Life Goes On…Part 12 (new title)

My latest for Inktober52- Prompt: “Robot”

There were four cases yesterday all connected to a single contact. No new cases yesterday. The total is now 98. Sadly, there was a third death, a 97 year old resident of the care home where there’s been a cluster of cases. “Advanced” Stage 2 reopening has started. The really good news is that lots of local business, around 850, have gotten their certifications and have reopened or soon will. Restaurants can now offer dine-in service and churches can reopen with limited capacity. Masks and social distancing still required. We’re doing fine, in our usual routines. We chat with the neighbors who we encounter on walks and they’re ok also.

There’s supposed to be a corker of a storm rolling in tonight, complete with thunderstorms, which is unusual here on the coast. Going to spend most of the day getting the vegetable garden planted and tidied up. From 4-6pm I’ll be sketching from the Draw Breath Facebook group livestream. It’s a public group so anyone can watch or join. Here’s a couple of pages of three minute sketches from the last couple sessions. These were done directly using a fountain pen.

Here’s another of my Inktober52 pieces. The prompt was “Bubbles”:

This was a return, after a very long time, to the whimsical animals I often did as an illustrator

As always, you can follow my current art adventures on Instagram or Pinterest.

And here are a some of the roses currently blooming-

‘Citrus Splash’- Jackson & Perkins
‘Leaping Salmon’- Pierce 1986, purchased from a now defunct rose nursery
‘Crown Princess Margareta’- David Austin, 1999
‘Golden Celebration’- David Austin, 1992

Like so many gardeners we are in a constant struggle with gophers. But not everyone has a collie to help find them. Peregrin can clearly hear them when they’re moving around underground and will immediately start digging. Which provides me with great photo ops like this…

12 Things You Need To Know To Be A Good (Or Better) Artist

On location at Erdenesogt, Mongolia, 2016

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.

I always drew animals, sometimes copying them from Walter T. Foster art instruction books, which I still have. I think I was around ten when I did this lion.

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.

I always seemed to have a knack for whimsical animals. I don’t feel that I was born with any particular artistic gift, just the drive to draw, but somehow animals came easily, including eye expression. It just happens. This is a mixed media piece I did after I went back to art school and got an illustration degree in 1989.

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.

I’ve taken quite a few plein air workshops over the years even though I’m a studio painter. It’s good to get out in the fresh air and paint from life, enjoying the process and not worrying about the result. So it’s a busman’s holiday for me. No pressure.

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.

My process has changed over the years and will continue to in the future. I now almost always do a finished drawing of my subject. I used to wing it on the canvas and that got me into a lot of trouble sometimes, with the work suffering from trying to solve problems as I painted, which kept me from focusing on my brushwork and other aspects of the finish. Much better to have made that correction of the head and neck on the drawing than on the painting. The farther in you are when you see a mistake the harder it is to make yourself wipe it off and fix it. But fix it you must.

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.

And the preliminary drawings pay off in the finished work . This painting “A Good Stretch” was accepted into the 2015 Society of Animal Artists international juried exhibition “Art and the Animal”.

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.

Location sketch done during a trip to England in 2015. It probably took about five minutes.

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.

I mess about with a variety of media just for fun. This frog was done on my iPad.

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

An Interview and Hereford sketches

I recently received an email from an art student in Northern Ireland (wonders of the internet!), who is doing a paper about an artist whose work she likes for her “A Levels”. That artist would appear to be me. I liked her questions since they got me thinking some more about what I do, why and how. So I thought I would share it with you:

1. Why did you choose animal art?
As I think about it, it might be more appropriate to say that it chose me. I drew animals more than anything else as a child by far. When I was back in art school at age 35, I tended to think of using animals for my assignments. When I moved to “easel painting”, I started doing animals early on and when I learned about the field of wildlife art, that pretty much sealed the deal. I do enjoy other subjects, but it has always been my animals that have drawn the strongest response from people.

