In The Studio: Starting Three New Small Works Of Mongol Race Horses

Mongol racehorse #1

I’ve started a series of three small paintings of Mongolian race horses and thought I’d share the step-by-step of doing more than one painting at a time. First up was to choose my reference photos, picking three heads that would work together in a group.

naadam race

I generally never post my reference images on the internet for obvious reasons, but in this case I wanted to show you the kind of photos I have to work with. The one above was taken at an aimag (province/state) naadam a couple of years ago. I was able to go out in the chase car for two races, so had a rare opportunity to shoot both stills and video not only as the jockeys, horses and trainers rode out to the starting point, but to travel parallel to the riders as they raced back. Looking through the many hundreds of race photos I’ve taken over the years I found a quite visible difference, which makes sense, in how fast the horses ran in the first part of the race and how much they’d slowed down by the last third or so. This really affected leg position and sense of the effort on the horse’s part as expressed in the body language.

But for this set of three I only wanted the heads, so was looking for variety in coloring, angle and generally interesting shapes of light and shadow. I started with drawings, thinking in terms of “notan” the Japanese method of simplifying an image down to two values….light and dark or light side/shadow side. I was also working on capturing the expression, the bridle and some of the shapes in the manes.

Mongol racehorse #2

I had originally intended to include the rider’s hands and legs in the frame, but those shapes seemed distracting, especially cut off at the edges, so right now my plan is to leave them out. But that could change…

Mongol racehorse #3

The top two pieces will be 8×8″. The one above will be 8×10″. So an arrangement of two squares with a rectangle between them.

The next step was to scan the drawings and project them onto the pre-toned canvas panels, sketching each one lightly with a pencil.

MR 1

The panels were toned with Winsor Newton raw sienna. I indicated all the shadow shapes with a mix of that and a little Winsor Newton violet dioxazine, which creates a warm brown tone that is still related to the background tone.

MR 2 (1).jpg

I scanned the panels with my Epson XP-830 printer/scanner/copier and then imported them into Photos for cropping, color correction and any other adjustments. This works pretty well for small pieces that I want to post to my blog or other social media.

MR 3.jpg

I like working this way because it gives me a lot of control over how much detail I add and where. I also like to leave “lost and found” shapes. What is important to me, though, is accuracy of both the horses and their tack, not detail per se. For me the game is to see how much I can simplify and leave out.


4 One-Hour Paintings

Artists need to do the equivalent of playing scales sometimes. I was reminded of that recently when an artist friend on Facebook posted about being frustrated by a plein air painting she had struggled with and then commented on how she wanted to get “looser”, a common wish among painters who are starting to feel trapped by detail.

I recommended a great book to her: 60 Minutes to Better Painting by Craig Nelson, who runs the Fine Art Dept. and teaches painting at my alma mater, the Academy of Art University (but who, unfortunately, didn’t arrive until a few years after I graduated).

The next day I realized that I could use some short study work myself, especially on landscapes. So that’s what I’ve been up to the past two days, doing some one-hour paintings.

I did the first couple with a big round brush, like the kind I generally use on my finished work, but it wasn’t the right brush for this kind of fast painting because I couldn’t get the type of edges I wanted. So I switched to a #6 Silver Brush Grand Prix flat and that was much better. All four are 8×10″, oil on canvasboard.

My main goal for this set was to work on value relationships and light effects.

Ocean View- near our home on the north coast of California (round brush)
Ikh Bogd Uul, the Gobi, Mongolia, July 2010
Stupa, Bogd Khan, near Ulaanbaatar, August 2011
The steppe at sundown, near Bayanuur, camping trip, Mongolia, August 2011

Three New Small Works

Coming up soon is North Coast Open Studios the weekend of June 12-13 and, the following weekend, June 19-20, the Marin Art Festival. I’ll have framed paintings, prints and cards at both events, plus a variety of small, unframed affordable original oil paintings. I’ve been doing new ones in between working on larger paintings and it’s a nice way to take a break from the more complex pieces.

I generally do these in two sittings, plus maybe one more short one for final tweaking and try to keep them fairly loose and simple.

Rooster 8x10" oil
Chipmunk 5x7" oil
Three Tule Elk, Point Reyes 8x10" oil

Coming up: a new on-going series on how to improve your paintings, based on all the mistakes and false starts I’ve made over the fifteen years I’ve been painting in oil. So it will be a looong series. ;0)

Five Reasons To Do Small Paintings

Over time, I think most painters end up with preferences for size, ranging from true miniatures that may only be an inch by an inch to, well, big, really big. Like ten feet high.

I’ve tended to stay in a middle range, which happens to be what has NOT been selling during the recession. But before the meltdown, I had decided to start doing art festivals and I needed a large body of work. Most of the paintings are 12×16″ to 18×24″.

Then I joined the Lost Coast Daily Painters and found myself needing to have a small (5×7″ to 8×10″) painting to post every week. It was hard at first to work that small, but I got used to it and started to see some definite advantages:

One, they are more affordable for people.

