I guess the big news here is that, at least for now, we’ve “crushed” the virus and plans for a partial reopening of businesses are being developed. We’ve only had a couple of new cases in the last couple of weeks for a total of 54. No deaths, currently no hospitalizations. We are required to wear masks now when out in public and to observe social distancing. Our public health dept. is doing a wonderful job, not only in dealing with Covid-19, but in the quantity and quality of their public communications about it. Locals can currently take a survey on what businesses they think should open first.
We’re going out for groceries, but otherwise keeping busy at home. On Sunday we’ll swing by the North Coast Native Plant Society place to pick up an order of….native plants. The ordering was done using a plant list on their website to make one’s choices of plant and quantity, then you downloaded the order form posted on their website, filled it out, photographed it and attached it to an email back to them. This was only one of four ordering options they offered. We will drive onto the property being used for the sale at noon on Sunday, pay with a check and then load up our plants. Everyone has a separate pick-up slot. It’s all been very well-thought out and organized so that they can still have their sale, but keep everyone safe.
In art news, I’ve been doing extensive repaints on some older paintings I’ve done of African subjects. I’ve entered three in an online animal art show and will get the results on the 5th. Here’s one of them:
And for serious fun I was invited a week or so ago to join a Facebook group called “Draw Breath”. Since live figure drawing isn’t an option now, a group of mostly illustrators who also attended or teach at my alma mater, the Academy of Art University, have arranged Monday, Wednesday and Friday livestreamed “virtual” sessions from 4-6pm. It’s a three way split screen with the model in the middle and an artist on either side drawing in real time and chatting about what they’re doing and why.
And, here’s some photos of the garden I just shot this morning. Things are really starting to take off. We’re supposed to get “real” rain tomorrow which is great.
And down by the pond on an old chunk of stump…
Finally (I have to pay attention to what my last image is because WordPress’ or some algorithm uses the final image in a post for the preview on other sites) here’s another of my Kenya pieces, a warthog…
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. I’ve had the good fortune to been able to work in art-related fields all my adult life, first as a sign painter and graphic designer starting when I was 22 years old, then as an illustrator and finally, since 1997, a fine artist painting in oil and specializing in animals. I’ve learned a few things over the years, both from experience and from other artists, and would like to pass them on to you.
1. Painting is drawing, in the sense of making marks on a surface with conscious intent, whether you’re a representational or abstract artist. Develop that intentionality.
2. You have to gain competence in: design/composition, drawing, value, color and edges. If you can afford it, buy Richard Schmid’s book “All I Know About Painting” or google each topic.
3. It’s not about detail or fidelity to a photograph as the one true criteria for the quality of a work of art. It’s about expressing your personal artistic vision however that manifests. Don’t do detail because you never learned to edit. Learn to simplify. Which is actually pretty hard, but will liberate you in ways you can’t imagine. Don’t use photos unless you know how to compensate for the way they flatten and distort. It’s obvious to an educated eye when an artist has accepted a photo as truth and simply reproduced it, faults and all.
4. Learn from the best, but find your own path. As they told us in art school, be the best you you can be, not a second-rate someone else.
5. Never be afraid to reevaluate your approach and process, scary as that might be. Some artists cling to how they work like it’s a life preserver without which they’d drown. Find a way to let go of that. The risk isn’t as big as you think it is.
6. There are no mistakes, only “what’s next?” This is from my oil painting teacher who I studied with privately for over two years. It got me off that big “OMG I’m going to RUIN IT!” hook.
7.Plan for “downtime” each year to recharge your creative batteries. Don’t do any art or try a new media/paper/style. It’s a chance to grow with no risk.
8. Keep a sketchbook. Use it. Consider doing a drawing a day for a week, a month, a year. Have fun. Try lots of different pencils and pens. Do them fast. Set a timer for a minute, five minutes, etc. Sketch an egg, a glass of water, an egg in a glass of water, your dog or cat, whatever you want. Look into learning contour drawing. A little tricky to get the hang of but lots of fun once you do. Hone those motor skills to keep them fresh and available.
