New Paintings and My (Current) Favorite Studio Music


I tend to start a number of paintings in succession and then finish them in batches. Is it that way for any of you? Or do you have a more even work flow? How do you decide what to do next?

Here’s a new one from reference that I shot in Kenya in 2004. It was after the conclusion of the Simon Combes safari and I had flown back down to the Mara for a few days at Rekero Camp, which is on the Talek River. Fabulous camp, great staff, wonderful food, terrific drivers. I’d love to go there again. It’s apparently one of the places the Big Cat Diary people stay when they are filming and I can see why. It’s a tented camp right in the bush. Buffalo wander through and you can hear the hippos grunting and roaring at night since the tents are mostly right above the river. A real storybook African place.

A couple from Ireland were kind enough to invite me along on their game drives. My first morning with them we saw a serval walking down the road as the sun came up. I loved the color of the first light of the day hitting his or her coat, but most of the shots weren’t particularly paintable. We were so close that my point of view was from above ( I know, I know- boo hoo) or the gesture was awkward, etc. But…..I got some great reference at the Denver Zoo this last May. Nothing special in the Light Department, but wonderful eye-level alert poses. So I put the two together and came up with this. I kept the grass loose and impressionistic so that the focus would be on the cat, who is Up At Dawn.

Up At Dawn  oil  16"x 8"
Up At Dawn oil 16"x 8" (price on request)

I’ve also just finished my first in a planned series of paintings of Mongolian horses, the ones the Mongolians ride, not the takhi. I got a lot really good shots in great light, but picked this one to start with because I loved the color of his coat.

Chestnut Stallion, Arburd Sands   oil  11" x14"
Mongolian Horses: Chestnut Stallion, Arburd Sands oil 11" x14" (price on request)

I’m going to be in a group show with a flower theme at my gallery, starting next week. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, well, any, but I have some great hummingbird reference that I shot right outside my studio windows so….for something completely different…

Hummin' Along in the Leopard Lilies   oil  12"x 9" (price on request)
Hummin' Along in the Leopard Lilies oil 12"x 9" (price on request)

I went back to an Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts inspiration from my previous incarnation as an illustrator and used a decorative approach. Flatter light with a plain background. It was fun and I’ll probably do more flower subjects in the future. This one sure got me using my reds more than usual. The bird is a male Rufous hummingbird, just another little rottweiler in a bird costume. Thank goodness they aren’t the size of ravens or none us would be able to go outdoors when they’re around.


What do you listen to when you’re working? I can’t write this blog with music going, but otherwise I always have something on. I’ve acquired a taste for celtic-inspired world music and really like listening to Kila, Peatbog Fairies and Shooglenifty (No, really.). When I want to up the energy level, it’s time for some Afro Celt Sound System. I’ve been know to listen to Baka Beyond and Kenyan benga music  when working on African subjects and Mongolian music when I’m…. you get the idea. Favorite rock includes anything by John Mayer, Mark Knopfler and Sting. Also still Stuck in the Sixties with Quicksilver Messenger Service (love, love, love John Cippolina, my guitar hero), Jefferson Airplane and of course The Beatles and Rolling Stones. When I come into the studio in  the morning and need to ease in slowly, it’s Enya, Clannad or Nightnoise.


If anyone, in the beginning of study, will set himself to study the various compositional forms, then experiment and practice with the variations of them, he will find that his instinctive taste is developed; and subjects will in time lend themselves easily to his feeling for unity, and soon he may be able to forget all about them.

It must never be forgotten and let this be most strongly emphasized – that the dominant aim of the student should be to train and equip himself to the point where he can judge unity and all of its contributing factors by “feeling”.

Edgar Payne

Hot off the easel

I usually have 4-6 paintings going at any one time for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s attention span (short), sometimes I’ve gone as far as I can for the day, sometimes I’m stuck and sometimes I just feel like starting something new. One thing I have found is when I’m interested in painting a species I haven’t done before is that I like to do a head study first to start to learn what the animal looks like. So that was the rather mundane motivation for this painting of a young Thompson’s gazelle that I photographed in Kenya. The horns were the most challenging part because I don’t like to dink and dork around with tight rendering but I had to understand the structure well enough to lay in shapes in the right hue and value so that it is drawn correctly.

