Fresh off the easel! “Summer Snack, Mongolia”. Without really meaning to I took 2021 off from painting and didn’t do much art at all. Quite of few of my colleagues spent the year the same way, not very motivated with Covid so serious. But as the new year has dawned folks are picking up their brushes, pens, pencils etc. again same as I am. I did another painting before this one, which I’ll also be posting a step-by-step on but am so pleased with this one I decided to share it first.
The setting is in the northern mountains of Mongolia not far from the city of Erdenet. I was the guest of a family for the aimag (county’s) Naadam festival. They are race horse trainers so I had the privilege of being part of the preparations for the races. Mongol horses are allowed to run free when they aren’t being used for work. I was out walking around and I spotted this mare and foal with the valley and mountains behind her.
Now I head for the finish…
At this point I was unhappy with the hind leg of the foal closest to the viewer. I painted it and wiped it out at least 4-5 times. And here, once again, is the finished painting….
April 2, 2021 was the last time I posted a blog entry in 2020 on either of my sites (the other one being my SketchWild nature sketching and drawing site). I found, like I’m sure many people had, that I’d run out of gas and things to say for the time being. I also didn’t do much, if any art. Also, after decades of being super careful, the rotator cuff area of my right shoulder started to act up and I didn’t want to aggravate it. A number of my colleagues over the years soldiered on and ended up having to have surgery. No thanks. But I find now that I can, if I’m careful and don’t overdo it, draw and paint. I’m also going to start a series of exercises to address each of the muscles involved.
Last spring we got vaccinated and will get “boosted” next week. Even so, we’re being sensible about going out and around. My mom was an RN who remembered the time when there were no vaccines and the suffering and pain people experienced as a result. I had a high school classmate who might been among the last kids to get polio and shortly before the vaccine was available. He survived but ended up with one leg shorter than the other and died young in his early 50s from polio-related heart problems. I got all the vaccines as they came along and am very glad my parents did that. It wasn’t a foolish political issue back then, it was a no-brainer. Most people alive today don’t remember pre-vaccine days. I follow the science and fact-based evidence and I know how important it is be be vaccinated against a variety of diseases, including COVID.
One of the fun things I did in the fall as the outdoor gardening season wound down was to try out some succulents. And as I’m sure often happens, it becomes the “potato chip problem”…can’t have just a few. They turn out to sometimes be picky little devils and I’ve lost some. But most are doing fine. I bought this commercial grade restaurant cart to keep them at least somewhat safe from earthquakes and also so I can easily move them around to catch the sun. It’s worked out really well! Now I want to start sketching them.
That’s it for this week. I’m back at the easel and have my sketching gear warmed up so there will be ART next Friday!
The tolai hare is the only rabbit/hare species found in Mongolia. They’re usually seen in rocky or semi-desert areas. My subject was one that I saw one evening at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I was positioned up in the rocks above the spring-fed stream waiting for argali sheep to show up when this hare hopped out from behind some rocks into plain view. What made it even better was there was a hoopoe perched on a rock not far away. Both species are very skittish and bolt at any movement. Here’s a couple of photos of hares I’ve seen during my trips to Mongolia.
Also at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu. You have to see them before they see you to have any chance of getting photos. Sometimes they wait until you’re so close that you’ve almost stepped on them and then they explode from right at your feet, which really boosts one’s heart rate!
During the 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition we were enroute to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area to explore critically endangered Gobi bear habitat (saw tracks and scat but no bears, not surprising when the total population is currently estimated to be 40 of them). The Fergon van that carried our equipment was stopped by a blocked fuel line. We all got out of the SUV and poked around while that was attended to. I spotted this tolai hare right away and got some decent photos before it bounded off.
I recently pulled out about a dozen paintings that for one reason or another I’d never gotten to “work” and can now see what I need to do. As I finish them I’ll be posting them here on my blog and also in my Fox Studio Facebook group.
“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Takhi Family Group)” was one of them. Spent my work day yesterday fixing it, which turned out to be an almost total repaint except for the horses, who just needed some tweaking, and the mountains in the background. In takhi/Przewalski’s horse family groups, as with American feral horses, the group (once called “harems”) they are led by the senior mare. She decides when and where they move to. The stallion brings up the rear which means he can keep a watchful eye on everyone, ready to defend them from predators like wolves, which are common in Mongolia.
I saw this family group of takhi at Takhiin Tal which is located at the upper eastern corner of the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, not far from where the last wild takhi was seen at a waterhole in 1969. I had permission to get out of the car and approach them, which I did slowly in a zig-zag pattern. They kept an eye on me while I took photos and finally moved off, giving me this great example of wild equid behavior.
“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Family Group)” oil 18×36″ price on request
I have a nice selection of affordable original oil paintings available in my Fox Studio Etsy shop, including this one. You can get the details and purchase it here. It’s of a domestic Mongol horse foal I saw on one of my trips to Mongolia. He was having a bit of trouble balancing, but was finally able to scratch that itch.
I also offer a variety of animal-themed coloring pages, available for immediate download and only $1.99. Here’s one example:
I saw this wonderful cheetah on an art workshop/safari in Kenya in October of 2004. Cheetahs have always been one of my favorite big cats and it was a thrill to see them going about their business in the wild. You can download this big cat here.
