You’re Invited To Visit My Nature Sketching Site SketchWild!

Header image for SketchWild. All images and the logotype by Susan Fox

Here at Fox Studio I share mostly my studio fine art, stories of my travels and interesting things going on on our rural acre’s garden, pond, etc. A few years ago I decided to set up a new site devoted to nature sketching in general and pen and ink drawing in particular, including tutorial posts on that media and what I’ve learned about various nibs, ink, etc.

Camels I sketched at a tourist ger camp in 2012.
Sketch books

I’ve carried a sketchbook with me on my travels since 1989. I’ve scanned over half of them now and use examples from them to demonstrate points I’m making about nature sketching.

Ink test

I also report on the results of my various tests of nibs, inks and more. In the example above I was testing for water resistence/waterproofness. As you can see there’s great variation.

Location pen and ink drawing by J. Geoffrey Garrett

One of my goals is to share the art and stories of pen and ink artists of the past through my “Great Pen and Ink Artists” series, which started with Charles Dana Gibson of Gibson Girl fame. I’ve also unearthed quite a few pen and ink artists of the past who are pretty much forgotten now but who wrote excellent books on how to use this classic art media and I’ll be doing posts in the future on them. J. Geoffrey Garrett is one of them. There’s next to no information about him, not even a Wikipedia entry. He seems to have worked entirely or mostly on location in his home country of England.
So that’s an overview of what’s on tap at SketchWild, which you can find here. I’m also selling sets of pen nibs selected specifically for artists at my Fox Studio Etsy shop, which is here. I’m also offering original art in pen and ink, oil and pen and ink/colored pencil, a downloadable tutorial “A Beginner’s Guide to Sketching” and downloadable coloring pages.

From My Illustration Days…

“The River Test at Stockbridge” gouache on illustration board-
from a photo I took on one of our trips to England in the 1990s

Back in another professional life before I became a painter in oil I worked in gouache and also a mixed media technique I learned at Mark English’s Illustration Academy. I also used watercolor and pen and ink for some illustration class assignments when I was getting my BFA Illustration at the Academy of Art (then College) from 1987-1989. Since spring is on the way I thought I’d share four that have a landscape or plant subject…two that play it straight and a two where I, well, didn’t and went for a humorous touch.

“Pond and Foxgloves” gouache on illustration board-
from a photo I most likely took in England
“Scarecrow and Friend” Watercolor, pen and ink on paper; this was for a class assignment which I think was to do a robot being used in food production. I always loved doing the research part and this was no exception
“Another Vacation Spoiled by Mischievous Fairies” Mixed media (acrylic and colored pencil) on illustration board; Don’t ask. I have no idea what corner of my mind this idea came from but once having thought of it I had to do it. I must say, it was a lot of fun and is unlike anything I’d done before or since

Show News!

On “location’ at home the first day of the Humboldt Paintout with Peregrin

Most art shows have gone virtual due to Covid-19 but they’re still happening! I recently rejoined our local Redwood Art Association in time to enter the 2nd annual Humboldt Paint Out with was held from September 29- October 3, Monday through Saturday. The sticky part was that, due to a wildfire to the east of us it was smoky for the entire time (three out of four weeks total). Time to “make lemonade”. I was intending to head out and see what, if anything, I could find as a subject but saw the sun rising above the evergreens to the east of us and decided I’d try to capture that. Grabbed my painting gear walked three feet from my studio, set up and got to it. I had already decided to paint in gouache (opaque watercolor) which I’ve used on and off for decades. Here’s the result:

“Smoke Light”

That same day I painted “Smoke” from the same spot trying to capture the visual texture and color of it. So instead of just photos I have some of it recorded in paint.


The next few days were really bad and we didn’t want to be outside at all unless absolutely necessary. But Friday, Oct. 2, rolled around and I decided to hit the road and head north. My original idea had been to do one painting at each of the lagoons- Dry Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon and I hoped that maybe some or all of them, being right by the ocean, might be clear enough to be ok. Alas, it wasn’t smoke but heavy fog that put paid to that idea. I’d also wanted to paint at Prairie Creek State Park, which is also part of Redwood National Park, so I went on north with fingers crossed. And when I got to Orick, not far to the south, SUNSHINE! And, although it was hazy, it the air was ok enough to set up and paint a scene of the namesake prairie. I’d taken one of our collies, Hailey, with me and she happily settled down at the base of my easel for the duration. In fact, she got a little stubborn when it was time to leave.

