Art And Memories From The Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop In Dubois, Wyoming, Sept. 2016

Mt. Moran; pen and ink, grey felt tip brush on paper

I got back home at midnight last Saturday from two days in Grand Tetons National Park and five days at the 15th Annual Susan K. Black Foundation workshop. Both were a resounding success. You can read about my time in the park here. This post is about the workshop, which I’ve attended four times in the past and plan to go to next year.

All the previous instructors had been invited and almost all of them where there, including nationally known artists like James Gurney, John and Suzie Seerey-Lester, Greg Beecham, Mort Solberg, David Rankin, Jeanne Mackenzie, Andrew Denman, Guy Combes, Ann Trusty Hulsey and John Hulsey, all of whom I know personally or have studied with or both.

One of the main events is the Quick Draw, a traditional name but almost every artist at this workshop did paintings. Here’s some photos of the event in action. It’s followed by sketches and watercolors that I did in the Grand Tetons and EA Ranch.

James Gurney, known best for his “Dinotopia” books, painted a portrait of this pronghorn antelope in casein, gouache and colored pencil
David Rankin, who I worked with most during the week (more on that in a future post) painted an osprey
Guy Combes did a lovely painting of a cheetah
Andrew Denman created a graphite on paper drawing of a barn owl
Although he’s better known for his sculpture, John Phelps painted a portrait the old-fashioned way…from a study drawing
John Seerey-Lester chose to paint a moose, one of the very popular animals to see in the Grand Tetons
John Hulsey who, with his wife Ann Trusty Hulsey, publish the online art website and newsletter The Artist’s Road, went for a late light landscape in watercolor
Greg Beecham chose to paint a polar bear, bringing in the whites over a toned canvas

The weather was partly cloudy while I drove around Grand Tetons NP, which meant interesting light that could change very quickly. The aspens and cottonwoods were turning to their fall colors, too. All in all a perfect time to be there.

Both of the first ones were painted over the course of a couple of hours along the Moose Wilson Road.

Aspens- watercolor on Saunders Waterford paper 8×8″
Aspens with storm clouds- watercolor on Saunders Waterford paper 8×8″
Clouds and light
Scenery at EA Ranch, near Dubois- watercolor on Arches cold press paper 8″x4″
Pen and ink sketches- Sakura Micron .01 pen in a Beta Series Stillman and Birn sketchbook
Pen and ink sketches- same media as above
Contour sketches at SKB- same media as above
Contour sketches, SKB and the Denver airport- same media as above


Fun Times At The Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop! A Personal Album

The annual exercise in cat-herding....the official SKB group photo
The annual exercise in cat-herding….the official SKB group photo. I’m somewhere towards the back on the right. (Photo by Anthony Cannata)

The main reason for my road trip to Wyoming at the beginning of last month was to attend the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop for the first time in too many years. My travels to Mongolia have often gone into September and the workshop is always the second week so that it will be right after the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival. But this year I was home by the end of July.

In every good way, nothing had really changed and the welcome I got was touchingly warm. What sets this workshop apart is that there are always a number of instructors and one can bounce around between them as one wishes. You can learn from painters in oil, acrylic and watercolor. Plus, this year, sculptors. Even better, anyone who has been an instructor is permanently invited to come back every year and many do, so it’s equal parts workshop, a reunion of artist friends and colleagues and a gathering of the animal art and landscape clans. All in an informal environment with great food and terrific scenery at the Headwaters Arts and Conference Center in Dubois, Wyoming, which is about 90 minutes from Jackson.

There’s always a Special Guest Instructor and this year it was none other than James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. He also presides over one of the most popular art blogs in the internet, Gurney Journey, and has written what has become a standard book on the subject “Color and Light”. His endlessly inventive ways to work on location have been a real inspiration for me personally. So I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to watch him in action.

The  first day
The first day James explained his basic location painting set-up.
We got to see it in action right at the conference center.
We got to see it in action right at the conference center.
He was painting a scene from the kitchen as the staff prepared our meals.
He was painting a scene from the kitchen as the staff prepared our meals.
Saddle study by James Gurney
Saddle study by James Gurney

There were plenty of opportunities to work on location, including a couple of local ranches.

