Sheltering in Place, Part 8


It’s been an uneventful week for us since I last posted, which is a Good Thing. Our four days with no cases (as per my previous post) turned into six days. Then there was one new case a day for two days, bringing the total for Humboldt County to 52. We’ve now gone three more days with no new cases. I think we’ll most likely stay under the shelter in place order through the end of the month. When we went grocery shopping at the Arcata Coop on Thursday almost everyone was wearing masks and being distance-conscious. Despite the ridiculous, ginned-up by right wing donors, protests a few days ago it’s clear that order or no orders most Americans get that social distancing is working and that doing so and otherwise being mindful is the fastest way to beat Covid-19. Someone posted a photo on Facebook this morning of a beach in Jacksonville, Florida that had been reopened and there was almost no one there.

In art news, I finally got around to experimenting with a new, very cool drawing pencil, a Koh-i-Noor Versatil 5340 “Magic”, which is what I used to do the drawing of the mooose above, plus the ones below.

Koh-i-Noor Versatil 5340

What makes it special is that, as you can see, the leads themselves are multicolor. You can see in the moose’s head how the color changes as one moves the pencil. Below is the first drawing I did of a skunk who visited our backyard a few years ago. I simply scribbled to see what the pencil would do. This was fun but I think I like the effect of the more simple use in the moose.


In other news, the weather has now warmed up so the 2020 gardening season officially began late last week. I got four varieties of beans started in six-packs and planted a few things that I’d started last year. It will be late May/ June before the ground is warm enough for the beans to be happy in the ground. Ditto the squash. I weeded the pea beds, which are a row on either side of a salvaged cyclone fence gate, and found a gopher tunnel running the length of one side. So we will be lining each row with gopher wire before planting.

I also potted up six packs of sweet peas yesterday, all heritage varieties:
‘Painted Lady’
‘Lady Grisel Hamilton’
‘Miss Wilmot’
‘King Edward VII’
‘Black Knight’
‘Spanish Dancer’
‘Prince of Orange’
‘Winston Churchill’
‘Spencer Supreme’

Sweet peas, like most plants, go in and out of fashion. For awhile it seemed that mail order nurseries either had none or just a few varieties. Last year there was a sudden splurge of choices, so I stocked up. I plan to let some of each go to seed so I’ll always have some on hand. One of my favorite seed suppliers in particular, Select Seeds, had a great selection and most of the ones listed above came from them. Also worth checking out for interesting seeds in general is an English firm, Plants of Distinction, which will happily ship to the US and at a reasonable price. Both are potentially dangerous to one’s pocketbook so consider yourself warned. :0)

Finally, here are two more of my “magic” multicolor drawings. I’m also back at the easel doing repaints of some older African wildlife paintings. Hope to post a few of those by the end of the week!


20% Off Sale Now On Etsy!

All my Etsy listings in my Fox Studio shop are now 20% off in the site-wide holiday sale that’s on now through Dec. 3! Affordable original oils, drawings and downloadable coloring pages. You can see everything on offer here.
Here are some examples of what’s available…

“Mongol Horse #4-Late Afternooon Graze” oil
“Cheetah” oil
“How Now Red Cow?” oil
“Male Bufflehead, Arcata Marsh” oil
“Petroglyphs, Mongolia” oil
“Summer Aspens” oil
“Bobcat” graphite drawing
“Cheetah” coloring page
“Assateague Pony” coloring page
“Yellow-headed Blackbird” coloring page

In The Studio: The Goldilocks Problem In Drawing

“Lappet-faced Vulture” Cretacolor Monolith pencil on Stathmore 400 cold press bristol

I’m sure there are artists out there who can happily grab whatever paper and drawing media they have at hand and get to it. I’m not one of them, at least not for my finished drawings that I will sell. And I’ve gotten pickier over the years. Every combination of paper and drawing media is different in feel, performance and result. Hence the comparison to Goldilocks. After a fairly major break for a variety of reasons, I’ve spent the last week or so getting back in the studio groove by revisiting a variety of combinations to see what is now “just right”.

