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.
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.
Most art shows have gone virtual due to Covid-19 but they’re still happening! I recently rejoined our local Redwood Art Association in time to enter the 2nd annual Humboldt Paint Out with was held from September 29- October 3, Monday through Saturday. The sticky part was that, due to a wildfire to the east of us it was smoky for the entire time (three out of four weeks total). Time to “make lemonade”. I was intending to head out and see what, if anything, I could find as a subject but saw the sun rising above the evergreens to the east of us and decided I’d try to capture that. Grabbed my painting gear walked three feet from my studio, set up and got to it. I had already decided to paint in gouache (opaque watercolor) which I’ve used on and off for decades. Here’s the result:
That same day I painted “Smoke” from the same spot trying to capture the visual texture and color of it. So instead of just photos I have some of it recorded in paint.
The next few days were really bad and we didn’t want to be outside at all unless absolutely necessary. But Friday, Oct. 2, rolled around and I decided to hit the road and head north. My original idea had been to do one painting at each of the lagoons- Dry Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon and I hoped that maybe some or all of them, being right by the ocean, might be clear enough to be ok. Alas, it wasn’t smoke but heavy fog that put paid to that idea. I’d also wanted to paint at Prairie Creek State Park, which is also part of Redwood National Park, so I went on north with fingers crossed. And when I got to Orick, not far to the south, SUNSHINE! And, although it was hazy, it the air was ok enough to set up and paint a scene of the namesake prairie. I’d taken one of our collies, Hailey, with me and she happily settled down at the base of my easel for the duration. In fact, she got a little stubborn when it was time to leave.
By the time I was done the smoke was starting to thicken so home I went back into fog and smoke. At this point I decided to stay home and finish up the event at our house and in our own neighborhood. When we bought the acre we built our house on there were almost no trees left from when the previous owner had it logged. But there was one special tree, a very old alder. I created the basic floor plan for our house and put the window over the sink such that it framed it. It was challenging to paint in the shifting smoke light but I finally felt I’d captured it. I’d been wanting to do this big old bole for years and had only managed a couple of sketches. I did it in the afternoon after I got returned.
One more day to go and, of course, it was smoky at first. On the road one takes before turning onto our street one of the properties to the north has a few very tall old pine trees, probably what’s left from a windbreak. After lunch the wind must have changed because suddenly we had clear blue skies! So I loaded up my painting gear and drove the whole couple of minutes or so to the corner where I could set up under some very old cypress trees. I work pretty fast. One of the things I like about gouache is that it dries fast so one layer colors quickly. Which was good because I had about ten minutes to go and back came the smoke. I’d taken photos when I gotten there so was able to get the last bits done in the studio (which is NOT cheating). I did have fun playing with color temperature.
On deadline day, Saturday the third, I scanned all of them, made necessary adjustments so they would be as accurate as possible and submitted them. And then waited, as we do when entering shows. The juror was Randall Sexton, a very accomplished artist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I’m not really a plein painter like those who do it as their main art activity I didn’t think much about getting an award. For me it was more about getting involved again in the local art scene and getting started doing location work in gouache. But…to my surprise and pleasure “Our Old Alder, Smoke Light” took 5th place! The reward was a check for $200, a $100 gift certificate from our local frame shop and another gift certificate from a local spa for a massage! I loved that the judge liked the one that is the most special to me.
And wait, there’s more! I also enter the RAA’s “Halloween” show. Once again I used it as a springboard to try out something new, a combination of pen and ink and watercolor. Once again my purpose was to have fun participating. Scott W. Prior, nationally known painter, was the juror and he picked “Quoth, The Raven” for an Award of Merit”!
So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month or so. I’m currently working on a set of three oil paintings for a Nov. 13 deadline. In my last post I showed the value and color studies for them. I’ll post a full step by step when they’re done.
I was busy in the studio last week doing the second and third steps in preparing three new paintings to hit the canvas. I’ve been wanting to start using the Mongol horse race reference I’ve gathered over my twelve trips there since 2005 and the time has come. Above is a color study, below is the previous step, the value study, in which all the darks, lights, and mid-range tones are worked out separate from color. It’s an important roadmap for coloring mixing since how dark or light is settled and the artist then can focus on hue and color temperature (how warm or cool).
