Fall Colors In New York and Vermont

Saratoga Springs State Park
Saratoga Springs State Park

I’m in Bennington, Vermont, for the opening weekend of the Society of Animal Artists’ international juried exhibition “Art and the Animal” and also one of our two yearly board meetings. I came in a day early to make sure I was here in time in case of bad weather, so went for a drive north yesterday, from where I’d stayed at near the Albany airport, to Saratoga Springs State Park and onwards up into the Adirondacks, which I’d never visited before. It was a gorgeous fall day, as you can see. Today it’s been rainy, and now cloudy and gloomy, so my timing was good.

Lake George, the Adirondacks
Lake George, the Adirondacks
Fall colors, the Adirondacks
Fall colors, the Adirondacks
Falls at Ticonderoga
Falls at Ticonderoga
Fall colors, Vermont
Fall colors, Vermont
Fall colors, Vermont
Fall colors, Vermont

Fieldwork And Fun On The East Coast

I’m back from my latest trip, which was a great combination of work and play.

It started with being one of the jurors for the Society of Animal Artists‘ prestigious national juried show “Art and the Animal” which, along with the board meeting the next day, was held at the legendary Salmagundi Art Club, located on 5th Avenue in New York. And ended with a walk through the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in central New Jersey

In between, there was a great road trip with fellow Society members and friends, Guy Combes and Andrew Denman. We had a jam-packed five days that included a visit to the Delaware Natural History Museum, Longwood Gardens, Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, the Brandywine River Museum and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey.

Here’s an album of the highlights:

First was Longwood Gardens, at one time a Du Pont family property.

Longwood Gardens spring border with foxglove
A favorite; Longwood Gardens varigated pineapple
A wall of orchids at Longwood Gardens

Then it was off to the Delaware coast where a comfortable condo had been put at our disposal. I had read “Misty of Chincoteague” as a child and was excited to finally visit both it and Assateague National Seashore, where we turned out to be in the right place at the right time to record this stunning encounter between two young stallions. It went on for at least a half hour and these are just a few of the hundreds of photos I shot, but it shows the pattern of interaction that emerged and was repeated at least a half dozen times.

First we saw this chestnut horse grazing off in the distance
Then this paint horse came strolling down the middle of the road right past us
He walked out to the edge of the water
And waded across to the spit
He winnied loudly a few times and then waited
The chestnut we'd seen earlier came at a fast trot
The two stopped and seemingly sized each other up
The meeting
The nose touch
A quick turn and a kick by one of them
Then they would rear up and "grapple"
Maneuvering for advantage
Both would go down on their knees head to head
And then it would start again
And it all happened in this tremendous setting of water and tideland

What an eyeful that was! We drove on, stopping to hike a number of trails, seeing a variety of birds and more horses.

From Assateague, we took a “detour” to Salisbury, Maryland to visit the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, which houses an incredible collection of hand-carved birds. Then it was back out to the coast to Chincoteague Island.

I was dubious at first, since the entry point to the island is a town that, although having lovely old buildings, was definitely a tourist destination. But I need not have worried. Once east of town and into the refuge, we were in a wonderland of scenery and wildlife.

The scenery was stunning
One of the highlights- multiple sightings of glossy ibis
And of course there were the famous Chincoteague ponies
Out on the beach were large numbers of very entertaining Franklin's gulls
And perched on the causeway railing in great light was this, I believe, Forster's tern

The next day, after a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Andrew had to catch a plane home, but Guy and I soldiered on, paying a visit to the Brandywine River Museum, home to an astonishing collection of original illustration by N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle and many other legendary illustrators, along with galleries featuring both Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. Very inspiring, to say the least.

The final wildlife stop on the trip was the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in central New Jersey. Surrounded by rural residential development, it is essentially a bowl between the hills that collects water, forming rich swamp and wetland habitats. The main access is a boardwalk trail that winds through the swamp out to a large bird blind. But we were barely one hundred feet down the trail when the wildlife show began.

The Great Swamp
One of the first sightings, a green frog
Then we spotted two northern black racers mating right below where we were standing
It was a bit of a challenge, but I did get a few shots of this chipmunk
For the finale, I got a good look at a snapping turtle

I spent the last night of the trip at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum cottage where Guy is the artist in residence, along with a groundhog and eastern cottontail rabbits. The groundhog managed to stay out of camera range, but I did get some good photos of the bunnies.

