You’re Invited To Visit My Nature Sketching Site SketchWild!

Header image for SketchWild. All images and the logotype by Susan Fox

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.

Camels I sketched at a tourist ger camp in 2012.
Sketch books

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.

Ink test

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.

Location pen and ink drawing by J. Geoffrey Garrett

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 find here. 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.

Sheltering in Place, Part 7

Hot off the drawing board! “Warthog”

More about the warthog in a moment, but first some good Covid-19 news. As of this past Saturday there were no new cases in Humboldt County for four days in a row! I don’t think any of us expect this to last, but it suggests that by following the shelter in place order for the past three weeks, we’re at least flattening the curve. There was no update on Sunday but there should be one today after 4pm. I’ve seen estimates now of a five or fourteen day incubation period, so we’ll see. In the meantime we’ve got plenty to do around the house and property and it’s sunny!

Now on to the warthog. During an art workshop safari I went on in October 2004, with the late Simon Combes, one of the places we went to was Lewa Downs Conservancy. The lodge was on a hilltop with a great view. We were watching Simon do a plein air demo and then set up to do our own. This warthog walked right in front of us less than 20′ away and stopped. I got some great photos, including this one.

My model

This week’s Inktober52 prompt is “Red”. I don’t have any “red” ink as it turns out (that will be remedied, I hope, on Friday when my order of Dr. PH Martin’s Bombay inks arrive). But I did have a small sample container of Noodler’s Ink Burgundy and that’s what I used, as seen above. The nib this time was a Hunt 22, a good sturdy drawing nib. I started out by doing a graphite drawing. This solves all the drawing and value problems first so on the final drawing I can focus on the penwork.

Graphite on Strathmore 300 vellum bristol

I overlaid the drawing with a piece of Clearprint Heavy Vellum. It worked well but I prefer to do pen and ink work on paper so experimentation will continue.

In other news, I belong to a Facebook group called Sunday Paintout, which meets around 10am on, well, Sunday mornings every week. It’s not the best day for me but I participate when I can. Because of Covid-19, the paintouts are happening virtually. Members are going out on their own on Sunday morning and posting images of the art they’ve done and maybe the location they went to. Our ornamental cherry trees are in full bloom and I’ve had the itch to paint them so yesterday morning I got out my watercolors for the first time in ages and did this quick sketch. I used Winsor Newton watercolors on Saunders Waterford 140lb coldpress paper. It’s 8×8″.

Location Watercolors In My Own Backyard

My portable watercolor kit.

Spring has sprung so I’ve gotten out the past few days to paint and sketch in our garden. I use a Yarka full-pan set of paints, a variety of brushes and either a 9×12″ Arches cold press block or 8×8″ pieces of Sanders Waterford cold press taped to a piece of foamcore with taped edges.

The south side of what we call “The Long Border”

I really wanted to do the lilacs before they faded, so I focused on them.

First washes

I got so involved in what I was doing that I forgot to take any other step photos of this first one. My goal was to limber up for the painting season and catch the lilacs against the dark green of the English laurel behind it. I stayed with really simple shapes working, as one does with watercolor, from light to dark.

I then went around to the other side to do a close-in version of the lilacs.

I kept it loose, starting, as before, with a light pencil drawing and then laying in the lightest areas of color.

As you can see I treated the lilacs as simple shapes, not getting into painting individual flowers. I also paid attention to color temperature, starting warm in the lightest area and going cooler in the shadows.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the way they came out. The roses are just getting started so stay tuned…

Coming Soon! “SketchWild”

My current field sketching kit

Most of you know me as an oil painter, but I’ve always loved to sketch and draw with pencils and pens and I also paint in watercolor on location. Dating back to 1989, I take at least a small sketchbook and kit like the one above with me when I travel.

I’ve enjoyed seeing sketching take-off as an international art phenomenon and I’ve decided to formally throw my well-loved field hat into the ring. Before the end of the month I’ll be debuting a new website dedicated to sketching called “SketchWild”. It will include not only my field and travel sketching and painting, but also art supply reviews, tutorials and online classes. Tell me in the comments what you’d like to learn!