I found a nice spot down by the creek at CM Ranch.
I found a nice spot down by the creek at CM Ranch. (Photo by Anthony Cannata. Thanks!)
Picnic lunch at the Finley ranch.
Picnic lunch at the Finley ranch.
Lee Kromschroeder getting ready to paint.
Lee Kromschroeder getting ready to paint.
Some of the great scenery...
Some of the great scenery with the cottonwoods coming into their fall colors…
James Gurney and his wife, Jeanette, painting on location
James Gurney and his wife, Jeanette, painting on location at the Finley ranch.
In-progress photo
In-progress casein painting of old traps hanging on the wall of the log cabin.
Bob Bahr and Heiner Hertling getting serious.
Bob Bahr and Heiner Hertling getting serious with the scenery.
Our host, John Finley. His ranch has been in his family for over 100 years.
Our host, John Finley. His ranch has been in his family for over 100 years.

One of the best parts of the workshop is the good times with artist friends and colleagues, often in the evening at the local saloon, the Rustic Pine Tavern.

Guy Combes discovered a flyer for the workshop in a local newsletter so of course there had to be a photo. And since we're all animal artists I had to take one of him and his partner Andrew Denman posed under this imposing moose head.
Guy Combes discovered a flyer for the workshop in a local newsletter so of course there had to be a photo. And since we’re all animal artists I had to take one of him and his partner Andrew Denman under this imposing moose head.

Besides working out on location, attendees could also do studio painting.

I spent a day in Greg Beecham's class, getting great tips and advice on wildlife painting.
I spent a day in Greg Beecham’s class, getting useful tips and advice on wildlife painting. I’m in the back on the right. (Photo by, I think, Anthony Cannata)

One of the highlights of the week is the “Quick Draw”, which is actually a “Pretty Quick Paint”. It’s a great chance to watch a lot of very accomplished artists in action at once, creating auction and raffle-worthy work in front of a large crowd, including fellow artists.

John Seerey-Lester bows before Mort Solberg
John Seerey-Lester bows before Mort Solberg, just to make Mort crack up while he’s trying to paint. It worked.
Andrew Denman working on a graphite drawing of an egret.
Andrew Denman working on a graphite drawing of an egret.
David Rankin getting ready to paint.
David Rankin getting ready to paint.
Matthew Hillier hard at work. This was his first Quick Draw.
Matthew Hillier hard at work. This was his first Quick Draw.
But he obviously wasn't fazed.
But he obviously wasn’t fazed.
Christine Knapp worked on a fairly large sculpture.
Christine Knapp worked on a fairly large sculpture.
John Phelps created a small wolf.
John Phelps created a small wolf.
Lee Cable painted a portrait of a horse.
Lee Cable painted a portrait of a horse.
Guy Combes did a lion.
Guy Combes did a lion.
Greg Beecham harassed David Rankinl
Greg Beecham harassed David Rankin.

The final evening was an entertainment-packed extravaganza, starting with two suspiciously familiar faces who introduced themselves as Sir Charles Willoughby, who somehow had to keep order (good luck with that), and Chip Chippington (all the sleazy game show hosts you’ve ever seen rolled into one hilarious package).

Sir Charles Willoughby
Sir Charles Willoughby (aka Guy Combes)
Chip Chippington and his lovely assistant, Suzie Sparkle.
Chip Chippington (aka Andrew Denman) and his lovely assistant, Suzie Sparkle.

The fun started with a quiz to identify which instructor various species of dinosaurs were named after…

instrucasaurasesAnd I’m sorry to say that by this time I was laughing too much to get any pics of the rest of the show.

The night was capped by open mic performances, including one by the awesome kitchen staff.

A certain instructor came in for some ribbing.
A certain instructor (who painted the horse’s portrait for the Quick Draw) came in for some ribbing.
As did a certain well-known tv artist who painted "happy trees".
As did a certain well-known tv artist who painted “happy trees”.

There was a point during the early part of the evening when a slide show was shown of various attendees and instructors sporting a really impressive variety of hats. Getting into the spirit after the lights came up, James Gurney popped one of his Dept. of Art traffic cones (used to create space around where he is working on location in urban areas) on his head…

gurney coneAnd a good time was had by all….

gurney 4



New iPad Drawings Using A New App, ArtRage!

An artist friend and colleague, Guy Combes, just told me about a iPad art app called ArtRage. So of course I had to buy it and try it. Below are a few of my first pieces using it.

