I was staying at the research camp at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in September of 2012. It’s one of the best places in Mongolia to see argali mountain sheep (Ovis ammon) and Siberian ibex (Capra siberica).
I went out walking one morning for a day of hiking around and it quickly turned into One of Those Days that wildlife watchers and artists dream of…nine separate sightings and three times spending an hour or more with an entire group.
About halfway through the morning I’d come along the top of the valley and was now walking down a draw towards the valley, intent on heading towards the western end rock formations and following a very narrow path left by various animals, both wild and domestic. I was maybe ten yards from where the draw joined up with a larger one which would drop down to the valley when, with no sound or warning, two ibex nannies came running at full speed around the corner of a rock straight at me! They pulled up fast, gave me a look and turned. One bolted back up the way she’d come and the other, which I now saw had a kid, ran off down the direction I intended to go. Everyone involved was equally surprised. Needless to say I didn’t get any photos of the actual encounter, but I can see it in my mind’s eye. all of us standing there for an instant looking at each other. No idea, of course, why they were running so hard and fast.
And, as you can imagine, my heart was pounding. They could have easily run right over me. But everyone was fine, they were gone, so I continued on down the draw. And, believe it not, there was the nanny and kid…
Amazingly, the ibex had stopped running, had gone up on a rock formation and was just standing there.
I walked forward a slow step at a time and got close enough for a few shots and her youngster. The photo above is not cropped. It was taken with my Nikon D750 and Nikon Nikkor 80-400 lens. She looked around a bit then she and her baby vanished on down the valley. I waited a bit to let them get ahead of me and be able to go where they wanted to go. I think she’d seen enough of me for one day.
Here is a far more common way of seeing ibex. One learns to spot them from quite a long distance because the pattern of head and horns doesn’t match the rocks.
And here are some more photos of other sightings that day. I finally got down to the rocks on the south side of the western end of the valley and found a large group of nannies and kids, who I hung around with for over an hour.
Farther down the valley there was yet another group. A couple were wearing radio collars. Once they settled down I sat in plain view, photographing and sketching them.
They finally moved off out of sight, but I’ve learned to hang around and wait. This time I was rewarded by having the whole group reappear and cross in a long line along the ridgetop, finally disappearing out of sight for good.
There were a couple more long distance sightings of one or two ibex on my way back to camp, but they were either too far away or in the shade for photos anything other than “I saw them” shots, which I always take as a memory jog, if nothing else.
And that’s the tale of my “Ibex Day” which I will long remember.
While I was in Ulaanbaatar this last trip, I spent a couple of mornings at Gandan Monastery sketching and taking photos. I thought that I would share some of my favorites with you of a truly special place that I always look forward to visiting when I’m in Mongolia.
I’ve known since my first trips to Mongolia that art is an extremely important part of the culture, but had not found a way to meet or connect with any of the artists themselves. Until now.
Thanks to Janna, the Director of ArtiCour Gallery, who hosted my Ulaabaatar art event on September 22, I got my wish and then some. The gallery represents some of Mongolia’s most prominent and honored painters. Some of them were kind enough to come to the event and two invited me to visit their studios, which I did the next day. I had a wonderful time, thanks to Janna and Khaliunaa, who was one of my interpreters for the art event (along with Buyandelger) and who was nice enough to come along so that I could talk to the artists.
Although they did not have access to the West during what the Mongols call “socialist times”, many Mongolian artists traveled to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Eastern Bloc countries to study in a variety of art academies and schools, so they were trained in classical, academic methods. They were limited in what was acceptable to paint, Impressionism apparently being totally off-limits, but still found ways to express themselves with great originality. With the coming of democracy in 1991, the artists of Mongolia became free to go wherever their artistic vision leads them.
The following is a “album” of my visit to the studios of six artists, all members of the Union of Mongolian Artists, which was founded in 1944 and has its own large, airy gallery space in the heart of Ulaanbaatar. I’ve been going there every trip since 2006 to see their exhibitions.
The studio photos and some of the art images were taken with my iPhone. Some of the other painting images I scanned from materials like brochures and booklets that the artists gave to me as gifts. I hope you enjoy this “studio tour” and you can be sure that there will be more to come in the future.
The artists are presented in the order in which I met them.
I arrived home from my seven week trip to Mongolia last Tuesday. I’ve been alternating catching up and doing….nothing or at least nothing more strenuous than watching a baseball game. The first order of business was to download and start categorizing the over 8000 images I shot on the trip. I always feel better when everything is safely on the hard drive, backed up to the remote Vault and visible in Aperture.