My specialty and favorite subject has always been animals. I seem to be one of a surprisingly small number of artists who draw and paint from live animals and I’ll offering tutorials on how you can do that, too.

If you’ve never sketched before and want to try it but don’t know where to start or if you’re a landscape painter who occasionally wants to add animals like, say, a cow or horse, to your painting but don’t know how to draw them, I’ll be offering classes and/or sets of tutorials for both. I’ll also be offering instruction in pen and ink sketching/drawing with technical pens, fountain pens and dip pens regardless of subject and tutorials on sketching with an iPad, including a review of the variety of apps available. And there are a lot of them!

In the end it’s not about, or only about, making finished pretty pictures, but enjoying the process and seeing the world through art you’ve created yourself. Some of the best souvenirs you can take home are the sketches you did of what caught your eye.

To give you an idea of what I’ve done over the years, here’s a selection from my sketchbooks. Some, like the animals were done very quickly, in maybe one to three minutes, sometimes less. The landscapes hold still so I can spend more time on them. And if I can add an animal, so much the better!

Rolling Hills Wildlife Experience, 2010

Monkeys don’t hold still for long so you have to work fast and see the basic shapes, in this case a quick indication of light and shadow to go with the drawing.

Colobus monkeys, Elsamere, Kenya, 1999

These colobus monkeys were fairly far up in the trees and jumping around so I simply and quickly sketched in the black bodies, leaving the white feathering the color of the paper.

Horses, EA Ranch, Wyoming, 2014

The horses were in a corral standing around, so I had time to add things like the pinto markings and do eye, leg and hoof studies.

Gobi Argali, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Mongolia, 2009

I was sitting up on the rocky hillside of a valley in the reserve when I did these quick sketches of the world’s largest mountain sheep. I’ve seen them many times and have painted them, so I “know what they look like”.

Berlin Zoo, 2004

These barbary sheep and tahr posed nicely for me so I was able to do much more finished sketches that I usually manage.

African Lions, Masai Mara, Kenya, 2004

I’ve had the good fortune to go to Kenya twice, once in 1999 and once in 2004 and would love to get back there sometime. We were driving to our campsite and came upon this lion and lioness in the throes of “temporary love”.

While animals are my favorites subject, I sketch pretty much anything interesting that crosses my path. I also like to record an animal’s habitat, which creates a specific kind memory that one doesn’t get from only taking photos.

Cork tree, Portugal, 1995

On a trip to Portugal with a number of other artists we stayed at an old farmhouse that was surrounded by cork trees, the same ones that wine corks come from. They were full of character. I was interested in the twisting branches and trunk.

Malewa River, Kigio Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya, 2004

This scene was near the lodge we stayed at in the conservancy. I didn’t have a lot of time between breakfast and departure, so I focused on the river going back in space, the large, tree and left the rest of the vegetation as outlines.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to England quite a bit over the years. I love drawing the wonderfully picturesque historic buildings.

Winchester, England, 1995

I had plenty of time to lovingly sketch the half-timbering, windows and shrubs of this wonderful old building.

Stonehenge, England, 2015

Getting to sketch at Stonehenge a few years ago was a tremendous treat. In order to do a number of drawings from different angles I kept it really simple….the shapes of the stone themselves and then filling in the shadow sides.

Washington D.C., 1993

I also sketch during trips around the USA. I enjoy playing around with edges, cropping in as needed. I didn’t want to bother with the building next to my subject, so I just left it as a silhouette in reverse.

Susan K. Black Foundation workshop, Wyoming, 2016

When I did these super quick people sketches I was experimenting with contour drawing. None of them took more than a minute or so. I’ll be showing you how to do it.

The above sketches were done with pens, mostly Sakura Micron .01s. I also work in watercolor on location.

