New Painting Debut! “Want To Play?” (Siberian Ibex)

"Want to Play? oil 16x24"
“Want to Play?” oil 16×24″

This is one of thirteen paintings (and just completed), which will be in “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” a group exhibition at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut from March 24 to May 4.
You can see the rest of the paintings I will have in the exhibition here. All are available for purchase. A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to support individual researchers in Mongolia.

This is from the press release that was sent out to national art publications:

“Seven Signature Members of the Society of Animal Artists will have a groundbreaking group exhibition at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, from March 24 through May 4, 2016. The Flinn is located at 101 West Putnam Avenue on the second floor of the Greenwich Library; regular gallery hours are Monday through Wednesday, Friday & Saturday from 10Am -5PM, Thursday from 10AM-8PM, and Sunday from 1PM-5PM. All are welcome to attend a free reception to meet the artists on Thursday, March 31st, from 6-8 pm, and an informative lecture and demo series will follow April 2nd through the 4th (See Schedule Below).

Despite varied backgrounds, the participating artists are united by the unique theme of the show- their reliance on direct observation of animal subjects in the field. Wildlife Art: Field to Studio acknowledges the overarching importance of field work and how it directly influences studio work by exhibiting examples of both disciplines together. Along with the finished originals, a selection of fieldwork, original drawings, and print reproductions will be available for sale. The Flinn Gallery is sponsored by the Friends of Greenwich Library, and a portion of proceeds from every sale will support their valuable community programming.

The artists, Susan Fox, Sean Murtha, Alison Nicholls, David Rankin, Karryl Salit, Kelly Singleton and Carel Brest van Kempen, find inspiration in the natural world and have honed their skills in the field, sketching and even sculpting, using both traditional plein-air techniques and new digital media. Their work features the wildlife of Mongolia, Africa, the Rocky Mountains, the Himalayas and their own backyards. They paint in oil, acrylic and watercolor, sculpt in bronze and draw in a variety of media, both traditional and digital. Styles range from loose and painterly to highly detailed and from an emphasis on the animals themselves to depictions which include their native habitats. What all the work has in common, whether painting or sculpture, is an accuracy of appearance, behavior, and setting that can only be gained by spending time in the places where their subjects live. The participants in the exhibition are the latest practitioners in a specialized area of animal art that goes back to the 18th century and which includes such familiar artist-explorer-naturalists as John James Audubon, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Carl Rungius, and Charles Tunnicliffe to name a few.

Lectures and Artists Demonstration Series at The Flinn
Saturday, April 2- 11am-12pm- Sketching session with the artists for children ages 9 and up, Flinn Gallery;
2-3 pm- Artist Talk, Flinn Gallery
Monday, April 4- Susan Fox, Sean Murtha, Alison Nicholls, David Rankin, and Karryl Salit will speak about the exhibition at The Explorer’s Club, New York.

Susan Fox-; Sean Murtha- Alison Nicholls-;
David Rankin-; Karryl Salit-; Kelly Singleton-;
Carel Brest van Kempen-”


New Painting Debut! “Rock Hoppin’ ” -Siberian Ibex

Rock Hoppin'  20x36"  oil
Rock Hoppin’ 20×36″ oil

I went to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve last year with a plan to focus on getting good, paintable Siberian ibex reference. Boy, did that ever work out. On three out of four mornings, I shot over 1000 photos and watched ibex for at least five hours. They were a couple of groups of nannies, kids and juvenile billies who were hanging around some of the rock formations at the west end of the valley where the research camp is located, only a 30 minute walk.

I’ve got a lot to chose from, but loved the “rock hopping” that occurred when this group, who I had already been watching for over an hour as they rested, grazed and interacted, got up and started to move off when the big nanny did. So here she is, cautiously and seriously leading her group to wherever she’s decided they will go, while the youngsters goof off and play follow the leader up and down and on and off the rocks.