My final days in Ulaanbaatar were a bit of a whirlwind. The art event at ArtiCour Gallery was great! There was a steady stream of people all day, some of whom I knew. There was a lot of interest in the WildArt Mongolia Expedition and at least three artists expressed an interest in going next year. Many art students came by. The director of a Mongolian magazine which publishes articles on artists stopped in and said that they want to do an article on my and my work! Even more special to me personally, a number of very prominent Mongol artists attended, all of them members of the venerable Union of Mongolian Artists, which was founded in 1944. Two of them invited me to visit their studios. But that will be a tale for another post.
Here’s a selection of photos taken at “American Artist Susan Fox-The WildArt Mongolia Expedition”, which was the first in ArtiCour’s new Visiting International Artists series.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be publicizing the WildArt Mongolia Expedition while I’m here. On September 22, I will be at ArtiCour Gallery, just off Sukhbaatar Square, from 11am to 7pm, meeting Mongolian artists and friends, talking about the Expedition, sharing images of my work and doing demonstrations of sketching, watercolor and iPad drawing. I’ve created a Facebook Event here.
I’ve been able to get in some good field sketching time this trip and thought I’d share a selection of what I’ve done so far. In August I went to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu and Arburd Sands. Once the Expedition in September was postponed, I needed to make other plans. I’ve spent six days at Jalman Meadows ger camp in the Khan Khentii Mountains and got back yesterday from four days back at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, this time staying at Nomadic Journeys’ Red Rock ger camp. Tomorrow morning I go to Hustai National Park for four days to observe, photograph and, with luck, sketch takhi.
I’m using a Moleskin Sketch journal with Sakura Micron .01 and .02 pens and water- soluble colored pencils.
It was Siberian ibex this time at Ikh Nart. I’d see them on previous trips and always take photos, but my main goal has been seeing as many argali as possible. This year most of those were 20km or so to the northeast, so it was not possible to walk to where they were, at least for me, and I didn’t have a car and driver this time. I’m good for about 8-10km or so a day, especially if it’s hot. And was it hot! Probably close to 100F on a couple of days and not starting to cool off until around 10:30 at night. We also had a couple of rain storms move through during the eleven days that I was there, one with quite a light show.
I walked down the valley the first day, followed a slope up to the top, sat down to sketch the scene in front of me, looked around and there behind me I saw that I was being watched by an ibex. Forget the sketching, the wildlife fieldwork was on!
It turned out there was a group of around a dozen nannies and kids, one of each wearing radio collars, who were hanging around two adjacent rock formations. The first day there were also two young billies, one two and one three years old, judging from the ridges on their horns. I saw and photographed them in that same location three out of the next four days, shooting hundreds of images, around 900 in all. So you know one subject I’ll be painting this winter….
My main reason for going to Ikh Nart, though, was to have my annual visit with the members of Ikh Nart Is Our Future, the women’s felt craft collective that I support. I had a very good meeting with the director, Ouynbolor, during which we spoke (through a translator) about how things had gone since I last saw her and what she needed me to do for this next year. Coming up will be a larger quantity of the full-color brochures I and staff at the Denver Zoo had produced to explain the collective to visitors to the tourist ger camp. They will also now be produced in Mongolian, not just English. There were also matching product tags in three sizes. They worked well, but a much larger quantity of those will also be needed for next year.
I registered a url for the collective last year, knowing that they wanted to have a website. At the meeting we were able to work out the content and a way to communicate while it’s being put together.
The really special part is that I was able to arrange to go to the soum center (county seat), Dalanjargalan, for a night and a day. I had always met the women at either the research camp or the tourist ger camp and felt that it would be very beneficial to spend at least a little time where they live (when they are not out in the countryside at their gers with their animals) and learn a little about their lives. I got a walking tour that included the local school and shop. I stayed in the home of one of the collective members. Had lunch at the home of another and, in the afternoon, around a dozen members gathered at “the office”, a little building that used to be a gas station, to process their wool, turn it into felt and also work on various items that they will sell. I saw the felt presses that I had helped them acquire in action, along with the good sewing scissors they had requested in 2009. They have quite an operation set up now and work very efficiently and with great care and conscientiousness. I shot both still photos and around an hour of video with my new Panasonic recorder, enough to put together a little YouTube video after I get home.
My ride back to camp arrived later than expected, around 10:30pm, and the reason was that they had seen and captured two very young long-eared hedgehogs that were crossing the road in front of the car! Hedgehogs are one of the species being studied at Ikh Nart, by a graduate student named Batdorj. Within a kilometer of leaving Dalanjargalan, a third one dashed across the road, this time an adult darian hedgehog, and it was captured too, riding back to camp on the lap of one of the students wrapped in his jacket. I was able to get a lot of photos and also video the next evening before they had radio transmitters glued to their backs and were transported back out to the general area in which they’d been caught. And yes, there will definitely be hedgehog paintings, cards and prints coming up.
