Fresh off the easel! “Summer Snack, Mongolia”. Without really meaning to I took 2021 off from painting and didn’t do much art at all. Quite of few of my colleagues spent the year the same way, not very motivated with Covid so serious. But as the new year has dawned folks are picking up their brushes, pens, pencils etc. again same as I am. I did another painting before this one, which I’ll also be posting a step-by-step on but am so pleased with this one I decided to share it first.
The setting is in the northern mountains of Mongolia not far from the city of Erdenet. I was the guest of a family for the aimag (county’s) Naadam festival. They are race horse trainers so I had the privilege of being part of the preparations for the races. Mongol horses are allowed to run free when they aren’t being used for work. I was out walking around and I spotted this mare and foal with the valley and mountains behind her.
Now I head for the finish…
At this point I was unhappy with the hind leg of the foal closest to the viewer. I painted it and wiped it out at least 4-5 times. And here, once again, is the finished painting….
The tolai hare is the only rabbit/hare species found in Mongolia. They’re usually seen in rocky or semi-desert areas. My subject was one that I saw one evening at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I was positioned up in the rocks above the spring-fed stream waiting for argali sheep to show up when this hare hopped out from behind some rocks into plain view. What made it even better was there was a hoopoe perched on a rock not far away. Both species are very skittish and bolt at any movement. Here’s a couple of photos of hares I’ve seen during my trips to Mongolia.
Also at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu. You have to see them before they see you to have any chance of getting photos. Sometimes they wait until you’re so close that you’ve almost stepped on them and then they explode from right at your feet, which really boosts one’s heart rate!
During the 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition we were enroute to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area to explore critically endangered Gobi bear habitat (saw tracks and scat but no bears, not surprising when the total population is currently estimated to be 40 of them). The Fergon van that carried our equipment was stopped by a blocked fuel line. We all got out of the SUV and poked around while that was attended to. I spotted this tolai hare right away and got some decent photos before it bounded off.
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
Like has been true with many or my artist friends and colleagues, the combination of the election and a pandemic that’s now into its second year, has made it hard to focus on making art at times. I did three paintings in November and otherwise have been sketching on Monday afternoons with a group of artists who also have a background in illustration. I’ll be posting a “best of…” those here in the near future. While there will still be posts about the garden, the collies and such, this year I want to move more towards passing on some of what I’ve learned as someone who has worked in one art-related field or another since 1976.
So, to start off, I’m going to share work-in-progress images of the above painting, which I did in 2009. It’s from a place I’ve been to in Mongolia a number of times. This white camel was still alive and at the visitor ger camp in Arburd Sands ( a dune complex that is one of the farthest north of the Gobi) where I stayed when I was last there in 2018.
This is one way I often start a painting. I’ve already done some rough studies for the composition so I drew it onto the toned canvas with raw sienna and brush. I moved the brown camel behind her to get the humps into the painting, which sets up a rhythm with hers. It’s always good to remember not to get “married” to your reference. Do what it takes to get a good strong composition. Just because it’s in the photo doesn’t mean you have to paint it.
The next step was to rough in the shapes of the shadows. So now I have two values and can play off that for the rest of the painting. I also made some corrections to the drawing.
Now I’m starting to add colors, cool for the shadows on the camels and a warm violet tone for the sandy ground. I also continue to refine the drawing as I go along, tweaking and adjusting as necessary.
All the basic local colors are in now, generally darker than they’ll eventually be. I work more or less from dark to light. I’ve also started to add brushwork to create the wooly texture of their coats. The whole surface of the painting has paint on it now. I’ve got the drawing the way I want it.
Closing in on the finish now. All the light and shadow areas are set. The ground and background are also ready for the final stages. For the camels it’s time to punch the values and color temperature, which needs to be much warmer to show that great late afternoon light. And below, once again is the finished painting. I ticked in the shrubs and ground plants at the end to make the ground more interesting and to introduce a color, green that repeats the vegetation behind the animals and is the complement of the warm reddish tones of the camels. It’s important to not get hung up on “local color”. Color is relative and depends on what a given color is next to and on the light the subject is in.
“Almost There” oil on canvasboard 12×18″ (price on request)
For the first three weeks of November I was at the easel every weekday painting the pieces that I showed the color comps of on Sept. 22 here. I finally decided not to use them for the original purpose and will be entering them in some upcoming juried exhibitions. I’m pleased and proud of them so I want to debut them here on my blog. The one above is from reference I shot at a naadam in Erdenet Soum in 2015. I got to ride in the chase car for two of the races so I got fantastic reference as we drove alongside the horses and riders.
