New Painting Debut! “Ikh Nart Argali-Cautious And Curious”

Ikh Nart Argali: Cautious and Curious
Ikh Nart Argali: Cautious and Curious  oil  20×30″

This is the second, and largest, of the three argali paintings I’ve just finished. You can see the first one here. I’ll post the third one next Friday.

I spent over an hour watching these rams at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in 2010. And sometimes they watched me. But mostly they grazed, scratched, rested and did a little pre-rut testing.

One of the things I wanted to capture in this painting is how individual they all are, being different colors depending on their ages and having horns of various sizes and condition. It was a group of five and these were the three big boys, fully mature males, who probably weigh over 300 pounds each. Behind two of them is one of the younger rams,

Mongolia Monday- Wildlife Profiles: Argali

Ikh Nartiin Chuluu argali ram, April 2005: This big old ram let me follow him around for about half an hour.

I’m starting the New Year with a new series on Mongolian wildlife. These will be short profiles with essential information and interesting links. First up is the animal which brought me to Mongolia in the first place, the argali, now one of my favorite subjects.

Species: Argali (Ovis ammon)

Weight, height and horn length: Argali are the world’s largest mountain sheep. A large ram can weigh as much as 375 lbs (65-170km). They stand from  3-4″ (90-120cm) at the shoulder. The horns can measure up to  65″ (165cm).

Argali rams, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, July 2009; I peeked over the ridge (after dragging my oxygen-starved body up a steep slope following my guide) and what should I see...a big group of argali rams, twelve in all.

Conservation Status: Near-threatened (IUCN Red List)

Argali rams, Baga Gazriin Chuluu, July 2009; Same trip as above, but this time the sheep were within sight of the road. I simply stood by the car and took lots of photos of these six beautiful boys

Habitat preference: mountains or large areas of rocky outcroppings in the desert steppe, some open desert; more recently found in mountain steppe (Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve)

Argali rams, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, August 2010; In all my six trips to Mongolia, going out to see argali every time, this sighting was the jackpot....five rams less than 50 yards away and I had them to myself for at least an hour.

Best Places to see argali: Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve; They may also be seen at Baga Gazriin Chuluu and Ikh Gazriin Chuluu, both local reserves (no websites)

Argali ram, ewe and lamb, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, July 2011; Typical sighting of argali up on the rocks.

Interesting facts:

-There are no argali in captivity, neither zoos or reserves. The only place to see them is in their native habitats.

– While the rams do fight it out during the annual rut for mating privileges, otherwise argali don’t have set herds or harems. Who is with who can change through the day. Rams mingle freely with ewes and lambs, form bachelor groups or wander around on their own.

– In July of 2009, I was in the right place and the right time to be the first person to ever photograph an argali swimming a river…the Kherlen Gol, which flows through Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve. It was known that they do it, but since almost all the research on them is done at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, where there are no rivers, no one had ever actually seen, much less photographed, it.

The New Big Painting, Cont.

Sometimes having another, educated eye can really help. Since this is a big painting which will require a big time commitment, I decided to consult with another wildlife artist who I have taken a workshop with and whose judgment I trust. She knows me and knows what my goals are for my work. I sent this image to her on Friday and got her response this morning.

For reference, the first version from the previous post:


The next version. I also decided to make the sheep on the right a juvenile to provide variety for the horns, along with adding some of the body and changing the head position.

Argali 2

Here’s the critique:

“These guys remind of me of desert bighorn – horns and heads large for lightly built bodies (though desert bighorn have much thinner horns). The mouth on the rear youngster is a little uncertain (what’s he doing?). I’d like to see more suggestion of muscle in the body – particularly hindquarters – of the main ram. His front left leg feels a little stiff – I like the movement in his overall gesture, but the knee and pastern don’t flow as well. He seems a little over at the knee on his right front. I know sheep aren’t built like horses, but sometimes (to borrow from Bob Kuhn) the artist has to make changes that look better, even if they’re not as accurate.

The front partial ram head/horns ought to be larger to indicate perspective; his body seems larger, as it should, but head/horns don’t seem as large relative to his body as the main ram’s.

Painting all those rocks will be great fun! I love rock and snow – so graphic. Everything in the composition leads us to the right and the main ram’s head – should be striking. You might consider turning his head towards us a little to keep the viewer from zipping out to the right – but it should still work as it is too.”

This are exactly the kind of technical notes that I was hoping for from someone who only knows what I’ve showed them, not what I think I’m trying to do.

This afternoon I did the re-drawing, erasing where needed. The muzzle of the ram on the left head got a little too big. I’ll fix that tomorrow, but otherwise it’s all working. As far as the first observation of the critique- in fact, the argali are very solidly built compared to desert bighorns. The big argali rams also weigh twice as much, 200 lbs. vs. 400 lbs. But both have very slender legs in relation to the bodies.

