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.

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

Coming Soon! “SketchWild”

My current field sketching kit

Most of you know me as an oil painter, but I’ve always loved to sketch and draw with pencils and pens and I also paint in watercolor on location. Dating back to 1989, I take at least a small sketchbook and kit like the one above with me when I travel.

I’ve enjoyed seeing sketching take-off as an international art phenomenon and I’ve decided to formally throw my well-loved field hat into the ring. Before the end of the month I’ll be debuting a new website dedicated to sketching called “SketchWild”. It will include not only my field and travel sketching and painting, but also art supply reviews, tutorials and online classes. Tell me in the comments what you’d like to learn!

My specialty and favorite subject has always been animals. I seem to be one of a surprisingly small number of artists who draw and paint from live animals and I’ll offering tutorials on how you can do that, too.

If you’ve never sketched before and want to try it but don’t know where to start or if you’re a landscape painter who occasionally wants to add animals like, say, a cow or horse, to your painting but don’t know how to draw them, I’ll be offering classes and/or sets of tutorials for both. I’ll also be offering instruction in pen and ink sketching/drawing with technical pens, fountain pens and dip pens regardless of subject and tutorials on sketching with an iPad, including a review of the variety of apps available. And there are a lot of them!

In the end it’s not about, or only about, making finished pretty pictures, but enjoying the process and seeing the world through art you’ve created yourself. Some of the best souvenirs you can take home are the sketches you did of what caught your eye.

To give you an idea of what I’ve done over the years, here’s a selection from my sketchbooks. Some, like the animals were done very quickly, in maybe one to three minutes, sometimes less. The landscapes hold still so I can spend more time on them. And if I can add an animal, so much the better!

Rolling Hills Wildlife Experience, 2010

Monkeys don’t hold still for long so you have to work fast and see the basic shapes, in this case a quick indication of light and shadow to go with the drawing.

Colobus monkeys, Elsamere, Kenya, 1999

These colobus monkeys were fairly far up in the trees and jumping around so I simply and quickly sketched in the black bodies, leaving the white feathering the color of the paper.

Horses, EA Ranch, Wyoming, 2014

The horses were in a corral standing around, so I had time to add things like the pinto markings and do eye, leg and hoof studies.

Gobi Argali, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Mongolia, 2009

I was sitting up on the rocky hillside of a valley in the reserve when I did these quick sketches of the world’s largest mountain sheep. I’ve seen them many times and have painted them, so I “know what they look like”.

Berlin Zoo, 2004

These barbary sheep and tahr posed nicely for me so I was able to do much more finished sketches that I usually manage.

African Lions, Masai Mara, Kenya, 2004

I’ve had the good fortune to go to Kenya twice, once in 1999 and once in 2004 and would love to get back there sometime. We were driving to our campsite and came upon this lion and lioness in the throes of “temporary love”.

While animals are my favorites subject, I sketch pretty much anything interesting that crosses my path. I also like to record an animal’s habitat, which creates a specific kind memory that one doesn’t get from only taking photos.

Cork tree, Portugal, 1995

On a trip to Portugal with a number of other artists we stayed at an old farmhouse that was surrounded by cork trees, the same ones that wine corks come from. They were full of character. I was interested in the twisting branches and trunk.

Malewa River, Kigio Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya, 2004

This scene was near the lodge we stayed at in the conservancy. I didn’t have a lot of time between breakfast and departure, so I focused on the river going back in space, the large, tree and left the rest of the vegetation as outlines.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to England quite a bit over the years. I love drawing the wonderfully picturesque historic buildings.

Winchester, England, 1995

I had plenty of time to lovingly sketch the half-timbering, windows and shrubs of this wonderful old building.

Stonehenge, England, 2015

Getting to sketch at Stonehenge a few years ago was a tremendous treat. In order to do a number of drawings from different angles I kept it really simple….the shapes of the stone themselves and then filling in the shadow sides.