I often start with a charcoal or carbon pencil drawing on bristol before I do a painting or even just felt tip pen sketches in a sketchbook.


Yesterday was quite a weather day. I did my third rescue transport in the morning. Ten five week old puppies, a pit/Am. bulldog mix and a 5 mo. old border collie puppy over to Willow Creek, which is about 40 minutes east of here. It was really, really, really windy at the shelter and I have to admit I was wondering what it was going be like going over 2800+ ft. Barry Summit in a Volkswagen Eurovan. There is one short stretch where the road is out in the open on the west side of the mountain, totally exposed. I was to meet up with two guys who live in Willow Creek who were going to take all the dogs on to Redding. The transport coordinator and I decided that if I couldn’t get over the mountain safely and didn’t show up by 10 am, that the men would drive west (in their nice solid Escalade) and look for me down in the valley. As it happened, it was pretty breezy at the summit, but no problem. As soon as I was on the other side though, I was in driving rain. Made the hand-off, went back over the hill, did some grocery shopping at the coop in Arcata and was home by noon. Within an hour all hell broke loose weather-wise. Howling wind, horizontal rain for the rest of the day. Lit a fire in the fireplace, kicked back and in the evening watched Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova win the Best Song Oscar for “Falling Slowly” from the movie “Once”, one of my all-time favorites. Check it out!

A Tale of Two Cats

I’ve had the good fortune to take two trips to Kenya, one in 1999 and the second in 2004. It really is the greatest animal show on earth. What is happening there now is terribly disheartening. The Kenyan people have never known what it is like to have an honest, competent government and they deserve better. But when you have a young, educated population (most Kenyans finish high school and many have university educations), a lack of good jobs, a majority of the population that stills thinks more in terms of what tribe they belong to than being Kenyans and a one of the three most corrupt governments in the world, the stage is set for the situation that is occurring now. Kenya is very dependent on tourist income and when things exploded, I could hear the sound of safaris being cancelled. I don’t think that it would dangerously unsafe to travel there right now, since visitors have been wisked from the airport to the heavily guarded hotels and then out into the parks and reserves, also guarded, for a very long time due to the serious crime problem in Nairobi, but I wouldn’t take the chance myself until things calm down. The frustration level is clearly very, very high.

On a happier note from happier days for the country, I was fortunate enough to go on an art workshop safari with the late Simon Combes and nine other artists in October of 2004. (I plan to share some of my travel stories and the paintings that came out of them in this blog.) Afterwards, I flew back down to the Masai Mara and stayed a few days at a fantastic tented camp, Kekero, which in on the Talek River. Close enough that hippos woke me up at night with their grunting and roaring. Boo hoo. The routine, either on safari or at a tented camp, is to be awakened before dawn, which, with Kenya being on the equator, is always around 6am. Coffee and some cookies are delivered and you have 15-30 minutes to pull it together, get dressed and be out at the vehicles. So, every morning, you get to see the very light of the day, which suggested the title of this painting, “First Light”

First Light

He was a beautiful big boy, still resting after a night of feasting. It was magical to sit there as little by little the sun illuminated him in warm morning light. We had him all to ourselves and hung around until he got up and wandered off.

On the domestic front, I would like to introduce Persephone, who will be seven this year. We had gone to look at a puppy and the woman mentioned a cat she had rescued. Short version: the kitten wouldn’t get down off a fake ficus tree when ordered (!?) to do so, so was grabbed and thrown across the room into a wall. Grandson calls Grandma, who rushes over and takes the cat. Too many dogs in house, so cat ends up in the back carriage house of her small Victorian where we saw her, liked her, adopted her (puppy went to someone else). I watched for neurological damage, but she seemed fine (I know, some would say, with cats who can tell). We did have to take her to the vet for the removal of a front canine that had split vertically into three pieces after we noticed her jaw was swollen, undoubtedly an impact injury, but other than that she’s been fine. This is one of my favorite pictures from when she was about a year old.


She has ended up being not exactly a svelte cat, despite a weight management diet. She’s just an endomorph and has nicknames like The Princess, the Bon Bon and The Plush Princess. She is lightning fast though. I saw her catch a gopher once. Strike, pull it out of the hole in a split instance and then carry it off to eat the whole thing. Here’s a more recent photo. She really is a beautiful cat, but, boy, is she a princess.

Persephone 2