Here’s a step by step of “Rock Hoppin’ “:

Ibex group at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
Ibex group at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu; one of the dozens of photos I shot of this group as they moved off from left to right, the nanny leading the way and stopping at times to evaluate what’s ahead. Most of my reference showed only the rocks, but I wanted some sky also, so chose this photo for the upper left hand part of the painting, particularly that unstable formation at the top, which gives a feeling for the habitat the ibex like best.  There had been a lot of rain and the reserve was as green as anyone could remember. Wildflowers were everywhere. The photos one usually sees of this species are from way up above the tree line in mountains where there is very little vegetation. I liked showing them in a different and more colorful habitat.
Preliminary graphite study
Preliminary graphite study
After doing a compositional drawing, I did a graphite transfer to the canvas and then re-stated the drawing with a brush
After doing a compositional drawing at the final size, I did a graphite transfer to the canvas and then re-stated the drawing with a brush. There had been a fifth ibex in the lower right, but something didn’t seem right design-wise and the solution seemed to be to remove that one, which I did. Then there was still something not right. I realized that I needed an adult ibex, the nanny who was leading the group, not a juvenal billy. This not only let me use a larger animal, which was visually more interesting, but made the painting behaviorally accurate, which is very important to me. I’ve developed a painting procedure that lets me make minor to major changes at any time in the process. I never have to put pressure on myself by “guessing right” at the beginning and then finding myself stuck when something isn’t working.
First color pass
First color pass, just laying in major shapes to make sure it all works. I used three pieces of reference for the ibex and at least three for the rocks. I planned the placement of the smallest ibex so that his/her head would be against the sky, which was not the case with the reference photo.
Modeling the ibex and the rocks
Modeling the ibex and the rocks. I’ve defined the shapes of the shadows on the rocks and can now see the pattern those create. I made sure there were large rocks pointing in from the right so that everything wasn’t moving off the canvas.
Detail of head in progress
Detail of a head in progress. From the base of the horns to the tip of the nose is 1 3/4″. I kept the shapes simple, but accurate. Detail per se is of no importance to me.
Detail of kid in progress
Detail of kid in progress. It was important to get the great gesture correct and show the muscles working.
Almost done.
Almost done. After this photo was taken, I punched up everything as needed, both ibex and the rocks and finished the grass, which has about six layers of warm/cool, light/dark colors, plus the summer flowers. I also refined the branches of the wild apricot shrubs. I basically did a repaint over the whole thing pulling up the light areas and adding color variations to the rocks, including the lichens, which give a warm touch that picks up the colors of the ibex and ties them to the landscape.
Detail; finished ibex, rocks, grass
Detail; finished ibex, rocks, grass. The grass was an almost acid green since it was so fresh. I knocked it back a little in intensity since it didn’t look quite believable in a painting. I also consciously varied the colors of the ibex and the proportion of light to dark on the bodies.
Rock Hoppin'  20x36"  oil
Rock Hoppin’ 20×36″ oil

New Painting Debut! “Rocky Perch (Siberian Ibex Kid)”

Rocky Perch (Siberian Ibex Kid)  12x9"  oil
Rocky Perch (Siberian Ibex Kid) 12×9″ oil

I got hundreds of great photos of ibex at Ikh Nart last year. I’ve done some drawings to familiarize myself with what they look like and how they are put together. You can see those here. This is the first painting I’ve finished, a 12×9″ of a kid who was part of a small group I watched for over half an hour one morning. They were up in the rocks at the far end of the valley where the research camp is located, so an easy hike with great rewards.

Here’s a photo of the setting, which includes the nanny who, as you can see, is wearing a radio collar. The morning light was really lovely.

Ikh Nart 2012

Learning What Siberian Ibex Look Like

What? You say. She’s seen them and photographed them. Surely she knows what they look like. Well, in a manner of speaking, I do, of course. I’ve got quite of bit of reference of them from previous sightings and have done a couple of small paintngs. But until this past trip I didn’t really have sharp, close-up reference of ibex in good light and also doing interesting things. Now I do.

I spent three out of my first four mornings at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in August taking around 1000 photos of 2-3 groups of nannies, kids and young billies. I’ve done an initial sorting and 5-star rated (in Aperture, my image management software) the ones that caught my eye for possible paintings.