2. How would you gather information for your topic (ie do you study the body movements of animals, go to the zoo etc)
I do fieldwork trips every year to see animals in their own habitats and also visit zoos whenever possible. I have a large reference library that includes a number of books on animal anatomy. I sketch from live animals when I can and take a lot of photos. My digital image library has over 10,000 animal pictures alone, taken since 2004. Plus hundreds of prints from before I went digital.

3. Have you ever been influenced by a person or place?
Yes, I seem to be the kind of artist who is inspired more by what I see in the natural world, as opposed to a more purely internal vision. Taking a master class from John Seerey-Lester in 1997 was probably the greatest single reason I’ve become an animal artist because of his encouraging words about my paintings, which made me believe that I could succeed  if I  was willing to work hard.

The four places that I find most inspiring are Mongolia, Kenya, the Yellowstone/Wyoming/Montana area and my own home ground of northern California.

4. Is there a particular artist whose work has inspired you?
If I had to name one, it would be Bob Kuhn, a legendary illustrator who became one of the two or three top wildlife artists of the 20th century. I’m inspired by the quality of his draftsmanship, design/composition, his painterly technique, his knowledge of his subjects and his uncompromising willingness to do what it took to get reference he needed. He’s my role model for everything a wildlife/nature artist should be. He passed away last year.

5. What media do you prefer working in and why? Is there a medium you are not comfortable with?
I work in oil. The original impetus was having wanted to paint in oil since I was a child, but now it’s because it’s the medium that most lets me express my vision of a subject. I love everything about it except the fumes, so I pay attention to proper ventilation.

I’m probably least comfortable with something like pastels, for the very pedestrian reason that I don’t like having my hands messy while I work and I don’t want to wear gloves.

6. My favourite piece of your work is ‘Double check’, how did you come up with the idea and how did you gather photographs etc to help you?
Ah, I just delivered that painting to the buyer. It’s one of my favorites ,too. I hadn’t done a coyote for a long time and I have some great reference of them that I shot over a couple of trips to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I was looking for an image that would work at a small size and had interesting light. I also look for an aspect that represents something authentic about the animal and what they are like, both as a species and as an individual. The painting used two pieces of reference, one of the coyote and one for the background. So I already had the reference for that one.

Double CheckDouble Check    oil       10″x8″

7. When did you realise your talent for art and why in your opinion is animal art so effective?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw.  I don’t know how much talent I have, but I’ve been willing to work hard for a long time. I’ve been told that my animals have “life” in their eyes and I agree, but that seems to happen without conscious volition on my part, so maybe that’s my “talent”.

Human affinity for animal images goes back to the Stone Age, as can be seen by cave paintings and pictographs. We have literally shared our lives with them for over 10,000 years (in the case of dogs). We share our world with them. Every culture has some relationship to animals, mostly positive, sometimes negative, but a connection nonetheless. We see ourselves reflected in them. We project ourselves and our emotions, ideas about good and bad, and our needs onto them. Images of animals and our liking of them are one facet of that long history.

8. Do you have any future plans for your art?
To continue to grow as an artist and get better. To always look for new ways to more accurately express my vision. To use my art to promote conservation and environmental issues, while making a decent living.

9. What do you think is unique about your art?
My vision and point of view and how I express that stylistically. Which really is, or should be, true for any other artist, no matter what their subject matter or medium.

10. Where do you paint and do you find the environment you work in important?
I have a 450 sq. ft. studio at my home. I have worked in a variety of environments, including a garage, and would have to say, that, yes, it’s important. I need an organized, properly lit space. I need the work space to not get in the way of doing the work.

