Mongolia Monday- New Painting Debut! “Loose Horse Ahead”

Loose Horse Ahead 18×24″ oil

Yes, even with the craziness of preparing my WildArt Mongolia Expedition Kickstarter project, I continue to work at my easel. And I just finished this one late last week.

Pokey Park and I and our guide/driver were exploring the wetland area of Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, when we saw a local herder coming past us. One of the impressive things about Mongol riders is that, even at a very young age, they can ride a horse going pretty much at any gait or speed standing up and utterly still.

He rode on past us and we continued birdwatching and picture taking. Not too much later though, back he came, catching up with a brown horse, saddled and bridled, which had clearly gotten loose. In the meantime, a good-sized group of horses were heading for some open water. The brown horse dodged behind them with the rider right after him. Up came his urga (the long pole with a loop that is used instead of a rope lasso) and in short order the brown horse was captured.

Got him.

For the painting, I wanted to show Mongol horsemanship, which most people haven’t seen. The bonus, of course, was the great morning light and the setting. And…you may have noticed that the rider in the photo is wearing backwards baseball cap, but not in the painting. I’m interested in painting the Mongolia of today, but the baseball caps just don’t do it for me, however practical they are for the wearers, so I leave them off. But everything else is as I saw it that beautiful morning in August 2011.

New Painting Debut! “Zun Odor (Summer Day)”

And here it is the "real" finish again for comparison.

I was coming down out of the mountains north of Tsetserleg with my guide and driver while on a one week camping trip last August and off in the distance we saw a large herd of yaks. Of course we stopped so I could get some photos. The three herders who were with them spotted us and came riding over. I asked the guide to ask them if I could take their pictures and they said yes. I knew while I was snapping the shutter that I was going to get multiple paintings out of this chance encounter, typical of travel in Mongolia.

Here’s a step-by-step of my newest painting “Zun Odor (Summer Day)”:

The three yak herders, Arkhangai Aimag, chatting with Puugii, my driver
The idea of the painting (and a good painting has only one) was the casual way the herder had laid his leg across the neck of the horse, who seemed to be totally unconcerned. The Mongols' relationship with their horses is really something special, going back, as it does, over 1000 years. They know each other pretty well at this point. The composition was allowed to resemble some I've seen of American cowboys and cattle, only in this case it's malchin (herders) and sarlag (yaks).
This is after the first pass of laying in color on the herder, horse and landscape. It lets me see how the shapes of the yaks are working. This was the most animals, by far, that I've ever put in a painting, so it became a pretty intense juggling act, making sure that all the parts worked together.
One to two passes of color overall. I'm also using my reference to make decisions about what colors the yaks will be. I wanted the right amount of variety, but not to the point where it drew attention away from the herder and his horse.
Continuing on, working over the whole canvas.
The finished painting. I thought. But I decided that I needed some fresh, knowledgeable eyeballs on it, so I emailed a jpg to two colleagues who, among other things, pointed out that the yaks in the background were not in correct scale. And they were right. They also thought the grey yak's head on the right was odd and I found that, after going back to my reference, that I agreed with them about that too. Back to the easel. One of the reasons I have the working process that I do is to provide the flexibility to make whatever changes or corrections are necessary at any point, even when I think I'm done and have signed the piece. I have no compunctions whatsoever about wiping out or scraping down any part at any time if it's not right.
"Zun Odor" (Summer Day) 30x40" oil (price on request)- the "real" finish again. Notice how the yak on the right at the herder's waist changed color twice.

Here are some detail close-ups so you can get a better look at my brushwork:

The herder
His rain slicker and sash
Boot, stirrup and tack
The horse's head
One of the yaks

Latest Quick Sketches…Yaks And Horses and Ducks, Oh My, Plus One Camel

But first, here’s the link to the blog of fellow Society of Animal Artist member and great sculptor, Simon Gudgeon, who resides in the UK. His latest post is an excellent discussion of wildlife art and its place in the larger world of “fine art”. Here’s one bit that I particularly like: “…too many artists use photographs rather than their minds and let the photograph dictate the finished artwork. An artist should observe their subject and decide how they want to portray it, or take a theme or emotion and work out how they can use a wildlife subject matter to illustrate it.” Truer words….

In the meantime, I’m having fun in the evenings, while we watch the San Francisco Giants possibly close in on their first Division pennant since 2003 (tonight might be the night!), doing more quick sketches with a gel tip pen in a Strathmore Universal Recycled sketchbook. Once again, these don’t take more than a few minutes each.