I’m also planning to add human subjects back into to my oeuvre. It’s been awhile, so I collected a whole bunch of head shot photos from Google, many of movie stars because the lighting tends to be very good for revealing structure, dumped them into an Evernote and have started working from them, one feature at a time, starting with noses.

canson paper
Facial features: Derwent Drawing Pencil Venetian Red, Wolff’s Carbon Pencil 6B, Cretacolor Monolith Pencil 6B and Cretacolor Monolith Pencil, 4B on Canson Mi-Tientes drawing paper, smooth side. One thing I like about the darker toned papers in that you can come in with the lightest lights using a Prismacolor white pencil, as I did with the noses and the eye. This is a pretty typical work sheet for me. Nothing fancy, nothing at stake, just focusing on how the media feels on the paper, but also working to get the anatomy correct

I also worked on bits of other toned paper, but didn’t like what I ended up with. I do like the brown-tone though. I moved on to either white or off-white papers, mostly the two mentioned below.

A famous nose- Cretacolor Monolith pencil on Strathmore 400 cold press bristol

Two famous noses- Derwent Graphic pencils on Strathmore 400 cold press bristol

Both media worked well on the Strathmore, which has a fairly hard finish, but stiil with a bit of tooth. Back to animals….

Baboon- Cretacolor Monolith pencil on Rives BFK paper (which has been a favorite for awhile)

fox, gazelle
Bat-eared fox, Derwent Venetian Red Drawing Pencil and baby impala, Cretacolor Monolith pencil on cream-colored Rives BFK paper

The Rives BFK is quite soft in comparison with the Strathmore. One nice thing about it is that one can erase it. A lot. Without a trace.

I wanted to explore getting a very crisp line and also laying down a tone on the Rives BFK. As I expected, it passed wtih flying colors. I used the same pencils as mentioned above: Wolff’s Carbon Pencil for the hawk’s head and bird leg, Cretacolor Monolith for the murre, Derwent Drawing Pencil in Venetian Red for the yellowthroat and A Derwent Graphic pencil for the quick sketch of a pine siskin

The last one I did before writing this post is the drawing of the vulture at the top. It is available for purchase. Message me on my contact page for price.

NEW! My Gallery Of Original Drawings For Sale!

“Baby White Rhino” colored pencil on toned paper $150

Just in time for the New Year….affordable original art by Susan Fox, Signature Member of the Society of Animals Artists, Juried Member of the American Academy of Equine Art and Artist Member of the Salmagundi Club. I’ll be adding more every month. They are one-of-a-kind originals so once they’re sold they’re gone.

You can view them here.

If there’s a particular species you’re interested in, let me know. I have many more drawings available and can send you an image on request if I have something.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year!


“The 12 Days Of Drawings Sale” 4


Don’t miss out on these one-of-a-kind original drawings!

“Tiger” No big cat is more magnificent than the tiger.

14.x17″ graphite on paper


Payment accepted through PayPal (within 24 hours or piece will be made available again). US shipping is included, as is sales tax when applicable.

To purchase: Leave a comment with “Sold”. I will reply and request mailing information. All work subject to prior sale.

10% of the purchase price will be donated to the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project.

12 Things You Need To Know To Be A Good (Or Better) Artist

On location at Erdenesogt, Mongolia, 2016

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. I’ve had the good fortune to been able to work in art-related fields all my adult life, first as a sign painter and graphic designer starting when I was 22 years old, then as an illustrator and finally, since 1997, a fine artist painting in oil and specializing in animals. I’ve learned a few  things over the years, both from experience and from other artists, and would like to pass them on to you.

I always drew animals, sometimes copying them from Walter T. Foster art instruction books, which I still have. I think I was around ten when I did this lion.

1.  Painting is drawing, in the sense of making marks on a surface with conscious intent, whether you’re a representational or abstract artist. Develop that intentionality.

2. You have to gain competence in: design/composition, drawing, value, color and edges. If you can afford it, buy Richard Schmid’s book “All I Know About Painting” or google each topic.

I always seemed to have a knack for whimsical animals. I don’t feel that I was born with any particular artistic gift, just the drive to draw, but somehow animals came easily, including eye expression. It just happens. This is a mixed media piece I did after I went back to art school and got an illustration degree in 1989.

