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
International Children’s Day isn’t celebrated in the USA that I know of and suspect most Americans have never heard of it. It’s the exact opposite in Mongolia where it’s a big, big holiday. I just happened to be in Ulaanbaatar, having arrived a day earlier, and spent over two hours at Chinggis Khan Square, taking photos and thoroughly enjoying the day-long celebration.
Here’s a selection from the over 400 images I shot:
Now the long run to Takhiin Tal in the west began. We traveled through the deep Gobi with the Gobi Altai Mountains to the south. No paved roads, but mostly good earth roads, a lot of it graded and well-maintained.
My last post about the Expedition, which you can read here was about the leg of our journey that took us to the Gobi lake, Boon Tsagaan Nuur. Today’s post is an album of the birds we saw and that I photographed. We also had time to get our paints out and do some location work.
There isn’t a good standard bird guide yet for Mongolia, although one is being prepared, so I sent a batch of photos to Axel Braunlich, who is probably the leading expert on birds in Mongolia. He was kind enough to take the time to identify them for me. If you are interested in birds, and Mongolia is one of the world’s hotspots for birding with 427 species (you can find a list here), I highly recommend Axel’s blog “Birding Mongolia”.
All of these species, except the bar-headed geese, which I had seen on the Tuul Gol (river) near Hustai National Park in early May of 2005 on my very first trip, and ruddy shelducks, were new to me.
It was interesting and a little odd, since I live on the north coast of California, to see shorebirds in the middle of the Gobi.
We didn’t just birdwatch, but got out our painting and camera gear.
It wasn’t easy to leave this wonderful place. But, by golly, through flooded rivers and streams and a long detour, we got there and were able to have the best parts of the day, afternoon, evening and morning, when the light was the best for painting and photography and the birds were active. Now it was time to head west and farther west with the Gobi Altai Mountains paralleling us to the south. At some point we would turn south and cross over them through….snow leopard territory!
After a wonderful stay at Arburd Sands and Bayan-Onjuul Soum, it was time for the Expedition to start in earnest. Our first destination was Boon Tsagaan Nuur, a lake deep in the Gobi that is known for the excellence of its birdwatching opportunities, both in the number of birds and variety of species.
We headed west across country to join up with the main southern east-west road, parts of which are now tarmac. We hadn’t traveled for long when we came upon a herder’s ger just in time to see them milking their mares.
You can read Part 1 here. The Expedition schedule was planned to coincide with the naadam (festival) that is held at Arburd Sands ger camp every year to celebrate the camp’s anniversary. Since we were going out to a part of Mongolia, the far western Gobi, where there were very few herders I knew this was the perfect opportunity for the participants to get a taste of Mongol culture and just have a fun time, which we certainly did!
We set up camp the afternoon before, having driven about five hours from Ulaanbaatar.
We had time the next morning to get in some painting and sketching…
During my week-long solo exhibition at the National Museum of Mongolia in August, I was there every afternoon except one. While there was a constant stream of people, over 100 each afternoon (I kept a tally), I was still “stuck” sitting there. So I took my MacBook Air, which is my primary image storage when I’m traveling, a sketchbook, a Sakura Micron pen and some pencils and, working from some of the photos, sketched and drew when I wasn’t chatting with visitors. It also gave them a chance to see an artist at work and many were quite interested.
So here’s a selection from that week, some of which, like the one of the baby marmots below, are intended as preliminary explorations for future paintings. Some are from previous trips, but the images haven’t yet been deleted from iPhoto.
Two years of planning all came together on August 23, 2013 when the first WildArt Mongolia Expedition departed from Ulaanbaatar in two Russian fergon vans, heading south and then west for a nineteen day adventure that combined art, endangered wildlife, Mongol culture and spectacular scenery.
We began in this:
And within a few hours, found ourselves traveling through this:
I had in mind a very special place for our first camp…But first we needed to fill our water barrel from a local well. We also got lots of great horse photos.
Then it was on to our campsite…near my favorite sacred mountain, Zorgul Hairhan Uul.
Once camp was set up, we relaxed and had afternoon tea in the maikhan (Mongol summer tent).
The next morning we were up in time to catch the first light on the mountain.
Magvandorj set up his easel and went to work.
There was a small lake at the foot of the mountain, which we explored that morning.
Odna, Sharon and I took lots of photos.
There was a white stupa at the base of the mountain.
And a sacred spring on the backside, set about with prayer wheels and trees festooned with colorful khadag (offering scarves).
This is what our camps looked like during the Expedition.
By late morning we were packed up and on our way to our next stop, Arburd Sands ger camp and a very special event.
My eighth trip to Mongolia this year was the busiest ever. Not only did I have the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, but also the solo exhibition of my paintings at the National Museum of Mongolia. Before, after and in and around those was my yearly trip to Ikh Nart to meet with the women’s felt craft collective and visit the reserve, a quick weekend trip to Hustai, lunches and dinners with friends and, to top it off, gaining gallery representation at Mazaalai Art Gallery in Ulaanbaatar.
So not only do I have the WildArt Mongolia Expedition group exhibition next June or July to prepare for, but also the juried shows that I enter and creating new work for my gallery. All to say that after today, I will be doing one main post a week, not two, with the intention of posting every Wednesday. In between I’ll be doing shorter informal posts as interesting things come up.
I finally got back into the studio today after resting and catching up last week. Jet lag wasn’t bad, but I was tired, not surprisingly, since I’ve been going non-stop since June. Physically, I’m fine. Three plus weeks of remote travel on the earth roads of south-western Mongolia didn’t bother me at all. What seems to wear me down by the end of a trip is what I’ve come to think of as “decision fatigue”. Staying in Ulaanbaatar and traveling the way that I do in Mongolia is, in some ways, one long stretch of decisions,particularly since I’m often working and traveling with people from a different culture -the Mongols- and trying to function appropriately and correctly within that culture as much as possible. I reach a point where I need to park my brain in neutral for awhile. The prospect of 10-11 hours on a plane coming home becomes quite appealing. The only decision is which entree to have for dinner. Otherwise, I can mentally just flake out. Getting back into the home routine is nice, too, since the decision requirements are minimal.
My first task when I get home (besides unpacking and laundry), because I can’t really start to relax until I do, is to download all my photos (over 8300 this time) into Aperture on a local vault (Apple-speak for an external hard drive) and then back them up to a separate hard drive (a remote vault) that is kept in a different building, our detached garage. After that they need to be categorized, which usually takes a couple of days. Then I can really see what I’ve got.
And what I’ve got that I honestly didn’t expect to get was useable, paintable reference of the critically endangered Mongolian saiga antelope. They are all from quite a distance (see photo at top) and I will need to do research and call on the people I met in Darvi soum who protect them to help ensure that what I’m doing is accurate, but I got some great action shots of both males and females and some closer-in standing shots. I’ve done three pages of first studies to get a feel for what a saiga looks like. They are done on Strathmore vellum bristol with a Wolff’s 4B carbon pencil.