11. When it comes to doing the fur on the animals, what do you find to be the fastest but most effective way for this?
I don’t personally think that speed, per se, is the goal. First comes the decision about what your vision is and then, what is the most technically appropriate way to accomplish that? Having said that, however, I have no interest in detail for it’s own sake. I would find painting every hair boring to do and usually find it boring to look at. What challenges me is seeing how much I can simplify and leave out and still communicate something like “fur”. So, I don’t literally think “fur” when I’m painting. I’m thinking shape, value, color, color temperature, visual texture, etc., which is a more abstract level. If all those come together then that area will say “fur” even though it’s really just blobs or spots or strokes of paint.

12. Is the background as important as the animal itself?
I would answer that somewhat indirectly by saying that the idea of the painting is the most important and every element present must support that idea, whether it’s the animal or the background. It all has to come together as a coherent whole.

13. What scale would your art normally be and how long would it take you to complete?
The smallest paintings I do are 6″x8″ and, so far, the largest is around 36″x48″, plus a variety of sizes in between. I decide on the subject first and then choose the size and proportion that will best suit the idea I have.

I can finish a small painting to be used as a study in a couple of hours. “How long does it take?” is a question artists get all the time and the answer is usually some variation on “It depends.” It depends on how complex the composition is, how much preliminary work was necessary, how many changes were required along the way, whether one got stuck and had to let the thing sit for a week, a month, a year.

14. Were you hoping to strike any emotions from your audience? if so what?
I think that part of what defines something as “art” is whether or not it elicits an emotional response in the viewer. So, yes, I guess I always hope for that. But I’m really more concerned with recording my emotional response to my subject than trying to project or control that of the viewer.

15. Which is you favourite piece of your own work and why?
Whatever the latest one is that came out the way I’d envisioned it. Currently it’s the Cape Buffalo Head Study. It may be the best painting I’ve done so far and I did it as demo over the course of about six hours at an art festival with constant interruptions. Interesting, in view of my earlier comment about my preferred working environment and that I hadn’t envisioned anything in particular about it except to have something going to draw people into my booth.

16. Is there anything that motivates you whilst painting?
The thought that somewhere, sometime, someone viewing my work might be inspired to become actively involved in working to save our planet. It needs all the help it can get.

May all our interviews be so merry and bright.


My most faithful collector and I have had a list of paintings that she would like me to do. Since she grew up on a cattle ranch in Southern California, she wants a painting of an oak tree with polled Hereford cattle, plus a few other elements. So this is where my illustration training kicks in. I find this kind of thing fun if, once the content is decided on, I am left to solve the problem and paint it as I see fit. I have now started the sketches. I haven’t drawn cattle much, so that was the first step. Here’s a few that are promising-

Hereford cow and calf
Hereford cow and calf

Young Herefords
Young Herefords


“You do not have to go very far to find suitable subjects. The cat lounging on your sofa, the horse down the road, yours or your neighbor’s dog; all are proper subjects and all will give knowledge which can later be broadened by trips to the nearest zoo or museum. My old friend and counselor, Paul Bransom, was the man who first urged me to go to the zoo, and to draw, draw, draw, Even the best reference sources don not take the place of real knowledge of animal structure. That can only be gained by putting your time in with the animals.”

Bob Kuhn

Drawings from live animals and new painting

From the stats it looks like the post of my pet sketches was one of my most popular so far, so here’s more. These are done the way I usually work, with a fine tip gel pen. They’re done fast. Under five minutes, sometimes under two.

Niki, our tri-color rough collie

From the San Francisco Zoo. He really did hold still long enough for this head study.

These were ultra-quick, a minute or less, but I caught the gesture. Also San Francisco Zoo.

And, looking through my old sketchbooks, I came across the studies I did at Julie Chapman’s workshop in 2005. These are of Daisy, the badger, who alas, is no longer with us. Notice that I didn’t worry about eyes. I was trying to capture “badgerness”.

If you decide to try this, and I hope you do, keep in mind that every animal is an individual and look for what makes them them. If you like what I do, I think that’s a big part of it.

I’ll end with the bobcat painting, now called “Stepping Lightly”. I’m thinking of punching up the highlights on grass and maybe futzing (that’s the technical term, of course) with the logs some more, but that’s about it.