9. Gain a basic familiarity with the history of art. Who knows what inspiration you may find. I used to pick a new poet a month to check out. Google around and pick a new artist every month to learn about. Go back to the beginning and be humbled by cave paintings.
10. Don’t be too satisfied with your work or too hard on yourself. Find a balance and keep moving forward.
11. Seek out and listen to competent criticism of your work. Access to another artist’s educated eye and input is invaluable. Damp down that little voice that says “Yes, but…”
12. If the only thing that will make you truly happy in life is to create art, do not let anyone discourage you. Ever.
Yesterday I finished and signed two of the largest paintings that will be in “WildlifeArt: Field to Studio” a group exhibition with six other Signature Members of the Society of Animal Artists. It will be at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut March 24- May 4, 2016. The opening reception will be on March 31 from 6-8pm and is open to the public. The other participating artists are Alison Nicholls, Sean Murtha, Karryl, David Rankin, Kelly Singleton and Carel Brest van Kempen. What makes this show unique is that for the first time that I know of, we will be showing not only our finished work, but also the fieldwork that inspired and contributed to it. And that is what we all have in common- we get out into the field. Some of us travel to places like Mongolia and Africa. Others stay closer to home, but we sketch and paint and, in Karryl’s case, sculpt in nature.
I’m posting all the images of the work that I will have in the show in an album on my Facebook page here. You can read a article that just came out this week in Plein Air Collector about the exhibition here. Another article will be in the new issue of Western Art Collector, which will be available on newstands around February 16.
I’m doing both weekends of North Coast Open Studios this year. People were very interested both in my upcoming trip to Mongolia and hearing about what the country is like. I had my computer going and was able to show people pictures of the takhi, domestic horses, gers, camels, Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar with the new government building and the statue of Chinggis Khan that graces the front of it.
Towards the end of the day, a young woman came in who was riding by on her bicycle, saw the signs and came in to check it out. By the time she left, she had decided that she wants to throw in with me on my art/conservation initiative, Art Partnerships for Mongolian Conservation. She has experience and skills that will be extremely helpful. Plus, having traveled widely, she has an excellent grasp of the issues involved in coming into someone else’s country and working with people in a constructive, culturally sensitive way.
I also sold two originals, some cards and signed up almost everyone for my email newsletter. If you’d like to get Fox Tales, just go to the contact page on my website, fill it in and let me know that you want the newsletter. You can one-click unsubscribe at any time if you change your mind.
All in all it was a fun, successful weekend and I’m looking forward to this next one. If you’re in Humboldt County or heading this way, you’re invited to stop by between 11 am and 5 pm this Saturday and Sunday. Here’s some photos I took Saturday morning.
Four years ago today, internationally known wildlife artist Simon Combes was killed by a cape buffalo while walking with his wife on a mountain called Delemere’s Nose, which is part of the Delemere estate in Kenya where they lived. Just two months earlier, I and nine other incredibly fortunate wildlife artists were on the safari of a lifetime with him. Looking at dates on my images, I see that we had gotten up the morning of October 12 at the Kigio Wildlife Sanctuary and spent most of the day driving south to the Masai Mara. When we stopped for lunch in the Masai group ranch north of the reserve proper, we saw our first Mara wildlife, a male topi on top of a mound. Then, in rapid succession it was wildebeest, gazelle, hippos, a huge male giraffe right inside the entrance to the Reserve and then…lions!
My tribute page and the photos that I took of him during the safari are here. But what I want to share today is what it means as an artist to be able to travel to a place like Kenya with someone like Simon, who knew the ground and the animals and who always seemed to get us to the right place at the right time. I had realized very quickly on my first trip there in 1999 that it was pointless to paint animals like cheetahs and lions without having seen them in their habitat. There’s really no way to get it right and those who have been there know the difference instantly. Trust me on this. So out of the 5,218 photos I shot in 2004, here are a few that I hope will illustrate this point, followed by some of the paintings that have resulted from the trip. If you want more, the whole safari is here. on my website.
