Once upon a time (back in the mid 1970s), when I first had professional art aspirations, my first media was pen and ink, heavily influenced by medieval illumination and Alphonse Mucha. I used them for many years when I was a freelance graphic designer. In the early 1990s, after getting a BFA Illustration from the Academy of Art (then) College, I was able to realize a childhood dream and spent two years in private study with a local artist learning to paint in oil. And since 1997, that’s what I’ve pursued professionally. But I never quite let go of pen and ink, using it for sketching on my travels. Everything from sketching animals…
…to spending a morning drawing these ruins I saw in Evora, Portugal.
The revival of location sketching with the urban sketchers movement and more has inspired me to return to my roots. I’ve been using Sakura Micron pens for years for my Mongolia journals, both for writing and sketching, along with other trips, but had become increasingly irritated with them. They don’t seem to hold a consistent tip anymore, which means I can’t trust them. I did some research and finally settled on what now appears to the the high quality standard, Copic Multiliners, and bought a full set of them. But…dip pens still beckoned. They have a feel and make a line that can’t be created any other way. So for a year now I’ve been building a collection of nibs via Etsy and eBay and, using Jet Pens excellent reviews, buying a half dozen different bottles of ink, experimenting a bit between my painting work. But can I use them in the field without making an unholy mess? Well, late 19th and early 20th century artists like Joseph Pennell, Henry Pitz, Earnest Watson, Arthur Guptill and William Robinson Leigh did it. And that led me to the wonderful world of inkwells, including ones made specifically for traveling. I’ll be doing an inkwell post in the future, along with discussions of nibs, ink and paper. Once my SketchWild site launches I’ll be offering dip pen drawing instruction. If you think you’d be interested in that let me know in the comments. Over the past month or so I’ve been “test driving” nibs while also trying out possible painting subjects. Of of yesterday, here’s what I’ve done:
Over the last couple of days I’ve done a series of small drawings on the Strathmore 300 vellum bristol. This time, unlike the ones above, I did do a light preliminary pencil sketch. They took maybe an hour and change at most. The purpose was to explore how each nib feels when used for an actual drawing. All of them have things I like about them but I found I really did like the Gillott #303 Extra Fine quite a lot.
On the ones above I added the background shape both to pop out the white of the light sides of the animals and to see how filling in an area would work with that particular nib. All were ok, but want to experiment more.
And the Copic pens? Love, love, love them. I’ve joined artist Cathy Johnson’s “Sketch With Me!” Facebook group. She does virtual events one weekend a month. This is what I posted in October, an arrangement of squash from our garden. Copic pen and watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Zeta series wirebound sketchbook.
Inktober 20- “Khomyn Tal Takhi Mare” I’ve been to the Khomyn Tal takhi reintroduction location in northwestern Mongolia twice. Once in 2006, two years after it was established, and again in July 2015. Takhi/Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus) are the world’s only surviving species of genetically wild horse. I first saw them at Hustai National Park on my first trip to Mongolia in 2005. They’ve been one of my favorite art subjects ever since. Pilot EF fountain pen, Prismacolor white pencil, Strathmore Toned Tan sketchbook.
All journeys come to an end and the Expedition concluded near Hustai National Park, one of three places in Mongolia where takhi/Przewalski’s horse have been reintroduced. Of course we went to see the horses, but our main mission was to spend time with the staff of the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project.
I had been in contact with Greg Goodfellow, the project scientist, before I left for Mongolia in mid-May. We arranged for the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project to be featured by the Expedition. A mutually agreed upon statement was written which you can read here. It provides all the basic information on what the project mission and goals are.
The project’s first step had been to go out into the countryside and find pure bankhar through DNA testing. There are a lot of mixed heritage dogs due to the Russians turning loose their German Shepherd guard dogs when they left Mongolia after the fall of the Soviet Union, plus other breeds and types have found their way into the country over time. But enough dogs were found to start a breeding program. These were temporary kennels that had just been set up since the project needed to relocate the dogs away from UB. The new permanent ones are in place now, but I don’t have any photos of them yet.