Eastern cottontail rabbit

Some Thoughts On Applying For Membership In The Society Of Animal Artists

SAA members and guests at the opening weekend of the 49th Art and the Animal; Rolling Hills Wildlife Experience

This post was originally written for the Society’s Facebook public page and blog, but I wanted to share it here since I think what I have to say relates not just to what my thoughts are about applying to join the SAA, but also lays out in general some of my beliefs about what makes good animal art. It’s illustrated with images of various members of the Society, who I am proud to call my colleagues and friends.

The deadline for the next round of consideration is coming up in mid-April. I thought that, having participated in three membership juries now as a member of the Executive Board of the Society, I would offer some observations and tips  that might be helpful to those of you who aspire to membership in the SAA.
A couple of notes before we start- First, I’m a painter and that’s what I know best. What I’m going to say applies to most other media, but creating a successful painting will be my main focus. Second, this article represents my personal views and is not an official statement by the SAA, any of its officers or the other board members. If you have any comments or questions, please direct them to me.
Now, to begin: I recommend that you do this exercise. Go to the Society’s website, visit the virtual museum and the individual websites of any member’s work that catches your eye. Then get out at least eight or ten of your own pieces. Line them up. Look at them objectively. This is not easy. We tend to be either too hard or too easy on ourselves. Do your best to be honest since that is when opportunities for growth happen.

The late Simon Combes giving a demonstration; Lewa Downs Wildlife Conservancy, 2004

Representational painting in general, and animal art in particular, have well-established criteria for what constitutes a “good” painting. These principles have evolved over a number of centuries. They are not “subjective”.

You are not in competition for a limited number of spots as would be true with a juried show. We usually have between two and three dozen applications to consider. We can accept all of them. Or none of them. Each applicant’s work is judged on its own merits.

Greg Beecham at the Quick Draw; Susan K. Black Foundation art conference, 2005 (Suzie Seerey-Lester to left)

Pick one piece that you honestly believe is at or is close to the level of the work of the artists who are already members.

You now need four more at or near that level, because one of the things that will sink an application fast is one or two good pieces followed by the jury seeing the next three or four go off the cliff. You will be judged by your weakest pieces. Consistency is very important.

Kent Ullberg gets inspired at the SAA 50th Anniversary event; San Diego Safari Park, 2010

Consistent in what? Glad you asked…

1. DRAWING: Animals have a physiological and behavioral reality that a competent animal artist has to understand and demonstrate to the jury. In other words, you need to be able to draw them with accuracy and understanding if you are a traditional representational artist and clear understanding if you are going to handle them in a more personally expressive way. You are hoping to join the ranks of animal artists who have been doing this, in some cases, for decades. They know if the drawing is correct or not. Which way a leg can bend, how a wing moves in flight or what the pattern of spots are on a leopard are not really subject to debate, however open they are to informed interpretation.

Karryl sculpts on location at the 50th Anniversary event; Rolling Hills Wildlife Experience, 2010

2. CRAFT: We want to see a solid understanding of your chosen media, whatever it is. If you decide to submit work in more than one media, then all of them need to be at an equal level of competence. Don’t submit a little of this and a little of that, hoping that something will stick, like spaghetti on a wall.

David Rankin on location, ready for anything at Torrey Lake: Susan K. Black Foundation art conference, 2005

3. DESIGN AND COMPOSITION: Do you have a solid grasp of design and composition? Have you made a conscious decision about every element of your piece? For instance, are the subjects in the majority of your submissions plopped automatically into the middle of the canvas or thoughtfully placed to carry out your central idea?

Andrew Denman gets worked over by an affectionate bobcat; he, Guy Combes and I visited the Sierra Endangered Big Cat Haven last year

4. PERSONAL VISION: Are you creating art based on a personal vision or simply copying photographs? (It is well-known that photographic images flatten and distort three-dimensional subjects like animals, so the artist must learn how to compensate for that if their goal is a realistic representation.) What do YOU have to say about lions and elk, butterflies and buzzards? Let your opinion, point of view and passion come through. HAVE an opinion, point of view and passion about your subjects.

John Seerey-Lester paints a mountain lion; Susan K. Black Foundation art conference, 2005

5. KNOWLEDGE: Do you understand basic animal anatomy? Do you understand the habitat of the species you are representing? Have you learned about their behavior as an inspiration for your work? Or is everyone just standing around? If you put an animal in a realistic setting,  you are now a landscape painter too. Are both your animals and any habitat shown depicted at the same level? Or does one lag behind the other?

Yours truly hard at work in the Gobi, Mongolia 2010

Animals are specialized subject matter that require study and the accumulation of knowledge over time to represent successfully. There are no shortcuts.

We are looking for artists who have mastered their art and craft at a consistent level and who present us with a body of five works which all reflect that level.