Emotion and point of view play a major role in the creation of great wildlife art. How could the two women in the front vehicle not remember and “channel” this encounter if they paint an elephant? We’ll all remember this morning in the Samburu going from cool to warm, the beautiful light and this bull elephant who made it abundantly clear that it was time for us to move along.
Artists get asked all the time where we get the ideas for our paintings. Well, here’s one I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t seen it. Baboons and impala breakfasting together at Lake Nakuru. Part of the problem with zoos and game parks is that the animals are out of context. You never see the natural groupings or interactions. Or if there are different species together, you have no idea how that would play out in the wild. To me, this kind of reference is gold. I can paint this African “Beauty and the Beast” scene because I saw it, photographed it, know it happened.
There really is something about lions. They define “presence”, even when they are still kids, like these two. Great afternoon light and you hardly notice that his face is covered with flies. For contrast, here’s a zoo lion. He’s gorgeous, with a huge mane and perfect whiskers. Dead giveaway, along with the flat light and lack of body condition. This lion don’t hunt. Which would you rather paint?
We went out on an evening game drive in the Samburu and as the sun was going down, it seemed to be really important to Simon to get to a particular place. We were literally along for the ride, so just waited to see what was up. Oh, yeah, this is very, very nice. It’ll do. Thank you, Simon.
Here’s a selection of the paintings that have come out of the safari so far.
Reference shot in the Mara. Simon did some interesting jogs with the vehicle to get alongside this big bird, who just wanted to walk away .
I loved the northern Kenya landscape with the huge, storybook doum palms.
Reference shot in the Mara. There was a cub, too, but that’s a painting for another day.This one was snapped up by a collector who also loves vultures and gets first crack at any I do.
John Seerey-Lester was kind enough to choose this painting for inclusion in the 2008 Art and the Animal Kingdom show at the Bennington Center for the Arts.
Cropped in from a large herd of buffalo at Lake Nakuru. Nobody was getting anywhere near that calf. No way, no how.
Reference photographed in the Mara, where we got an eyeful of cheetah every day we were there. This painting was juried into the 2008 Animal Art show at the Mendocino Art Center here in California. I’ve got to be in the right mood to paint all those spots, but I do love cheetahs!
ART THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A few days later I looked up from my work to see a new elephant, one that I had not seen before, standing quietly only yards from my easel. He had crossed the river to my side on the outer curve of the ox bow and wanted to pass through the narrow neck where I was working. To do so he would have to pass within five yards of me or go back the long way around. I held my breath as he shifted silently from foot to foot, carefully weighing the situation. Finally, he moved forward and past me, watching intently as I stood motionless. Such rare incidents of trust between man and wild animals give me a great thrill.”
I’m just finishing a second productive week in the studio after my return and, boy, does it feel good. As did getting out yesterday afternoon and planting some new roses and spring bulbs.
HEAVY LIES THE HEAD
I’ve got a number of pieces in progress, but wanted to share this one that was completed before I left. It was in the Wild Visions 2 show and I hadn’t had a chance to photograph it until a couple of days ago. I’ve never done a three-panel piece and I’m thrilled with the framing. Unfortunately, the framer has gone out of business and there isn’t anyone else around here who can do this kind of custom work. Drat.
The animals, bighorn sheep, were photographed at the Denver Zoo. It was a warm morning and the ram couldn’t keep his eyes open. His head kept, drooping, drooping, until it sank onto the back of the ewe, who never even blinked. The pose was irresistible, but I did check with Laney, a nationally known artist who specializes in bighorns, to ensure that this behavior could have happened in the wild.
Of course they needed a more interesting setting, so I found some nice rock formations that I had shot up on Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, where bighorn sheep are often seen. Laney suggested adding the bits of snow so that the presence of the ram and ewe together would be consistent with the season.