Two, many buyers and collectors don’t have room anymore for work that is much bigger and it encourages them to take a chance on a new artist. That would be me.

Three, small works seem to be considered appropriate for gift-giving, so that expands the market a little.

Four, for me as an artist, I’ve found that it’s a good way to study various painting problems, like capturing light effects, without investing time and materials in a larger piece that might not pan out.

Five, they force me to focus on one idea and to keep it simple.

Here are three recent small works:

Arcata Bottoms Stormlight oil on canvasboard 8x8"

I wanted to capture the light effect of dark clouds and sunny areas. Working in a square format was fun, too.

Black Bear, Grand Tetons oil on canvasboard 16x8"

I’ve struggled with how to paint this kind of light effect- foreground shade and background sun. It’s a push and pull process. I think this works pretty well.

Reticulated Giraffe, Samburu oil on canvasboard 8x10"

Once again, I’m studying how to do a light effect- the high key shadows and reflected light on the head of the giraffe. I also ended up with a postive/negative shape relationship that I like. The color of the giraffe and the sky form a complementary color relationship, too.

What has evolved over the past year is an interesting split that is working well for me. I’m doing a lot of smaller pieces like the ones above (I plan to have 30 or so available at the Marin Art Festival). And then I’m painting larger, major pieces that can require a lot of preliminary work. With luck, you’ll see the latest one next week.

I’m Now A Member of Lost Coast Daily Painters!

As some of you may remember, I blogged a for a few weeks on marketing and  two items I discussed were “spend as little money to market your work as possible” and “strength in numbers”.

Today I’m proud to announce that Lost Coast Daily Painters is up and running and listing paintings on eBay. Here’s the press release that went out yesterday:


If the economic slowdown has a bright side for artists, it is this: the opportunity to explore new ways to create and sell art. “My paintings range in size from quite large to very small, and for a long time I’ve wanted to find a format for showing and selling my small pieces.” said Eureka oil painter Kathy O’Leary. “This is a good time to take some chances and try something new.”

A group of five Humboldt County artists have joined together to take part in a growing international trend called daily painting. Painters complete one small work every day, post it on their blog, and sell it on eBay. The top-selling daily painters have cultivated large audiences and built a steady income selling paintings online.

Eureka author Amy Stewart is a student of oil painter Linda Mitchell. Last summer she went to Santa Fe to take a workshop from one of the most successful daily painters, Carol Marine. “Painting is really just a pastime for me,” Stewart said, “but I’m very interested in seeing what artists can do with technology and social networking. I’ve been blogging for years, and I was intrigued by the idea of selling paintings online and building an audience that way.” At the workshop she learned techniques for composing and finishing small, quick paintings, as well as eBay selling tips.

Now Stewart, Mitchell, and O’Leary have joined together with Dow’s Prairie artist Susan Fox and Eureka oil painter Rachel Schlueter to sell their paintings online through a group blog, Lost Coast Daily Painters. New paintings will go online every day, with bidding starting as low as $25 on eBay. A “Buy It Now” page lists paintings that are available for a fixed price directly from the artist.

Like most professional artists who participate in daily painting blogs, Mitchell plans to continue showing her work in galleries. “I’ll sell small paintings online, and work that I’ve shown before,” she said. “My larger paintings will continue to go to galleries. Most people want to see a larger piece in person before they buy it, and galleries are the place to go for that.”

Schlueter looks forward to the challenge of posting smaller works every week. “The idea is to do something fresh and spontaneous and put it out there, and then just move on to the next painting,” she said. “And it’s nice to be part of a group blog. That makes it easier to have something new up every day.”

Connecting with artists and art lovers around the world is another attraction, according to Fox. “I’ve been selling small paintings on eBay as an individual,” she said, “but I’m really looking forward to marketing my work with four of my colleagues and friends. Daily paintings are a great way to buy a single special piece or start a collection very affordably.”

Visit for new work by each artist and links to other daily painting sites around the world.


I still have two paintings listed, but time is running short. Scroll down to find them and click to bid.

Here’s a preview of one of two paintings that I’ll be listing on Monday. There are five of us and we each took one weekday, so there are new listings Monday through Friday. We’ve already had sales before the official publicity kick-off, which is very encouraging. I have multiple bids in on “Pismo Beach Sunrise” and “Wyoming Cottonwoods” is being watched.

Without further ado, here is “Morning Near Goose Lake”-

Morning Near Goose Lake  oil  8"x6"
Morning Near Goose Lake oil 8"x6"

Paintings that don’t sell will move to our “Buy It Now” page and will be available for a set price.

UPDATE 3-4-10: Life brings change and I am no longer a member of Lost Coast Daily Painters. My career is taking a different path since last year and I find that I must concentrate on that. Three new artists have now joined the group and I encourage you to click on over and take a look at their work.