Bankhar are a “landrace”, not a breed, which means they developed their traits through adaptation to the environment they live in, not human selection. The ones I’ve encountered over the years, the “ger dogs”, have always been highly aggressive when we’ve approached a ger in a vehicle or when we’re leaving. And that’s their job. Usually they’re ok once we’ve been in their owner’s ger, but sometimes I’ve seen the dogs held even when we leave. So it was a surprise to see these calm dogs who made eye contact and sought an interaction even with strangers. Still, no fingers through the wire.
The second day of our visit we went with Greg and Baagii as they visited two herder families who have project dogs. There is a protocol, a work in progress as new information and knowledge is gained, for how the recipients are to get the dogs to stay with the livestock 24/7. Most herders have only had ger dogs. The livestock guardian function pretty much died out during socialist times due to collectivization and many being killed. Herders also started to use lethal methods of predator control like poison. So what the project is actually doing is not introducing a new thing, but reviving an old traditional use of the dogs.
I had made arrangements in advance for a special late lunch, khorhog, the “real” Mongolian BBQ. Greg was happy to set it up since the purchase of a sheep by visitors is something that supports the local community and it turned out that our “supplier” was also someone who had project dogs.
We had plans to go horse riding and takhi watching on our last day, but the weather had other ideas. A very strong front moved in overnight with heavy wind and rain. In the morning it was pouring and blowing. Batana called in to see what the forecast was, which was that the storm would continue through the day and beyond. It was pretty miserable. We’d had more than our fair share of wind and rain on the Expedition. With no prospect of clearing in sight, our guide and drivers said we needed to pack it up and head back into town and I agreed. Another driver had been sent out, so we and all our gear went into the two Land Cruisers as quickly as possible. Puugii, our van driver, and Soyoloo, our cook, stayed behind to take down and pack everything else. So we all said our goodbyes and parted. Nomadic Journeys arranged for us to stay at the Bayangol Hotel at no cost to us, a consideration that was greatly appreciated. So in we came from three adventurous weeks in the field to hot showers and soft beds, the 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition at its end.
I want to personally thank everyone who made the Expedition possible. First, the staff of Nomadic Journeys, who arranges these very “custom” trips for me every year, particularly Jan Wigsten, one of the owners, who listens to my ideas and plans, offers input and advice and, with the staff, makes my Mongolia travel dreams come true. And we don’t go anywhere without a solid, professional field crew: our super drivers Erdenebat and Puugii,, Soyoloo our wonderful cook and our guide Batana, who rose to every challenge. And Kim and Oliver who, no matter the conditions, and they were challenging at times in a variety of ways, could not have been better traveling companions. I loved being able to share some of “my” Mongolia with them both.
Final notes: Kim Campbell Thornton has written an excellent article on the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project. You can read it here.
Oliver Hartman is a filmmaker and also a member of the Explorers Club. His company is called “Jungles in Paris”. You can check it out here.
Nomadic Journeys has made all my in-country travel arrangements in Mongolia since my second trip in 2006 (2o16 was trip no. 11). You can find out more about them and their special brand of sustainable, ecologically and culturally responsible travel here.
To learn more about takhi and Hustai National Park, go here.
The website of the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project is here.
Yesterday I finished and signed two of the largest paintings that will be in “WildlifeArt: Field to Studio” a group exhibition with six other Signature Members of the Society of Animal Artists. It will be at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut March 24- May 4, 2016. The opening reception will be on March 31 from 6-8pm and is open to the public. The other participating artists are Alison Nicholls, Sean Murtha, Karryl, David Rankin, Kelly Singleton and Carel Brest van Kempen. What makes this show unique is that for the first time that I know of, we will be showing not only our finished work, but also the fieldwork that inspired and contributed to it. And that is what we all have in common- we get out into the field. Some of us travel to places like Mongolia and Africa. Others stay closer to home, but we sketch and paint and, in Karryl’s case, sculpt in nature.
