A Great Whistler Biography!

James Abbott Mc Neil Whistler (1834-1903)

I just finished the 2014 biography of James Abbott McNeil Whistler “A Life for Art’s Sake” by Daniel E. Sutherland and it was terrific! More than anyone else, Whistler freed art from moralizing, story-telling, narrative and historical subject matter and coined the term “Art for art’s sake” with the artist focused instead on creating works of beauty through arrangements of forms and color harmonies. His lack of interest in subjects as a literal representation informed his naming practices, borrowing from music for painting titles that used words like “Nocturne”, Symphony” and “Arrangement”. So, in a sense he was one of the first to think abstractly about the making of art. He was born an American but spent his adult life in England and France. And he knew everyone in the art worlds of both countries. The book reads like a who’s who of the time, from the 1870s to the beginning of the 20th century (he died in 1903). Five stars and a big thumb’s up! The book is available new or used from Amazon.

5 Epic Travel Accounts + 1 Book About Not-So-Epic Trips

A week of rough travel and a little short on drinking water, but to crawl out one's tent to see this...
A week of rough travel and we were a little short on drinking water, but to look out of one’s tent to see this… (Eej Hairhan Uul at sunrise, one of the most sacred mountains in Mongolia, where all mountains are sacred)

I’m in the fortunate position of getting to travel to Mongolia every year and spend most of my time there traveling in the countryside. I think of it as “sane” adventure travel. I know my limits and stay within them. Here’s five of my personal favorite travel books by people who took it to the limit and maybe a little, well, in some cases A LOT, more.

1. THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD by Apsley Cherry-Garrard: Defines “epic” when applied to travel and exploration books since it’s a page-turner stay-up-late first-person account of Scott’s Last Expediion to Antarctica and the South Pole (and I’m not that into Polar exploration). The title is an understatement, really, since Cherry-Garrard survived the most appalling conditions imaginable on a side trip to become one of the first humans to see the main nesting site of emperor penguins. And, of course, Scott and his party died on their way back from his “race” to the South Pole (they got there only to find that Roald Amunsen had already been and gone). Avaliable for free online through a variety of sources. More about the author here.

2. LONG WAY ROUND by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman: Around the world on motorbikes, starting from London. While filled with, shall we say, incident. my favorite part, of course, is when they went through Mongolia. And McGregor came within a whisper of saying the hell with this and heading north to Russia. He and Charlie were really schooled by Mongolia, but at the end it was his favorite, and most memorable, country they passed through. I knew I liked the young Obi Wan. Available from the usual places. There’s also a DVD set of the tv series. On YouTube, you may still be able to find Mongolian legendary rock band Haranga’s version of the Long Way Round theme song. More about Long Way Round here.

3. THE SINDBAD VOYAGE by Tim Severin: This one is more or less a stand-in for all his books, which started with “The Brendan Voyage”, in which he crossed the Atlantic in a coracle to prove that the Irish could have sailed to North America. In “The Sindbad Voyage” he sails a dhow, made in the traditional way from Malabar timbers sewn together, from Sohar in Oman to Hong Kong, a recreation of the Seven Voyages of Sindbad. He has also recreated the voyages of Jason and Ulysses, along with riding Ardennes Heavy Horses from France to Jerusalem to retrace the route of the Crusaders as recounted in “Crusader: By Horse to Jerusalem”. In 1991 “In Search of Genghis Khan: An Exhilarating Journey on Horseback Across the Steppes of Mongolia” was published, in which he describes the daily saddling of the horses as a “rodeo”. More about Tim here.

4. DANZIGER’S TRAVELS; BEYOND FORBIDDEN FRONTIERS by Nick Danziger: He’s not kidding. Easily the most intense “travel” account I’ve read. Eighteen months. No visas. Disguised as an itinerant Muslim. On foot or by donkey, camel, cart, truck, whatever was available, he traveled through Iran, Afghanistan, Xinxiang (home of the Uigher people in far western China), Tibet and China itself. Total cost: $1500 in the mid-1980s. No way he should have survived this, particularly in Afganistan where there was an actual war in progress, but he literally lived to tell the tale with wit and intelligence. I’ve read a lot of travel writing. This one stands alone. More about Nick here.