ArtRage provides tools that correspond to all the regular media and tools artists use…pencils, brushes, pastels, pens, palette knife, airbrush and also chalk and crayons. You can also pick your “paper”. The app is designed for the tools to make the same kind of marks on the different virtual papers that they would on real papers and canvas.

I think it’s a good complement to Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, which is more illustration oriented in terms of the tools it offers. ArtRage is definitely targeted towards fine artists. But both can be easily and productively used by either depending on what one wants to do. I like having both! Here’s what I’ve done using Sketchbook Pro.

So far, I’ve only messed with the watercolor brush on watercolor “paper”. I’m interested in being able to use my iPad for location painting in addition to sketching and I think this will work, once I get the hang of it.

Young horse
Neighborhood sheep
White-napped crane, Bronx Zoo

Fieldwork And Fun On The East Coast

I’m back from my latest trip, which was a great combination of work and play.

It started with being one of the jurors for the Society of Animal Artists‘ prestigious national juried show “Art and the Animal” which, along with the board meeting the next day, was held at the legendary Salmagundi Art Club, located on 5th Avenue in New York. And ended with a walk through the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in central New Jersey

In between, there was a great road trip with fellow Society members and friends, Guy Combes and Andrew Denman. We had a jam-packed five days that included a visit to the Delaware Natural History Museum, Longwood Gardens, Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, the Brandywine River Museum and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Here’s an album of the highlights:

First was Longwood Gardens, at one time a Du Pont family property.

Longwood Gardens spring border with foxglove
A favorite; Longwood Gardens varigated pineapple
A wall of orchids at Longwood Gardens

Then it was off to the Delaware coast where a comfortable condo had been put at our disposal. I had read “Misty of Chincoteague” as a child and was excited to finally visit both it and Assateague National Seashore, where we turned out to be in the right place at the right time to record this stunning encounter between two young stallions. It went on for at least a half hour and these are just a few of the hundreds of photos I shot, but it shows the pattern of interaction that emerged and was repeated at least a half dozen times.

First we saw this chestnut horse grazing off in the distance
Then this paint horse came strolling down the middle of the road right past us
He walked out to the edge of the water
And waded across to the spit
He winnied loudly a few times and then waited
The chestnut we'd seen earlier came at a fast trot
The two stopped and seemingly sized each other up
The meeting
The nose touch
A quick turn and a kick by one of them
Then they would rear up and "grapple"
Maneuvering for advantage
Both would go down on their knees head to head
And then it would start again
And it all happened in this tremendous setting of water and tideland

What an eyeful that was! We drove on, stopping to hike a number of trails, seeing a variety of birds and more horses.

From Assateague, we took a “detour” to Salisbury, Maryland to visit the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, which houses an incredible collection of hand-carved birds. Then it was back out to the coast to Chincoteague Island.

I was dubious at first, since the entry point to the island is a town that, although having lovely old buildings, was definitely a tourist destination. But I need not have worried. Once east of town and into the refuge, we were in a wonderland of scenery and wildlife.

The scenery was stunning
One of the highlights- multiple sightings of glossy ibis
And of course there were the famous Chincoteague ponies
Out on the beach were large numbers of very entertaining Franklin's gulls
And perched on the causeway railing in great light was this, I believe, Forster's tern

The next day, after a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Andrew had to catch a plane home, but Guy and I soldiered on, paying a visit to the Brandywine River Museum, home to an astonishing collection of original illustration by N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle and many other legendary illustrators, along with galleries featuring both Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. Very inspiring, to say the least.

The final wildlife stop on the trip was the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in central New Jersey. Surrounded by rural residential development, it is essentially a bowl between the hills that collects water, forming rich swamp and wetland habitats. The main access is a boardwalk trail that winds through the swamp out to a large bird blind. But we were barely one hundred feet down the trail when the wildlife show began.

The Great Swamp
One of the first sightings, a green frog
Then we spotted two northern black racers mating right below where we were standing
It was a bit of a challenge, but I did get a few shots of this chipmunk
For the finale, I got a good look at a snapping turtle

I spent the last night of the trip at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum cottage where Guy is the artist in residence, along with a groundhog and eastern cottontail rabbits. The groundhog managed to stay out of camera range, but I did get some good photos of the bunnies.

Eastern cottontail rabbit

Mongolia Monday: We Interrupt Our Regular Programming For Three Special Announcements

But there is a Mongolia connection with all three.

When It Rains It Pours Department: The first two announcements are somewhat related since they both involve very special invitations to travel to “interesting” locations and work with fellow artists.

