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The Arty Side of Aiken

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. 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. We made a right, then a left. Suddenly, the pavement ended and our car slowed to a crawl on a sandy road. We had been forewarned. Many of the roads in Aiken are sand. Here, 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 all arrive. There is the usual bustle as we unload our paints and canvases. As we enter the art studio, there is Booth – at the back of the room – he greets 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’s.

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.

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 came trotting up the road. 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, Booth brings in a Shetland pony, Little Richard, a live model!

Nan quickly paints a portrait of Little Richard as he stands there.

The studio is often filled with a certain 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 at the edge of a lawn. 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 Mellon has given us. We exchange emails and addresses. We say “Thank you” 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 minds are inspired. And, of course, spring is just around the corner. Didn’t the weatherman say the Cherry Blossom Parade is only six weeks away?

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