skeered?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
And then they looked at the pots of calla lilies - twenty of them. This project was not going to plan. "Are you still thinking of giving these as prizes at MIM?"
"Yes" Grace responded. "I don't know how well people are going to like us for it...they are heavy, I'm not crazy about the soil we used, and they need so much water. And sunlight but not heat. They have until the end of this month to sprout. Then I think we should replace the ones that haven't sprouted with succulents."
"You did it! Congratulations!"
Grace had completed her Akhal Teke bust for NaMoPaiMo.
She wanted to add some shading, but she was stumped for a color choice.
Skye had, for the moment, lost interest in her NaMo projects, likely because neither one of them was near completion, and neither one of them were giving her an easy ride.
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do. And so they did. Seven feet of snow in Chilao...and more on the way...who ever heard of that?
*MIM - Models in the Mountains live halter show and equine enthusiast's retreat at Chilao School
**Performance Challenge at MIM - this will be a high point, NAN qualifier full class list of performance classes. The horse accumulating the most points across performance classes will take home a large custom rosette.