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!

Packing for Mongolia And….How’s the Weather?

Here’s the deal. Mongolia is a land-locked country where there is no/none/zero marine influence to moderate the weather. I am from a coastal Mediterranean climate (the north coast of California) where the average temperature swing is from an average of 55F in January all the way up to  65F in August. Are we weather weenies here? Yes, we are.

I  got on Weather Underground and checked the current six day forecast for Ulaanbaatar. The daytime highs and nightime lows read like this: 80, 30, 50, 32, 59, 33, 66, 42, 69, 37, 89, 44 with chances of rain every day. Not sure what it will like when I’m there, this being the first trip in the summer, but I’m going to be ready for heat, cold and rain. Thank goodness it looks like it cools down at night. I don’t sleep well when it stays warm. We pretty much always have a window open at least a little here at home.


I’m now three and a half weeks from departure and I’ve dragged out the luggage and a lot of the stuff I’m taking. I’ve printed out my packing list. An extra camera battery and two additional memory cards are on their way. The failing MacBookPro’s battery has been replaced. New light hiking boots have arrived, along with a lightweight rain poncho. I have new, sturdy walking shoes. I’ll probably take the Teva sandals and a pair of nice shoes for when I’m in town.

David, my husband, and I went over everything that needs power this evening. The gear falls into two categories: stuff that needs juice to re-charge and stuff that runs on batteries only. I plan to do my re-charging either when I’m somewhere that has electricity or by way of an adapter that plugs into a car cigarette lighter. That will cover the MacBookPro, the iPhone and the Wolverine external hard drive, which will be my backup image storage. The iPhone can also be charged by way of the MacBook when it’s plugged in. The charger for the camera batteries and also the one for the Wolverine can be plugged in to a wall socket or the lighter adapter.

The immersion heater will only work when I can plug it in. If there’s no electricity, then I’ll use the little “stove”, which I also need to test run. A friend said that I’ll need to get a lighter, so that’s been added to the list.

I’ll also have a GPS, Tikka headlamp and a travel alarm which are battery only. I’ll carry one set of extra batteries for each.

This sounds like a lot of hassle, but once I’m on the road and organized, I have a routine that involves always charging things whenever I have the chance while I read or am at dinner or overnight.


I dress in layers. No jeans. Too bulky. Instead I’ll have a couple of pairs of LL Bean ripstop cotton pants, plus a pair of loose pull-ons for on the plane. For town, I may take a sleeveless dress I got some years ago at Hilo Hattie’s in Hawaii in case it’s really hot and a pair of “town” pants.  I have a Patagonia fleece pullover that I found at a outdoor equipment consignment shop in Berkeley for about $30. That, a jacket and a set of smart wool thermals will keep me warm. I’ll take two pairs of heavy smart wool socks, too, just in case.

Otherwise, a couple of field t-shirts, a couple of town t-shirts, my denim shirt, which can be a light jacket, a turtleneck and a couple of tank tops. I’ve really pared down the clothes over the years. I just want to have something clean to change into if I get hot and sweaty and while I’m washing the dirty stuff. The humidity is really low in Mongolia, but the insides of the buildings in UB can be sweatboxes.

I’m debating whether or not to take my grey Mongolian del, the traditional item of clothing. It’s kind of bulky, but it makes a great robe/lounge around/throw-on-to-run-to-the-toilet garment. I’ll probably try to squeeze it in.


Still sorting out art equipment. More on that later.

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Gearing Up For Mongolia, Part 1

After awhile one starts to get a feeling for what little comforts make a big difference when one is traveling, especially when it’s a somewhat “adventurous” destination like Mongolia. The basic accomodation in the countryside is at ger camps, where visitors stay in the same kind of gers that the Mongols use. I love them! There’s something very special about the interior space that they create.

On the other hand, they generally don’t have electricity or running water. The toilet can be some dozens of yards away. There is usually a sink stand that has a small container with a faucet attached above the sink. This is for washing and should never be considered drinkable. Water is precious and the responsible visitor doesn’t use it carelessly.

What I decided to do was see how I could refine what I carry, make a hot drink in the morning and do a mop down and underwear/sock wash in the ger. The last two have ended up rating high on the “little comforts” scale over time. The other part is getting a good night’s sleep no matter where I am.