Update Jan. 2011: Guy and I both bailed on this one when it became clear that it wasn’t very well organized, but who knows, I may still make it to India sometime.

The first invitation has been extended to me thanks to my good friend and colleague, Guy Combes. Even though I’ve bought the plane tickets, I’m still pinching myself about this incredible opportunity. I’ll be departing on January 18, 2011 for Nairobi, from where Guy and I will fly to…..India! We will be part of an international group of artists from the UK, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Peru, the USA and Australia who have been invited to the Kanha Tiger Reserve for an Artist’s Week. We will be exploring the park, shooting reference and sketching in order to be able to produce art for a show which will tour internationally and then be auctioned to raise funds for tiger conservation. All expenses except airfare are being covered by our hosts, who own the luxurious lodge where we will be staying.

This is the place that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. It is home to 22 mammal species and over 200 species of birds and is one of the remaining strongholds of the Bengal tiger.

And the Mongolia Connection? Babar, who conquered part of India, was a descendant of Tammerlane, who claimed descent from Chinggis Khan. Maybe or maybe not. But he did come from Central Asia and the part of India that Babar ruled became known as “Mughulistan” or “Land of the Mongols”. We know it as the  Mughal Empire, which lasted from the 1500s until the British took over India in the 1800s. The most famous artifact of the Mughals is the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

Kanha Tiger Reserve is near Nagpur

After our week in India, we’ll go back to Kenya, where I will stay, visiting and animal watching until I come home on the February 15.

The second invitation came via an email from Dr. David Wagner, who specializes in curating shows of animal art, including the Society of Animal Artists annual exhibtion “Art and the Animal”. He has invited me to join him and a number of my colleagues on the Sea of Cortez at the end of March, 2011. We will be accompanied by a scientist familiar with the Sonoran desert and Sea of Cortez ecosystems. Our mission is to learn about them, shoot reference, sketch and paint, hang out on the beach and eat great Mexican food while talking art shop. The end result will be a show at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in 2013. More details and who else will be going soon.

The Mongolia connection? I will be able to compare the Gobi with the Sonoran Desert ecosystem to see what the similarities and differences are of climate, plant and animal life. I already know that the far-western edge of the Sonoran Desert extends to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where there are desert bighorns and that there are argali sheep in mountain areas of the Gobi.

We will be based outside of Guaymas

Last but not least, I am pleased to announce that Plaza Design, with stores in Eureka, Arcata and McKinleyville, is now offering a large selection of my small, original oil paintings! There’s a little bit of everything, including landscapes and American wildlife. They will be offering a selection of my greeting cards, too.

The Mongolia Connection? There are currently a couple of takhi (Przewalski’s horse) paintings available, with more Mongolia subjects to come.

Here’s a look at the display in the Arcata store:

Next week I’ll wrap up The Best Camping Trip Ever.

Having A Lovely Time

But first….this is post number 300! Thank you to everyone who has visited, left comments and has otherwise been supportive. I really appreciate it!

Hard to believe that my trip back east is almost over. Wednesday was the Society of Animal Artists board meeting, which was very productive and worthwhile. There were fifty applicants for membership. Eleven were accepted.

The next day, my host, Guy Combes, needed to get some work done, so I got to see one of his paintings in progress and just kick back. Around lunch time he took me over to the headquarters of Greenwich Workshops, who publishes Guy’s giclees and also handles his originals. They’re located in a lovely old brick building in the small town of Seymour. But once you’re inside in the production rooms, it’s state-of-the-art.

The following morning, we drove down to the home of Alison Nicholls, a fellow Flag Expedition grant recipient. Her trip was to study African wild dogs. The three of us starting talking art and animal shop immediately, continuing on into the next day as we took the train into New York to go to the Central Park Zoo. It’s a small facility, owned and operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, but it plays an important role in introducing city children to wildlife and conservation. The highlight was the tropical bird aviary. Here’s a few images:

Superb Starling (East Africa)
Long-tailed hornbill (East Africa, but not Kenya)
Victoria crowned pigeon (Indonesia and New Guinea)

Back at Allison’s, we went out for a great seafood dinner, still talking shop. It’s been a real treat for me since Allison and Guy have been to many interesting places that are different from where I’ve been.

Today we’re going to drive up to New Haven to hit a couple of museums, probably the British Collection and the Peabody, both based at Yale University.