If you decide to try this at home, and I hope you do, look for photos of animals with distinct light and shadow sides, using that to emphasize form and structure where possible. I think you can see below that the most successful sketches have interesting shadow shapes. I also keep each most of the sketches to two values, light side/shadow side. There’s a couple where I added a third, intermediate value because it was a black animal or a black and white animal and I wanted to show the black part in light and shadow. The all-white yaks were actually….black yaks, in flat light.

Domestic Mongol yaks
Yaks, horses and a domestic bactrian camel
Horses and yaks
Yaks, horses and common shelducks

Mongolia Monday: The Five Snouts, Part 5

At last we come to the most important “Snout” of all for Mongolians, the horse. I was told that Mongolians sing about three things: the land, their mothers and their horses. The classic Mongolian musical instrument is the “morin khuur” or horse-headed violin. Here are some that I saw at the Mongolian Artists’ Union gallery in Ulaan Baatar.

Morin Khuur
Morin Khuur

Horses have inspired Mongolian art for a very long time. I happened on this delightful modern “horse art” in the courtyard of the Museum of the Chojin Lama in Ulaanbaatar.

Rainbow Horses
Rainbow Horses

And here’s the explanation that was nearby. This was in September of 2006 and I have no idea if they are still there, but the museum is on the list for the upcoming trip, so perhaps we’ll be lucky and get to see them again.

Rainbow Horse project sign
Rainbow Horse project sign

I find that there is often confusion between the, more or less, domestic Mongolian horse and the takhi or Przewalski’s Horse, which is the only surviving species of true wild horse. They are different species. There are domestic horses who have physical traits that indicate a past cross with the takhi, which were extinct in the wild as of 1969. I’ve seen a number of Mongolian horses with some combination of upright, brushy mane, a reddish dorsal stripe, a light eye-ring or muzzle and maybe tarsal and/or carpal stripes on the legs.

As one travels about the countryside, the herder’s establishments are a blend of old and new. Motorbikes, solar panels and satellite dishes aren’t uncommon, but everywhere there was always at least one horse saddled, bridled, hobbled and ready to ride at a moment’s notice. Mongols are, after all, the original horse culture.

The Mongolian horses are beyond tough. They are left to roam at large most of the year and manage to survive weather, down to -40F in the winter, that would kill most other horses. I have read at least two accounts of western writers who traveled across Mongolia by horse and who described the morning saddle-up as “a rodeo”.

Herding sheep
Herding sheep and goats

One evening at Ikh Nart, we watched a young Mongolian man capture a foal with an “urga”. Mom was not amused and kept a close eye on things.

Catching the foal
Catching the foal
Getting the foal used to human handling
Getting the foal used to human handling
Turning the foal loose and here comes the mare
Turning the foal loose and here comes the mare

One of the things that amazed me when I saw them for the first time at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu was that even though it was spring (and anyone who has been to Mongolia knows what that means weather-wise: cold, wind, dust storms) and most of the horses were terribly thin, many had long- flowing manes and tails that were gorgeous.

This was one of my favorite pictures from my first trip in the spring of 2005. The young herder was perfectly happy to have his picture taken with me as long as his horse was included. No problem.

Ikh Nart herder and I
Ikh Nart herder and I

And here a close-up of the saddle. The silver bosses on the side are to “encourage” the rider to ride standing in the saddle.

Mongolian saddle
Mongolian saddle

Finally, another one of my favorites; a herd of horses coming down to the stream to drink at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu.

Mongolia Monday: The Five Snouts, Part 2

Most of us don’t think of Mongolia as cattle country, but I did see at least a few most places I went. Needless to say, they are as hardy as the other animals the herders keep. There are a number of breeds and they have also been crossed with yaks to create a hybrid the Mongolians call a Hainag. Here are some that I saw when I was at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in spring of 2005.

This cow and calf were part of a group that were coming down to the stream for water.

Here’s a black cow who looked me over for a minute.

And, of the most interest to me, since it demonstrates the competition wildlife can face from domestic stock, are a couple of argali down at the same stream with the cattle.

When I was in western Mongolia in Sept./Oct. of 2006 we stopped at a ger and I took a number of pictures, including a few of this beautifully dressed woman and her cattle. The man was one of my guides. As it turned out, what I had photographed was him buying milk…for us! When we were back in the van and on our way, I was offered a swig of milk, warm and right out of the cow. It was the best milk I’d ever tasted! It was also the first time this town-raised girl had ever had milk that wasn’t out of a carton. And no, I didn’t “pay” for it later, fortunately.