I’m starting a new ongoing series of posts about my personal favorite artists and why they are. Art goes back a very long way. The current oldest known work of art is 40,000 year old cave paintings of wild cattle in Borneo. Animal art! You can read more about that here.
I’ve not personally visited any of the caves with wall paintings, but I have seen a number of sites in Mongolia with pictographs on outdoor rocks. My best photos of, and favorite, rock art is at Hogno Han Nature Reserve which is about five hours west of Ulaanbaatar. It’s on the west side of a small valley so it faces east. It’s easy to walk right up to it from the road. But sometimes there’s “local traffic” to get past first.
I love that long before “civilization” began people expressed themselves through art and in a way that has survived for us to see it today. The creative drive has clearly been with us for a very, very long time. We all have that capacity. It’s just a matter of finding out the best way for us to express our own creativity, whether it’s painting, crochet, cooking, singing, sketching, sewing, whatever appeals to you. It’s about the joy of doing it, not the result. How do you express your creativity? Let me know in the comments!
Once upon a time (back in the mid 1970s), when I first had professional art aspirations, my first media was pen and ink, heavily influenced by medieval illumination and Alphonse Mucha. I used them for many years when I was a freelance graphic designer. In the early 1990s, after getting a BFA Illustration from the Academy of Art (then) College, I was able to realize a childhood dream and spent two years in private study with a local artist learning to paint in oil. And since 1997, that’s what I’ve pursued professionally. But I never quite let go of pen and ink, using it for sketching on my travels. Everything from sketching animals…
…to spending a morning drawing these ruins I saw in Evora, Portugal.
The revival of location sketching with the urban sketchers movement and more has inspired me to return to my roots. I’ve been using Sakura Micron pens for years for my Mongolia journals, both for writing and sketching, along with other trips, but had become increasingly irritated with them. They don’t seem to hold a consistent tip anymore, which means I can’t trust them. I did some research and finally settled on what now appears to the the high quality standard, Copic Multiliners, and bought a full set of them. But…dip pens still beckoned. They have a feel and make a line that can’t be created any other way. So for a year now I’ve been building a collection of nibs via Etsy and eBay and, using Jet Pens excellent reviews, buying a half dozen different bottles of ink, experimenting a bit between my painting work. But can I use them in the field without making an unholy mess? Well, late 19th and early 20th century artists like Joseph Pennell, Henry Pitz, Earnest Watson, Arthur Guptill and William Robinson Leigh did it. And that led me to the wonderful world of inkwells, including ones made specifically for traveling. I’ll be doing an inkwell post in the future, along with discussions of nibs, ink and paper. Once my SketchWild site launches I’ll be offering dip pen drawing instruction. If you think you’d be interested in that let me know in the comments. Over the past month or so I’ve been “test driving” nibs while also trying out possible painting subjects. Of of yesterday, here’s what I’ve done:
Over the last couple of days I’ve done a series of small drawings on the Strathmore 300 vellum bristol. This time, unlike the ones above, I did do a light preliminary pencil sketch. They took maybe an hour and change at most. The purpose was to explore how each nib feels when used for an actual drawing. All of them have things I like about them but I found I really did like the Gillott #303 Extra Fine quite a lot.
On the ones above I added the background shape both to pop out the white of the light sides of the animals and to see how filling in an area would work with that particular nib. All were ok, but want to experiment more.
And the Copic pens? Love, love, love them. I’ve joined artist Cathy Johnson’s “Sketch With Me!” Facebook group. She does virtual events one weekend a month. This is what I posted in October, an arrangement of squash from our garden. Copic pen and watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Zeta series wirebound sketchbook.
I’m getting ready to begin my Fall Painting Season and decided to start by tweaking my working process. Every successful representational painting has two things: solid composition and a strong, well-thought out value pattern. Of course drawing, color and edges are important also, but one can make the case that the design and values are critical. So I’ve spent the last few days doing small value studies of reference photos that I’m thinking about painting. I’m working on the drawing part at the same time, too. None of them took more than an hour or so.
They are all done on various types of watercolor paper I already have on hand, experimenting to see which one serves my purpose best, and with one color…Winsor Newton Payne’s Gray. The brush is a Round No. 10 Prolene by ProArts. The study sizes run from 6×6″ to 7×10″, so not very big.
I got the idea to use watercolor for preliminary value studies (instead of, for instance, pencils or oils) from my friend and colleague, nationally-known watercolorist David Rankin. You can read his information about what he calls “Gray Studies” here.
I like it because it’s fast, effective, fun and let’s me practice with the media I use on location when I’m in Mongolia.