Here’s the value and color studies for “Patient”.
And, finally, for “After the Race, Scraping Sweat”
I have not determined the final sizes yet but they’re not going to be too big.
In other art news, Inktober52 rolls on with me doing my weekly pen and in drawing to go with whatever the “Prompt” is. I post all of them on Instagram, the “official” social media platform for the event. You can see everything I’ve done so far here. I’ve also created a Board for them on Pinteresthere. I generally post new pieces on Tuesday.
And, if you haven’t done so, here’s the link to my Fox Studio Etsy shop. I offer coloring pages created from animals I’ve photographed in my travels and original drawings and small oil paintings. Coming soon will be my hand-picked selection of dip pen nibs for artists.
Live events, as everyone knows, are either postponed or cancelled this year. For artists it means no live exhibitions or shows, galleries closed and workshops going virtual. However, I recently found out about and signed up for a new marketing effort just for artists...Artists Sunday, which will be on November 29. The idea, like the other themed shopping days after Thanksgiving, is to establish one just for artists/craftspeople. There will be national multimedia marketing campaign to encourage people to patronize the participants when shopping for gifts. I’m excited about the possibilities and am really looking forward to it. Look for new items in my Etsy shop and here on my website.
Starting last Saturday, we had almost a week of smoke, so no gardening/fall clean-up got done. It’s a gorgeous sunny day today and it looks like we’re going to have a “heat wave” over the next week with highs in the mid/high 70s, quite warm for here on the coast and since our acre is in a sheltered area at the end of our street it will hit 80 in the shade. In the meantime some of the roses aren’t done yet, some still blooming like The Fairy (above) and some getting in a last repeat bloom like the David Austin Rose ‘Charles Rennie Macintosh’ below.
The Jackson Perkins ‘Happy Chappy’ ground cover rose hasn’t stopped blooming since spring. I love the warm colors.
There used to be a fabulous old rose nursery in Sebastopol, about four hours south of us, called Vintage Gardens. The sales part was closed when the fad for old roses died down, but the collection the owner amassed is still there and being maintained by The Friends of Vintage Roses. There was a blow-out final sale in which a few hundred old roses, many of them floribundas from the 50s-70s were under $10, a type that is not in fashion anymore. I bought over a dozen of them just to preserve them for the future, but also looked like they’d be great in the garden. And they are! And how could anyone resist a rose called “Lily Marlene? It’s one of the best reds I’ve seen. It’s also bullet proof and sturdy.
And, speaking of names, I HAD to have ‘Leaping Salmon’ given where I live on the north coast of California. This rose is a SPECTACULAR salmon pink in color and quite the climber, with huge long-lasting flowers.
And finally, last year for the first time I participated in the creation of a coloring book, part of a series showing the wildlife and plants in various ecosystems of the US. The next one is under way and the theme this time is Pollinators. Without insects and other animals to pollinate plants our plant-based food supply would be in great, most likely fatal, danger. Bees are probably the best know pollinators and they’ll be well represented in the book. I did some research, though, and found that the white-lined sphinx moth I photographed in our garden years ago is a pollinator! I’ve used three of my photos to show the moth in action. This is where I start….with a pencil drawing that sets the composition. I’ll tweak it a bit more and it will be ready for inking on heavy vellum, which I’ll lay over the top of the drawing. I used photos of penstemon, also from our garden as the “target plant”. I’ll also be doing a second page with two Hawaiian honeycreepers and will show that one next week.
On the Covid-19 front, we had a post 4th of July spike in cases, mostly driven by large gatherings of locals and their guests. We seem to have gotten past the Labor Day weekend ok. Last Friday there were no new cases the previous day, the first time that’s happened in awhile. So unless something dramatic happens this will be the last “Life Goes On…” post because that’s how it is day to day now with following our regular routines, able to get haircuts, massages, etc. and do our regular shopping with no drama.