It’s Been A Busy Trip

Roan antelope, San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park

It was a jam-packed four days of activities at the Society of Animal Artists 50th Anniversary celebration. Along with whale-watching, we spent a day at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the San Diego Zoo.

On the last day, we went over to the San Diego Natural History Museum for the official opening of “Art and the Animal”. Our work is beautifully displayed on three levels of the central atrium. Along with the artists and their guests, many members of the public were also in attendance. The show will be in San Diego until October 31.

Hippopotamus, San Diego Zoo

That evening, it was time for the annual banquet, which included the presentation of the Society’s first Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert Bateman, which he richly deserves for both his distinguished career as an artist and his commitment to conservation and environmental issues.

Our campsite at Anza-Borrego State Park; I slept on the cot under the stars

The next morning I and fellow artists and SAA members Guy Combes and Andrew Denman departed for Anza-Borrego State Park in hopes of seeing and photographing desert bighorn sheep. As you can see below, we succeeded, toughing out unseasonably hot daytime temperatures which reached 112F.

Desert bighorn ewes, Anza-Borrego State Park

Our next stop was the cooler clime of the Sierra Nevada foothills, home to the Sierra Endangered Cat Haven. As many of you know, I refuse to patronize for-profit game ranches. It has been a pleasure to discover Cat Haven, a non-profit operation which not only has the fittest and healthiest captive genetically wild cats that I have ever seen, but is heavily involved in a variety of conservation efforts on an on-going basis. I would encourage my fellow animal artists to consider a visit here to support an organization which puts the welfare of the animals first instead of using them for personal gain.

Tango the cheetah

Yesterday we took an afternoon trip up into Kings Canyon National Park, which I had never been to. We were awed by the jaw-dropping magnificence of the canyon and took a LOT of photos.

Kings Canyon

I’ll be home soon from my travels and am looking forward to getting back to my easel!

I’m At The 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Society Of Animal Artists

I left Humboldt County this past Sunday morning, picked up fellow artist and colleague Andrew Denman at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area and we journeyed south to San Diego, California, camping out a couple of nights at our wonderful state parks along the way.

The event activities started the next day with an all-day whale watching trip. We didn’t see any whales, but there was lots else to get photos of for possible future paintings – bottlenosed dolphins, California sea lions, harbor seals, gulls and terns, phalaropes, brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies (yes, that’s a real bird and it does have light blue feet), brown boobies, cormorants, a couple of jellyfish and, the really rare sight of the day, a sunfish. Here’s a few images:

California sea lions on a floating dock
Sea lions
Sea lions
Sea lions
Brown pelicans
Brown boobies
North Island, one of two that we approached on the boat for wildlife watching

Coming up next – The San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park

Friday This and That

The Society of Animal Artists, of which I am a Signature member, has recently started a blog. On it you will find news about the Society, workshop and event listings by the members and a calendar of Society events. Check it out and let me know what you think!

We also now have a fan page on Facebook. You don’t have to join Facebook to visit us. And I invite you to visit our new website, too! It has information about our organization, exhibitions and how to become a member of the premier animal art organization.

Why Did The Elk Cross The Road Dept.

We went for a drive last weekend to find a spot from which to watch the sun set. The clouds rolled in, so that was kind of a bust, but at the Stone Lagoon Schoolhouse campground, which is right off the highway, a large herd of Roosevelt elk were working their way through the almost-empty RV section. We circled around on the campground road and ended up perfectly positioned for me to get some nice elk reference.

Over 30 elk cross the road; looking west towards the ocean
Female Roosevelt elk

This is about twenty minutes north of our house. There are often elk hanging around the campground, sometimes picturesquely situated in front of the old schoolhouse.

Oh, Honey, Look What The Cat Brought In Dept.

We think of it as semi-regular episodes of Animal Planet. This time, a very alive little shrew was left on an area rug in the living room where we couldn’t miss it. I picked it up in a paper towel and got a couple quick pics before turning it loose outside. Their metabolism runs really fast, so they can’t go long without food and don’t do well under stress.

Shrew, species unknown

Major Juried Show News! Accepted Into Art And The Animal!

I received word this afternoon that my painting “Mongol Horse #3-Young Stallion” has been accepted into Art and the Animal, the prestigious 50th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Animal Artists. This is the second year in a row I have had work in the show. Last year it was bactrian camels, the detail of which is currently on my masthead.

I’ll be at the opening weekend of the show, which will debut at the San Diego Natural History Museum the first weekend in September. More later….