This one’s easy. Start to become aware of how you use energy. You can save money and help slow down climate change by using less and using it more wisely. Just little stuff to start- turn lights off when you leave a room, don’t leave the tv on if no one is watching, turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees or up, depending on the temperature where you are.

Now, you must know that this kind of thing, while necessary and desirable, is the “low hanging fruit”. It requires simple changes of habit, not real sacrifice. If you’re already doing the above and are ready and able to take the next steps, consider updating your older appliances to new, energy-efficient models. Change your incandescent light bulbs to compact flourescents or LEDs.

For more information and actions you can take, check out and

What ideas would you like to pass on to me and my readers? We’re all in this together, after all.

Sketches from Live Pets! :-)

Julie Chapman recently posted a couple of sketches of her dog on her blog (no, we won’t go there). A series of comments followed about the value of drawing.

You can read my comments here: . They’re #5 of 6. She just finished doing her summer animal drawing workshop outside of Kalispell, Montana at the Triple D Game Ranch. I attended a few years ago and found it very worthwhile.

So, she challenged the readers of her blog to get out the charcoal and draw along. I accepted.  It took a few more days than I’d hoped, but here’s the best of what I came up with over about an hour this morning. One challenge was drawing kittens that are black and fluffy. A little hard to see the structure. I also found that they would get up and come running to the front of the crate every time they saw me watching them. The trick is to ignore all that and go for the gesture. These took maybe 15 seconds.

Then I went into the house and there was Persephone, aka The Princess, taking her morning princess nap on the bed. She then sat up and I got a quick start on a head study. Didn’t get all the stripes in, though.

Finally, next to the window on the floor, Niki the collie was zonked out. This one is mostly coat (he’s got a big one!), but the curves were nice.

I used a 4B Wolff’s Carbon pencil for all the sketches and a Canson Universal Recycled Sketchbook. The paper has a good amount of tooth for the pencil.


Today’s thought is from Edgar Payne’s seminal book, Composition of Outdoor Painting, which every artist who paints outdoors or anywhere else, for that matter, should have. It’s expensive and might be hard to find, but it is as good a presentation of the traditional craft of oil painting as you will find.

“While talent or genius must exist, at best they are merely embryonic factors and no one can guide these into productive artistry without the initiative, perseverance and determination of the student. To say that the artist is born and not made, is only partly true. Actually, while it is an important qualification, there is no proof of real worth in talent until it has been developed and expanded by a tremendous amount of serious study and hard work.” (Bold added by me)

Here and then gone again

Back for two days and leaving for Montana tomorrow for the OPA national show opening weekend. I’ll try to blog while I’m there since there are a variety of interesting sessions planned.

I really enjoyed the show in Walnut Creek overall. Sales weren’t good, though. Wallets are locked down. I watched people pick out a $3 card and then put it back. This in a town where it seemed like every other car on the street was a Porsche or a Lexus. And it was hot. Even the locals were whining a little. The temperatures hit 80F+ on Saturday and Sunday. I did have some potential buyers come by, so I think that the show will be well worth doing for the next couple of years, at least. I saved money by staying at the Residence Inn in Pleasant Hill and buying my food at the local Whole Foods store. It was nice to go back to the room and kick back without having to figure out where to go for dinner on a weekend night.

My neighbor artists were great. Both use glass as their media of choice. Kevin ( makes fabulous one-off pieces of jewelry and Chris ( makes vases, cups and cool glass pumpkins in a variety of colors. Never seen a cobalt blue pumpkin before, but I liked it.

The main action was on Main Street. I was one street over on Locust on a corner space with a nice shade tree. As is usually the case, there was an ebb and flow of people, so I did some sketching. Haven’t done this kind of thing in a long time, so it was good practice. Here are the four unedited pages that I did. Maybe it will encourage you to try it. None of them took more than a few minutes at most.