My current travel watercolor kit.

All of the above goes into an REI daypack.

Bison, Yellowstone National Park, 2014

Quick watercolors just to capture the day and the bison.

Herder’s horse, Hogno Khan Nature Reserve, Mongolia, 2016

I spent a couple of hours on this painting, making sure that not only was the horse drawn correctly, but that the saddle and bridle were right. I went up close a number of times to check details. The horse would shift a bit, but then back into the position I’d drawn. Something to remember about sketching animals…they tend to move in a repeating pattern, so one can stop, wait, maybe start another sketch, then pick up the first one once your subject is back in place.

Bird on rock, Hustai National Park, 2012

I was sitting on a rock at Hustai, painting this interesting and colorful small rock formation and the surrounding fall foliage when the bird, I think it was a magpie, landed on the top one. I dropped my brush, grabbed a pencil and quickly sketched it in.

Dunes, Hogno Khan Nature Reserve, Mongolia, 2015

I carry a small stack of 8×8″ pieces of Sanders Waterford cold press watercolor paper with me in a gallon ziplock baggie, along with a small foamcore board with packing taped edges and a roll of drafting tape. I’ve found that I really like the small square size and can, as I did here, easily place two smaller horizontal format paintings on it.

And, lastly, I’ve done calligraphy and handlettering for over forty years. Both are also undergoing a revival and I’m considering offering tutorials and maybe a online class or two for that. Here’s a few samples of my lettering…

Title page for 1995 trip to Los Angeles
Title page for 2016 sketchbook
Journal title page, Mongolia, 2016
From my illustration days, the heading for wine tasting calendar,

I’ll be posting the latest news about SketchWild here on my regular website and also in my Facebook group, FoxStudio.
Let me know in the comments what you think and what you’re interested in learning!

Watercolors From My Latest Trip To Mongolia, Part 2. And Horses!

Ikh Nart 1

I go to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu (Ikh Nart, for short) Nature Reserve on every trip to Mongolia. It’s where I went on my very first one in April of 2005 to participate in an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored expedition to assist in research that has been carried out there since the mid-1990s. For the two weeks the team of ten of us were there it never got above 32F/0C (not exactly spring weather on the north coast of California where I live), with almost constant wind. Loved every day of it. As of 2016 I bought my own ger with furnishings and have been given permission by the reserve director, who was one of the argali sheep researchers on the Earthwatch project, to set it up in the reserve. So I’ve known him for a long time and am very grateful for being able to “live” in this very special place for a week or more a year. When I’m not there he has the use of the ger for the reserve’s guests.

This year I was allowed to set up at the research camp, which was very convenient since it’s one of the best places to see wildlife. The caretaker, Ulzii, and I have also known each other since that first trip, so I had a trusted back-up just in case I needed it. Which was good because Ikh Nart had gotten no rain to speak of when I got there and then had three corking good storms come through in five days. I got to watch the land go from brown and parched to green with flowers blooming. I also watched the dry streambed turn into quite a “raging” torrent for an hour or so. Many photos and video, so that will be the topic of a future post and a YouTube video.

I did my usual tramping about wildlife watching, also sketching and painting. I still need to scan my journal, which I do a lot of drawing in, but here are my watercolors.

Ikh Nart 2
The research camp valley’s west end where it opens out onto the steppe. I’ve always loved this view. Watercolor 9×12″ on Arches 140lb.cold press block

Ikh nart 7
Ikh Nart view west to the steppes. Watercolor 9×12″ 140lb. Arches cold press block

Ikh Nart 5
Ikh Nart rocks. Watercolor 8×8″ Waterford 140lb. cold press


I was out hiking the south edge of the valley and spotted this dramatic overhang. Found some nice flat rocks to sit on and lay out my paints. Looked up and there was an animal standing under it looking at me. Grabbed some quick photos. Then it lay down with just its head showing. Before I finished the painting it left, so I added it from memory. But, when I got back to camp and downloaded the day’s images onto my MacBook Pro I saw that it hadn’t been an ibex, but was instead a female gazelle! Twelve trips to Ikh Nart over the years and this was the first time I’d seen a gazelle in this part of the reserve. But for the painting, an ibex she will remain.