“Hazy Morning, Prairie Creek”

By the time I was done the smoke was starting to thicken so home I went back into fog and smoke.
At this point I decided to stay home and finish up the event at our house and in our own neighborhood. When we bought the acre we built our house on there were almost no trees left from when the previous owner had it logged. But there was one special tree, a very old alder. I created the basic floor plan for our house and put the window over the sink such that it framed it. It was challenging to paint in the shifting smoke light but I finally felt I’d captured it. I’d been wanting to do this big old bole for years and had only managed a couple of sketches. I did it in the afternoon after I got returned.

“Our Old Alder, Smoke Light”

One more day to go and, of course, it was smoky at first. On the road one takes before turning onto our street one of the properties to the north has a few very tall old pine trees, probably what’s left from a windbreak. After lunch the wind must have changed because suddenly we had clear blue skies! So I loaded up my painting gear and drove the whole couple of minutes or so to the corner where I could set up under some very old cypress trees. I work pretty fast. One of the things I like about gouache is that it dries fast so one layer colors quickly. Which was good because I had about ten minutes to go and back came the smoke. I’d taken photos when I gotten there so was able to get the last bits done in the studio (which is NOT cheating). I did have fun playing with color temperature.

“Neighborhood Pines”

On deadline day, Saturday the third, I scanned all of them, made necessary adjustments so they would be as accurate as possible and submitted them. And then waited, as we do when entering shows. The juror was Randall Sexton, a very accomplished artist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I’m not really a plein painter like those who do it as their main art activity I didn’t think much about getting an award. For me it was more about getting involved again in the local art scene and getting started doing location work in gouache. But…to my surprise and pleasure “Our Old Alder, Smoke Light” took 5th place! The reward was a check for $200, a $100 gift certificate from our local frame shop and another gift certificate from a local spa for a massage! I loved that the judge liked the one that is the most special to me.

And wait, there’s more! I also enter the RAA’s “Halloween” show. Once again I used it as a springboard to try out something new, a combination of pen and ink and watercolor. Once again my purpose was to have fun participating. Scott W. Prior, nationally known painter, was the juror and he picked “Quoth, The Raven” for an Award of Merit”!

“Quoth, The Raven” pen and ink, watercolor on hot press illustration board

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month or so. I’m currently working on a set of three oil paintings for a Nov. 13 deadline. In my last post I showed the value and color studies for them. I’ll post a full step by step when they’re done.

Inktober52 Art So Far…

“Rooks, Mongolia” – Prompt: Flight
Esterbrook #825EF nib, Noodler’s American Eel ink, Strathmore 300 vellum bristol

I got an email last month from Jake Parker, the founder of Inktober, announcing in new event! During the original Inktober artists do a pen and ink drawing a week for the month of October. Tens of thousands of artists from all over the world partipate, but it’s only for one month. Inktober52 spreads the love out over the entire year…one drawing a week at a time. Jake sends out a “prompt” on Thursday to set the theme for the following week. How could I resist? I couldn’t. Five weeks in and here are my contributions. I’ll post the new ones a month at a time. I usually do my piece on Friday and post it same day on Instagram at #foxartist if you’re already there or here, which will take you to my feed. I’m also posting them in my FoxStudio Facebook group here. You can see what other folks are doing at #inktober52 here.

If you think this would be fun, it’s never too late. Pen, ink and paper, that’s all you need. Any pen, any ink, any paper. Send me a message and I’ll send you Jake’s email address to get on the mailing list. I don’t want to post it publicly.

I posted the first two drawings previously but wanted to show everything so far in one post. From now on it will be the new ones at the end of each month. Follow me so you don’t miss any of them!

“Patio Chair” – Prompt: Shadow
Perry & Co. #120EF nib, Noodler’s American Eel ink, Canson Vidalon Vellum
Brick”– Prompt: Brick
Hinks Wells ‘Rob Roy’ #2687 M nib, Noodler’s American Eel ink, Strathmore 300 vellum bristol
(the back story: we found this brick in a wall when we were renovating a 1901 Victorian back in the 1990s, complete with paw prints. I took it with me when we moved)
“Snake”- Prompt: Snake
Gillott #659 crowquill nib, PopelPen walnut inks from Russia, Stillman & Birn Delta paper
“Balloon Aquarium”- Prompt: Balloon
Esterbrook Art&Drafting 357 nib (very rare), Platinum Carbon ink,
Strathmore 300 vellum bristol

Now on SketchWild…Charles Dana Gibson (First In A Series)

The first post in my new series “Great Pen and Ink Artists”, a look at the work of Charles Dana Gibson in which I comment and analyse a variety of his fabulous pen and ink drawings, is now live at SketchWild, my sketching website. Click on over and read it here. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Announcing A New On-going Series: Great Pen & Ink Artists Of The World

Long before I was an oil painter I worked in pen and ink. I used it in my graphic design and illustration business, for medieval and celtic calligraphy and illumination and for sketching. In the last year I’ve kind of gone full-circle back to my beloved black and white work. I’ll still be painting in oil and watercolor, but I’ve taken up my dip pens again and now, fountain pens also.