In Mongolia the sweat of a winning horse is thought to be auspicious, so the trainer scrapes it off. The traditional tool for this was the bill of a Dalmation pelican, an endangered species, so now the scrapers are made of wood, often with nice carving on them. One always knows the trainers by the scraper in their belt or sash. I was really struck by the colors of this two-year old, who had already raced. Very pretty.
And here you can see one of the trainers at the same event with his scraper tucked into his sash. This would be his personal riding horse. He (they are almost always stallions or geldings) has a traditional saddle that is well-worn and a common type of bridle knotted from hand-braided rope.
I’ve also kept up with Inktober52, not missing a week so far. Four drawings to go. You can see all of them on my Instagram feed here.
As with much of northern coastal California, we woke up on the 9th to a red-orange world. Although the Red Salmon Complex Fire has been burning since August about an hour east of us (we’re fine, no threat from it), this crazy smoke is part of a huge band of smoke the stretches the length of California and is the same one that produced all the wild red photos of San Francisco that made the national and international news. Today it’s grey smoky overcast, but air quality is still an unhealthy 175, so we’re staying indoors and wearing a mask if we need to go outside. Keeping the collies in as much as possible also. The good news for us is that this should clear out starting tomorrow. The bad news for the folks up in western Washington State is that it’s heading their way.
The pandemic has, to some extent, taken a back seat and the good news is that after a case spike mostly due to gatherings of too many people, some from out of the area, the number is down and what has opened can stay open. It’s definitely moved down the news queue for now.
In the meantime, here are my latest Inktober52 drawings…
This is male drill, a primate that is related to baboons. They are only found in ancient rainforests on Africa’s west coast and are an endangered species. Gillott 404 pen nib, Daler Rowney Sepia ink on cold press illustration board.
Who has great balance in the animal world? Wild goats for one. The reference for this one is from a photo I took of a big old Siberian ibex I saw in Mongolia in 2011. He bolted out from an overhang as we walked down a valley and stopped right in front of us, head facing us, body in profile, just what I wanted for this silly pose. Gillott 303 nib and walnut ink on vellum plus digital pens and a brush in PixelmatorPro.
The garden is slowing down for the year. Peas are done. Waiting for a couple of new garlic varieties to arrive. Some of the roses are doing a last flush of bloom.
I’ve also done a series of drawings of our first full-size tomato, an Early Girl. Haven’t eaten it yet.
Finally, some of the hollyhocks are still blooming. This is my favorite ‘Creme de Cassis’. It seems to repeat well and produces lots of seeds.
I’m back in the studio working on a set of three new paintings. Should have something to show you next time!
Yesterday at 2pm the Humboldt County Department of Human Health and Services held a press conference and announced an official Sheltering In Place Order to begin as of midnight last night. A few hours later Gavin Newsome, the governor of California, announced a statewide version, pretty much the same as the county one. So, here we are for probably at least a year, maybe longer. It depends on when a vaccine becomes available. All travel cancelled which means no trip to Mongolia for me this year.
It is important to note that this is not a “lockdown” as has been put in place in countries like Italy and which means no one can leave their home, period. We can go out for “essential” reasons as defined in the Order. People who work in “essential” jobs can also continue on as normal. The important part in terms of “flattening the curve” (a whole new vocabulary we didn’t have even a few days ago) is “social distancing” which means keeping a distance of 6 feet between ourselves and others, the exception being family members, non-relative household members and those who are caring for sick or elderly relatives. We are encouraged to get outside and walk, hike, bike with social distancing. Shopping for groceries, going to the hardware store, going to medical appointments or taking a pet to the vet, are some of the allowed outings. Since we work at home and rarely go out more than one or two days a week anyway and are not recreational shoppers, this isn’t a hardship for us. We know of a number of places we can take ourselves and the dogs to go for safe walks.
I think native Californians have a bit of a leg up with all these changes because we KNOW a major earthquake is coming, just not when, so we’re psychologically, mentally and emotionally always prepared For Something To Happen and a lot of us keep up to a few weeks worth of food and other supplies on hand at all times so we can….shelter in place if necessary.
Our county and state officials are doing a great job addressing the emergency in a calm, rational way. I was sad to see on one news site this morning that six states aren’t doing anything yet, which is a real disservice to the citizens who elected the officials and pay the salaries of the state workers.