Most of you know me as an oil painter, but I’ve always loved to sketchand draw with pencils and pens and I also paint in watercolor on location. Dating back to 1989, I take at least a small sketchbook and kit like the one above with me when I travel.
I’ve enjoyed seeing sketching take-off as an international art phenomenon and I’ve decided to formally throw my well-loved field hat into the ring. Before the end of the month I’ll be debuting a new website dedicated to sketching called “SketchWild”. It will include not only my field and travel sketching and painting, but also art supply reviews, tutorials and online classes. Tell me in the comments what you’d like to learn!
My specialty and favorite subject has always been animals. I seem to be one of a surprisingly small number of artists who draw and paint from live animals and I’ll offering tutorials on how you can do that, too.
If you’ve never sketched before and want to try it but don’t know where to start or if you’re a landscape painter who occasionally wants to add animals like, say, a cow or horse, to your painting but don’t know how to draw them, I’ll be offering classes and/or sets of tutorials for both. I’ll also be offering instruction in pen and ink sketching/drawing with technical pens, fountain pens and dip pens regardless of subject and tutorials on sketching with an iPad, including a review of the variety of apps available. And there are a lot of them!
In the end it’s not about, or only about, making finished pretty pictures, but enjoying the process and seeing the world through art you’ve created yourself. Some of the best souvenirs you can take home are the sketches you did of what caught your eye.
To give you an idea of what I’ve done over the years, here’s a selection from my sketchbooks. Some, like the animals were done very quickly, in maybe one to three minutes, sometimes less. The landscapes hold still so I can spend more time on them. And if I can add an animal, so much the better!
Monkeys don’t hold still for long so you have to work fast and see the basic shapes, in this case a quick indication of light and shadow to go with the drawing.
These colobus monkeys were fairly far up in the trees and jumping around so I simply and quickly sketched in the black bodies, leaving the white feathering the color of the paper.
The horses were in a corral standing around, so I had time to add things like the pinto markings and do eye, leg and hoof studies.
I was sitting up on the rocky hillside of a valley in the reserve when I did these quick sketches of the world’s largest mountain sheep. I’ve seen them many times and have painted them, so I “know what they look like”.
These barbary sheep and tahr posed nicely for me so I was able to do much more finished sketches that I usually manage.
I’ve had the good fortune to go to Kenya twice, once in 1999 and once in 2004 and would love to get back there sometime. We were driving to our campsite and came upon this lion and lioness in the throes of “temporary love”.
While animals are my favorites subject, I sketch pretty much anything interesting that crosses my path. I also like to record an animal’s habitat, which creates a specific kind memory that one doesn’t get from only taking photos.
On a trip to Portugal with a number of other artists we stayed at an old farmhouse that was surrounded by cork trees, the same ones that wine corks come from. They were full of character. I was interested in the twisting branches and trunk.
This scene was near the lodge we stayed at in the conservancy. I didn’t have a lot of time between breakfast and departure, so I focused on the river going back in space, the large, tree and left the rest of the vegetation as outlines.
I’ve had the good fortune to travel to England quite a bit over the years. I love drawing the wonderfully picturesque historic buildings.
I had plenty of time to lovingly sketch the half-timbering, windows and shrubs of this wonderful old building.
Getting to sketch at Stonehenge a few years ago was a tremendous treat. In order to do a number of drawings from different angles I kept it really simple….the shapes of the stone themselves and then filling in the shadow sides.
I also sketch during trips around the USA. I enjoy playing around with edges, cropping in as needed. I didn’t want to bother with the building next to my subject, so I just left it as a silhouette in reverse.
When I did these super quick people sketches I was experimenting with contour drawing. None of them took more than a minute or so. I’ll be showing you how to do it.
The above sketches were done with pens, mostly Sakura Micron .01s. I also work in watercolor on location.
All of the above goes into an REI daypack.
Quick watercolors just to capture the day and the bison.