I haven’t really tweaked my travel gear for awhile and, while thinking through the upcoming trip, I realized that:

1. My MacBook Pro is a total pain to get in and out of the daypack I’ve used for years. Transit between points is always the bottleneck and the easier it is, the better and less tiring, especially with the reality of airport security. Time for a change. After poking around and remembering something someone posted on Facebook, I ended up on the Timbuk2 site, where I found (on sale!) a sturdy messsenger bag that has a padded pocket for the laptop, a back piece with  a top and bottom slit that allows it to be securely slid onto the pull-out handle of a roll-on and at least as much capacity as the pack, but oriented horizontally instead of vertically, which means less rooting around at the bottom for whatever it is I’m looking for. This is the Commute Messenger, made from 67% hemp and 33% PET (recycled soda bottles). It’s 16″ wide, 10.8 ” high and 6″ deep. You can also do a one from Column A, one from Column B and design your own bag. They are made in San Francisco.bag1bag22. I bought a travel purse some years ago which is smaller than the one I carry at home, has steel cable in the shoulder strap to foil cut and snatch thieves and lots of places to put things. Almost too many. Plus it barely fit in the pack. Remember, we’re limited to two carry-ons, a roll-on and a purse. In the past, I’ve stuffed the purse into the pack to get through security and onto the plane and it’s worked, but once again has become increasingly irritating. REI makes something they call a “Boarding Bag”, an “organizer for stress-free travel”. It looked big enough that I could hike around UB without needing to take the daypack. And it fits into one side of the messenger bag. One Nikon camera with the 28-300 lens fits right into it and there’s a side pocket for a small water bottle, plus room for a sketchbook, not to mention the usual wallet, sunscreen, kleenex, etc.


So I’m feeling good about the actual travel part. For staying in the gers:

3. The options are usually a thermos of hot water brought in the evening or having bottled water available. If there’s no hot water or electricity, I’m still kind of stuck unless it’s cold enough to light the wood stove and heat water on that (and I think I’ll see what I can find locally in the way of a small metal pan), but with one or the other I can now use one of these really cool snap together bowls to dip a washcloth in, heat water with this immersion heater that came with an international adaptor plug, or do a serious wash up of me or my clothes with this collapsible “kitchen sink”. All from REI.

bowlsFozzils Bowlz- 10″x9″ polypropolene


Immersion heater with adaptor

kitchen-sinkThe “sink” holds over  2 gallons of water, is 14″ x 5″ and fits into a pouch that is 5″ in diameter. It will be interesting to see what the herder women think of it.

I still haven’t decided whether to take a regular coffee mug or get something insulated. I’ll be taking packets of Coffee King, which is coffee, creamer and sweetener together and it perfectly drinkable. It’s available in grocery stores in UB. I’ll also take some tea from home.

4. Sleeping comfort is critical to me. I’m going to take my Thermarest pad, since the hotel and ger beds are extremely, uh, firm and my down sleeping bag. There are sheets and blankets on the ger beds, but the weather can be cold at any time of year. I find that my rectagular bag ( I HATE mummy bags) makes a great comforter if needed.

Next installment will be on the art supplies that I plan to take.

All this travel prep has tired someone out:

Alex, the amazing boneless cat
Alex, the amazing boneless cat

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Welcome to the blog of Susan Fox, contemporary nature artist!

I live about six hours north of San Francisco in Humboldt County. Our home, with my studio, is on an acre in a rural area called Dow’s Prairie, which is just north of McKinleyville, which is about ten minutes from Arcata and Humboldt State University. We’re about a mile from the beach (Clam Beach) and less than twenty minutes from Redwood National Park.

My website is at

I’ll be posting new original oil paintings and limited edition prints. There will also be accounts of my various travels to do fieldwork in places like Mongolia, Kenya and Yellowstone National Park. I plan to also write about what an artist’s life is like. I enter a number of national juried shows each year and participate in 3-4 art festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also teach oil painting.

Besides my vocation as a professional artist, I have an abiding interest in environmental issues and animal welfare, so there will also be entries on those topics. Some gardening stuff will probably show up too. And interesting bits about life behind The Redwood Curtain.

On the environmental front, I’ve just contributed to the blog at on the topic of birdwatching. One comment that I’d like to repeat here was that everyone with any kind of a yard can help provide badly needed habitat for birds by providing food, water, cover and a place to raise young. Go to, the website of the National Wildlife Foundation, for more and to learn how to have your garden become a certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat. I’ll be posting pictures of our acre as we bring it back from bare dirt to what we hope will be an irresistible hang out. We’ve already had a young raccoon, a skunk and lots of birds. Oh, and the bat that flew into and then back out of the living room this summer.

I guess I’d have to say that my avocation is animal welfare and rescue. I volunteer at our county animal shelter showing animals, doing meet-and-greets, helping socialize shy cats and walking dogs. I’m also doing my first kitten foster. Having been allergic to dogs, cats, horses, etc. as a kid, it’s heaven to be over it and able to work with dogs and cats. Horses I don’t know as well as I’d like to. We have four cats and a tricolor collie boy ourselves. Pictures and bios to come.

Gardening: Besides walking, the best exercise the average person can get. And since I sit at my easel when I work, it’s a great way to get moving. My taste runs to classic English-style. I love heritage old roses and also those from David Austin. Our house is almost at the end of our street in a microclimate that is noticeably warmer and less windy than other parts of our neighborhood. Everyone had a amazing berry harvest this year. Blueberries, raspberries, wild blackberries, it was non-stop. I wonder if this was true in other parts of California.

So, once again, welcome and I hope you find your time here worthwhile.
Susan Fox