I’m posting all the images of the work that I will have in the show in an album on my Facebook page here. You can read a article that just came out this week in Plein Air Collector about the exhibition here. Another article will be in the new issue of Western Art Collector, which will be available on newstands around February 16.
Before I left Ulaanbaatar on the Expedition arrangements had been made for me to go to Khomyn Tal for three specific days…in on one day and out on another. I left Hovd with the driver/cook and guide on July 27 for the long run east. It took around nine and half hours and we arrived at dusk. By the time we got to the research camp it was dark. The staff members present let us use a ger for the night, which was much appreciated. The next morning we set up our tents not far away.
On hand were two of the Mongolian ranger/researchers and one French volunteer, who spoke good English. He explained the routine to me. I wasn’t sure what to expect and had not assumed any particular assistance since I knew from my very short trip there in 2006 there is always much to do. So I thought that we might be driving around the reserve area on our own looking for the horses every day. But a much better plan was suggested, which was that I would go out in both the morning and evening with whoever was assigned for that time slot to either locate the horses and check on them or to follow a pre-determined two of the three family groups for an hour each doing behavioral observations. This was perfect! In return we used the Land Cruiser for three of the drives, donating our petrol and wear and tear. The camp vehicles were a Russian fergon van and a small white jeep, so we could offer more comfortable “accomodation”.
The reintroduction project at Khomyn Tal in Zavkhan Aimag, (which is in western Mongolia) after many years of planning and breeding of takhi who would be acclimated and able to survive in Mongolia through the use of semi-reserves in the French Alps, officially began in 2004 with the shipment of 22 horses. It is the brainchild and inspiration of Dr. Claudia Feh who is still in charge of the project but who, unfortunately, I was unable to meet with. I did go to Khomyn Tal on my second trip to Mongolia in 2006, met her then, and have wanted to go back ever since. So this year I finally made it.
I will be doing an extensive, more science-oriented post reporting on my interview with Florian and what I learned about the project, but for now I just want to share what I saw…these wonderful wild horses and the place they live:
One difference between the project at Khomym Tal and the other two reintroduction sites, Takhiin Tal and Hustai National Park, both of which I’ve also been to, is that the horses are quite acclimated to the presence of humans who they know or, in my case, a human who is with someone they know. Dr. Feh told me in 2006 that she didn’t believe there was a reason why they should fear people and being able to approach them closely allowed a visual examination that did not require tranquilizing them with the attendant risks that that entails. This approach clearly has not changed, as you’ll see.
So I went out with one of the rangers and sat next to him as he did his behavioral observations, recording certain specific things by voice. And got an eyeful of equine wonderfulness.
The project is located in a remote river valley, with an upland and some mountains. There are local herder families and much effort has been made over the years to create and maintain a cordial relationship.
After around an hour, one after the other, the three family groups left the sheds. One grazed past us up onto this hillside.
The other two went in the same direction but on the valley floor. The social organization of the Khomyn Tal takhi, of which there are now 53, seems to differ from that of the other two locations. There are three family groups, each with a dominant stallion and a lead mare. But they merge into one herd on and off through the day and the stallions get along, although I was told that two of them don’t like each other. There is also a “bachelor” group of five, which has two young mares in it, for reasons currently unknown, and one young stallion born with very short ears who lives on his own.
One of the great things about going out with the rangers is that it was during the part of the day, morning and evening, when the light was terrific.
When doing behavioral observations rangers like Florian must follow the horses wherever they go and whatever the weather. The weather part could be pretty uncomfortable in the winter and spring, but the scenery, well…
There is other wildlife around, like Mongolian gazelles. I had to crop in quite a bit so you can see them at all. Zooming in on my iMac, I’ve got what I need for one or two nice paintings.
I got to see and record quite a variety of behaviors, including these two young stallions. I found it interesting that the foal just stood close to them until the serious bumping and then a kick happened. But he still didn’t move very far.
I didn’t go with Florian the first time he followed the horses because I wasn’t sure how far it would be and was afraid that I might inadvertently affect his observations as a stranger. But the second time we were at the sheds and when the horses started to move off, he said to come on along. Oh my goodness. Ok. So off I walked on a parallel path with two family groups, around thirty horses who paid no attention to me. We all just walked along together on a lovely summer morning.