But…I’ve learned when I decide to paint a new species that I’ll be sorry if I just dive in and hit the easel. I first need to “learn what the animal looks like” and to do that I simplify things by doing a number of monochrome sketches and drawings to familiarize myself with their structure, proportions and anatomy, along with looking for interesting behaviors. I pick reference photos that have a strong light and shadow pattern or some kind of interesting, perhaps, challenging, pose. Sometimes I throw in a quick indication of the ground so I can start to think about that, too.

I like doing small, fairly quick pen sketches. For those I use Sakura Micron .01. and .02 pens on whatever sketchbook I have on hand. They give me a basic idea of what I need to know. Then I’ll often do some finished larger graphite drawings on vellum bristol. I also did a couple of iPad drawings using ArtRage, which makes it easy to lay in some color.

Pen and ink sketches- I do these directly with the pen and spend about 10-30 minutes max on them depending on size
Pen and ink sketch
Pen and ink sketch
Pen and ink sketch
Pen and ink sketch
Graphite on vellum bristol
graphite on vellum bristol
graphite on vellum bristol
iPad using ArtRage app
iPad using ArtRage app

Mongolia Monday- Back From Ikh Nartiin Chuluu!

They almost always see you first. That’s a nanny on the left and a three year old billy on the right. You can tell their age from the ridges on the horns.

It was Siberian ibex this time at Ikh Nart. I’d see them on previous trips and always take photos, but my main goal has been seeing as many argali as possible. This year most of those were 20km or so to the northeast, so it was not possible to walk to where they were, at least for me, and I didn’t have a car and driver this time. I’m good for about 8-10km or so a day, especially if it’s hot. And was it hot! Probably close to 100F on a couple of days and not starting to cool off until around 10:30 at night. We also had a couple of rain storms move through during the eleven days that I was there, one with quite a light show.

The valley were the research camp is located. The ibex were up on the rocks down on the far left hand side

I walked down the valley the first day, followed a slope up to the top, sat down to sketch the scene in front of me, looked around and there behind me I saw that I was being watched by an ibex. Forget the sketching, the wildlife fieldwork was on!

Close-up view of the previous photo. That’s a nanny on the left and a young billy on the right.

It turned out there was a group of around a dozen nannies and kids, one of each wearing radio collars, who were hanging around two adjacent rock formations. The first day there were also two young billies, one two and one three years old, judging from the ridges on their horns. I saw and photographed them in that same location three out of the next four days, shooting hundreds of images, around 900 in all. So you know one subject I’ll be painting this winter….

Ibex nanny wearing radio collar

My main reason for going to Ikh Nart, though, was to have my annual visit with the members of Ikh Nart Is Our Future, the women’s felt craft collective that I support. I had a very good meeting with the director, Ouynbolor, during which we spoke (through a translator) about how things had gone since I last saw her and what she needed me to do for this next year. Coming up will be a larger quantity of the full-color brochures I and staff at the Denver Zoo had produced to explain the collective to visitors to the tourist ger camp. They will also now be produced in Mongolian, not just English. There were also matching product tags in three sizes. They worked well, but a much larger quantity of those will also be needed for next year.

Collective members at work on various tasks

I registered a url for the collective last year, knowing that they wanted to have a website. At the meeting we were able to work out the content and a way to communicate while it’s being put together.

Making felt; the wool is laid out in cross-wise layers, wrapped in a piece of tablecloth, thoroughly soaked with hot water and then saturated with soap, which is the ingredient that melds the fibers together
They got me into the act too, helping to work the soap into the wool

The really special part is that I was able to arrange to go to the soum center (county seat), Dalanjargalan, for a night and a day. I had always met the women at either the research camp or the tourist ger camp and felt that it would be very beneficial to spend at least a little time where they live (when they are not out in the countryside at their gers with their animals) and learn a little about their lives. I got a walking tour that included the local school and shop. I stayed in the home of one of the collective members. Had lunch at the home of another and, in the afternoon, around a dozen members gathered at “the office”, a little building that used to be a gas station, to process their wool, turn it into felt and also work on various items that they will sell. I saw the felt presses that I had helped them acquire in action, along with the good sewing scissors they had requested in 2009. They have quite an operation set up now and work very efficiently and with great care and conscientiousness. I shot both still photos and around an hour of video with my new Panasonic recorder, enough to put together a little YouTube video after I get home.