5. WALKING THE GOBI by Helen Thayer: New Zealanders Helen and her husband Bill walked the length of the Gobi from west to east at ages 63 and 74, respectively, something she’d dreamed of doing for 50 years. With two camels…Tom and Jerry. 1600 miles through 126F heat, sandstorms, dehydration, drug smugglers and scorpions (saw my first one ever in Mongolia on last year’s trip at, in fact, our camp by the mountain in the photo at the top)  This woman is indomitable, having skied to the magnetic North Pole unsupported (rare for any polar expedition these days), been the first woman to walk 4000 miles across the Sahara and travel 2200 miles of the Amazon River by kayak. She’s been awarded the Vancouver Award for Excellence in Exploration by The Explorers Club, among her many honors. More about Helen here.

Finally, on the *much* lighter side, at least for the reader….

6. I SHOULD HAVE STAYED AT HOME-THE WORST TRIPS OF GREAT WRITERS edited by Roger Rapaport and Margaret Castanera: I love this book. They did it so we don’t have to. We have only to read and laugh and groan and cringe. “Rick Steves on a beat-up Afghani bus with a speeding driver who appeared to be stoned”. “Jeff Greenwald dunked into an electric bath in Tokyo”. “Mary Mackay in a hotel room in Guatemala on the ‘Night of the Army Ants’ “. I think you get the idea….



23 Books On Watercolor From My Personal Collection

"Ullswater" by William Heaton Cooper
“Ullswater” by William Heaton Cooper (http://www.heatoncooper.co.uk/)- My favorite painting by one of my most favorite watercolor artists.

Although oil painting is my first love, I also have done watercolors on and off over the years and have decided to use them for my location work in Mongolia. I’ve been down with a flu/sinus infection/staph infection for almost a month, so have gotten no painting done. I don’t want to expose myself to the fumes from oil paint and solvents just yet, so decided to brush up on my watercolor skills now that I’m up and moving again.  I’ve built up a pretty good collection of books on the media over the years and have been going through them. I thought that I would share with you a list of what’s in my library.

Watercolor…Let’s Think About It! by Judi Betts- Aquarelle Press, 1984
Watercolor with Passion by Alvaro Castagnet- International Artist Publishing, 2000
Watercolor by Design by Mario Cooper- Watson-Guptill Publlcations, 1980
The Watercolor Bible by Joe Garcia- North Light Books, 2006
Mastering the Watercolor Wash by Joe Garcia- North Light Books, 2002
Water-Colour Guidance by J. Hullah Brown, A. & C. Black, Ltd. London, 1931
Painting Watercolor Florals That Glow by Jan Kunz, North Light Books, 1993
Figure Painting in Watercolor by Charles Reid- Watson-Guptill Publications, 1972
Painting What You Want To See by Charles Reid- Watson-Guptill Publications, 1987
Portrait Painting in Watercolor by Charles Reid- Watson-Guptill Publications, 1973
Pulling Your Paintings Together by Charles Reid- Watson-Guptill Publications, 1985
Fundamentals of Watercolor Painting by Leonard Richmond and J. Littlejohns, Watson-Guptill  Publications, 1978
Breaking the Rules of Watercolor by Burt Silverman, Watson-Guptill Publications, 1983

Irises and Other Flowers by Elizabeth Blackadder, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994
Mackintosh Watercolors by Roger Billcliffe, Carter Nash Cameron, 1978
Mountain Painter, An Autobiography by W. Heaton Cooper, Frank Peters Publishing, Kendal, Cumbria 1984
Sir William Russell Flint by Ralph Lewis and Keith S. Gardner, David and Charles, London, 1988
Margaret Merry’s Cornish Garden Sketchbook– self-published, 1994
English Watercolors by Graham Reynolds, New Amsterdam, 1950, 1988
The Glory of Watercolour: The Royal Watercolour Society Diploma Collection by Michael Spender, David and Charles, London, 1987
Nature Into Art-English Landscape in Watercolours by Lindsay Stainton, British Museum Press, 1991 (exhibition catalog)
Turner Watercolors– The Tate Gallery, 1987

The list has many books from England, both because watercolor has always been an accepted, important media there and because my husband and I traveled to England quite a few times in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, so I regularly brought books back home with me.

Mongolia Monday- Explorers and Travelers: Friar Giovanni DiPlano Carpini

Mongol warriors escorting Chinggis Khan's mother, Hoelun: National Naadam opening ceremonies, Ulaanbaatar, July 2009

Mongolia has always been considered an incredibly remote and exotic destination by most westerners. The shorthand expression for the farthest a person could be from any place has been to say that they’ve gone all the way to “Outer Mongolia”.