I spent a couple of hours on this painting, making sure that not only was the horse drawn correctly, but that the saddle and bridle were right. I went up close a number of times to check details. The horse would shift a bit, but then back into the position I’d drawn. Something to remember about sketching animals…they tend to move in a repeating pattern, so one can stop, wait, maybe start another sketch, then pick up the first one once your subject is back in place.
I was sitting on a rock at Hustai, painting this interesting and colorful small rock formation and the surrounding fall foliage when the bird, I think it was a magpie, landed on the top one. I dropped my brush, grabbed a pencil and quickly sketched it in.
I carry a small stack of 8×8″ pieces of Sanders Waterford cold press watercolor paper with me in a gallon ziplock baggie, along with a small foamcore board with packing taped edges and a roll of drafting tape. I’ve found that I really like the small square size and can, as I did here, easily place two smaller horizontal format paintings on it.
And, lastly, I’ve done calligraphy and handlettering for over forty years. Both are also undergoing a revival and I’m considering offering tutorials and maybe a online class or two for that. Here’s a few samples of my lettering…
I’ll be posting the latest news about SketchWild here on my regular website and also in my Facebook group, FoxStudio. Let me know in the comments what you think and what you’re interested in learning!
“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.
TBT (Last one till Inktober ends on Oct. 31, then it will become an occasional feature) “Hayden Valley Thunder” from 2003, Oil 30×15” Private collection: I had a great piece of reference from the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park of this bull bison standing on the hill with clouds behind him. I’ve always love Maxfield Parrish. So I decide to try combining the two by changing out white clouds for sunset colors. I also added the cow from another reference photo.
I have the good fortune to work at home doing something I love. It also means “visitors” every day. Our two rough collies and three cats wander in and out, sometimes just to say “hi” or to hang out. The last few days Alexander has come in, sprawling across my desk in front of my iMac to get his tummy skritched and combed out. He was a slightly scruffy little shelter kitten who we got when he was about three months old. He’s grown into a phlegmatic 8 year old, 16 pound furball.
(And wouldn’t you know it, as I was proofing this post in he came. Pause for tummy combing….)
(Ok, I’m back.)
Being at home also means that if I, say, spot a juvenile great blue heron down at our pond I can grab my camera and get some photos.
After work tasks include watering the vegetable garden and picking what’s ready. We got a very late start this year, but Humboldt County’s warmest weather is in September/October so we’ll get at least some goodies in the freezer like peas for winter solstice dinner.
We picked our first real harvest a few days ago. Shallots, a yellow zucchini, Hurst Green Shaft peas (got the seed in England and haven’t found an American source for this awesome variety), Blue Lake green beans, and French haricot verts. Potatoes will be ready in another month or so. We’ve also planted regular green zucchini and summer squash, both of which will start to be ready for harvesting soon. I also, because I had them, threw some brussels sprout seeds from 2012 into the ground just to see if any would germinate. Thought I might get two or three. Well….I’ve now got a clump of over a dozen that are too close together. My plan is to carefully transplant them into a row once the rains come and the weather is cooler.
I think we’re going to dig a small root cellar on the north side of the garage since there are five varieties of garlic on the way, plus some heritage onions. The peas and beans will be, respectively, shelled and cut up for the freezer, where they will join the three gallon-size ziploc bags of blueberries our bushes produced this year. Did I mention that I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” right now? :0).
In the meantime, last night I rummaged around for dinner wanting to use the zucchini while it was fresh and some mushrooms before they were goners. And came up with this…
I set water to boiling for the shell pasta and then sauteed the mushrooms in olive oil and butter. I added the zucchini and let it cook for a bit, then added some finely sliced leeks. It’s seasoned with a bit of salt, basil, parsley and oregano. When the pasta was done I dumped it into the vegies and stirred everything together. Dinner was served in our Portmeirion “Borders” pattern china that we got at the factory seconds shop in England twenty years ago.
As for art, as you saw last week, I’ve got some new small horse paintings under way. I also started this one, getting the brush drawing done. You can still see the pencil marks from where I projected the preliminary drawing for transfer and then made some corrections. But darn, I kinda like the way it looks now, so I might just call it done and keep it around. We’ll see.