Collective member with lovely pictorial peice done completely with different colors of felt

My ride back to camp arrived later than expected, around 10:30pm, and the reason was that they had seen and captured two very young long-eared hedgehogs that were crossing the road in front of the car! Hedgehogs are one of the species being studied at Ikh Nart, by a graduate student named Batdorj. Within a kilometer of leaving Dalanjargalan, a third one dashed across the road, this time an adult darian hedgehog, and it was captured too, riding back to camp on the lap of one of the students wrapped in his jacket. I was able to get a lot of photos and also video the next evening before they had radio transmitters glued to their backs and were transported back out to the general area in which they’d been caught. And yes, there will definitely be hedgehog paintings, cards and prints coming up.

Darian hedgehog
Young long-eared hedgehog

I also had time to just wander around the reserve and see what there was to see and it turned out to be….wildflowers! The rains have been very good this year and everything is green, green, green. I’ve been to Ikh Nart in August before, but have never seen so many different flowers and so many that I had never seen there before. It was like walking through a huge flower garden.


Finally it was time to depart. We were taking the train overnight to Ulaanbaatar. Most of our luggage, except for what we needed for the night, was taken back to UB by car in the afternoon. The rest of us caught the 1:14 am train and arrived about 8:30 am. I had never done this before, but managed to get around five hours of decent sleep. We were taken back to Zaya’s Guesthouse, where we got showers and sorted our dirty clothes for laundering. The rest of the day was spent getting lunch and puttering around, catching up on emails. The next day I spent most of the afternoon doing a massive download and back up of all the photos and videos I’d shot.

Late afternoon on the north side of the valley

So now I’m at Zaya’s, which I highly recommend to anyone coming to Ulaanbaatar. The rooms are sparkling clean, there is free wifi and the location is very convenient, right off Peace Ave. not far from the State Department Store. There is a common living room with a very comfortable sectional sofa and a full kitchen for the use of guests.

I did see argali a couple of times

As for the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, I’m now working on the last bits of planning and arranging, some things having changed since I left the US. Flexibility is important when doing things in Mongolia. It makes some people really angry when something doesn’t go right or on schedule (so this is not a country they should visit), but I’ve found that it creates possibilities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

I’ll be in UB for the next 2-3 days, then I’m hoping for a long weekend at a ger camp I’ve stayed at before. Stay tuned!

Mongolia Monday- 6 Great Places To See Wildlife

The travel season is almost upon us. I’ve got my plane tickets for my July departure to Mongolia. For anyone else thinking about or planning to go there, I thought I’d offer one list a week for six weeks, of six “themes” for things to see, with six suggestions.  I’ll start with the one that’s probably nearest and dearest to my heart – wildlife viewing destinations. I’ve been to all of them at least once.

Takhi grazing, Hustai National Park

1. For horse-lovers, Hustai National Park is a must if you are going to Mongolia. It is one of three places where tahki (Przewalski’s horse) have been reintroduced and is only about two hours west of Ulaanbaatar, mostly on tarmac road. You may also see marel (a species of elk), Mongolian gazelle, marmots and a variety of birds, such as demoiselle cranes, golden eagles, saker falcon, and black storks. There is a permanent ger camp that is open year around. The main building has a pleasant dining hall. There are three large concrete “gers”. One houses a gift shop, one has displays about the park and another is where presentations about the park are given by staff scientists. You can explore the park by vehicle, on foot or horseback. When I was last there in the fall of 2008, there were 15 harems of over 200 horses.