The reality today is that it is quite simple to get there from the United States and Europe. I fly to San Francisco (one hour) to Seoul, South Korea (11+hours) to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia (three hours). There are non-stop flights to Ulaanbaatar from Berlin and Moscow. But before air travel, before trains, before the country was essentially closed to foreigners by the communist government from 1921 to 1990 (other than the Russians who were stationed there), Mongolia was a challenging place to get to and travel in.

This will be an occasional series about westerners who have traveled to Mongolia in times past and left written accounts of their experience.

Epic. Journey.

First up is a man known in English as John of Plano Carpini, sent to Mongolia by Pope Innocent IV in April of 1245 to find out all he could about the “Tartars” who had beaten every army of European knights sent against them, but had then mysteriously vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

He and his party were stopped for a time in Russia at the camp of Batu, one of the most important Mongol princes, who finally ordered them to travel on to the court of Guyuk, who was the grandson of Chinggis Khan through his father, Ogedei Khan. 106 days and 3,000 miles later, in July of 1246, they arrived at the Mongol imperial capital of Kharkhorin. Carpini was in time to witness the Great Khural during which Guyuk was elected Great Khan.

Guyuk declined their invitation to become a Christian, although there had been Nestorian Christians present and living in the empire for some time. He did, however, give Carpini a letter to take back to the Pope demanding that he travel to Kharkhorin and submit to Mongol authority.

One page of the letter from Guyuk to the Pope

Guyuk allowed them to begin their journey home in November. They re-traced their route across the length of the Central Asian steppes through the winter and on into spring, then summer, finally arriving at Kiev in June of 1247. Traveling on, they delivered the Khan’s letter to the Pope in Lyon, France, who was not inclined to obey.

This epic journey was really a spy mission. The Mongols had withdrawn from Europe, it turned out, due to the death of Ogedei Khan (the cause is presumed to have been acute alcoholism) and the requirement to return to Mongolia to choose his successor, but the westerners, not knowing any of this, had no choice but to assume that they might return at any time and pick up where they left off, on the verge of entering central Europe. Carpini’s mission, which he courageously carried out, was to gather all the information he could, not only about the Mongols themselves, about whom nothing was known, but everything he could find out about their military: numbers of men, armor, weapons, tactics. Of course, if this had become known to the Mongols, it would have been a one-way trip for all of them.

The edition I have.

Once home, he wrote it all down in a report for the Pope, which has become the book, “The Story of the Mongols Whom We Call The Tartars”, the first account of the Mongols by a westerner. It has been translated into English and is a fascinating read for anyone interested in history, Central Asia, the military, travel and the Mongols themselves. You can get a hardcopy translation by Erik Hildinger at Amazon or read a free online version, translated by Richard Hakluyt here, which also has various download options.

Inspirations: 2 Great Art Books; Learning From Two Of The Best

Just got both of these in the last couple of weeks and I highly recommend them.

I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Lars Jonsson at the Society of Animal Artist’s 50th Anniversary celebration last year. He is one of the greatest bird artists ever and also one of the nicest people to chat with. I asked him how many birds he has on his life list and he looked down at me (I’m 5’6″ and he’s about 6’8″) and quietly said that he didn’t really keep a list. What a contrast to those who view birdwatching as a blood sport.

This book is a wonderful look at his career and how he works. It should be on the shelf of every artist who has birds as a subject. Since I’m about to embark on paintings of the cranes I’ve seen in Mongolia it only made sense to “consult” with a master. “Lars Jonsson’s Birds-Paintings from a Far Horizon” can purchased here.

This may seem an odd selection coming from an animal artist, but good art is good art no matter what the subject and Drew Struzan is legendary when it comes to his depiction of people and design ability. You’ll see LOTS of familiar faces in this book.

He was a guest lecturer when I was the Academy of Art University (then College) in the late 1980s. He flew up from LA for the day to speak to us illustration students. A couple of weeks before hand, he had sent a big pile of his posters, which were pinned up in display cases on the staircase and in the hallways of the department.

He didn’t talk down to us in any way and addressed us as colleagues in the making, which we really appreciated. I’ve always found him to be an inspiration and am lucky enough to have, many years ago, scored some of his posters from a video shop which was closing.

I’ve started to tackle humans as a subject and I’ve always been in awe of Struzan’s ability to catch the extreme essence of a likeness with impeccable draftsmanship and design.

“Oeuvre” can be purchased here.