Argali 3

Now I have some good visual variety. The three argali are all different sizes and angles. I have the directional flow that I want, but I need to make sure that the viewer’s eye doesn’t “flow” off the right hand side. The stacked rocks will be the “stopper”. I’ve minimized the horizontal planes and added some shrubs and more small trees, aspens that I saw at Baga Gazriin Chuluu.

The next step is the value study. Value is light and dark relationships, separate from color. I already know that the area of highest contrast will be the main ram’s head against the sky.

UPDATE 8-25-09:

The re-drawing is done. I ended up changing the whole head and neck of the ram on the left side and straightening the foreleg of the main ram a little more. One of the lessons I learned when I worked in the sign shop doing hand-drawn lettering was the difference that, literally, the width of a #2 pencil point was between right and wrong. When I saw it for the first time, it was like a big, bright light came on. It was so obvious. And it’s true when drawing animals or anything else. I will always be grateful to the owner of the shop for giving me the opportunity to train my eye to discern differences that fine. The acceptable tolerance was 1/64 of an inch when drawing letters a few inches high.

I still see little things in the drawing that bug me, but I’ll deal with them when I do the brush drawing on the canvas. Being bugged about something is one of the ways that I know a painting isn’t done yet. And when nothing bugs me anymore, I’m done, which really means that I’ve solved all the problems. The itch to fix what I can see isn’t right is one of the things that drives me on a painting. I Just Can’t Stand It.


I also lightly drew some more rock towers on the right for my “stopper”. They will be simple shapes in aerial perspective.


I lied. I did one more overlay this afternoon with a mechanical pencil (HB lead) to really refine the drawing and get it ready for the value study. Every version allows me to be more decisive about tricky shapes like the horns. Plus, I wanted to more thoroughly work out the background and foreground. And I still wasn’t happy with the ram on the left, so he got re-drawn. Again.

I’m using Canson tracing paper for the first time and, wow, is it nice. I used to use whatever was cheapest, but no more. All but the last drawing, which I’ll post tomorrow, was done with a Sanford Draughting Pencil. They were Eagle Draughting Pencils when I first started buying them many years ago and appear to have been owned by at least two other companies between then and now. Fortunately, they’ve never been “improved”, so they’re as good as ever.

Mongolia Monday – Argali Studies

With the New Year come new painting projects. We try to take time off between Solstice and New Year’s Day because that’s when things slow down for my husband, who is the executive director of an information technology consortium, but I can’t stay out of the studio completely. I have a bunch of ideas for paintings with Mongolia subjects and this morning I thought I’d do a few drawings of argali and try different drawing media. All of these are done on 2-ply vellum bristol. None of the four took more than 15-20 minutes. The idea was to limber up after a break without worrying about doing a pretty, finished drawing. I wanted to catch the character of the animal and the rhythm of their body and movement. Please DO try this at home.

Argali Ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008
Argali Ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008

This is a try-out to see how he “draws” since I have a painting idea in mind. He’s a big, old ram with battered horns that will be an interesting challenge to paint.  I also like the shadow pattern on his head. Drawn with a 6B Wolff’s Carbon pencil.

Argali Ram Running, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008
Argali Ram Running, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008

The gold standard in fieldwork for wildlife artists is the animal Doing Something. Prey animals like argali tend to be running away, so lots of butt shots. But this one took off from stage right to stage left, giving me a perfect chance to record a variety of leg positions. Also drawn with a 6B Wolff’s Carbon pencil.

Argali ewe climbing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008
Young Argali Ram Climbing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Sept. 2008

Another jackpot. He’s going up the rocks parallel to me. Drawn with a Cumberland Derwent Drawing pencil, Venetian Red. These have a fair amount of wax in them, so are more like a fancy crayon. They feel soft on the paper. I don’t think I got  very interesting line quality, but did feel that I caught the tension in the hindquarters as he is about to push off.

Argali Ewe Standing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, April 2005
Argali Ewe Standing, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, April 2005

This one is from pictures I shot on my first trip to Mongolia in April/May of 2005. The animals still had their winter coats. This ewe was part of a small herd which had come down to a stream for water one morning. I find 3/4 head views challenging, partly because I know that I have to compensate for the flattening effect of the photograph. Drawn with a 2454 Conte crayon. I hadn’t used these in awhile and found I liked the line quality and the way the Conte felt on the paper. This sketch took maybe ten minutes.

So you can see that what you draw with can really change the appearance of your drawing. The only way to know what will work best for you is to experiment with different combinations.