Reedbeds, Khar Us Nuur National Park

2. Bird-watchers should consider traveling out to western Mongolia to go to Khar Us Nuur (Black Water Lake) National Park. Khar Us Nuur is the second largest freshwater lake (15,800 sq km) in Mongolia . The Khovd river flows into it, creating a large marsh/wetland that is home to the largest remaining reed beds in Central Asia. The lake provides habitat for wild ducks, cormorants, egrets, geese, wood grouse, partridges, the rare relict gull and also the herring gull.  May and late August are the best birding times.  Another freshwater lake, Khar Nuur (Black Lake), which is connected to Khar Us Nuur via a short river called Chono Kharaikh, hosts the migratory and globally threatened dalamatian pelican. Direct access to the lakeshore is limited due to the reedbeds, but there is open shoreline near the soum center (county seat) on the north shore and an observation tower on the east side. As far as lodging, I can’t make any recommendations since I was rough camping when I was there, but I’m sure there’s something in or near Hovd, the main town. From Ulaanbaatar, flying to Hovd is the only practical way to get there since it’s about a thousand miles west of the capital.

Siberian ibex, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park

3. The legendary Gobi is home to Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, created partly as a refuge for an endangered population of wild bactrian camels. They are in a remote and inaccessible (except for researchers) part of the park, however. There are also snow leopards and argali, which visitors should not expect to spot. What there is a good chance of seeing are Siberian ibex, pika, two species of gazelle, steppe eagles, golden eagles, lammergier or bearded vultures, black vultures and a variety of smaller birds. I stayed at Nomadic Journeys’ Dungenee eco-ger camp, which is taken down at the end of each season, leaving almost no trace. The kitchen and dining “room” are in connected gers. The setting is terrific, on an upland that has the park’s mountains in one direction and the Gobi stretching out in the other. To get there from Ulaanbaatar one either drives south on the main road, which is an earth road and takes, I think, two days, or flies into Dalanzadgad, which takes about two hours.

View of Steppe Nomads Ger Camp overlooking Kherlen River; the wetland is off to the right with the base of Mt. Baits behind it, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

4. A relatively new park, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve is only a couple of hours east of Ulaanbaatar, mostly on tarmac road. There are two main wildlife attractions here: around 100 argali mountain sheep, which live on Mt. Baits and a wetland area with endangered white-napped cranes, along with a variety of other birds like cinereous vultures, demoiselle cranes, black storks, whooper swans, ducks and terns. The permanent ger camp has a lodge which houses a dining hall and bathroom facilities. There are many activities to choose from besides wildlife watching, including boating, archery, yak cart and horse riding, hiking and homestays with herder families, all of which provide employment for local people. This was the first stop on my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition in July of 2009.

View from my ger, with passing summer rain storm, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve

5. I knew nothing about Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve when I arranged to go there as part of my July 2009 Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition other than it had argali. I was only there for two days, but they were two of the most memorable days I’ve had in four trips to Mongolia. The reserve is home to about 60 argali, which are more tolerant of people and vehicles than the ones I’ve seen elsewhere, along with Siberian ibex, cinereous vultures, columbia rock doves and other birds.  The rocky uplands cover a smaller area than Ikh Nart (no.6 below), and are easy to get around in on foot or by vehicle. There is a ger camp tucked up against one of the rock formations with an amazing view down the valley. A concrete “ger” serves as the dining hall and has a covered patio area. There is a toilet/shower block, for which the water is heated by solar power. Baga Gazriin Chuluu is about a six hour drive on an earth road southwest of Ulaanbaatar.

Argali ewe with two lambs; one with radio collar, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve

6. And last, but certainly not least, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, my destination when I first went to Mongolia on an Earthwatch project in spring of 2005. Ikh Nart may be the best all-around place to see wildlife in the country. There are argali mountain sheep, Siberian ibex, corsac fox, red fox, tolai hare, cinereous vultures, golden eagles, black kites, kestrels and many other birds. Nomadic Journeys also has an eco-ger camp here, Red Rocks, and offers guided and unguided trips. It is a great place to hike. There are fabulous rock formations, some of which have Tibetan inscriptions carved on them. You will need a GPS since, while there are some dirt tracks, there are no marked trails. This was the third stop on my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition in July of 2009. Ikh Nart is a seven hour train ride or a five to six hour drive south and slightly east, mostly on tarmac, from Ulaanbaatar.

There are more photos in other posts on this blog. Look under “Mongolia” on the blog roll at the right or do a name search.