Here at Fox Studio I share mostly my studio fine art, stories of my travels and interesting things going on on our rural acre’s garden, pond, etc. A few years ago I decided to set up a new site devoted to nature sketching in general and pen and ink drawing in particular, including tutorial posts on that media and what I’ve learned about various nibs, ink, etc.
I’ve carried a sketchbook with me on my travels since 1989. I’ve scanned over half of them now and use examples from them to demonstrate points I’m making about nature sketching.
I also report on the results of my various tests of nibs, inks and more. In the example above I was testing for water resistence/waterproofness. As you can see there’s great variation.
One of my goals is to share the art and stories of pen and ink artists of the past through my “Great Pen and Ink Artists” series, which started with Charles Dana Gibson of Gibson Girl fame. I’ve also unearthed quite a few pen and ink artists of the past who are pretty much forgotten now but who wrote excellent books on how to use this classic art media and I’ll be doing posts in the future on them. J. Geoffrey Garrett is one of them. There’s next to no information about him, not even a Wikipedia entry. He seems to have worked entirely or mostly on location in his home country of England. So that’s an overview of what’s on tap at SketchWild, which you can findhere. I’m also selling sets of pen nibs selected specifically for artists at my Fox Studio Etsy shop, which is here. I’m also offering original art in pen and ink, oil and pen and ink/colored pencil, a downloadable tutorial “A Beginner’s Guide to Sketching” and downloadable coloring pages.
Back in another professional life before I became a painter in oil I worked in gouache and also a mixed media technique I learned at Mark English’s Illustration Academy. I also used watercolor and pen and ink for some illustration class assignments when I was getting my BFA Illustration at the Academy of Art (then College) from 1987-1989. Since spring is on the way I thought I’d share four that have a landscape or plant subject…two that play it straight and a two where I, well, didn’t and went for a humorous touch.
Like has been true with many or my artist friends and colleagues, the combination of the election and a pandemic that’s now into its second year, has made it hard to focus on making art at times. I did three paintings in November and otherwise have been sketching on Monday afternoons with a group of artists who also have a background in illustration. I’ll be posting a “best of…” those here in the near future. While there will still be posts about the garden, the collies and such, this year I want to move more towards passing on some of what I’ve learned as someone who has worked in one art-related field or another since 1976.
So, to start off, I’m going to share work-in-progress images of the above painting, which I did in 2009. It’s from a place I’ve been to in Mongolia a number of times. This white camel was still alive and at the visitor ger camp in Arburd Sands ( a dune complex that is one of the farthest north of the Gobi) where I stayed when I was last there in 2018.
This is one way I often start a painting. I’ve already done some rough studies for the composition so I drew it onto the toned canvas with raw sienna and brush. I moved the brown camel behind her to get the humps into the painting, which sets up a rhythm with hers. It’s always good to remember not to get “married” to your reference. Do what it takes to get a good strong composition. Just because it’s in the photo doesn’t mean you have to paint it.
The next step was to rough in the shapes of the shadows. So now I have two values and can play off that for the rest of the painting. I also made some corrections to the drawing.
Now I’m starting to add colors, cool for the shadows on the camels and a warm violet tone for the sandy ground. I also continue to refine the drawing as I go along, tweaking and adjusting as necessary.
All the basic local colors are in now, generally darker than they’ll eventually be. I work more or less from dark to light. I’ve also started to add brushwork to create the wooly texture of their coats. The whole surface of the painting has paint on it now. I’ve got the drawing the way I want it.
Closing in on the finish now. All the light and shadow areas are set. The ground and background are also ready for the final stages. For the camels it’s time to punch the values and color temperature, which needs to be much warmer to show that great late afternoon light. And below, once again is the finished painting. I ticked in the shrubs and ground plants at the end to make the ground more interesting and to introduce a color, green that repeats the vegetation behind the animals and is the complement of the warm reddish tones of the camels. It’s important to not get hung up on “local color”. Color is relative and depends on what a given color is next to and on the light the subject is in.
“Almost There” oil on canvasboard 12×18″ (price on request)
For the first three weeks of November I was at the easel every weekday painting the pieces that I showed the color comps of on Sept. 22 here. I finally decided not to use them for the original purpose and will be entering them in some upcoming juried exhibitions. I’m pleased and proud of them so I want to debut them here on my blog. The one above is from reference I shot at a naadam in Erdenet Soum in 2015. I got to ride in the chase car for two of the races so I got fantastic reference as we drove alongside the horses and riders.
In Mongolia the sweat of a winning horse is thought to be auspicious, so the trainer scrapes it off. The traditional tool for this was the bill of a Dalmation pelican, an endangered species, so now the scrapers are made of wood, often with nice carving on them. One always knows the trainers by the scraper in their belt or sash. I was really struck by the colors of this two-year old, who had already raced. Very pretty.
And here you can see one of the trainers at the same event with his scraper tucked into his sash. This would be his personal riding horse. He (they are almost always stallions or geldings) has a traditional saddle that is well-worn and a common type of bridle knotted from hand-braided rope.
I’ve also kept up with Inktober52, not missing a week so far. Four drawings to go. You can see all of them on my Instagram feed here.