The WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Part 5: From Boon Tsagaan Nuur Through The Gobi Altai Mountains

Last sight of Boon Tsagaan Nuur
Last sight of Boon Tsagaan Nuur.

Now the long run to Takhiin Tal in the west began. We traveled through the deep Gobi with the Gobi Altai Mountains to the south. No paved roads, but mostly good earth roads, a lot of it graded and well-maintained.

Famous ovoo
Memorial ovoo, well-known in Mongolia. It was built by a son in memory of his father, a very famous wrestler who died in a tragic accident.
The Five Snouts
The Five Snouts. This little ribbon with hand-drawn heads of the five species of livestock the Mongols herd was unlike anything I had seen at any other ovoo.
Good earth road
Good earth road.
Gobi Altai mountains
Gobi Altai mountains.
We finally turned south
We turned south in the late morning and stopped for lunch here.
The boundary of Chandmani soum and a photo op!
The boundary of Chandmani soum and a photo op!
We dropped down into a very large valley between the mountains
We dropped down into a very large valley set between the mountains
We stopped in the soum center of Erdene. One of the drivers need a part for his van. And it turned out that our other driver had relatives in town
Our next stop was the soum center of Erdene. One of the drivers need a part for his van. It turned out that our other driver had relatives in town and we were invited to lunch! Which included all my favorites: buuz, aruul, urum, suutaitsai (steamed mutton dumplings, dried curds, clotted cream and milk tea). It was a feast.
Not only did we get an amazing lunch, but the women made buuz for us to take with us.
Not only did we get an amazing lunch, but the women made buuz for us to take with us.
Finally, it was time to go.
Finally, it was time to go.  On the left is Batmaa, who relatives these are.
Dogs
A shot of Erdene with the typical mix of gers and permanent buildings. The Mongol dogs, called bankhar, are gathered around a female in heat. I got quite a few photos of this canine domestic drama.
sheep
On the road south again, we passed this very large herd of sheep and goats. Sustainable land use in a big issue in Mongolia. People can now have all animals  they want, which was not true in socialist times. In many places the land is badly beaten up and overgrazed now.
Into the mountains
Into the mountains again. At this point I was wondering what we would see. Would there be snow leopard habitat to photograph? These hills went on for miles and were definitely not what I have seen images of snow leopards in.
but very quickly
But rather suddenly, the landscape became much more rugged.
Now I knew.
Now I knew. This had to be snow leopard country. I had our guide ask Batmaa, the driver who grew up in the area. He confirmed that the big cats are found here.
We
We stopped for a pee break and so Batmaa could look for a knife he’d lost three years ago. I had my camera with the 28-300 lens with me as I went off to find a large rock. Suddenly people called me back. I came running to them, looked up and, wow. there was a Siberian ibex nanny looking down at us.
I got
I ran to the van, got the camera with the 80-400 and got some pretty good shots like this one, considering they were way, way up on the ridgetop.
A last look before they vanished
A last look before they vanished.
As we continued down the canyon, it was magic light time on the mountaintops.
As we continued down the canyon, it was magic light time on the mountaintops.
We passed a small ovoo.
We passed a small ovoo.
There was a road of sorts, but with lots of rocks
There was a road of sorts, but with lots of rocks. The vans got us through just fine.
As we came out of the canyon,
As we came out of the canyon, this gorgeous sight met our eyes. Our destination for the next day….Eej Hairhan Uul, the sacred mother mountain.

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.