Latest Quick Sketches…Yaks And Horses and Ducks, Oh My, Plus One Camel

But first, here’s the link to the blog of fellow Society of Animal Artist member and great sculptor, Simon Gudgeon, who resides in the UK. His latest post is an excellent discussion of wildlife art and its place in the larger world of “fine art”. Here’s one bit that I particularly like: “…too many artists use photographs rather than their minds and let the photograph dictate the finished artwork. An artist should observe their subject and decide how they want to portray it, or take a theme or emotion and work out how they can use a wildlife subject matter to illustrate it.” Truer words….

In the meantime, I’m having fun in the evenings, while we watch the San Francisco Giants possibly close in on their first Division pennant since 2003 (tonight might be the night!), doing more quick sketches with a gel tip pen in a Strathmore Universal Recycled sketchbook. Once again, these don’t take more than a few minutes each.

If you decide to try this at home, and I hope you do, look for photos of animals with distinct light and shadow sides, using that to emphasize form and structure where possible. I think you can see below that the most successful sketches have interesting shadow shapes. I also keep each most of the sketches to two values, light side/shadow side. There’s a couple where I added a third, intermediate value because it was a black animal or a black and white animal and I wanted to show the black part in light and shadow. The all-white yaks were actually….black yaks, in flat light.

Domestic Mongol yaks
Yaks, horses and a domestic bactrian camel
Horses and yaks
Yaks, horses and common shelducks

New Painting, New Drawings And An Interesting Call For Entries

Sort of an odds and ends Friday as the year winds down. The deep freeze is over here in coastal Humboldt County and it’s back to nice normal rainy weather with nighttime lows in the 40s. I’ve been getting in some good easel time of the past few weeks. Here’s a new argali painting from reference that I shot in July at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve. I watched this group of rams work their way across the rocky slope for almost an hour. “Uul” is Mongolian for “mountain”.

On The Slopes of Baits Uul, Gun-Galuut 18x24" oil on canvasboard (price on request)

I’ve also decided that I want to paint not just the domestic Mongol horses, but the people who ride them. Which brings me back to wrestling with human figures, as described in an earlier post. I get a better result if I can scan the drawings rather than photograph them and also wanted to really hone in on accuracy, so these are smaller and done with a Sanford Draughting pencil, but on the same vellum bristol (which erases very nicely). The heads ended up being only 3/4″ high, which is pretty small, but it reminded me of a story from art school that I thought I might pass along.

One of my teachers was Randy Berrett, a very good illustrator who chose to work in oils. This was kind of masochistic, in a way, because it added a layer of complexity when he had to ship out a wet painting to meet a deadline. In any case, he was showing some examples of his work in class and one was a really large painting of the signers of the either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, I can’t remember which. Someone asked why he painted it so large. Randy’s answer really struck me at the time and has stayed with me. It’s something worth remembering when planning a painting. He said that he wanted the heads to be at least an inch high and that requirement controlled the final size of the painting. I’ve sized more than one painting on the basis of that criteria since then.

The first drawing combined two pieces of reference. One of the horse and one of the man. In the latter, he was in front of the horse’s head. In the former, I didn’t like the pose of the horse. Moving the man back works much better. The sweat from a winning horse is considered to be good luck. There are special scrapers made to remove it.

Scraping the sweat after the race, Baga Gazriin Chuluu
Local herder, Erdene Naadam
Boy on horse, Erdene Naadam

Part of the reason I did the previous two was to see if the images “drew well” and to work on horses coming forward at a 3/4 angle. The final two are head studies, in which the heads are 1 1/2″ from forehead to chin.

Local herder, Erdene Naadam

Local herder, Erdene Naadam

Finally, the folks at Eureka Books in Old Town, Eureka have decided to hold a special art show. Here’s the Call for Entries.

Field Sketches/I’ll Be At Pastels On The Plaza Tomorrow

I’m going back to my two-a-week posts. Mongolia Monday will start up again on, um, Monday, along with my eBay auction listing. Fridays and whenever the spirits moves me will be everything else: paintings in progress, etc.

