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
“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.
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.
“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” is currently in “Magnificent Migrations: A Journey Through Central California” a joint exhibition of the California Art Club and the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.
I haven’t shared a step-by-step for awhile, so I documented the stages of this one more than I usually do. Below is the scene…hundreds of elephant seals hauled out on the beach, some just conked out in the warm sun, others getting into tiffs of one kind or another. We saw them on a trip back from Southern California in May, 2007. Piedras Blancas is located just north of San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle.
When I started looking through my reference I wanted strong shapes that would lend themselves to an abstract design, interesting heads and expressions and color variety. I finally settled on this one:
The next step was to do a drawing to set the composition and value pattern.
I scanned the drawing and then projected it onto a 8×10″ RayMar canvasboard panel which I’d precoated with a raw sienna tone. It doesn’t show up in the photo because the drawing was on white paper.
I restated the drawing with a round brush, paying particular attention to the features.
I used a “dirty” purple tone to lay in the shadow shapes that would be a relative warm that the cooler shadow color would go over.
Here’s the palette I used for the painting, a very limited one, but it worked well. There’s titanium white, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, Payne’s gray, …., raw umber, all Winsor Newton and Rembrandt Cold Gray and Transparent Oxide Red. So I have my warm and cool colors and primaries (the blue, raw sienna and oxide red), just going more toward earth tones than crayon colors.
The second pass covers the entire canvas. Loose and ugly at this stage. It is not at all unusual for a painting to seemingly fall apart and look really bad, but experience teaches one that if the artist has a clear vision of where they want to end up, then the painting will come out the other side just fine.
Then it’s a matter of refining the shapes, their colors and getting the value relationships right. One change I made between the one above and the one below was to add the tail flippers from a seal in another location to the lower left corner. It felt like something was missing and that the viewer’s eye might easily exit the painting there. And it added a third (uneven number) point of interest besides the heads.
All the cool tones are in and the darkest dark areas mostly established. And, once again, below is the finished painting, warmer than the reference photo with the emphasis where I wanted it, on those two faces with the interesting markings. I also liked the grey and greenish tones of the seal body on the far left. Notice also that between the step above and the finished piece below I removed the two front flippers at the top. Not interesting and visually distracting.
“Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” is available for purchase. Price on request. Please message me and I’ll put you in touch with the museum.
December 3 was quite a day. First I got an email from Focus on Nature XV informing me that “Watchful (Saiga Antelope)” has been accepted into their exhibition. A couple of hours later I got an email from the California Art Club letting me know that “Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” was going to join fellow members’ work in “Magnificent Migrations: A Journey Through Central California”.
The first one is a big deal for me since scientific accuracy in appearance and behavior is required. Here’s the criteria:
“The Focus on Nature jury selects original works of natural and cultural history subjects (in whole or in part), excluding human anatomy and portraiture, that demonstrates:
a high degree of technical skill
scientific accuracy, including taxonomic definition
aesthetic qualities, including composition
a unique scientific and/or artistic viewpoint, techniques, medium, or format (organic depiction, schematics, diagrams, etc.) including traditional, mixed and multimedia, or computer-generated images
a broad representation of artists”
So my saiga piece was in competition with artists who have degrees in scientific illustration. I have a BFA Illustration. I saw my subject, a young saiga antelope, in Mongolia when I was at Khar Us Nuur National Park in 2015. Generally, saiga run away the instant they spot a car or human, but this fellow stayed close enough for me to get some good reference photos. The mountain in the background is Jargalant Hairkhan Uul, which is sacred, as are all mountains in Mongolia.
The exhibition will be at the Roberson Museum and Science Center from July 21, 2019- January 12, 2020. You can find out more here.
My second accepted painting “Elephant Seals, Piedras Blancas” will be in the California Art Club/Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History exhibition “Magnificent Migrations: A Journey Through Central California” from January 18-April 14, 2019.
What makes this acceptance special is that it was open to all members and that means I was competing with nationally-known. long established artists. I just rejoined the Club this year which one does at the entry level of Associate Artist member. There is a review once a year in November for which one can submit work in hopes of getting a “promotion” to Artist Member and then beyond that are the Signature and Master Artists. That’s one of my goals for next year.
I saw these elephant seals on a trip to southern California many years ago. We were heading home up the coast on Highway 1. There was a big parking lot right on the ocean with a long stretch of beach on the south side, where I took this photo (which is closely cropped from the original) and a rocky area with tide pools on the north side. That day there were hundreds of elephant seals all over the place on both sides. And it was noisy! Young bulls were jousting with each other on land and in the surf, the pups trying to stay out of their way. My painting is from a long “pile” of seals who were laying about along the waterline. When I was going through my reference to find animal subjects from Central California, these two were an easy choice. I liked their expressions, colors and marking variations, plus the variety of colors on the ones around them.
You can find out more about the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History here.
I entered my first juried competition in 1991, an Artist’s Magazine contest for wildlife/animal art. I got an Honorable Mention for a colored pen and ink drawing of a wild boar I’d photographed somewhere. Woohoo! I was out of art school, but had not started to paint in oil yet, a childhood dream. I was able to begin that with two years of private study in 1995. In 1997 I decided to focus on painting wildlife in oil. In 2003 I was accepted into my first national juried exhibition, the Art for the Parks Top 100, with a painting of a Yellowstone bison. Since then there’s rarely been a year that I haven’t had work in at least one juried show or another. But this one is really, really special. “Mongol Horses” will be in the Salmagundi Club Annual Member Exhibition, which has been held every year since the club was founded in 1871. It is open to all media and “is meant to showcase SCNY member’s finest work”. It’s the first time I’ve gotten in. Not only is it for all subjects, but I’m very proud to have one of my Mongolian subjects in this prestigious show!