I took the next photo for a personal memory of what it was like to, literally, walk in the hoofprints of the world’s only surviving true wild horse.
There was finally an opportunity to have my picture taken holding Explorers Club Flag 179 with takhi in the background. It would have been nice to have been closer, but the ranger’s observation routine took precedence.
In some ways it was a difficult stay. The mosquitos were really bad where we were near the river and it got very hot for a couple of the days, so exploring much on foot was limited. I did do some sketching and managed one watercolor, the view from my tent. You can see the sketches I did of the horseshere.
The time to depart arrived, but not before we were invited to lunch by one of the rangers who had his family with him. His wife made us a tasty boortz soup (homemade noodles with bits of dried mutton or goat meat in it). Then we were on our way. I didn’t see any of the horses, so just enjoyed a last look at the scenery.
But this was just the first stop, albeit a most special one, on the second phase of the 2015 WildArt Mongolia Expedition.
I arrived back home a week ago and have been resting and catching up after seven wonderful (as always) weeks in Mongolia. I’ll be blogging the whole trip in multiple parts as I have past trips, but wanted to start out by sharing the sketches I did of takhi at Khomyn Tal. The horses there are used to people and are easy to get pretty close to without causing them stress or distress. I went out morning and evening for three days with the “rangers”, local Mongol men and one volunteer from France, while they either located the all the horses, 53 as of this writing, or spent an hour each with two of the three family groups (rotating between them on a set schedule) doing behavioral observations. This arrangement was perfect for my purposes since it got me close to the horses during the times of day with the best light.
The horses are provided with large “sheds” which provide shade and shelter. That’s where I did these sketches, sitting on the ground about ten yards away, since they were mostly resting, not moving much. I’ve sketched them at zoos also, but it was deeply satisfying to sit and draw these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat.
I’m back in Ulaanbaatar, tired after three weeks in the field (resting today at a comfortable hotel, the Bayangol) but very, very pleased with the Expedition and its results. There will be a series of posts on all aspects of the 3rd WildArt Mongolia Expedition once I’m home, but for now I’ll share some favorite images with you. Consider these the appetizer…
In chronological order:
And to give credit where credit is due…no one does a trip like this alone. Those of us who travel deep into the countryside of Mongolia have to rely on our guides and drivers to get us there and back again. To mine, show below, a heartfelt “bayarlalaa”.
Thank you also to Jan Wigsten and the staff at Nomadic Journeys, who have provided all my travel resources and logistics since 2006.
I never get tired of going to Hustai National Park in Mongolia. It’s the best place in the world to see takhi or, as they are known in the west, Przewalski’s horse. I saw this stallion with his harem in August of 2013. It had been a good year for all the animals in Mongolia, both domestic and wild. The takhi looked great!
Here’s part of the harem moving along for their morning graze. A dominant mare leads them and decides where they will go. The harem stallion usually brings up the rear, keeping an eye on everyone. At the time I was there I was told there were around 300 horses divided into 15 harems, plus some bachelor groups. Hustai National Park is only a two-hour drive, mostly on paved road, from Ulaanbaatar. So it should be on the “Must See” list for any animal or horse lover traveling to Mongolia.
Takhi/Przewalski’s horse is the only surviving species of true wild horse. At one point there were only 54 of them in the world. Now there are, I believe, over 2000. They have been reintroduced to three locations in Mongolia, including Hustai. The other locations are very remote and not set up for visitors, so this is the place to see them.
I visited Hustai National Park in 2013 (where there are almost 300 takhi/Przewalski’s horses) and was photographing horses on a hillside that dropped below eye level to a streambed, when one horse, then two, then three, then more and more, suddenly started to come up over the edge on my side. I sat down on right the spot and had the extraordinary experience of watching a large harem of takhi walk right past me, about 30 yards away, snapping photos of them as they went by. This drawing is one of the mares who had a foal with her. She kept an eye on me as she and her baby went by.