Mongolia Monday- Book Review: Genghis Khan And The Making Of The Modern World


This book is on my short list of “must reads” for anyone interested in Mongolia. It’s not simply a history of the Mongols and their empire, but what they did that still influences us today in ways that you might find quite surprising. Weatherford effectively demonstrates how the way of life dictated by the vicissitudes of living on the steppes of Central Asia formed Mongol society and, indeed, Genghis (hereinafter called by the more accurate rendition, “Chinggis”) Khan himself.

After reading “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”, I was left almost wishing that the Mongols had been able to keep going to the Atlantic and beyond. So much of what people know about them was, unusually, written by the “losers”, historians and chroniclers in the countries that the Mongols conquered. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is often on the destruction and disruption that they caused wherever their armies appeared. The only surviving source of information on Mongol history by the Mongols themselves that is available in English is “The Secret History of the Mongols”, a book that will deserve its own post once I’ve acquired the latest translation, which, with luck, will be this summer.

Chinggis Khan was not a man to take “no” for an answer and he and his sons and grandsons had the warriors and tactics to back it up. Being practical people, they went with what worked. Not reveling in, or particularly liking, bloodshed, their campaigns were designed to minimize it, at least for themselves. Against other armies, they used the same methods as when they hunted game on the steppes back home. Retreating to draw the opposing army onto favorable ground was a common tactic that seems to have worked every time. Against cities, they used Chinese-designed siege engines, re-routed at least one river and, in another siege, when the inhabitants had barricaded themselves within their city walls, built an entire second wall around the perimeter to demonstrate who was really in charge.

When the Mongol army arrived at a city, it was given the opportunity to surrender and if it did, then everyone, except leaders who could foment revolt, was pretty much allowed go on peaceably about their business, but under a Mongol administration. Defiance was met with total destruction, hence their reputation for violence and ruthlessness in the West.

The boundaries of the empire expanded until they were defeated by the Mameluke army of Egypt in the west, failed twice to conquer Japan in the east and were more or less defeated by the hot, humid climate to the south. Kublai Khan, Chinggis’ grandson, over the course of twenty years, defeated the Sung dynasty of China and founded the Yuan dynasty, which ruled for over 100 years until overthrown by rebels who established the Ming Dynasty. The other parts of the empire more or less faded away over time and the Mongols were assimilated into the local populations.

For most Westerners, that’s the end of the story. But as dramatic as it is, it’s what happened during the existence of the Mongol Empire that I found fascinating and which is the heart of this book.

The Mongols, over three generations and thirty years, created the largest land empire the world has ever seen. They created countries, Russia is one example, that hadn’t previously existed. Within that empire the Pax Mongolica reigned. It turns out that Chinggis Khan wanted peace for himself and his people. The irony, of course, is that he waged war for most of his life to achieve it.

So, how does any of this relate to the modern world? Well, here are a few highlights from the book…..

-Chinggis Khan established the supremacy of the rule of law, which he applied to himself the same as to the poorest herder. It’s known as The Great Law and was based, not on divine revelation or the codes of settled lands, but the customs and traditions of the nomadic steppe people. This at a time, the 13th century, when in Western Europe kings ruled by divine right, no rules need apply.

-Given that within his empire, virtually every religion, including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, was represented, Chinggis Khan decreed total religious freedom for everyone, though he himself worshiped the traditional Mongol spirits and always had a shaman in attendance in his camps.

-The Mongols had no written language. Once they found themselves administering an empire that was almost 6000 miles from east to west, that had to change. Since the Uighers are closely related to the Mongols (Xinjiang in China in their homeland) and already had a perfectly serviceable writing system, Chinggis Khan simply adopted it. That, plus the addition of professional administrators from China and other countries like Persia, and bureaucratic paperwork, Mongol-style, was born.

-Most Americans have heard of the fabled Pony Express, which operated for a short time in the 19th century American West. The Mongols had the “arrow messengers”, a system of fast riders. The stations were about twenty miles apart and staffed by about twenty-five families. The system survived from the 13th to 18th centuries, when it had sixty-four stations. Chinggis Khan knew that efficient, reliable communication was essential for administering the empire.

-Under Khubilai Khan in China (the empire had split into four parts by that time), the Mongols: “guaranteed landowners their property rights, reduced taxes and improved roads and communication”. They reduced by almost half the number of capital offenses that had existed under their predecessors, substituted fines for physical punishment and moved to limit the use of torture (evidence had to be gathered first; physical compulsion was a last resort) at the same time European authorities, both church and state, were expanding it through, among other things, the creation of institutions like the Inquisition, no evidence sought or used.