This piece is part of a “new direction” my work is going. I’m drawing, so to speak, on my background in graphic design, calligraphy and love of historic decorative styles, to move away from animals in a landscape and put the focus directly on them. This makes sense for me because since I was a child I drew animals constantly.
In other news, we’re off to Hawaii next Tuesday for a two week vacation. I’ll be taking my sketching and watercolor supplies with me and will be posting here, on Instagram and on Facebook. Come follow along! Aloha!
I’ve had a number of new paintings in progress for quite awhile now. Last week I finally, really got back to the easel and finished up what amounts to a new body of work. They are all part of an idea that I have been thinking about for the past few years and what I’ve been calling to myself my “New Direction” in which I focus on the animals as design elements, adding historic decorative symbols, motifs and patterns that are used in Mongolia. The very special element is “bichig”, the Mongolian vertical script that Chinggis Khan adapted from the alphabet of the Uighur people who allied with the Mongols rather than fighting them (which would have ended badly for them as they had seen for themselves).
I introduced my “New Direction” in a previous post in regard to doing repaints of older work, using “Friends” as an example, in which I added a border around what had been a plain background.
One of the ideas that has had me excited about this new work is to go through my reference and find images that, properly cropped, had a strong design. So this one of an otherwise fairly non-descript brown horse became much more interesting. And it was fun to paint!
For this one I used the Mongolian word for “scratching” written out in bichig as the additional design element. I didn’t want it to detract from the horse, so kept the value contrast low while using a color that was related to the color of the horse.
One of the things I wanted to get away from was putting animals in a realistic full landscape. My solution with “Two Takhi” was to use a traditional symbolic cloud motif for the sky and a simple color field of overlapping marks of warm and cool greens for “the ground”. I kept the value contrast fairly low except for the horse’s heads. The vertical format let me focus on what was interesting in the reference…the shapes of the overlapping heads and forequarters of the two horses, takhi/Przwalski’s horses that I saw at Hustai National Park.
This one was another that never quite made it after I originally “finished” it in 2012 and then set it aside . I added the longevity symbols to the plain background and now it works. I did a pretty thorough repaint on the horses, too. One of the things l love about working in oil is the ability to pull out an older piece, look at it, say “hey, I know how to fix that” and then do it. These horses were part of a good-sized herd I saw as we headed south towards the Gobi from Hustai in 2010. The flies were pretty bad so they kept moving around as one after another tried to get its head and body into the middle of the group. The painting above, “Friends”, came out of that same encounter and there will be more to come. The morning light was wonderful.
It’s been twenty years since I began painting in oil. Before then I was a graphic designer/illustrator and before that I worked as a sign painter for a local shop, starting at age 22 in 1976. Along the way I also did calligraphy, messed with typography and developed a great fondness for historic decorative styles like medieval and celtic illumination and art nouveau. All of them gradually fell by the wayside as I focused on gaining competency as an oil painter who specialized in animals. But those interests were always lurking out there, sometimes with a feel of longing. But then it was back to the easel. However, a few years ago I started to toy with how I might bring some of that back into my work. I let it perk as I did three exhibitions in four years, the final one being last March, the “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” group show in Connecticut. With time and mental space available at last, I realized that, for the time being, I’d said all I wanted to say about representing animals in realistic habitats/backgrounds.
I started to seriously work on what a new direction would be. What elements would it include? I wanted to emphasize pure design more and include decorative elements and calligraphy. For the former I would draw on my fifteen years of experience as a freelance graphic designer. For the other two I still have my library of reference books and I knew, starting with my second trip to Mongolia in 2006, that the vertical Uigher script that Chinggis Khan chose for the Mongols was still taught in the schools, used in advertising and had also become a respected and breathtaking art form. I have experience in brush lettering, but wasn’t sure that I wanted to try to learn “bichig”, which would require finding a teacher in Ulaanbaatar.
The solution to the lettering came last year at the end of the 4th WildArt Mongolia Expedition. Our guide, Batana, has a son who is a budding artist. When told about me he said he wanted to meet me. So one evening I and the two other participants were invited to dinner at Batana’s home. I met his son and looked through his work, which was very, very good for a self-taught fifteen year old. Before leaving Batana surprised us each with a gift, our names written out in bichig.
I came home and started thinking again about my “new direction” as I had come to call it. And it occurred to me that I now knew of a Mongolian calligrapher with whom I had a mutual contact. Batana and I had become friends on Facebook, so I messaged him to ask if his calligrapher friend would be interested in writing out some words for me. The answer came back “yes”. We worked out a price per word. I made up a list of ten and sent them to Batana. Within 48 hours I had ten large jpg images in my inbox. They were wonderful! I ended up getting two more batches of ten, so I have thirty words in bichig now and will be getting more. There was the matter of payment. My tour company, for whom the calligrapher, who uses the nom de guerre “Bichig Soyol” on Facebook, had worked in the past, was kind enough to let me do a credit card charge on their website. Then they called him and he came to the office to pick up the cash.
I was going to be going to the Susan K. Black Foundation workshop in Dubois, Wyoming in September and decided to try to have a couple new works for show there. The first one still needs some re-working, so this is the first finished piece in my new style.
Part of what drove me was the realization that my interest and passion is animals. To put them in a habitat means that, generally and by far, most of the painting will be landscape, not animal. And at this point, I want to focus on them. My new approach will let me use any and as much landscape as I want. Or none.
I’m taking my inspiration for the non-animal colors from landscape photos I’ve taken in Mongolia over the years. I have albums in Photos for “Warm”, “Cool” and Warm/cool” images. I’ve also got albums for design elements from monasteries, gers, patterns and symbols. I can mix and match all these elements as I wish. So now I’ve pulled all the threads together….animals, design, decorative motifs and lettering. And am I ever having fun!