Ikh Nart 3
Looking back up the valley to the research camp. Watercolor 8×8″ Waterford 140lb. cold press

Ikh Nart 4 (2)
Elm trees. Watercolor 8×8″ 140lb. Waterford cold press

It was getting hot so I left the top of the valley and went back down into it to look for a location with shade. I found it in a clump of old elm trees and did this study, along with the view towards the research camp. When it hasn’t rained a number of species lose all their leaves and look like they’ve died. But add any amount of rain and they seem to almost instantly leaf out again. I was working away totally focused when I heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw this…


It was a “burrrr” and a snort from this herd of domestic Mongol horses who wanted to get to the spring to drink. And I seemed to be in the way. I looked at them. They looked at me. Then the stallion made his decision.

horses 4_wm

horses 2

The herd split and went around me on both sides as I madly snapped as many photos as I could.

horses 3_wm

They rejoined and continued on to the spring. As you can see they were very thin from lack of graze, especially the mares with foals. This was the third dry year in a row. But the storms that came through, I hope, brought enough rain to let them fatten up for the long, very hard Mongolian winter. There are no horses tougher than these, so they’ve got a good chance.

In the Field: I Go To A Plein Air Workshop With Paul Kratter; But First, A Stop At The San Francisco Zoo

Paul gets the workshop under way with a demo at Carmel River State Beach.

Paul gets the workshop under way with a demo at Carmel River State Beach.

I headed down the road April 21 for a plein air workshop with an artist I’ve admired for some time, Paul Kratter. I’ve always been sorry that I missed having him as an instructor in animal drawing, by just a year, at the Academy of Art University (then College) in San Francisco, where I earned a BFA Illustration in 1989. But we crossed paths and connected on Facebook a few years ago and I’m a great admirer of the plein air work he’s known for these days. It has the crispness and concise draftsmanship that one sees in the work of many artists who have an illustration background. So when I saw that he was going to be offering a workshop, “From Sketch to Painting”, within driving distance of where I live in Humboldt County, I signed up immediately.

Looking to capitalize on the trip, I left a day early and went as far as San Francisco, staying the night at an inn right across from the San Francisco Zoo. Sketching live animals is something I’ve been doing since 1989, starting at the same zoo while I was at the Academy. I was there when they opened in the morning and left to head down to Carmel in the early afternoon. Here’s the results. I only had, at most, a minute or two to capture most of them. The hippo and penguins were nice enough to stay still a bit longer. The koala never even twitched. I used a Sakura Micron .01 pen in a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketch sketchbook.

SF Zoo 2


I arrived in Carmel, checked into my Airbnb room, got a bite of dinner, then went to Carmel Visual Arts to watch Paul do a demo by way of introducing what he was going to teach us over the next three days.

The next morning we all met at our first location, Carmel River State Beach, where Paul did another demo. I’ve personally never been much of a fan of them since in my experience they’ve mostly been about how the instructor paints with very little that was relevant to me and my goals as a painter. But both Paul’s and Scott Christensen’s (a local artist friend and I attended his 10-day plein air intensive ten years ago) were full of useful information.


The motive or motif (plein air-speak for what the artist has chosen as her or his subject). Not the greatest light, but some decent atmospheric perspective, with the hills becoming lighter the farther back they were.

Paul uses an Open Box M that is mounted on a camera tripod. He starts with an indication brush drawing of the main shapes using a brush called a "bright". It's shorter than a flat which is a, well, flat rectangle. He moved his hand in sharp, short strokes

Paul uses an Open Box M that is mounted on a camera tripod. He starts with a brush drawing to indicate the main shapes (only 3-4 on a small piece) using a brush called a “bright”. It’s shorter and more square than a flat which is, well,  a flat rectangle. He moved his hand in sharp, short strokes. No niggling, searching or doodling.