-Khubilai Khan greatly expanded the use of paper money, which Marco Polo remarked on, creating opportunities for both credit and bankruptcy. No one could declare bankruptcy to avoid debts more than twice. A third time could lead to execution. The money was made from mulberry bark, cut into various sized rectangles, marked and stamped.

-Unlike the Romans and their enthusiasm for blood sports, the Mongols had a cultural abhorrence, mentioned earlier, of bloodshed. They had no interest in pitting animals against each other for entertainment. Execution of criminals was not a public spectacle as was so prevalent in Europe.

-What made Chinggis Khan’s, and his descendant’s, empire tick was trade, on a massive scale. Under the Pax Mongolica, the Silk Road flourished like never before or since. The quantity and quality of goods that flowed between east and west was incredible. A partial list of what the author mentions includes: silk (of course, and in massive amounts), bronze knives, wooden puppets, iron kettles, board games, perfume and makeup, musk, indigo, jewelry, wine, honey, cinnabar and sandalwood. It was the closest thing to a global economy until relatively recently.

The author, Jack Weatherford, has produced a compelling, compulsively readable account of how one man, starting from nothing, even being kept a slave for some period of time, rose to become the ruler of the world’s largest empire and, in doing so, laid much of the groundwork for the world we know today.

And…. he has a new book coming out on Feb. 16, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued his Empire.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2004

Mongolia Monday- New Mongolian Grammar Book

I got an email a month or so ago from one Munkhbayar Barmunkh, with a link to the Amazon page which offered the above book- a new, as of Sept. 2009, Mongolian grammar textbook. He turns out to be the publisher. I ordered it immediately.

The author, Khatantuul Baatarsukh,  has a BA in International Relations and Slavic Studies from the School of Foreign Services at the National University of Mongolia. It was clearly a labor of love. She says in the Preface, “Writing this book was a daring project, for it has many critics. My motivating force was the love and fascination of the art of language. My inspiration comes from life.”

As some of you know, I’m trying to teach myself Mongolian. I’m using: a Transparent Language course ; listening to Mongolian music via both CDs I’ve purchased and TsahimRadio, an internet radio station run by a Mongolian Facebook friend; and asking Mongol friends to translate words and phrases for me. I also have the Lonely Planet phrase book, which is dated in some unfortunate ways, but still very useful; and Mongolian/English and English/Mongolian dictionaries that I brought back in July.

I just bought Bento, the Mac-based consumer datebase app. I’m going to do my own word list since I need a specialized vocabulary of art and craft terms so that I can start to communicate with the felt craft coop ladies.

There doesn’t seem to be much else available that isn’t either really expensive or doesn’t fit my needs. I haven’t diagrammed a sentence since 8th grade (am I dating myself?), but I think this book will be quite helpful.

Mongolian is structured differently than English. The word order is more like German: Subject, object, verb. Verbs are modified by endings, so while I can look up a verb’s root word in the dictionary, I’ve had no idea how to use it correctly in a sentence. One exception is “gui”, which creates a negative. So, “chadakh” means “can” and “chadakhgui” means “cannot”.

The main problem that I have in learning a language is that I have a visual memory. That is, I store and retrieve information in images, for the most part. It makes remembering things like strings of numbers interesting. So, I find it difficult to make sense out of the terms for cases and how to relate them to anything. I’m hoping this grammar will help me sort that out, one way or another. I may just have to learn it by rote, which is ok, too.

All the text is in English and Mongolian cyrillic, which is almost, but not quite, the same as the Russian alphabet. There are lots of practice exercises, with a key at the back.

This book is not for beginning language students. I know just enough to start to beat my way through some of it. It will go with me on my next trip, though.

I invite both the author and publisher to add more information or comments, along with anyone else who has the book or would like to offer ideas/comments about the Mongolian language.

Mongolia Monday- “Among the Mongols” Book Review

I have built up a decent collection of books about Mongolia from a number of sources and now have most of what is readily available, some of which have been reviewed in past posts here, here and here. This one was a major find, however. It fits into what is really a sub-genre of travel literature: books written by western missionaries who have gone to “exotic” faraway places to seek converts to Christianity, something I will say up front that I have no sympathy with whatsoever.