So, if your paintings are looking kind of flat or you’re finding that using color is confusing your values, I highly recommend that you get the simple set of materials listed below and try this. It may be a bit of a struggle at first to truly grasp the difference between color and value (the relative light and dark of something separate from its color) and to move away from your reference in order to get the right amount of contrast in the right places (a viewer’s eye is going to go first to the area of highest contrast, so you need to make a conscious decision about where your focal point is), but hang in there, just keep adjusting and experimenting and you’ll be rewarded by a visible improvement in your work.
1 tube Winsor Newton Payne’s Gray transparent watercolor
1 small dish or whatever you think will work for a palette.
Watercolor paper (I’m using “stock on hand”….small blocks of Art Lana Lanaquarelle hot press, Arches cold press and Saunders Waterford cold press; or you can get sheets of 300 lb, which doesn’t have to be stretched). If you buy sheets then you will need something to mount them to. I use a rectangular scrap of foamcore taped around the edges with clear packing tape and then use 1/2″ drafting tape to hold the corners of the paper to the board.
1 brush- Use at least a no. 10 round or 1/2” flat; your choice of brand (I like the Robert Simmons Sapphire synthetics, but also have a couple of the Prolene and Dick Blick rounds)
Reference photos with strong light and shadow patterns.
I got hundreds of great photos of ibex at Ikh Nart last year. I’ve done some drawings to familiarize myself with what they look like and how they are put together. You can see those here. This is the first painting I’ve finished, a 12×9″ of a kid who was part of a small group I watched for over half an hour one morning. They were up in the rocks at the far end of the valley where the research camp is located, so an easy hike with great rewards.
Here’s a photo of the setting, which includes the nanny who, as you can see, is wearing a radio collar. The morning light was really lovely.
Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile know that I’ve been going to Ikh Nart since my first trip in 2005. This time I had the pleasure of sharing the reserve with a fellow artist, Pokey Park.
Wildlife being what it is, one never knows what one will see on a given trip, or even if. But this visit exceeded our every reasonable expectation. For two of the four days, it seemed like we could hardly go an hour as we drove around the reserve without seeing argali, ibex, argali and ibex in the same place or cinereous vultures, a golden eagle or other birds. And we had sightings both other days, but not nearly as often.
The universe being what it is, on our way out of the reserve we drove through one of the areas where we had had multiple sightings of argali and ibex the previous morning and saw not a single animal.
The travel season is almost upon us. I’ve got my plane tickets for my July departure to Mongolia. For anyone else thinking about or planning to go there, I thought I’d offer one list a week for six weeks, of six “themes” for things to see, with six suggestions. I’ll start with the one that’s probably nearest and dearest to my heart – wildlife viewing destinations. I’ve been to all of them at least once.
1. For horse-lovers, Hustai National Park is a must if you are going to Mongolia. It is one of three places where tahki (Przewalski’s horse) have been reintroduced and is only about two hours west of Ulaanbaatar, mostly on tarmac road. You may also see marel (a species of elk), Mongolian gazelle, marmots and a variety of birds, such as demoiselle cranes, golden eagles, saker falcon, and black storks. There is a permanent ger camp that is open year around. The main building has a pleasant dining hall. There are three large concrete “gers”. One houses a gift shop, one has displays about the park and another is where presentations about the park are given by staff scientists. You can explore the park by vehicle, on foot or horseback. When I was last there in the fall of 2008, there were 15 harems of over 200 horses.
2.Bird-watchers should consider traveling out to western Mongolia to go to Khar Us Nuur (Black Water Lake) National Park. Khar Us Nuur is the second largest freshwater lake (15,800 sq km) in Mongolia . The Khovd river flows into it, creating a large marsh/wetland that is home to the largest remaining reed beds in Central Asia. The lake provides habitat for wild ducks, cormorants, egrets, geese, wood grouse, partridges, the rare relict gull and also the herring gull. May and late August are the best birding times. Another freshwater lake, Khar Nuur (Black Lake), which is connected to Khar Us Nuur via a short river called Chono Kharaikh, hosts the migratory and globally threatened dalamatian pelican. Direct access to the lakeshore is limited due to the reedbeds, but there is open shoreline near the soum center (county seat) on the north shore and an observation tower on the east side. As far as lodging, I can’t make any recommendations since I was rough camping when I was there, but I’m sure there’s something in or near Hovd, the main town. From Ulaanbaatar, flying to Hovd is the only practical way to get there since it’s about a thousand miles west of the capital.
3. The legendary Gobi is home to Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, created partly as a refuge for an endangered population of wild bactrian camels. They are in a remote and inaccessible (except for researchers) part of the park, however. There are also snow leopards and argali, which visitors should not expect to spot. What there is a good chance of seeing are Siberian ibex, pika, two species of gazelle, steppe eagles, golden eagles, lammergier or bearded vultures, black vultures and a variety of smaller birds. I stayed at Nomadic Journeys’ Dungenee eco-ger camp, which is taken down at the end of each season, leaving almost no trace. The kitchen and dining “room” are in connected gers. The setting is terrific, on an upland that has the park’s mountains in one direction and the Gobi stretching out in the other. To get there from Ulaanbaatar one either drives south on the main road, which is an earth road and takes, I think, two days, or flies into Dalanzadgad, which takes about two hours.
