Tales From The Field: “The Yak”


1-yakHappy New Year! I’m going to change things up on the blog for the coming year, my tenth as a blogger. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling over the years to a variety of destinations. And do I have stories? I certainly do. So the first Friday of each month will be “Tales from the Field”, which will include Mongolia, of course, but also Kenya, Canada, Europe and the US. Then I plan to do a post on whatever I’ve got cooking in the studio or on location, followed the next week with one of useful tips and information on painting and drawing. The fourth Friday will be a “gallimauphry” post, a great medieval term for “this and that”… announcements, special offers, whatever has caught my fancy. There may be posts in between for news that just can’t wait.

To start off Tales from the Field, here’s the story of my encounter with a yak in the northern mountains of Mongolia….

I was on my way to Jalman Meadows, a Nomadic Journeys ger camp located in the Han Hentii Strictly Protected Area at the northern reaches of the Tuul Gol (River), which wends its way down through Ulaanbaatar and on west.

We had left the pavement behind and were traveling on earth roads through the beautiful late summer countryside, passing local herders and their livestock, along with their white gers, the quintessential Mongolian landscape. Driving along a slope overlooking a valley we came upon (top photo) these two young men and a couple of yaks, both of which appeared to be gelded yak/cow crosses, which are stronger for work than pure yaks. The intact bulls have their horns removed because otherwise they would be too dangerous to handle.


They were keeping a careful eye on their charges.


But clearly experienced in moving these big beasts along. The horses were as phlegmatic about it as they always are.


We stopped while they crossed the road in front of us. I was sitting in the front seat of the Land Cruiser on the left side, the car being right-hand drive, and shooting photos through the windshield, but was able to have the window down next to me.


The boys and their charges moved off down towards the valley floor and we drove on.


There was a summer rain storm coming in and the light was spectacular at times. While we were stopped the riders and yaks caught up with us.


Got more photos of them passing us, although this one was a little blurry, it was the best composed. Then things changed in a hurry…


The bigger of the two yaks suddenly turned towards the car.


And started to charge towards it, aimed right at the passenger door. The boy had been smiling, but became quite serious. I wasn’t going anywhere.


Now he needed to really get his horse moving to catch up. I remember thinking that there was going to be collision with the car door and I would be looking right at those horns from a very, very short distance.


But he got the yak turning away and started to grin again. At this point he was about 15′ from the car. I and the driver exhaled. There had been no time for him to start the engine and no place to drive to anyway. Best to just stay put, stay quiet and not move. So I just kept, rather fatalistically, I suppose, taking pictures out the open window.


The yak was now turned away from the car and going in the right direction.


And the rider herded him towards the other boy and his charge.


Our yak encounter over, the herders moved their charges on down the valley with a pretty good story to tell when they got home.


And we drove on to our destination, Jalman Meadows, set high on a bluff overlooking the river and the mountains. You can see photos of my stay there on a previous blog post here.

New Painting Debut! “Tuul Gol; Jalman Meadows, Mongolia”


Tuul Gol (Jalman Meadows, Mongolia)  oil  12x24"
Tuul Gol (Jalman Meadows, Mongolia) oil 12×24″

Fall in the mountains of northern Mongolia is spectacular. I was staying at the Nomadic Journeys Jalman Meadows ger camp for a few days in September, 2012 and turned out to have timed my trip perfectly for the fall color display. The camp is up on a bluff overlooking the river valley. I spent quite a bit of time wandering along the banks, sketching the scenery and some local yaks who had come to drink and graze. There were also quite a few local herder’s horses wandering about. It was very peaceful and quiet.

Mongolia Watercolors And Sketches So Far; Having A Wonderful Time!

View from my ger, Delger Camp
View from my ger, Delger Camp

I just returned from four great days at Delger Camp, operated in conjunction with Nomadic Journeys, and which is located at the Khogno Khan Nature Reserve, about six hours west of Ulaanbaatar. Staying in one place for awhile is very useful for getting in serious painting time. I do quick pen and ink sketches while on the road, but there’s usually not time to get out the watercolors.

Along with the paintings and sketches from this current trip, I also thought I’d share other pieces I’ve done up to now. Everything was photographed in less than optimal conditions in the apartment I have the use of, but I felt that sharing them while I’m still here would be fun and have an immediacy that would be missing if I waited until I get home in a couple of weeks.

They were done with either a Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor travel set or Yarka poured pigment watercolors and a Robert Simmons Sapphire brush. The paper is either Arches 140lb cold-pressed or a w/c paper I brought back from the Lake District in England many years ago. The pen sketches were done in a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketchbook. I used a non-waterproof pen with a Koi waterbrush for the one with the tone and a .01 Sakura Micron pen for the others.

Gloomy day
Gloomy day, so I did this watercolor study of the stove in my ger
Cloudy and rainy day
Cloudy and rainy day studies at Jalman Meadows and Gun-Galuut
Stupa above river valley at Ganchen Lama Khiid, Erdenesogt
Stupa above river valley at Ganchen Lama Khiid, Erdenetsogt
Prayer wheel at
Prayer wheel at Ganchan Lama Khiid, Erdenetsogt
Lily studies, Delger Camp
Lily studies, Delger Camp
View of sand dunes, Delger Camp
View of sand dunes, Delger Camp
Valley north of Delger Camp
Valley north of Delger Camp
Wetland/dune area
Wetland/dune area
Dunes and trees
Dunes and trees
Variety of vegetation
Variety of vegetation, wetland area and surroundings
Storm light and storm clouds at Delger Camp
Storm light and storm clouds at Delger Camp
Rain to the south
Rain to the south
Clouds coming by
Clouds coming by
Mountains to the north of camp
Mountains to the north of camp
Toned sketch
Toned sketch
Quick sketch of wetland area (the driver was coming any minute to pick me up)
Quick sketch of wetland area (the driver was coming any minute to pick me up)
Rocks and trees
Rocks and birch trees
Rock formation
Rock formation
Wild poppies
Wild poppies
Birch tree
Birch tree





Mongolia Monday- Explorers and Travelers: Henning Haslund on Mongol Horses

Haslund-500If all Henning Haslund had ever accomplished was to survive an expedition with Sven Hedin, that would have made him notable (Hedin’s expeditions are remarkable for the body count of both men and animals). But he is also one of the “must read” writers for anyone interested in Mongolia.

I’ve only read one so far, “In Secret Mongolia”, but the second one “Men and Gods in Mongolia” is sitting on the shelf waiting for me. I’ll be getting a copy of “Tents in Mongolia”, the third of what is really a series, also.

“In Secret Mongolia” (published in 1934) is the story of Haslund’s participation in a Danish project to establish a farm in northern Mongolia (which lasted from 1923 to 1926). Along the way he meets most of the major characters who were also in Mongolia at the time or hears tales of others, like the Bloody White Baron, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg.

He also wrote eloquently and with affection about the Mongols. Absent is the thinly veiled attitude of inherent white superiority present in many other accounts.

Here is Haslund writing about the Mongols and their horses (Note: when Haslund refers to “wild” horses, he is talking about the domestic Mongol horses, which run “wild” when not in use, not the genetically wild takhi/Przewalski’s horse):

herder JM“It is a pleasure to see the Mongols in association with their horses, and to see them on horseback is a joy. If one of the wild or half-wild horses of the herd is to be caught, the Mongol rides on a specially trained catching-horse, holding in his hands an urga, a very long pole with a noose at the end. The catching-horse soon understands which horse his rider wants to get hold of, and follows it until it is cut out of the herd. Then the pursuit goes at a flying gallop over the steppe, until the Mongol gets his lasso over the pursued horse’s neck, when the catching-horse slowly but surely holds back till the wild horse is tired out, and the Mongols hurry up to saddle it. The wild horse is not let go until is has a rider in the saddle, and then it gallops, buckjumps and throws itself on the ground in the attempt to get rid of its rider. But the Mongol sits fast and the horse is soon broken.

herder 4 JM

herder 2 JMSuch horse-breaking is admirable, and the strength, swiftness and elegance of the Mongol surpass those of any ballet dancer. I once saw a Mongol ungirth and throw off the saddle from under him and continue to ride the horse bareback, bucking wildly all the time, till it was broken.

herder 6 JMHorses are the Mongol’s chief investment. He knows nothing of banks and silver does not interest him beyond the quantity that he and his women can use for ornament. But if he has many horses on the steppe, then he is a well-to-do man. Then he sits on a hillock looking out over his wealth, and counts up the many-coloured multitude of splendid animals grazing on the steppe with slim necks and flowing manes, just as a man in the west counts his notes, and when the neighing of the stallions rings bell-like over the grass lands, his eyes shine with greater pride than the ring of minted silver can call forth in us.”

Note: the horse photos in this post were taken by me last year near the Jalman Meadows eco-ger camp run by Nomadic Journeys, who does all my in-country travel arrangements. It is located in the Strictly Protected Area of the Han Hentii Mountains a few hours northeast of Ulaanbaatar. The local family who helps run the camp lives nearby and demonstrates Mongol practices and horsemanship for visitors, including riding a couple of two-year olds for the first time when I was there. They also provide horses for trekking trips.

“American Artist Susan Fox-The WildArt Mongolia Expedition” At ArtiCour Gallery And An Album Of Field Sketches

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be publicizing the WildArt Mongolia Expedition while I’m here. On September 22, I will be at ArtiCour Gallery, just off Sukhbaatar Square, from 11am to 7pm, meeting Mongolian artists and friends, talking about the Expedition, sharing images of my work and doing demonstrations of sketching, watercolor and iPad drawing. I’ve created a Facebook Event here.

I’ve been able to get in some good field sketching time this trip and thought I’d share a selection of what I’ve done so far. In August I went to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu and Arburd Sands. Once the Expedition in September was postponed, I needed to make other plans. I’ve spent six days at Jalman Meadows ger camp in the Khan Khentii Mountains and got back yesterday from four days back at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, this time staying at Nomadic Journeys’ Red Rock ger camp. Tomorrow morning I go to Hustai National Park for four days to observe, photograph and, with luck, sketch takhi.

I’m using a Moleskin Sketch journal with Sakura Micron .01 and .02 pens and water- soluble colored pencils.

Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, August:

Arburd Sands:

Jalman Meadows:

Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, September:

Mongolia Monday- The Journey Is The Destination, Part 3: Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve To Jalman Meadows Ger Camp

We didn’t have long on tarmac road before we turned north into the Han Hentii Mountains, most of which is included in one of Mongolia’s Strictly Protected Areas.

This would be my first visit to Nomadic Journeys’ “signature camp”, Jalman Meadows. I hadn’t gone there before because, while there is plenty of interesting wildlife in the mountains, it’s not easy to see. The good news is that it would be an opportunity for both me and Pokey to see the southernmost point of the vast taiga, or boreal forest, that encircles the earth.

On our way from Gun-Galuut we passed this typical herder encampment, complete with car, motorbike, solar panel and satellite dish
Another not-uncommon scene when one is on the road in Mongolia...a truckload of the ever-patient Mongol horses
We passed through a small soum center, the last town we saw on this leg of the trip
Then it was back out into the glorious countryside on the earth roads, heading north
Pokey had become very interested in the cashmere goats as possible sculpture subjects, so we stopped any time there were some near the road. The markings on this one were definitely a bonus!
The afternoon light was really beautiful.
This family had stopped to get water from the spring, which is enclosed with a fence to keep livestock out. I've rarely seen a western style livestock or horse trailer in my travels. The animals ride in the back of trucks, sometimes with very simple barriers to keep them onboard.
Did I say we wanted to see goats? We came up over a rise and....
As we went higher up into the mountains, we found ourselves in forested areas and came across this herd of really stunning horses.
Ovoo up on the pass.
Traveling along one side of a valley, we saw these two boys herding a couple of yak/cattle hybrids.
We were happily taking photos when one of them abruptly turned and started towards the car. His "minder" suddenly wasn't smiling and it got a little tense as we wondered if we needed to get ready to brace for impact.
But within a few yards, the boy got him turned and we all exhaled.
Our last view of them riding off into the early evening light.
We finally had mountains on either side of us and saw a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees.
A local herder family setting up their ger
At last we arrived at the ger camp, which was situated on a bluff above the Tuul Gol.

Next week: boating and hiking and back to Ulaanbaatar

New Painting Debut! “Yak Herder-Hentii Mountains, Mongolia”

Yak Herder-Hentiii Mountains, Mongolia 18x14" oil (price on request)

And here’s the step by step process by which I created this painting:

The reference photo I used of a local man who hauled water to the Jalman Meadows ger camp where I was staying with another artist this past August.
I started out with a raw sienna toned RayMar canvasboard and began with a loose brush drawing for placement and position of the head and features. I've already changed him into a del instead of western clothes.
Next I established the light and shadow areas.
I re-drew the features and started to add some color.
I went darker with the background and launched into modeling his head.
I was using two or three other photos for the del and continued to model his head, paying particular attention to the features, value relationships and the various colors in the shadows.
At this point I realized that the del was opening the wrong way due to the other photos i was using and that I needed much better reference for it
I'd had del made for myself and my husband in 2009. He was kind enough to model for me in his.
I decided to finish the bottom to the edge of the canvas and I also lightened up the background. So, once more, "Yak Herder-Hentii Mountains, Mongolia"