“Among the Mongols” (The Religious Tract Society, 1888) is, however, a delight from beginning to end. The Rev. James Gilmour may have originally gone to Mongolia to save souls, but seems instead to have had a romping good time spending 21 years traveling from ger to ger across the countryside learning as much as he could about the Mongols and their culture, including the language, providing free medical treatment and talking about the Bible when opportunity permitted. About halfway through the book he allows as how he never gained a single convert and then writes two entire chapters explaining why converting the Mongols is almost impossible and maybe even not such a good idea. The second chapter is called “The Mongols’ Difficulties About Christianity”. And then it’s back to important business- how the Mongols celebrate Tsagaan Sar, their New Year. Here’s a quote from that chapter on how Mongols eat that demonstrates his good-humored enthusiasm and eye for the telling detail:

As soon as the banch (small meat turnovers) was finished, every man pulled out his knife and set to work on the meat (a large platter of mutton). It is a little alarming to see a Mongol eat. He takes a piece of meat in his left hand, seizes it with his teeth, then cuts it off close to his lips. The knife flashes past so quickly and so close to the face, that a spectator, seeing it for the first time, has his doubts about the safety of the operator’s nose. Practice makes them expert, and their hand is sure, and I have never heard of any one, even when drunk, meeting with an accident in this way. The configuration, too, of the Mongol face makes this method of eating much safer for them than for us. A Mongol’s nose is not that prominent, sometimes hardly projecting beyond the level of the cheeks, and the foreigner’s nose lays him under a considerable disadvantage in dining after the Mongol fashion. “

Needless to say, Highly Recommended! More excerpts to come.

You can purchase your own copy here and here. Don’t pay over $30 for a decent copy. There is the London edition, which is the one pictured above, a US edition (cited by Michael Kohn in Dateline:Mongolia as recommended reading) and a new paperback reprint.

11 Recommended Drawing Books For Animal Artists

by Bob Kuhn

Obviously, drawing skills are fundamental for the creation of visual art, whether it’s representational or not. By “drawing” I mean having the hand/eye motor coordination to make the marks you want, where you want them and the way you want them with your tool of choice, whether or not you approach your work using lines or shapes.

For the purposes of this post, however, I am talking about the use of “dry media”- pencils, charcoal and the like on supports such as paper and canvas. Plus the ability to represent an animal realistically and accurately. It goes hand-in-hand with the development of what I’ll call “visual judgment”, which is how you learn when you’ve made a mistake and what you have to do to fix it.

Part of the inspiration for the following comes from a comment thread I recently saw on Facebook in which an artist flatly stated that “passion” was the most important component of a painting. I would submit that passion uninformed by technical skill in areas such as drawing, design, form, structure, light, value, color and the handling of edges creates work that might have a certain initial level of visual excitement, but won’t stand the test of time or even close scrutiny. To my mind, lack of skill creates visual distractions that get in the way of the artist’s ability to express their passion. I also think that it can be used as a convenient excuse to get out of the hard work (it is HARD and it is WORK) of creating art.

by Walter J. Wilwerding

I recently was a member of the jury which evaluated applications for membership in the Society of Animal Artists. Five votes were required for acceptance. The  jurors were all artists with very keen eyes who were also uncompromising in their standards. I enjoyed the experience very much, both for the chance to see a lot of animal art and to learn from the other jurors. It was an objective process. The judging was not based on “like” vs. “not like” or “passion” or other vague emotional responses. The drawing of the animal was the first thing we looked at, whether it was a painting or a sculpture. Accuracy and an understanding of the structure of a species, plus a firm grasp of basic anatomy (“A leg can’t bend that way.”) were key. If the drawing of the animal was faulty, the application was rejected. It was one of the most consistent problems I saw in the work we viewed.

If, after taking a long, objective look at your work, you can see that there is room for improvement in your drawing skills, consider these books, which are from my own library and that I have found useful over the years. In no particular order:

-Drawing and Painting Animals by Edward Aldrich

-Animal Drawing, Anatomy and Action for Artists by Charles R. Knight

-Animal Drawing and Painting by Walter J. Wilwerding

-The Art of Animal Drawing by Ken Hultgren

-Drawing Animals by Victor Ambrus

-The Animal Art of Bob Kuhn…A Lifetime of Drawing and Painting by Bob Kuhn

-Drawing With An Open Mind by Ted Seth Jacobs

-The Pencil by Paul Calle

-Fast Sketching Techniques by David Rankin

by Charles R. Knight

And, for animal anatomy, you need both of these:

An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists by W. Ellenberger, H. Dittrich and H. Baum

Animal Anatomy for Artists, The Elements of Form by Eliot Goldfinger

by Ken Hultgren

I’m sure that there are other good and useful books about animal drawing and anatomy and I invite you to share them via the comments section.