Here are some recent pages from my sketchbook. They are done with whatever fine point liquid gel pen Staples had last time I needed some new ones. No preliminary pencil work, I just dive in with the pen and hope for the best. These were done at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure’s zoo:





I finally sucked it up and sketched people for the first time in years on my way to the AFC “Art of Conservation” show opening weekend. Got to practice my furtive glance at San Francisco International Airport Gate 74. (ignore the date).



I’ll be at PASTELS ON THE PLAZA in Arcata, California tomorrow morning from between 8 and 9am until probably around 11am. This now-traditional October event is a benefit for Northcoast Children’s Services and brings out well over one hundred Humboldt County artists who will fill the sidewalks around the Arcata Plaza with creative, fun and amazing pastel drawings, all for a great cause. Each artist has either found a sponsor or has been assigned one by NCS. The sponsor “buys” a single or double space and the artists donate their time. The Saturday Farmer’s Market happens at the same time, so it’s a big day-long street party. The pastels usually are visible for a couple of weeks or until the first winter rains hit.

Animal Expression, The Finale (at least for now)

This has been a fun, and instructive, series for me and I’ll definitely be doing more of this kind of thing for my own study work.

Most of the drawings I’ve done for the previous posts were done fairly quickly, generally 30 minutes or less. For today, I’ve done more finished drawings, once again using the Wolff Carbon pencil on vellum bristol.

The idea for these was to use all the features of the subject, including gesture for the full body drawings, to capture its character and essence.

camel-headFor a Bactrian camel head study, I looked for reference with a 3/4 view, but most of what I have didn’t seem like it would draw well because the position of the features is so odd. Time was limited, so I stayed with a classic profile that shows his calm, unexcitable nature. My husband and I got to sit with a large group of camels at Arburd Sands when we were in Mongolia and I could practically feel my blood pressure drop as I sat and sketched them.

hyena-headThe body of this spotted hyena got too big, so I cropped her at the shoulders, which gives a different look than the camel above, in which the drawing trails off in value, number of lines and amount of detail. I find hyenas interesting and compelling on a number of levels. They live in a matriarchal clan structure, will go to war with lions and move a lot faster than you think they can with their gallumping, awkward gait. The African night wouldn’t be the same without their crazy whooping and insane giggling.

coyote-runningI love the flow of the pose I captured at Yellowstone as this coyote ran parallel to the road in nice morning light. The head demonstrates that you can get a lot of character without a lot of detail if you make your marks carefully, see the shapes correctly and don’t get hung up in drawing individual hairs.

gorilla-headThis drawing and the next one ended up too big to scan, so they were photographed and then processed in Photoshop. They were done on white paper, but I kind of like the toned effect. In any case, I’ve rarely done primates, but I got some incredible reference of the gorillas the last time I was at the San Francisco zoo and have been looking forward to seeing what I could do with it. The big silverback male was on morning patrol and he didn’t miss a thing.

warthog1Sometimes a subject serves itself up on a silver platter and is so compelling that the artist’s job is to simply not mess it up. I found warthogs to be, pound for pound, THE most entertaining animal I saw in Kenya. This one was at Lewa Downs, grazing near the lodge we stayed at. He’s got it all: great ears, that remarkable face and the solid body carried by relatively delicate-looking legs and feet.

Animal Expression, Part 5: Eyes

There’s a saying, referrring to humans,  that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. I believe this is every bit as true for animals. Now, whether or not, in the religious sense, animals literally have something that could be called a soul, is a question I’ll leave to others. But in the sense of consciousness, sentience, “isness”, I believe that absolutely. Animals experience emotions such as happiness, grief, depression, hopefulness and silliness, feel pain, form a wide variety of relationships, communicate with each other within and across species, teach and acquire wisdom and culture, use tools and, in some cases, clearly demonstrate self-awareness in the human sense. They have as much right to a safe and decent life on this planet as we do.

Whatever it is that vanishes from an animal’s eyes when it dies, before that point, there was an individual someone at home in there.