Washington D.C., 1993

I also sketch during trips around the USA. I enjoy playing around with edges, cropping in as needed. I didn’t want to bother with the building next to my subject, so I just left it as a silhouette in reverse.

Susan K. Black Foundation workshop, Wyoming, 2016

When I did these super quick people sketches I was experimenting with contour drawing. None of them took more than a minute or so. I’ll be showing you how to do it.

The above sketches were done with pens, mostly Sakura Micron .01s. I also work in watercolor on location.

My current travel watercolor kit.

All of the above goes into an REI daypack.

Bison, Yellowstone National Park, 2014

Quick watercolors just to capture the day and the bison.

Herder’s horse, Hogno Khan Nature Reserve, Mongolia, 2016

I spent a couple of hours on this painting, making sure that not only was the horse drawn correctly, but that the saddle and bridle were right. I went up close a number of times to check details. The horse would shift a bit, but then back into the position I’d drawn. Something to remember about sketching animals…they tend to move in a repeating pattern, so one can stop, wait, maybe start another sketch, then pick up the first one once your subject is back in place.

Bird on rock, Hustai National Park, 2012

I was sitting on a rock at Hustai, painting this interesting and colorful small rock formation and the surrounding fall foliage when the bird, I think it was a magpie, landed on the top one. I dropped my brush, grabbed a pencil and quickly sketched it in.

Dunes, Hogno Khan Nature Reserve, Mongolia, 2015

I carry a small stack of 8×8″ pieces of Sanders Waterford cold press watercolor paper with me in a gallon ziplock baggie, along with a small foamcore board with packing taped edges and a roll of drafting tape. I’ve found that I really like the small square size and can, as I did here, easily place two smaller horizontal format paintings on it.

And, lastly, I’ve done calligraphy and handlettering for over forty years. Both are also undergoing a revival and I’m considering offering tutorials and maybe a online class or two for that. Here’s a few samples of my lettering…

Title page for 1995 trip to Los Angeles
Title page for 2016 sketchbook
Journal title page, Mongolia, 2016
From my illustration days, the heading for wine tasting calendar,

I’ll be posting the latest news about SketchWild here on my regular website and also in my Facebook group, FoxStudio.
Let me know in the comments what you think and what you’re interested in learning!

Sketching In New York

I just got back last night from a two-day trip to New York. One day was taken up with the Society of Animal Artists board meeting (of which, more later) and the second day with wandering around Greenwich Village sketching and then hitting some jazz clubs in the evening with fellow artist Guy Combes, who lives across the river in New Jersey as the artist-in-residence at the Hiram Blauvelt Museum of Art.

I hadn’t done any “urban” sketching for quite a long time, but the area of New York that I was in could keep an artist busy for a lifetime. As it was I did the four following sketches in a  5.5×8.5″ Strathmore Series 400 recycled paper sketchbook with a Pentel “Energel” .5 pen.

Nothing fancy here. These are about the process and just having fun.


Notice that I didn’t get into rendering a bunch of leaves on the big shrub. It’s just a shape.



All the little dark marks are what is left of old pier pilings.


I stood on the opposite corner to draw this festive restaurant exterior with the piggy sign.

None of these took more than about twenty minutes.

Memorial Day Miscellany

First, I want to honor and express my appreciation for all the men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces.  I’ve read a lot of history and it’s true- Freedom isn’t free. But, America should never go to war except as a last resort and should never risk our soldiers lives without a compelling reason. My thoughts are with the families whose loved ones have died in service to our country.


Besides coming down with a cold a couple of days ago, I sat down on Friday to start sketching and got diverted by re-arranging my corner workspace. So not much in the way of sketches or materials info. yet, but I am thrilled to have my wonderful old oak drawing table back in action. Shifting it 90 degrees lets me use the iMac so I can draw from it the same as with the easel. Here’s a couple of pics of the new arrangement. The Rocky Mountain mule deer head was a flea market find. There are also images from Bob Kuhn and Robert Bateman for inspiration. And my favorite 1960’s psychedelic poster, The Green Lady by Mouse and Kelly.