3. It’s not about detail or fidelity to a photograph as the one true criteria for the quality of a work of art. It’s about expressing your personal artistic vision however that manifests. Don’t do detail because you never learned to edit. Learn to simplify. Which is actually pretty hard, but will liberate you in ways you can’t imagine. Don’t use photos unless you know how to compensate for the way they flatten and distort. It’s obvious to an educated eye when an artist has accepted a photo as truth and simply reproduced it, faults and all.

4.  Learn from the best, but find your own path. As they told us in art school, be the best you you can be, not a second-rate someone else.

I’ve taken quite a few plein air workshops over the years even though I’m a studio painter. It’s good to get out in the fresh air and paint from life, enjoying the process and not worrying about the result. So it’s a busman’s holiday for me. No pressure.

5. Never be afraid to reevaluate your approach and process, scary as that might be. Some artists cling to how they work like it’s a life preserver without which they’d drown. Find a way to let go of that. The risk isn’t as big as you think it is.

6. There are no mistakes, only “what’s next?” This is from my oil painting teacher who I studied with privately for over two years. It got me off that big “OMG I’m going to RUIN IT!” hook.

My process has changed over the years and will continue to in the future. I now almost always do a finished drawing of my subject. I used to wing it on the canvas and that got me into a lot of trouble sometimes, with the work suffering from trying to solve problems as I painted, which kept me from focusing on my brushwork and other aspects of the finish. Much better to have made that correction of the head and neck on the drawing than on the painting. The farther in you are when you see a mistake the harder it is to make yourself wipe it off and fix it. But fix it you must.

7.Plan for “downtime” each year to recharge your creative batteries. Don’t do any art or try a new media/paper/style. It’s a chance to grow with no risk.

8. Keep a sketchbook. Use it. Consider doing a drawing a day for a week, a month, a year. Have fun. Try lots of different pencils and pens. Do them fast. Set a timer for a minute, five minutes, etc. Sketch an egg, a glass of water, an egg in a glass of water, your dog or cat, whatever you want. Look into learning contour drawing. A little tricky to get the hang of  but lots of fun once you do. Hone those motor skills to keep them fresh and available.

And the preliminary drawings pay off in the finished work . This painting “A Good Stretch” was accepted into the 2015 Society of Animal Artists international juried exhibition “Art and the Animal”.

9. Gain a basic familiarity with the history of art. Who knows what inspiration you may find. I used to pick a new poet a month to check out. Google around and pick a new artist every month to learn about. Go back to the beginning and be humbled by cave paintings.

10. Don’t be too satisfied with your work or too hard on yourself. Find a balance and keep moving forward.

Location sketch done during a trip to England in 2015. It probably took about five minutes.

11. Seek out and listen to competent criticism of your work. Access to another artist’s educated eye and input is invaluable. Damp down that little voice that says “Yes, but…”

12. If the only thing that will make you truly happy in life is to create art, do not let anyone discourage you. Ever.

I mess about with a variety of media just for fun. This frog was done on my iPad.

Tolai Hare Study

Tolai Hare 12x10" Wolff's Carbon Pencil and Prismacolor pencil on Canson paper
Tolai Hare 12×10″ Wolff’s Carbon Pencil and Prismacolor pencil on Canson paper


Over the past week I’ve finished, photographed and sent in my entries for the two most important animal art juried exhibitions. Whew. It was pretty intense there for a couple of weeks. Now the waiting begins…tick tock tick tock….In the meantime….

I’ve been wanting to do a painting of a tolai hare, the only member of the rabbit family native to Mongolia, for a number of years, but until last year had never gotten good enough reference. They wait either in cover or pressed to the ground, then explode into view, sometimes almost at your feet, and take off. Definitely gets the adrenaline going. I was at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu last year, staying at the research camp, which is at the head of a valley with a spring and stream. A variety of wildlife, both mammals and birds, come to drink there. One evening I was sitting up on the rocks, hoping to catch argali in good light. But what showed up first was this tolai hare! Since I was already in place and not moving, he/she went about their business none the wiser to my presence. And I finally got what I needed. This is a new species for me, so I did this drawing to “learn what they look like”. I enjoy working on toned paper and adding the touches of white.