That is my starting point for drawing and painting animals. And so, in a sense, the “eyes” have it. I often do the eyes first and, not infrequently, there is my subject looking back at me. I’ve even been known to say out loud “Well, hello there.”

Here are five drawings of eyes, using the Wolff Carbon pencils on vellum bristol. I did a little something different with a simple border, an idea that I picked up from fellow student when I was in art school. It lets simple designed compositions occur instead of just having the drawing randomly trail off.giraffe-eye

A reticulated giraffe that I photographed in the Samburu, 2004

cosimo-eyeA Holsteiner stallion, who I did a portrait commission of year before last.

bighorn-eyeA bighorn sheep ewe from the Denver Zoo.

serval-eyeA serval, also from the Denver Zoo.

cat-eyesAnd our own dear tabby girl, Persephone, aka The Princess.

Animal Expressions, Part 4- Mouths and Contest Result

Contest result: No one got all the noses right. The right answers are: grizzly, bison, moose, turkey vulture, elk.  The person who came the closest guessed black bear instead of grizzly because the muzzle wasn’t dished, but nailed all the rest. This may be because it was a young animal. I went back to my reference and took a good look at my pictures of black bear and I think, in fairness, that I didn’t do a good enough job making it clear in my drawing which was which, so I would like to announce that Heather Houlahan is the winner and will be getting a packet of my notecards. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who entered!

On to mouths. After eyes, the mouth may be the most defining part of an animal’s head. These drawings were done with a Venetian Red Derwent Drawing Pencil. They’re kind of waxy, like Conte crayon as opposed to chalkier, for lack of a better term, like hard pastels. The paper is, once again, vellum bristol.

All of today’s examples are from Kenya.

First up, a reticulated giraffe that I photographed in the Samburu, Kenya in 2004.


Giraffe lips, believe it or not, are very interesting. As anyone who has fed a giraffe at a wild animal park knows, the upper lip is extremely flexible, almost prehensile. What is really impressive, however, is that the mouth is so tough that a giraffe can wrap it’s tongue around a very thorny acacia branch, pull it loose, stick it in its mouth and chew it without a second thought or, apparently, getting punctured.


This is the mouth of a white rhino that I photographed at the Lewa Downs Conservancy, south of the Samburu, also in 2004. Lewa is one of the best places to see these prehistoric-looking beasts. White rhinos, when seen from the front have a square lip. Black rhinos’ lips come to a point. According to Wikipedia, there is no actual evidence that the word “white” is a mis-translation of the Afrikaaner word for “wide”.

cokes-hartebeest-mouthThis is the mouth and muzzle of a Coke’s hartebeest, a large antelope, which I saw in the Masai Mara, Kenya. It has a very long head. When I enlarged the image to see the mouth better, I was struck by how its shape and the shape of the nose flowed together in an almost art nouveau manner. Just the kind of thing I look for.

spotted-hyena-mouthAlso from the Mara, this is the mouth of a spotted hyena. Their jaws are trememdously strong and can break large bones apart. And, as you can see, are filled with teeth. Studies have proved that they hunt at least as much as they scavenge. They live in female-centric “clans” in a defined territory that they defend against anything, even lions. I really enjoyed watching them and hearing them “whoop” at night.

young-lion-muzzleThis is the muzzle of a young lion I saw in the Mara. No scars yet and it has an almost soft quality that will change as he gets older.

Finally, I was out in the safari vehicle at dawn, also in the Mara, when we came upon a lioness who was just waking up. She gave us a REALLY big yawn, got up, stretched and ambled off. Keeping everything lined up and in decent perspective was challenging as you can see from the erasure marks.


Next week the eyes have it and then I’ll put it all together.

Mongolia Monday- Camel Drawings

Here’s a few bactrian camel drawings I did in about an hour this morning. They were done on vellum bristol with a Wolff’s carbon pencil. The head drawing is a little more finished. The full body study was really just to capture the pose and lay in the shadow areas. You can see how I corrected one of the hind legs. The small hind leg study was to learn more about the structure. So, one subject, three different goals. As usual, do try this at home.