4.A relatively new park, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve is only a couple of hours east of Ulaanbaatar, mostly on tarmac road. There are two main wildlife attractions here: around 100 argali mountain sheep, which live on Mt. Baits and a wetland area with endangered white-napped cranes, along with a variety of other birds like cinereous vultures, demoiselle cranes, black storks, whooper swans, ducks and terns. The permanent ger camp has a lodge which houses a dining hall and bathroom facilities. There are many activities to choose from besides wildlife watching, including boating, archery, yak cart and horse riding, hiking and homestays with herder families, all of which provide employment for local people. This was the first stop on my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition in July of 2009.
5. I knew nothing about Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve when I arranged to go there as part of my July 2009 Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition other than it had argali. I was only there for two days, but they were two of the most memorable days I’ve had in four trips to Mongolia. The reserve is home to about 60 argali, which are more tolerant of people and vehicles than the ones I’ve seen elsewhere, along with Siberian ibex, cinereous vultures, columbia rock doves and other birds. The rocky uplands cover a smaller area than Ikh Nart (no.6 below), and are easy to get around in on foot or by vehicle. There is a ger camp tucked up against one of the rock formations with an amazing view down the valley. A concrete “ger” serves as the dining hall and has a covered patio area. There is a toilet/shower block, for which the water is heated by solar power. Baga Gazriin Chuluu is about a six hour drive on an earth road southwest of Ulaanbaatar.
6. And last, but certainly not least, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, my destination when I first went to Mongolia on an Earthwatch project in spring of 2005. Ikh Nart may be the best all-around place to see wildlife in the country. There are argali mountain sheep, Siberian ibex, corsac fox, red fox, tolai hare, cinereous vultures, golden eagles, black kites, kestrels and many other birds. Nomadic Journeys also has an eco-ger camp here, Red Rocks, and offers guided and unguided trips. It is a great place to hike. There are fabulous rock formations, some of which have Tibetan inscriptions carved on them. You will need a GPS since, while there are some dirt tracks, there are no marked trails. This was the third stop on my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition in July of 2009. Ikh Nart is a seven hour train ride or a five to six hour drive south and slightly east, mostly on tarmac, from Ulaanbaatar.
There are more photos in other posts on this blog. Look under “Mongolia” on the blog roll at the right or do a name search.
I’m in the middle of a rather large painting (no, not the argali one; a subject for another post; short, short version: got stuck, needed to let it sit for awhile), so I thought I would post a few drawings that I’ve done recently and then get back to the easel. It’s juried show painting season, so I’m trying out different reference images to see if I think they’ll make a painting. These were all done with Wolff’s carbon pencils on Canson Universal Recycled Sketch paper, which turns out to be quite a nice combination.
I thought that I would start to share how I put my Mongolia paintings together, starting with a subject from Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I had never been to a place anything like it and before I began any finished gallery paintings, I needed to learn to paint the various elements, both the land and the animals. Here are two studies of the rocks, one of a young ibex and a finished 15×30 of two argali-
Since most people are not familiar either with the species or the place, I wanted this first painting to show the kind of landscape that argali like; not just mountains, but upland areas with these rocky outcroppings. You can see the steppe down below and off in the distance. These were two rams who were spending at least part of the day together. It turns out that argali don’t form permanent harems or herds. Animals of all ages and both genders group and re-group throughout the day in numbers, at least from what I saw, from one to twenty or so and everything in between.
Back in the saddle again for 2008. Lots to look forward to.
All the kittens I fostered have found new homes. I thought that I would start to introduce that permanent animal members of the household. First up- Niki, our four year old tricolor rough collie, self-appointed guardian of all creatures large and small. Here’s picture of him with Tucker and Katie. Niki had laid down by the crate and the two kittens came over and got as close as they could. All of them quickly became fearless of my 75 lb. dog.
We finally had our first ducky visitors to our pond, three hooded mergansers. One male, two females. I thought, uh oh, there go the goldfish, since mergansers are diving ducks and, sure enough, while we watched, they caught and ate two big ones. But we have since seen at least eight or nine in their usual hangout, so we didn’t do too badly. Michiko spotted them and instantly became a fan. More about her in the next week or so.
In art news, the latest issue of the newsletter of the Society of Animal Artists features drawings that I have done of Mongolian wildlife. Here’s three of them, an argali ram, an ibex billy and a takhi mare and foal (Przewalski’s Horse). They were done on 2 ply bristol with a Wolff’s carbon pencil.