I’ve always been inspired by the great pen and ink artists of the past and, over the years, have built up a personal library of books that include their art, both instructional and for illustrated books and magazines. It’s time to share them with all of you.

I’ll particularly be searching out and posting location sketching and drawing, as that is the theme of SketchWild, since many of them considered it a prerequisite for their studio work. Here’s what Frank Brangwyn had to say about that (from my upcoming “A Beginner’s Guide to Sketching” pdf tutorial. “. He mentions a pencil but what he says holds true for pen and ink, too.

“Get some paper and a pencil. Not a beautifully bound sketch book – they’ll be afraid to spoil the paper! I often sketch on the back of an old envelope. Fear is the first thing they must conquer. Go for sketching with courage. Regard it as fun – as a natural thing to do – not as a task. Suppose you do muck up a few bits of paper? Think how cheap the pleasure is compared to other amusements…You’re out on your own, facing nature with a few bits of cheap paper and a pencil.” “From “Come Sketching” by Percy V. Bradshaw: He had asked Brangwyn “How would you advise them to start?” 

This series will cover artists both famous and not so well known, but in either case, superb at what they did. There will be American, British, French, German and Spanish artists, partly thanks to this incredible leatherbound book “Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen” by Joseph Pennell, in his time a famous pen and ink artist (also etcher) in his own right. It’s 11×14″ and weighs 8.8 lbs.

Next week, we’ll begin with a quintessential American artist, Charles Dana Gibson. It will include images from two of his “coffee table” books that I found in an antique shop many years ago. Here’s the cover of one of them, called simply “London”.

There will be short biographies of the artists and, when I’ve been able to find it, information on how they worked, sometimes including the model of pen nib, ink and paper they used. And of course examples of their work.

At the top: An illustration from Gibson’s “London”.

Note: This is cross-posted from my nature sketching site “SketchWild”. The series will only run on that site. I’ll still be posting my fine art news here. You can find SketchWild here.

New Pen and Ink Studies

“Golden Gate Park” Esterbrook #354 nib on 6×4″ Strathmore 300 vellum bristol

I’ll have some paintings to show soon, but lately I’ve been mostly diving into dip pen and ink sketch studies, trying out various nibs I’ve been accumulating for the last year. I used dip pens for calligraphy and drawing back in the 1970s/1980s, but moved away from pen and ink for color illustration and then, for the last 20 years, oil painting.

Life moves on, changes are made and now I’m going to be painting somewhat less, but still entering a selection of good juried shows and doing subjects that I’ve wanted to get to for quite awhile. I’ve also realized that I don’t really enjoy painting on location. It’s always felt like, well, Work. But sketching? Never anything but a joy and a pleasure. So I’ll be doing my oil painting in the studio from now on and working on location in pen and ink, sometimes watercolor and maybe some other dry media like Berol color sticks.

“Masai Mara Acacia” Esterbrook #358 EF on approx. 4×6″ Strathmore 300 vellum bristol

I’ve done these three landscape and tree studies in the last couple of days, trying out what are considered to be some of the finest nibs made specifically for artists.

I’ve also added handlettering back to the mix, something I’ve also did back in the last century. You can learn more about that and see three sketches that also use pen lettering over at my SketchWild site. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments!

“Near Goose Lake” Hunt 100 nib on 4×6″ Strathmore 300 vellum bristol

Recent Pen And Ink Work

“Little Owl, Mongolia” 6×4″ pen and ink on paper

As I did last year, I’ve donated two pen and ink originals for the Explorers Club Annual Dinner auction. This year I decided to do birds that I’ve watched and photographed in Mongolia.
I’ve seen little owls a number of times in a variety of locations…perched on a herder’s storage box near the shore of Orog Nuur, a remote lake in the Gobi, peeking out from behind a rock at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve and a number of them sitting out by their burrows, which they’d dug into the ruined ramparts of an ancient Turkic settlement, Khar Balgas. Unlike the owls most of us are familiar with in every case it was full daylight.

“Hoopoe, Mongolia” 6×4″ pen and ink on paper

Hoopoes have a very large range…from Mongolia to Africa to Europe. I have found them to be one of the most challenging birds to get decent photos of. It’s almost like they tease you, letting you get…almost…there and then flying off to the next tree. But persistence has paid off at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in the valley where the research camp is located. My subject was one of a family group of three I spotted up on the top of the rocks in the late afternoon. I was able to approach just close enough by working my way towards them behind large rocks at the edge of the valley floor to get a number of photos with my 80-400 lens at maximum range.