The finished demo. I was really interested in how he moved away from the literal colors, rearranged elements to suit him then, to top it off, changed what had become a blue sky back to the more atmospheric yellowish tone that you can see in the photo. Lots of food for thought, filtered through how I have seen my motifs when I’m out painting..


Plein air painters “on the job”. I had my old Soltek easel which has a VERY persnickity mechanism at the feet that doesn’t go well with sand or dirt. I’d anticipated this and brought some cutdown plastic bags that new brushes are packed in by art suppliers and rubber bands to hold them onto the ends of the legs. I have a pochade box I bought years ago at the Sennelier art shop in Paris and I’m going to switch to it before I go out again. How I mount it on my tripod will be the subject of a future post.


The next day found us at Garrapata State Park, where we were stuck having to choose between scenes like this…



gsp w

Or this…

I only watched the first part of his demo since I really wanted to get a first pass done on the piece I’d started before we had to break off and meet for dinner. I get a lot out of watching other artist’s “starts”.

GPS d1

This is a good example of one of Paul’s starts. Basic shapes, no detail.

gsp d2

He then did a first pass with color, quickly filling in the shapes, paying attention to value relationships and color temperature. Farther away means lighter and cooler as the general rule.

gps d3

He’s now adding the shapes of the shadows. Notice how loose they are. No hard edges.


In the meantime, I’d spent the morning working on understanding how to do the preliminary sketches with a pen. I absolutely understood the value of doing them, but it took awhile to start to get the knack of it and make good choices. I made a hash of the first one. Paul was nice enough to do the sketch on the right to demonstrate finding just a few large shapes, which makes for a much stronger composition. He also thought that what I was most interested in would work better as a horizontal than vertical composition.



I soldiered on and finally felt like I was starting to get the hang of seeing what I was looking at in a better way.


It got a little easier with each sketch. Then I tackled the waterfall. I ended up losing value contrast because of too many lines in the water. What a mess. After consultation with Paul and understanding where I’d gone wrong, when I got home I took an #11 Exacto knife and scrapped out the water. While not great, it was definitely an improvement. And I learned something valuable about keeping water the lightest value, the white paper color, as a starting default. It’s important not too get attached to sketches like this and to use them as a way to problem solve with pencil or pen, doing whatever it takes to fix or improve them. They’re simply a means to an end, but an important one.

PKW lunch

Oh, yeah, I did have time for lunch, suffering for my art, but not much.


The third and final day we went out to a great regional open space to the east to try to get out of the coastal overcast. It was time for the iconic eucalyptus trees (introduced from Australia as they were) beloved by California plein air painters for over a century.


You can see Paul’s preliminary sketch and, faintly, the pencil layout on his panel. Here’s the sequence of the demo:






And I’m most pleased to say that this lovely painting is now in our personal collection.

PK example


I had also decided to paint the eucalyptus trees. I was definitely focused on the overall composition and value relationships in my sketch. Paul is a connoiseur of trees, looking for the same individuality that I seek when I’m drawing or painting an animal. He came by, saw my sketch and then took a few minutes to do a custom demo and talk about capturing light direction correctly. I love having examples like this to refer back to when I’m home, so thank you Paul!

my trees

The final piece I did in the workshop. Went to a smaller size and a larger, flat brush and got loose. I’m happy overall with the result and brought home something I can build on. I go to a workshop planning to “fail”, not make pretty pictures that simply repeat what I already know. Why pay money for that?

A big, big thank you to Rich Brimer, the Director at Carmel Visual Arts, for a very well designed and run workshop! I had a great time and learned a lot.

The Art Life: Big Island Sketchbook

H 1

We got back last Monday night from our two week vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii. While I wanted to kick back and relax I also wanted to make art, specifically to do at least one sketch a day, and I came pretty close.