Eowyn inspecting the new set-up
Eowyn inspecting the new set-up

Easel is on the right
Easel is to the right

It’s time to start to pull it together for the upcoming Expedition. One part of it will be keeping a journal, which is provided by the AFC (Artists for Conservation). It’s bound in Italian leather and comes with its own bag. Nothing like a little intimidation.

journal 1Yup, I’ll be hauling this puppy all over central Mongolia for three weeks. I need to do a title page and a map Real Soon Now, but how to face the terror of the blank page? The thought of making a mess is paralyzing, but it must be overcome. I know, I’ll start at the very back-

journal 2So I used an argali image from the trip last year that is representative of what I hope to see and sketch. I’m experimenting with ways to add color. This is Pelikan pan gouache used as a watercolor wash. The paper has a nice tooth and isn’t too soft, but I wanted to see how different drawing options worked, so that’s what’s on the bottom. The Wolff’s carbon pencil didn’t flow and the General’s charcoal pencil was too soft (for my purposes). A mechanical pencil with an HB lead and the Sanford draughting pencil worked well, as did the Pentel pen. I’ve got two kinds of Derwent watercolor pencils that I’ll experiment with next, along with a couple of other things.

Mongolia Monday And A Schedule Adjustment

As I am about two months out from my Mongolia trip, I’ve decided to consolidate my blog posts to Monday and then do quick updates as needed on other days of the week. For the next few months, most posts are going to have Mongolia content as I share my preparations and, with luck, the trip itself.


I have my plane tickets and will be leaving on July 5, staying overnight in Seoul, Korea and arriving in Ulaanbaatar on the afternoon of the 7th. I’ll be taking the local United Express flight to San Francisco, Asiana to Seoul and MIAT to UB, and doing it in reverse without the overnight for my return on July 30. My current plan is to attend the National Naadam celebration in UB and then, in some order still to be determined, spend a day or two at Hustai seeing the takhi, travel to the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve and the Baga Gazariin area to explore the argali habitat in those places, with hopes that I will be able to see and photograph them.

The one “appointment” that I have is to be at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu the week of the 20th for three days of meetings with the herder women to discuss their ideas for a crafts cooperative, which I plan to support. For this purpose, and for other projects that might come up in the future, I have established a non-profit association, Art Partnerships for Mongolian Conservation (APMC). Our mission will be to use the arts to promote conservation in Mongolia. My 501(c)3 sponsor is the Denver Zoological Foundation, which has set up an account for me so that donations made to APMC are tax-deductible. For more information, email me at


Last week I said that I would do a book review of an excellent “drawing” book. I got it out recently to use as a guide for honing my field sketching techniques for the upcoming Mongolia trip (see how it’s all dovetailing?). It’s called “Fast Sketching Techniques” by David Rankin, who, as it happens, won an AFC Flag Expedition Grant a couple of years ago to travel to the source of the Ganges River in India, one of his most favorite countries. He, dare I say it, draws a very useful distinction between drawing and sketching and does it in a way that I think encourages people to pick up a pencil and paper and give it a go.

Here’s where you can find it on Amazon, but it looks like it has gone out print, so you might end up with a good used copy. I highly recommend it. Here are a few pages to give you an idea of David’s approach. He is a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists, has been in every major wildlife art show multiple times and is an excellent teacher and “critiquer”. In short, he knows his stuff.

Book cover
Book cover

The difference between drawing and sketching
The difference between drawing and sketching

Quick, simple sketches that catch the essence of the subject without getting bogged down in detail
Quick, simple sketches that catch the essence of the subject without getting bogged down in detail

An example of how he interprets a scene quickly
An example of how he interprets a scene quickly

Using pause on a tv recorder to do quick sketches
Using pause on a tv recorder to do quick sketches

Instruction on how to work at zoos sketching animals
Instruction on how to work at zoos sketching animals

Next week, I’ll have post some of the sketch work I’ve been doing in order to get up to speed for the real thing.