Bactrian camel head study
Bactrian camel head study
Bactrian camel studies
Bactrian camel studies

Mongolia Monday – Argali Studies

With the New Year come new painting projects. We try to take time off between Solstice and New Year’s Day because that’s when things slow down for my husband, who is the executive director of an information technology consortium, but I can’t stay out of the studio completely. I have a bunch of ideas for paintings with Mongolia subjects and this morning I thought I’d do a few drawings of argali and try different drawing media. All of these are done on 2-ply vellum bristol. None of the four took more than 15-20 minutes. The idea was to limber up after a break without worrying about doing a pretty, finished drawing. I wanted to catch the character of the animal and the rhythm of their body and movement. Please DO try this at home.

Argali Ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008
Argali Ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008

This is a try-out to see how he “draws” since I have a painting idea in mind. He’s a big, old ram with battered horns that will be an interesting challenge to paint.  I also like the shadow pattern on his head. Drawn with a 6B Wolff’s Carbon pencil.

Argali Ram Running, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008
Argali Ram Running, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008

The gold standard in fieldwork for wildlife artists is the animal Doing Something. Prey animals like argali tend to be running away, so lots of butt shots. But this one took off from stage right to stage left, giving me a perfect chance to record a variety of leg positions. Also drawn with a 6B Wolff’s Carbon pencil.

Argali ewe climbing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008
Young Argali Ram Climbing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008

Another jackpot. He’s going up the rocks parallel to me. Drawn with a Cumberland Derwent Drawing pencil, Venetian Red. These have a fair amount of wax in them, so are more like a fancy crayon. They feel soft on the paper. I don’t think I got  very interesting line quality, but did feel that I caught the tension in the hindquarters as he is about to push off.

Argali Ewe Standing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, April 2005
Argali Ewe Standing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, April 2005

This one is from pictures I shot on my first trip to Mongolia in April/May of 2005. The animals still had their winter coats. This ewe was part of a small herd which had come down to a stream for water one morning. I find 3/4 head views challenging, partly because I know that I have to compensate for the flattening effect of the photograph. Drawn with a 2454 Conte crayon. I hadn’t used these in awhile and found I liked the line quality and the way the Conte felt on the paper. This sketch took maybe ten minutes.

So you can see that what you draw with can really change the appearance of your drawing. The only way to know what will work best for you is to experiment with different combinations.

Drawings from live animals and new painting

From the stats it looks like the post of my pet sketches was one of my most popular so far, so here’s more. These are done the way I usually work, with a fine tip gel pen. They’re done fast. Under five minutes, sometimes under two.

Niki, our tri-color rough collie

From the San Francisco Zoo. He really did hold still long enough for this head study.

These were ultra-quick, a minute or less, but I caught the gesture. Also San Francisco Zoo.

And, looking through my old sketchbooks, I came across the studies I did at Julie Chapman’s workshop in 2005. These are of Daisy, the badger, who alas, is no longer with us. Notice that I didn’t worry about eyes. I was trying to capture “badgerness”.

If you decide to try this, and I hope you do, keep in mind that every animal is an individual and look for what makes them them. If you like what I do, I think that’s a big part of it.

I’ll end with the bobcat painting, now called “Stepping Lightly”. I’m thinking of punching up the highlights on grass and maybe futzing (that’s the technical term, of course) with the logs some more, but that’s about it.


This one’s easy. Start to become aware of how you use energy. You can save money and help slow down climate change by using less and using it more wisely. Just little stuff to start- turn lights off when you leave a room, don’t leave the tv on if no one is watching, turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees or up, depending on the temperature where you are.

Now, you must know that this kind of thing, while necessary and desirable, is the “low hanging fruit”. It requires simple changes of habit, not real sacrifice. If you’re already doing the above and are ready and able to take the next steps, consider updating your older appliances to new, energy-efficient models. Change your incandescent light bulbs to compact flourescents or LEDs.

For more information and actions you can take, check out and

What ideas would you like to pass on to me and my readers? We’re all in this together, after all.