I took a variety of dry media with me, along with a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketch sketchbook since it works well for what I use. Also my watercolors and I managed one, but the weather, unexpectedly hot and humid (we’ve been to Hawaii this time of year a number of times and don’t remember it being like so uncomfortable for us northern Californians) made sitting outside for any length of time very difficult. It needs a bit of work in the studio, so I haven’t posted it yet.

I used Cretacolor Monolith graphite pencils, Sakura Micron pens, Derwent watersoluble colored pencils and also their Graphitone watersoluble graphite pencils in various combinations.

The goal was to have fun, try things and have an art record of the trip, not create a finished “museum” piece. Anyone can do this while they travel and I encourage you to try. Get a spiral bound sketchbook so you can rip out and throw away (recycle) any pages you don’t like if that would take the pressure off. Any pens or pencils will do, along with a good eraser. I like the kneaded rubber ones since they don’t make a mess.

Sketching is a different way of seeing and experiencing a place because the way one observes a scene in order to draw or paint it is different than just looking at it or taking photos. With that…

H 3

H 4

H 2

H 5

H 6

H 8

H 7

H 9

H 10

I had less than a minute to sketch each of these geckos before they vanished. Whew.

H 11

H 12

I did the above one while we were waiting for lunch at Volcano House in Volcanos National Park. The restaurants have seats that overlook the crater. Tres cool.

H 13


Watercolors From My 2016 Mongolia Trip

A local herder came by the ger camp I was staying at to help put up more gers and “parked” his horse right in front of mine. The horses are stoic about standing like this for hours at a time. He shifted around over the two hours I spent on this piece but always came back to this position. I had never done a watercolor of a live animal before, but he was a good model and once I got the drawing and shadow shapes down it was fun

The weather on this last trip often wasn’t conducive to sitting and painting since a watercolor can easily take an hour or more. We had snow, rain and wind on the Expedition. It was hot at Ikh Nart and rainy at Delger Camp. I mostly drew in my journal and I’ll share those with you next week. But I did get some watercolor time in and here’s the result…

This was our view from camp across an open plain when we were in the Great Gob A Strictly Protected Area. It was really hot so I sat in the shade of our dining tent

I was able to break free for a hour or two when we were visiting the Gachen Lama Monastery in Erdenesogt Soum after we came back north from the Gobi. It’s located in the central Hangai Mountains and is a totally different ecosystem. I’ve always loved seeing the stupas which overlook the river valley

As described in a previous post, I had purchased my own ger and lived in it for a week at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. These are some of the rock formations that I could see from nearby

My last stop was Delger Camp in the Hogno Han Nature Reserve. I had arranged to be dropped off in the wetland/dune area to paint and decided to start with the clouds moving over the mountains of the reserve. They kept getting closer and closer and the wind started to come up. It started to rain and I took cover under a tree. As the front moved over me there were loud rumbles of thunder. Fortunately the driver, who is the brother-in-law of the camp owner, had left a mobile phone with me, a first and something I’ve never worried about having since there’s usually no service in areas like this. I called and managed to get through to the camp owner who had the driver, who’d gone into the soum center for gas and was too far east to have seen the storm moving in, come back and get me as quickly as possible. Other than getting wet, I was fine. It was the end of my painting day, but I do have this not-quite-finished one as a memory.

Sketching At The Santa Barbara Zoo


I returned home on Monday from attending the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Annual Dinner in Santa Barbara, California. I spent a productive afternoon the day before the Saturday event sketching at the Santa Barbara Zoo, keeping it really simple: a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketchbook and a Sakura Micron .01 black pen.

Sketching live animals can be quite challenging and is great exercise for one’s visual memory. None of these took more than about five minutes. Sometimes I only did the contour and filled in the bodies a bit later, like with the condors above. I did take photos but learned long ago that drawing animals is a very different experience than shooting photos in that you have to really LOOK and SEE to get anything down. In the end it’s as much about process as result, but I’m pretty happy with these.