In studio news, you’re invited to follow along as I participate in Inktober52, an event in which artists all over the world create pen and ink drawing a week for a year. We get a prompt on via email on Thursdays. I’m trying to get mine done and posted to Instagram on Fridays *checks watch*, but sometimes early the following week.
The two paintings have been entered in a juried art competition. Maybe they get in, maybe they don’t. I’ve been doing this for a long time with my first acceptance in 2003. I don’t sweat it or take it personally if I don’t get in. Stay tuned….
Yesterday, March 16, kind of feels like the first day of the rest of our lives. And, as is true for so many, we’re now sheltering in place due to the coronavirus. Fortunately, we’re in a northern California county that had one confirmed case back in January (a person who had just arrived back from an infected area of China) and none since then. But people here are preparing just the same since it’s almost sure to make another appearance.
Not sure why, but I’ve found that I want to record what it’s going to be like between now and when the “all clear” is sounded. I’ll be posting whenever I have something to say or show you. My husband and I are fortunate in that we are in good health and we work at home. He’s the Executive Director of a tech consortium with members in a variety of countries. Their April meeting has already been pushed back to June, now with the expectation that it will be pushed back again to fall at the earliest.
I’ve been an art professional of one kind or another (sign painter, graphic designer, illustrator, now fine art painter) for over forty years, so my art will be part of this record. I’m also an avid gardener and have an acre to play with. All our travel is cancelled so the garden will get my full attention, including the vegetable part of it. We also have six apple trees, three dozen blueberry bushes and a raspberry “patch”, so I’ll be posting photos through the year of all that. The blueberries are already flowering. We get between five and six gallon bags of berries from them every year.
Right now the clematis armandii and wallflowers are blooming, along with crocus, grape hyacinth, daffodils and early tulips.
We share our home with two rough collies Hailey and Peregrin (“Lassie” dogs) and two cats, Michiko and Alexander A Really Great Cat.
In other news, I’m participating in a fun art event this year called Inktober52. The original event, Inktober, calls on artists to create one black and white piece a day in the month of October. Inktober52, in its first year, is about creating one black and white piece a week for the entire year. I’m going to do my best to not miss a week and so far so good. All the finished art is posted first on Instagram herewith the #inktober52 hashtag, including mine. I’m also posting to my Facebook public page here and on Pinterest here. Jake Parker, who invented and runs both events, sends out an email on Thursdays with the prompt for the next week, so everyone is doing the same subject, but in their own way. Hundreds of artists from all over the world are participating. So, sheltering in place or not, I’m able to connect with other artists.
This is what I had to say about this week’s drawing: “After thrashing around I decided that I could use “tower” as a verb, but then what was towering over ? I tried a couple of different ideas and then “towering redwoods” came to mind. I grew up, and live in, Redwood Country so I dug out a photo I had of me standing in front of a huge coast redwood right by the road in Prairie Creek State Park. I started out intending to fully render the trunk, but had the thought of doing a “reverse”. Less time (a LOT less), maybe more visually interesting and different. I also create downloadable pdf coloring pages that I sell in my Etsy store and maybe this piece will end up there. I used a Gillott 659 crow quill nib (Joseph Pennell’s favorite), Platinum Carbon ink on Clearprint vellum.”
Finally, for now, the 12×16″ oil painting above has been accepted into the Fusion Art Gallery online exhibition “Sunrises and Sunsets”! The location is one of my favorite places in Mongolia, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I own my own ger with all the furnishings and have been allowed to set it up in the reserve and live there for a week or so and that’s when I get to see sights like this and take photos that I can turn into art.
I’m starting a new ongoing series of posts about my personal favorite artists and why they are. Art goes back a very long way. The current oldest known work of art is 40,000 year old cave paintings of wild cattle in Borneo. Animal art! You can read more about that here.
I’ve not personally visited any of the caves with wall paintings, but I have seen a number of sites in Mongolia with pictographs on outdoor rocks. My best photos of, and favorite, rock art is at Hogno Han Nature Reserve which is about five hours west of Ulaanbaatar. It’s on the west side of a small valley so it faces east. It’s easy to walk right up to it from the road. But sometimes there’s “local traffic” to get past first.
I love that long before “civilization” began people expressed themselves through art and in a way that has survived for us to see it today. The creative drive has clearly been with us for a very, very long time. We all have that capacity. It’s just a matter of finding out the best way for us to express our own creativity, whether it’s painting, crochet, cooking, singing, sketching, sewing, whatever appeals to you. It’s about the joy of doing it, not the result. How do you express your creativity? Let me know in the comments!