Mongol Horse #3-Young Stallion 16x20" oil on canvasboard

On-going Notes from the Society of Animal Artists Show Opening- I’ve Been Elected to the Executive Board

Sept. 7

I’m not in Kansas anymore and there’s no place like home. Interesting trip back which started when I found out at the Wichita airport that my flight home via Sacramento had been canceled and that I would have to stay overnight in San Francisco. United Airlines never contacted me, even though they seem to have my correct email address and I was checking email twice a day. They will be hearing from us. I ended up at the Hilton near the airport. The guy behind the counter listened to my tale of woe and gave me a “Preferred” room for $70. Very spiffy room with big LCD tv hanging on the wall. Lamps next to the bed with dimmers, very comfortable bed, great omelet for breakfast, so it all worked out.  A big, fat Win for Hilton.

Pleasantly uneventful last leg. It’s nice and sunny. Hope to be back in the studio tomorrow with wonderful memories of all the great artists and art I saw at the opening.

Sept. 6

The annual membership meeting was held in the morning. Lots happening. The Society is closing the office it has maintained at the Salmagundi Club in New York, which will save a ton of money. The Society is now based in Colorado, home of the President and our Administrator. There are big, exciting plans afoot for our 50th anniversary Art and the Animal Show to be held in San Diego next year. A week’s worth of events, a Life Achievement Award for Robert Bateman, who will be in attendance, enough room for lots of member’s work and also large works, talks, workshops, possible trips to Marineworld and the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park. Members coming in from all over the world.

But the big news, personally, was that I have been elected to serve on the Executive Board of the Society! I sent in the required “Why I want to do this” letter, but didn’t really expect anything to come of it for at least a year or two. However,  a couple of long-time Board members dropped off, so the Nominating Committee tapped me and another gentleman to run, so we’re both in. I plan to attend the November meeting in New York, although my term doesn’t start until January. I’m really excited about this opportunity to get more involved in the Society and to work with the other board members, superb animal artists all.

After the meeting, most of us adjorned to the zoo for one more round of sketching and photographing the animals.

We gathered in the evening at 5pm for “Social Time”. Everyone brought their show catalogs and we spent over an hour getting each other to sign their respective pages. It was kind of like a high school year book signing at the end of the school year, but without the social drama. A great deal of fun.

Then it was time for dinner. I had the good fortune to have picked the most fun table and probably the rowdiest, sitting with Jan Martin McGuire, Paul Rhymer, Joni Johnson-Godsy, Kelly Singleton, a couple of spouses and another very amusing artist whose name I didn’t get. At one point Diane Mason’s husband came over and told us that they were going to split us up. I guess we were having too much fun ;0).

The final business was the handing out of the awards. One good friend, who shall remain anonymous until he is officially notified, received an Award of Excellence and a number of new friends, who I met this weekend, also got awards. Our new President, Diane Mason, who has already brought amazing energy and new ideas to the organization, got a well-deserved standing ovation.

I drive back to Wichita tomorrow to catch an afternoon flight for home.

My camel painting on the wall at Art and the Animal
My camel painting on the wall at Art and the Animal

Sept. 5-

As those of you who followed the run-up to my Mongolia trip may remember, I bought a Flip video recorder for the trip. As it turned out, I really never used it. Too much else to think about. But I brought it with me and yesterday I was watching some timber wolves at the zoo and thinking about how to capture in paint that graceful, loose-limbed stride they have. Then I remembered, duh, I have the Flip with me.

Here’s a sample. It will be interesting now to draw from this kind of reference-

Sept. 4, later-

Back from the opening, at which there were around 40 artists. There have been a few sales already, which is good news for everyone. I’ve only seen Art and the Animal in the show catalogs. This is the first time I’ve seen it in person. It appears, from some of the comments that I’ve heard, that this show is particularly good, so I’m even more proud to be a part of it. Sat at dinner with another artist, Kim Diment, who I met on Simon Combes’ last safari in 2004. We ended up regaling the table with tales from the field- elephant encounters, hippo incidents, etc. Sculptor Karryl had a great wild dog story. Saw them pull down an impala in Botswana. Perfect dinner table conversation. If you’re animal artists.

Amur Leopard
Amur Leopard

Sept. 4-
Spent most of the day sketching at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure zoo and taking pictures. So far, the big hit seems to be a small pond outside the entrance to the museum that has water lilies and at least ten frogs, who may now be some of the most photographed frogs in history. At a place where there are snow leopards, amur leopards, Indian rhinos, black swans, orangutans and other exotic creatures, it seems like every time I walk out of the museum there’s at least two or three artists photographing the frogs. The opening reception is this evening. Should be fun!


Sept. 3-
Back from the Art and the Animal show venue, Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure. About eight of us are here a day early. They fed us a lovely brunch and then we got to see the show, which is filled with superb work. After that, we were taken on a walking tour of the zoo, which has everything from capuchin monkeys to asian rhinos. We invade a local Italian restaurant at 6:30.