I also had time to just wander around the reserve and see what there was to see and it turned out to be….wildflowers! The rains have been very good this year and everything is green, green, green. I’ve been to Ikh Nart in August before, but have never seen so many different flowers and so many that I had never seen there before. It was like walking through a huge flower garden.
Finally it was time to depart. We were taking the train overnight to Ulaanbaatar. Most of our luggage, except for what we needed for the night, was taken back to UB by car in the afternoon. The rest of us caught the 1:14 am train and arrived about 8:30 am. I had never done this before, but managed to get around five hours of decent sleep. We were taken back to Zaya’s Guesthouse, where we got showers and sorted our dirty clothes for laundering. The rest of the day was spent getting lunch and puttering around, catching up on emails. The next day I spent most of the afternoon doing a massive download and back up of all the photos and videos I’d shot.
So now I’m at Zaya’s, which I highly recommend to anyone coming to Ulaanbaatar. The rooms are sparkling clean, there is free wifi and the location is very convenient, right off Peace Ave. not far from the State Department Store. There is a common living room with a very comfortable sectional sofa and a full kitchen for the use of guests.
As for the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, I’m now working on the last bits of planning and arranging, some things having changed since I left the US. Flexibility is important when doing things in Mongolia. It makes some people really angry when something doesn’t go right or on schedule (so this is not a country they should visit), but I’ve found that it creates possibilities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
I’ll be in UB for the next 2-3 days, then I’m hoping for a long weekend at a ger camp I’ve stayed at before. Stay tuned!
If everything goes as planned, I will soon be in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Four days in town and then off to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve for eleven days. I’ll post when I can. In the meantime, here’s a few photos of favorite camping spots from past trips.
I’m almost packed, just the roll-on to finish, mostly the camera equipment. I’ve developed a packing list over the years that definitely reduces the stress, plus most basics are now available in UB if needed.
I did make a final purchase. Everyone is different in what little things make travel more comfortable. For me, it’s sleeping on the same surface every night (Thermarest pad), having a real pillow ( a cut down bed pillow that fits in the roll-on), a hot coffee-like drink first thing in the morning (coffee packets, ceramic mug and immersion heater) and, this time, two decent sized travel towels.
I’ve used a pair of ok cloth ones for at least six years. They were some of the first travel towels on the market, at least at REI, and worked ok. They dried fast and rolled up pretty small. But they developed a kind of “chalky” feel and weren’t big enough to really wrap up my wet hair. One last trip to the local outdoor store and I now have two 20×40″ microfiber towels from Sea To Summit. Even though they are bigger, they roll up smaller than the old ones. Not cheap, but after bumping up against the limitations of the others, I finally decided the heck with it and got something better. A test at home was successful, so it looks like I’m set.
My intention is to do at least one sketch a day this trip. So I wanted to be in a groove before I leave. I also needed to refine my portable art studio. So I spent yesterday working from previous trip photos as if I was at the scene, reliving a little of what it was like to be there and imagining having just enough time during a lunch stop to get out the paint and do a quick study. So none of these took more than about 20 minutes.
The idea is to work fast, get an impression down and move on. Here’s what I’m taking this year:
The bag is a re-purposed point and shoot camera bag and it’s turned out to be perfect. In the front is a roll of drafting tape, kneaded rubber erasers, extra mechanical pencil leads and a pencil sharpener. Next pocket back is a set of water soluable Derwent colored pencils. In the back are Sakura Micron pens in a variety of sizes and colors, a couple of draughting pencils, a couple of mechanical pencils, a sandpaper pad, blending stumps, a tube of white gouache and a watercolor brush that breaks down to half its length.
The watercolor set is from Yarka. I use napkins, slightly used, from restaurants, for rags. Extra brushes go in the bamboo carrier. Water for painting goes in the collapsible plasticized cloth “bucket”.
The support is a piece of lightweight foamcore. The drafting tape, which is lightly adhesive, doesn’t pull up the paper surface.
For paper I’ll have my Moleskin sketchbook journal and a stack of 7×7″ watercolor paper cut down from a pad that I got many years ago in England, brand unknown, and, so that I can work on a toned surface (inspired by Thomas Moran’s location studies of Yellowstone that he did while traveling with the Hayden Expedition) a pad of Anigoni 100% cotton toned paper, which happily takes a variety of media.
Here’s some more of my favorites from yesterday, all done from photos that I took on previous trips to Mongolia: