Fresh off the easel! “Summer Snack, Mongolia”. Without really meaning to I took 2021 off from painting and didn’t do much art at all. Quite of few of my colleagues spent the year the same way, not very motivated with Covid so serious. But as the new year has dawned folks are picking up their brushes, pens, pencils etc. again same as I am. I did another painting before this one, which I’ll also be posting a step-by-step on but am so pleased with this one I decided to share it first.
The setting is in the northern mountains of Mongolia not far from the city of Erdenet. I was the guest of a family for the aimag (county’s) Naadam festival. They are race horse trainers so I had the privilege of being part of the preparations for the races. Mongol horses are allowed to run free when they aren’t being used for work. I was out walking around and I spotted this mare and foal with the valley and mountains behind her.
Now I head for the finish…
At this point I was unhappy with the hind leg of the foal closest to the viewer. I painted it and wiped it out at least 4-5 times. And here, once again, is the finished painting….
“Almost There” oil on canvasboard 12×18″ (price on request)
For the first three weeks of November I was at the easel every weekday painting the pieces that I showed the color comps of on Sept. 22 here. I finally decided not to use them for the original purpose and will be entering them in some upcoming juried exhibitions. I’m pleased and proud of them so I want to debut them here on my blog. The one above is from reference I shot at a naadam in Erdenet Soum in 2015. I got to ride in the chase car for two of the races so I got fantastic reference as we drove alongside the horses and riders.
In Mongolia the sweat of a winning horse is thought to be auspicious, so the trainer scrapes it off. The traditional tool for this was the bill of a Dalmation pelican, an endangered species, so now the scrapers are made of wood, often with nice carving on them. One always knows the trainers by the scraper in their belt or sash. I was really struck by the colors of this two-year old, who had already raced. Very pretty.
And here you can see one of the trainers at the same event with his scraper tucked into his sash. This would be his personal riding horse. He (they are almost always stallions or geldings) has a traditional saddle that is well-worn and a common type of bridle knotted from hand-braided rope.
I’ve also kept up with Inktober52, not missing a week so far. Four drawings to go. You can see all of them on my Instagram feed here.
I was busy in the studio last week doing the second and third steps in preparing three new paintings to hit the canvas. I’ve been wanting to start using the Mongol horse race reference I’ve gathered over my twelve trips there since 2005 and the time has come. Above is a color study, below is the previous step, the value study, in which all the darks, lights, and mid-range tones are worked out separate from color. It’s an important roadmap for coloring mixing since how dark or light is settled and the artist then can focus on hue and color temperature (how warm or cool).
Here’s the value and color studies for “Patient”.
And, finally, for “After the Race, Scraping Sweat”
I have not determined the final sizes yet but they’re not going to be too big.
In other art news, Inktober52 rolls on with me doing my weekly pen and in drawing to go with whatever the “Prompt” is. I post all of them on Instagram, the “official” social media platform for the event. You can see everything I’ve done so far here. I’ve also created a Board for them on Pinteresthere. I generally post new pieces on Tuesday.
And, if you haven’t done so, here’s the link to my Fox Studio Etsy shop. I offer coloring pages created from animals I’ve photographed in my travels and original drawings and small oil paintings. Coming soon will be my hand-picked selection of dip pen nibs for artists.
Live events, as everyone knows, are either postponed or cancelled this year. For artists it means no live exhibitions or shows, galleries closed and workshops going virtual. However, I recently found out about and signed up for a new marketing effort just for artists...Artists Sunday, which will be on November 29. The idea, like the other themed shopping days after Thanksgiving, is to establish one just for artists/craftspeople. There will be national multimedia marketing campaign to encourage people to patronize the participants when shopping for gifts. I’m excited about the possibilities and am really looking forward to it. Look for new items in my Etsy shop and here on my website.
Starting last Saturday, we had almost a week of smoke, so no gardening/fall clean-up got done. It’s a gorgeous sunny day today and it looks like we’re going to have a “heat wave” over the next week with highs in the mid/high 70s, quite warm for here on the coast and since our acre is in a sheltered area at the end of our street it will hit 80 in the shade. In the meantime some of the roses aren’t done yet, some still blooming like The Fairy (above) and some getting in a last repeat bloom like the David Austin Rose ‘Charles Rennie Macintosh’ below.
The Jackson Perkins ‘Happy Chappy’ ground cover rose hasn’t stopped blooming since spring. I love the warm colors.
There used to be a fabulous old rose nursery in Sebastopol, about four hours south of us, called Vintage Gardens. The sales part was closed when the fad for old roses died down, but the collection the owner amassed is still there and being maintained by The Friends of Vintage Roses. There was a blow-out final sale in which a few hundred old roses, many of them floribundas from the 50s-70s were under $10, a type that is not in fashion anymore. I bought over a dozen of them just to preserve them for the future, but also looked like they’d be great in the garden. And they are! And how could anyone resist a rose called “Lily Marlene? It’s one of the best reds I’ve seen. It’s also bullet proof and sturdy.
And, speaking of names, I HAD to have ‘Leaping Salmon’ given where I live on the north coast of California. This rose is a SPECTACULAR salmon pink in color and quite the climber, with huge long-lasting flowers.
And finally, last year for the first time I participated in the creation of a coloring book, part of a series showing the wildlife and plants in various ecosystems of the US. The next one is under way and the theme this time is Pollinators. Without insects and other animals to pollinate plants our plant-based food supply would be in great, most likely fatal, danger. Bees are probably the best know pollinators and they’ll be well represented in the book. I did some research, though, and found that the white-lined sphinx moth I photographed in our garden years ago is a pollinator! I’ve used three of my photos to show the moth in action. This is where I start….with a pencil drawing that sets the composition. I’ll tweak it a bit more and it will be ready for inking on heavy vellum, which I’ll lay over the top of the drawing. I used photos of penstemon, also from our garden as the “target plant”. I’ll also be doing a second page with two Hawaiian honeycreepers and will show that one next week.
On the Covid-19 front, we had a post 4th of July spike in cases, mostly driven by large gatherings of locals and their guests. We seem to have gotten past the Labor Day weekend ok. Last Friday there were no new cases the previous day, the first time that’s happened in awhile. So unless something dramatic happens this will be the last “Life Goes On…” post because that’s how it is day to day now with following our regular routines, able to get haircuts, massages, etc. and do our regular shopping with no drama.
I entered my first juried competition in 1991, an Artist’s Magazine contest for wildlife/animal art. I got an Honorable Mention for a colored pen and ink drawing of a wild boar I’d photographed somewhere. Woohoo! I was out of art school, but had not started to paint in oil yet, a childhood dream. I was able to begin that with two years of private study in 1995. In 1997 I decided to focus on painting wildlife in oil. In 2003 I was accepted into my first national juried exhibition, the Art for the Parks Top 100, with a painting of a Yellowstone bison. Since then there’s rarely been a year that I haven’t had work in at least one juried show or another. But this one is really, really special. “Mongol Horses” will be in the Salmagundi Club Annual Member Exhibition, which has been held every year since the club was founded in 1871. It is open to all media and “is meant to showcase SCNY member’s finest work”. It’s the first time I’ve gotten in. Not only is it for all subjects, but I’m very proud to have one of my Mongolian subjects in this prestigious show!
This piece is part of a “new direction” my work is going. I’m drawing, so to speak, on my background in graphic design, calligraphy and love of historic decorative styles, to move away from animals in a landscape and put the focus directly on them. This makes sense for me because since I was a child I drew animals constantly.
In other news, we’re off to Hawaii next Tuesday for a two week vacation. I’ll be taking my sketching and watercolor supplies with me and will be posting here, on Instagram and on Facebook. Come follow along! Aloha!
I’ve started a series of three small paintings of Mongolian race horses and thought I’d share the step-by-step of doing more than one painting at a time. First up was to choose my reference photos, picking three heads that would work together in a group.
I generally never post my reference images on the internet for obvious reasons, but in this case I wanted to show you the kind of photos I have to work with. The one above was taken at an aimag (province/state) naadam a couple of years ago. I was able to go out in the chase car for two races, so had a rare opportunity to shoot both stills and video not only as the jockeys, horses and trainers rode out to the starting point, but to travel parallel to the riders as they raced back. Looking through the many hundreds of race photos I’ve taken over the years I found a quite visible difference, which makes sense, in how fast the horses ran in the first part of the race and how much they’d slowed down by the last third or so. This really affected leg position and sense of the effort on the horse’s part as expressed in the body language.
But for this set of three I only wanted the heads, so was looking for variety in coloring, angle and generally interesting shapes of light and shadow. I started with drawings, thinking in terms of “notan” the Japanese method of simplifying an image down to two values….light and dark or light side/shadow side. I was also working on capturing the expression, the bridle and some of the shapes in the manes.
I had originally intended to include the rider’s hands and legs in the frame, but those shapes seemed distracting, especially cut off at the edges, so right now my plan is to leave them out. But that could change…
The top two pieces will be 8×8″. The one above will be 8×10″. So an arrangement of two squares with a rectangle between them.
The next step was to scan the drawings and project them onto the pre-toned canvas panels, sketching each one lightly with a pencil.
The panels were toned with Winsor Newton raw sienna. I indicated all the shadow shapes with a mix of that and a little Winsor Newton violet dioxazine, which creates a warm brown tone that is still related to the background tone.
I scanned the panels with my Epson XP-830 printer/scanner/copier and then imported them into Photos for cropping, color correction and any other adjustments. This works pretty well for small pieces that I want to post to my blog or other social media.
I like working this way because it gives me a lot of control over how much detail I add and where. I also like to leave “lost and found” shapes. What is important to me, though, is accuracy of both the horses and their tack, not detail per se. For me the game is to see how much I can simplify and leave out.
When I was working towards a degree in illustration at what was then the Academy of Art Collegs in the late 1980s, the question came up in one class about how far to go trying to make a piece work and, if it’s not, should one start over. The advice the teacher gave us and that I have followed until last year was that past a certain point, well, there was no point. Time to move on to the next piece and not repeat oneself. Made sense to me. Don’t beat the proverbial dead horse.
Fast forward to March of 2016 when I spent two wonderful days visiting and painting with superb landscape painter and friend James Coe at his home near the Hudson River Valley south of Albany, New York. We spent a few hours in his studio talking shop. He pulled out one piece after another, both plein air and studio paintings. And started to talk about how this one or that one had sat for months or years until he figured out what was needed and fixed it. Or how he’d done a small piece of a scene and was planning on doing it again larger. Some he’d painted four or five times from his plein air study. I’d never heard of such a thing! Gobsmacked I was.
Like anyone who has been at the painting game for awhile I have a lot of paintings that I either got stuck on and never finished or didn’t feel were good enough to show anyone except the cat. But now….now! Somehow Jim had given me “permission” to go back to those old pieces and see what I could do with them and it would not be wasting my time or mistreating the horse, which was now alive and well.
So there’s that. The other thing that has happened is that after toying with the idea for close to three years now, I decided to see how I could integrate my love of pure design, lettering and historic decoration back into my work with my Mongolia subjects. After painting a dozen new pieces for “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” last year I felt that for the time being I’d had said all I had to say about depicting an animal or animals in a traditionally realistic landscape and it was time to move in what I call to myself my “new direction”. I did a couple of small pieces last fall as tryouts and have a number of larger ones under way, all new. But I’ve also gone back to paintings that just never seemed to work for one reason or another and gave them another look.
I’d also created albums in Photos for images I’ve shot that suggest possibilities for interesting designs and also some for a variety of elements, both natural ones like landscapes with warm, cool or warm and cool colors and human-made like ger or monastery decorative painting. And I found a Mongolian calligrapher who was willing to write words for me and email them as large jpgs, so I can integrate the vertical script, bichig, into my work.
What I’m finding is that adding the decorative elements is not just fun, but makes these old ones visually more interesting so they now work. I’ll be showing more of my “salvage” efforts in the future. In the meantime here’s the painting above as I originally did it in 2012, without the decorative border. I also repainted the horses, tweaking the drawing of them, and generally punching up the color.
I was coming to the end of my first tent camping trip in Mongolia in July of 2010. We had traveled south to a remote Gobi lake, Orog Nuur…myself, my driver/guide and a cook… and back north into the Hangai Mountains to see a variety of sights, including two mineral spring resorts, a Buddhist retreat established by Zanabazar, Mongolia’s finest sculptor, popular Orkhon Falls and the much visited site of the imperial Mongol capital Harkhorin which is adjacent to the famous monastery, Erdene Zuu, partly constructed of stones from the ruined capital which was sacked my the Ming army after they ended the Yuan Dynasty of Khublai Khan and chased the Mongols back to their homeland.
Our route now took us north, down out of the Khangai Mountains, where, for the last night out, we were going to pitch our tents at Ongii Nuur, a lake known for its birds. It was a gloomy, cloudy day. As we were driving along, I noticed a large ger encampment down and off to the left. I almost said something to to my Mongol driver/guide Khatnaa, but let it go. Then he had to slow down because a bunch of men and boys on horses were crossing the road. I told him about the gers. He made a right turn and followed the horsemen up the slope. And at the top found ourselves in the midst of over a hundred Mongols, many dressed to kill in fancy brocade del, sashes and boots.
Just about the only thing that I had hoped to encounter on the trip (my fifth to the Land of Blue Skies), but had not, was a local naadam, the festival that always has a variety of traditional competitions and activities, including the Three Manly Sports of horse racing, wrestling and archery (I had gotten to attend my first local naadam at Baga Gazriin Chuluu in 2009 and was instantly hooked). Now it appeared that we had finally stumbled onto one on the last afternoon of the last day of the trip.
We pulled up in an area on the hill where a lot of cars and trucks were parked. There were horses all over the place. Khatnaa got out, spoke with someone and came back with the news that the event was a family reunion. Stay or go? We’d inadvertently crashed a private party. I told Khatnaa that it was up to him to do what he thought best. He thought for a moment while I held my breath and then pulled into the middle of a long line of cars, where we tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. Over the next two to three hours I sat in the big silver Land Cruiser and took around five hundred photos of whatever crossed my field of vision. Our arrival had coincided with the run-up to the horse race and we had gotten there just in time to watch all the preparations for it.
It seemed like over half the men and boys were on horseback, warming up the racehorses, chatting and just riding around the area the same way the rest of us would walk. The trainers stood out with their fancy del, sashes, hats and boots, along with their sweat scrapers tucked in to the back of their sashes. Older men sat on the ground exchanging snuff bottles in the traditional greeting. Kids were happily running and riding all over the place. Everyone was clearly having a great time, as was I getting to watch it all.
Our “cover” was blown when a young couple on a motorbike drove up and offered us fresh, hot khuushuur (fried mutton turnovers). No way we were going to pass on those. I stayed in the car until the first horses were approaching the finish line and then got out and joined the happy crowd.
Afterwards, shortly before we left, I was photographing a lovely black race horse who was being scraped down, as the sweat from the winning horses is thought to be very lucky and auspicious. A woman came up to me, took my arm, led me over to the horse and made a gesture for me to lay my palm on the sweat, which suddenly turned me from spectator to participant. It was a very kind and thoughtful thing for her to do since I was very obviously not a member of this very big family. I was never so glad that I knew how to say “thank you” in Mongolian.
I loved our hidden campsite in the birch grove. I did as many sketches and watercolors as I could since I have no idea if I’ll ever be at that place again. Here’s a two-page set of drawings from my journal.
And here’s one of the watercolors I did.
We weren’t, however, alone. The grove seems to be headquarters for a large number of black-eared kites, a very common bird that one doesn’t pay much attention to after awhile while traveling around. Well, you sure couldn’t ignore this crowd, which carried on enthusiastic “conversations” until nightfall.
They also nest here.
It was such a lovely spot.
And it wasn’t easy to leave.
But we needed to get food and supplies for the last leg of the Expedition, so we packed up by late morning and drove the short distance into Chandmani, the soum center. There is also a Chandmani in Gobi Altai Aimag, which we drove through on the first Expedition in 2013, so now I’ve been to both of them. The guide had to get some money, which gave me a little time to wander around and find quite a few things of interest.
Heroes from socialist times, along with WWII, are honored with statues in various towns. This one says “Khodolmoriin Baatar R. Chadrabal”.
I thought this next one was awesome. So perfectly an expression of its time and a good work of art. The plaque says, I think, “Bimaulsin Baatar/Bayaibalin Tegshee”.
And, providing a contrast nearby, was this very cute playground.
On the ground near the red hero statue was a wonderful sculpture of oversized anklebones (shagai). The real ones are used for an apparently endless number of games, many of them involving alcohol consumption. Each of the four sides represents a specific domestic animal: horse, sheep, goat or camel.
I was not surprised, this being Mongolia, that there would be a statue of a horse.
I was, however, quite surprised to see a statue of an argali.
It seemed a sleepy town, like most soum centers I’ve been to, not many people out and about.
The town’s setting, with the northeast side of Jargalant Hairkhan Uul as a backdrop, was very nice. We went into the town center and, wow, it was hopping! The local naadam festival had just ended and people had come into town to do their shopping.
This was one of the few soum centers I’ve been in (not a huge number) that really had a main shopping street. Our first stop was this shop. I was dazzled by the riot of color and the variety of goods. I’m posting a lot of photos of it for two reasons. One is that I just want to share the experience, which is not one that visitors often get. I had the best time poking around and taking photos with my phone camera. The second is that I am so tired of uninformed, to put it diplomatically, Americans seeing the herder’s gers and how country people live, and going on and on about “those poor people” living in poverty as if it was some kind of degraded life that they need to be rescued from by the noble westerners. It’s true that most herders don’t have a lot of cash money. They also don’t accumulate a lot of stuff because everything they have is going to have to be packed up and moved at least a couple of times a year. But they have what they need and if they want something they have access to shops like these.
As you have probably guessed by now, the Mongols are not a people who are afraid of color. Westerners have commented on that for as long as any have made the journey to the Land of Blue Skies.
We were almost ready to leave when a woman came in wearing a del the same color as one I have. Our eyes met and I got up the courage to have my guide ask if she’d have her picture taken with me. I got a smile and a nod. Mongols almost never smile for photos, having been taught to keep a serious face since childhood. I’ve learned to keep a neutral friendly expression for these photo opps.
We left the first shop and went to have lunch, which turned out two of my favorites! Buuz and khuushuur. I have yet to get tired of either.
We needed to go to one more shop to get meat.
There was a huge poster attached to the wall. It was information about snow leopards. It says that there are 37 living on Jargalant Hairkhan Uul. The photo shows camera trap images of two leopards who have lost a paw in a trap, so other information on the poster is about not setting traps.
But we go into the shop and I see this. I was not able to find out the whole story behind either the poster or the traps. When I do I’ll be writing a post about it.
It turned out that there was no meat on site. The proprietor made a phone call and about 20 minutes later a local herder came in with a small bag of fresh mutton. In the meantime I took some more photos, including this stack of ger felts.
We went back to the car and got in. In the meantime, some of the local goats started to put on a show.
As we were leaving I spotted this horse tied to a fence and had to get some photos.
Now we really did need to get going. Our destination? Back east to Dorgon Nuur to camp in a different location than before. Will there be mosquitos? Find out next week.
The last day of the 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition had finally arrived. One more night in the countryside and then back to Ulaanbaatar. The day took an unexpected turn that led to a perfect final evening….
And so ended the 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition. We met every goal that I had set for both habitats and endangered species. We are the only western artists now to have gone to Takhiin Tal, the first takhi release site, where we saw both takhi and khulan, and Sharga/Darvi where we saw over thirty saiga antelope. We met the scientists working to conserve these species and saw snow leopard habitat, complete with ibex. We forded flooded rivers, camped under Gobi skies, visited and hiked an important sacred mountain, attended a local naadam, stumbled upon an ambler horse race, explored a very special monastery, and painted and sketched as we went.
Now there will be a special group exhibition of paintings from the Expedition, featuring myself, Tugsoyun Sodnom and Oidoviin Magvandorj. It will be at the Union of Mongolian Artists Gallery in Ulaanbaatar from June 27 to July 8. There will be an opening reception on the 27th.
I want to say a very special “Thank You!” to Nomadic Journeys and their staff, who made the Expedition possible and contributed greatly to its success. bayarlalaa
I head back to Mongolia on May 28 for eight weeks. There will be another WildArt Mongolia Expedition, this time to the northeastern mountains and the famous steppe grasslands to try to see and photograph six species of cranes, three of them endangered and also Mongolian gazelles. So stay tuned!