Besides the great pose, I wanted to try to capture the feeling of the environment bighorns live in and how casual they are about heights that would make a lot of people faint with vertigo.
CHEETAH HEAD STUDY
Some animal’s heads are more challenging than others. There are subtleties to the forms that, if they are missed, leave the viewer who knows better feeling that the painting was “close, but no banana”. Cheetahs seem to be one of the difficult ones. I think I’ve seen more badly drawn and painted heads of cheetahs than maybe any other animal, so I’ll hang it out there and offer for your perusal this new head study.
All in all, everything worked as it was supposed to.
My husband was very happy with his LL Bean Katahdin 20F sleeping bag. He liked the larger size and the fact that it was rectangular. The Climashield fill kept him comfortable. The only down side was that it didn’t pack down as small as my down bag.
My Katahdin 20F down bag was great, as usual. One of the nice things about the rectangle is that it can double as a comforter. This is handy in a ger, which has regular beds with sheets and blankets. It can get cold at night though, but unzipping the bag and throwing it over the bed worked well. And if the mattress was too hard, as is sometimes the case, I used the bedding as a “pad” and just slept on top of it in the bag.
The LL Bean ripstop cotton pants were absolute winners. We wore ours day after day and they seemed to shed dirt and never felt icky. My husband likes them so much, he now wears them for his everyday pants.
Loved having the New Balance walking shoes for around town and camp as a change from the hiking boots. Hadn’t made space for that before. The LL Bean Cresta Hikers were, once again, comfortable and functional. David bought a pair of Keen hiking boots, which he really likes for their comfort and breathability. What we found, however, during the deluge at Ikh Nart, when we had to walk around 40 yards to the toilet, was that his boots wetted through pretty quickly. Now, he hadn’t waterproofed them, because we hadn’t anticipated such hard, out-of-season rain, but my boots kept my feet dry throughout. They are leather, which I probably wouldn’t buy now unless I could source them to humanely raised cattle, but they really performed.
The Smartwool socks rocked! The Thorlos tended to get sweaty. Next trip I’ll take more Smartwool for the field and a few Thorlo light hikers for around town.
Loved the Patagonia fleece for comfort, but will probably replace it to reduce bulk. It took up a lot of space in my duffle. The Travelsmith jacket was great. Too bad they don’t make it anymore. The only problem was that the patch pocket got caught on something and ripped loose.
I love, love, love my Icebreaker 100% merino wool thermals! The top and bottom together take up less space than one piece of the other brand. I didn’t need them very much, but found them very comfortable when I did wear them.
It’s interesting how things are going full-circle for some outdoor gear. All there used to be was cotton and wool. Then the new, improved synthetics came along and, overall, they were an improvement in weight, performance, etc. But I’m finding that the new cotton and wool products work as well, if not better, and are not made with petroleum by-products.
The MetroSafe 2000 purse was good, as usual. Very functional, practical and unobtrusive.
My old standby neck scarf and hat did the job, also as usual.
The luggage came through fine. It was nice to have the lower rigid-side compartment on the bottom of the big one for odd, ends, extras and art purchases. It’s a rolling Sportsman’s gear bag from LL Bean. The small one, which Bean doesn’t make anymore, holds the camera equipment, toiletries bag and the minimum needed to survive a day or two without the big bag.
ART THOUGHT FOR THE DAY
“There is a common foundation from which all the arts rise, and that is the need for self-expression on the part of the artist,-expression of his own personal experience, whether it be by words, as with literature; by sound, as with music; by pigment or with plastic shape, as with the graphic arts. But there is a further condition attendant upon this expression of which we do not always take account, namely, that the artist’s personal experience must be emphasized by strong feelings, by enthusiasm, by emotion, or the result is not art.”
Notes on the Art of Picture-Making by C.J. Holmes, Slade Professor of Fine Art, Oxford University, 1909