Mongolia Monday: New Drawings For Upcoming Paintings

Winning horse and rider 14×17″ graphite on vellum bristol

Particularly when it’s a subject I haven’t painted before or one that is somewhat complex, like a horse and rider, I’m more and more inclined to do finished drawings before I start the painting. It’s a good way to find out if the reference image “draws well”,  sort out parts that turn out to be tricky to understand, work out the essential value relationships and just get a general feel for the subject. The more problems I solve while doing the drawing, the more I can concentrate on the painting part. It allows me to simplify and refine the shapes since I will have drawn everything at least twice. Drawing is really the best way there is to learn what something looks like because the information is stored physically and mentally. Just looking at a photo or, worse, photoshopping and tracing a composition, doesn’t even come close.

So here are four drawings I’ve done over the past few days, all graphite on vellum bristol paper. They took four to six hours each. The reference photos all happen to be from the local naadam I attended when I was at Arburd Sands ger camp in August.

Local Naadam wrestler

Wrestler doing the devekh (Eagle Dance) before a bout

Cashmere goat

Mongolia Monday- Using My Takhi Reference for Paintings and Limited Edition Giclees

Since, judging from the stats, the subject seemed to be very popular, I thought I would continue today with more on the takhi, specifically how I take the reference I shoot and turn it into a painting. More and more I start with drawings to become familiar with a new species or figure out things about one I’ve painted before.

Here are three drawings from last year, the first two of which were published in the Society of Animal Artists newsletter.

Takhi scratching leg; charcoal pencil on cold-ply bristol paper
Takhi scratching leg; charcoal pencil on cold-ply bristol paper

Takhi mare and foal; charcoal pencil on cold-press bristol paper
Takhi mare and foal; charcoal pencil on cold-press bristol paper

Now I’ll show you how I take an animal from one time and place and put her in a setting from another time and place, a challenge that every wildlife artist needs to meet successfully.  Here’s the setting:

Main takhi water source; Hustai National Park, Sept. 2006
Main takhi water source; Hustai National Park, Sept. 2006

What a treat! We came around the bend in the dirt track early in the morning and there, right in front of us were two harems at the same time, sorting out who gets to go first.

Watering place close-up; Hustai National Park, Sept. 2006
Watering place close-up; Hustai National Park, Sept. 2006

I always try for a variety of  shots; close-ups and the “big picture” for context. I used to come home with great close shots of something like a tree and found that I’d completely forgotten to get the surroundings, which really cut down on my options. Notice that the above photo is kinda fuzzy. But it’s still useable for reference.

Now here is the horse reference. Different part of the park, different year, different season. I’ve included two as an example of what to look for when evaluating images. These are similar, but the second, to me, is clearly superior. I love the rhythm of her gesture.

Takhi mare; Hustai National Park, May 2005
Takhi mare; Hustai National Park, May 2005

Takhi mare 2; Hustai National Park, May 2005
Takhi mare 2; Hustai National Park, May 2005

So next I did a drawing to capture that.

Takhi mare walking; charcoal pencil on cold-press bristol
Takhi mare walking; charcoal pencil on cold-press bristol paper

And, putting them together, here is the finished painting, completed in 2007. What I hope is that you can’t tell that I “stitched” together the reference from two sources.

Morning Drink   oil   12"x16" (price on request)
Morning Drink oil 12x 16" (price on request)

I also wanted to let you know that two of my takhi images are available as limited edition giclees, framed or unframed. The full information is on my website. Click on “Limited edition giclees” under Fox Studio in the column on the right and it will take you directly to my giclee page.

Takhi Foal; giclee on archival paper
Takhi Foal; giclee on archival paper

I saw this foal on the same trip as the mare in the painting above. He or she was quite a character.

Mongolia Morning; giclee on archival paper
Mongolia Morning; giclee on archival paper

I posted this last week, as the original painting is still available, but have also published it as a giclee. It’s another example of how I took the mare and foal, who were against a grassy hillside and moved them to a ridge that has Hustai’s famous mountain as the background. The third horse was added as a design element.

All my giclees are available for holiday delivery.


Let this be plain to all: design, or as it is called by another name, drawing, constitutes the fountain-head and substance of painting and sculpture and architecture and every other kind of painting, and is the root of all sciences. Let him who has attained the possession of this be assured that he possesses a great treasure…:

Michaelangelo (who ought to know)