Black Swans
Black Swans

Sept. 2
Hanging out at the Country Inns and Suites in Salina, Kansas after visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve. Gloomy, grey day, so nothing to photograph. It is, after all, thousands of acres of….grass, but represents a significant chunk of the 5% or so of that ecosystem that is left. They hope to reintroduce bison at some point, but not remove the domestic cattle, which is too bad.

Transcaspian Urial
Transcaspian Urial

Sept. 1-

Trip started with a 90 minute delay due to weather in San Francisco, not uncommon for the 8:50 am flight. My next two legs were bumped to later flights, so I got into Wichita at 9:30 instead of 7:30. I so love arriving in places I’ve never been after dark and having to find a motel on the other side of town. But it all worked and the Fairfield Inn and Suites was quite nice. Super comfy bed.

Off to the “Art and the Animal” Opening Weekend and an Update on the Mongolia Women’s Craft Collective Update

Taking a break from painting for the next week, so y’all are going to have to hang tuff to see the next step of the big argali painting. Tomorrow I’m off to the opening weekend festivities surrounding “Art and the Animal”, the annual majored juried show held by the Society of Animal Artists, of which I’m proud to have been a member since 2002. As those of you who follow this blog know, earlier in the year I learned that I had finally gotten into the show after coming up short for five or six years. I’ll try to blog a little of it while I’m there.

In other (great) news, along with some more pictures of the felt work:

Felt purse with horse motif
Felt purse with horse motif

Yesterday I had an eagerly anticipated phone conversation with Gana Wingard, the Mongolian scientist (she’s married to an  American attorney who specializes in natural resource law) who was my translator and liaison for my meetings with the herder women who live in and around the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I came home on the 30th and she stayed to run the Earthwatch team, so I was out of touch for almost a month with anyone who could tell me what happened next.

The women went home the same day we left for Ulaanbaatar, but most of them plus more local men and women, came back on August 5 to clean out the spring that serves both the herders and the research camp. They also created some spots for the argali to drink.

Two physicians came and provided information and advice on infectious diseases like swine flu.

The Bag Governor and his wife (a “bag” is the smallest administrative unit in Mongolia) were there, too. Amgalaanbaatar, or Amgaa, who leads the argali research from the Mongolian side, gave them and the other local people who had not been at original meetings a briefing about the new association “Ikh Nart Is Our Future”. He also brought, by request, 3 meters of good thin felt from Ulaanbaatar that the ladies, according to Gana, very carefully divided up square foot by square foot.

Ibex purse custom made for a Chinese researcher studying argali; i did the drawing on the felt
Ibex purse custom made for a Chinese researcher studying argali; I did the drawing on the felt; the writing is old Mongolian script which, I think says "Ikh Nart" and the Mongol name they gave her "Ibex" or Yamar

The director of the association, Boloroo, was very happy to receive a laptop computer, which she badly needed for the association’s recordkeeping. The computer was given to her by the research project on the condition that I find a replacement, which is something I’ll be working on. If anyone reading this can donate or knows where I could buy reasonably, a good quality fairly new laptop, please let me know.

There has been no time for Amgaa to research prices for the felt press, so that has had to be put off until October.

Ikh Nart formalized a sister park relationship with Anza-Borrego State Park last fall. I haven’t really met any of the park people yet, but they have donated a fair amount of equipment and help with things like signs. Amgaa visited them in California in January, his first trip to the USA. Six people from the park were at Ikh Nart while Gana was there with the Earthwatch team. Boloroo came to the camp on a motorbike with a selection of craft items. The Anza-Borrego people bought over 100,000 tugrik (about $100) worth for themselves and as gifts. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear about this. Two of the American Earthwatch staff members also purchased over $150 of crafts. This means that at least a small income is already flowing to the women who showed up and worked so hard while I was there.

Eyeglass case; closure and stars from notions and extra craft things I brought as gifts
Eyeglass case; closure and stars from notions and extra craft things I brought as gifts

There are two more Earthwatch teams this year and Boloroo plans to visit each one. She has also contacted my guide who was interested in commissioning traditional felt rugs and it looks like something will happen there, too. All in all, a terrific beginning. It was hard not to have been there for what came next, but I’m looking forward to seeing everyone next year!

One woman also brought this child's khurem, or jacket, that she made, wanting to sell it because it was too big.
One woman also brought this child's khurem, or jacket, that she made, wanting to sell it because it was too big. All the ribbon decoration was done by hand. The jacket body is blue wool.