New Website And A Very Special Endorsement

We've had a friend from New Zealand visiting for the past couple of days, which is why this post is a little late. He wanted to see redwoods, but he also got an eyeful of our local Roosevelt elk, including this big bull who was grazing right next to the road in Prairie Creek State Park.

It’s live! My new website is up and running! I built it on a newish application called Sandvox, which I highly recommend. Nice choices for templates, WYSIWYG interface, fast publishing of updates and good communication from the company, which is based in San Francisco. I think that artists who are looking for something beyond the cookie-cutter fine art template sites ought to check out this product. It also looks like they are very receptive to suggestions for improvements and features, so there may be an opportunity to nudge them in the direction of doing things that would make their product even more attractive to artists.

I love the control I now have and, while I do pay for web-hosting, the existence of my site is not dependent on anyone else, a lesson I’ve just learned from my experience with GoDaddy after they cut off my access for 24 hours, which just coincidentally happened to coincide with the Strike Against SOPA.  The fine art template sites all seem to charge for their services and besides really disliking their pedestrian template choices, who needs a monthly fee just to have a website?

Sandvox costs $79.99, ok, 80 bucks. I just downloaded the latest upgrade, which was free. You can also download a free trial version to test drive it.

Redwoods in Prairie Creek State Park. When I was a kid I though everyone got to go camping in places like this.

In other news, I recently received this endorsement from Todd Wilkinson, the Editor of Wildlife Art Journal:

“What catches my eye with Susan Fox’s work, inspired by her travels to Mongolia, is her aesthetic, her craving for adventure, her way of naturalistic interpretation that reads, visually, like a beautifully-illustrated field journal.  Susan’s paintings in oil speak of exotic people, animals and outposts set in a distant mythical corner of the world—an ancient kingdom synonymous with Genghis Khan, yet today a modern country surprisingly still unexplored by Western artists. Fox may be the only American animal artist who has devoted so much to Mongolia’s mountains, deserts and steppes. And that’s precisely why her work is more than decoration; it sparks conversations.

I salute art that tells stories—that upon each encounter with a painting or sculpture you realize there’s another narrative layer waiting to be explored.  This involves something that goes beyond the technical virtuosity of an artist or the way light falls upon a piece; it gets, instead, to the reason why some art possesses soul.  Whether she is interpreting traditional Mongolian horse culture, celebrating Argali (bighorn) sheep, or taking us off to the  East  African savannah (yet another destination on Fox’s map of travel), we know we’ve been on a journey to someplace special.  Susan Fox endeavors to set herself apart and it shows.”

Todd Wilkinson, Editor, Wildlife Art Journal


New Clouded Leopard Drawing And A Thought-provoking Essay Over At Wildlife Art Journal- Love It? Hate It? Let’s Talk About It

Clouded Leopard 14x11" graphite on bristol paper

Well, I’m back in the saddle after a great vacation in Hawaii with my husband. First order of business in the studio is to finish some drawings that I have promised to do for the people at the Sierra Endangered Cat Haven to thank them for their warm welcome (and fixing my broken van). I did this study of their clouded leopard yesterday, truly one of the most beautiful of the cats.

It’s been fun to get back to this kind of finished graphite drawing. If you like good drawing and good commentary, check out Terry Miller’s blog, Pencil Shavings. Very inspirational.

I’ve admired Ron Kingswood’s work for years, since I first saw it and met him at the Southeastern Wildlife Exhibition. His work has changed since then and he has gone far beyond what is conventionally considered representational art, much less what most people think of as wildlife art. And that’s ok. Too many artists reach a certain developmental point and stop learning or they gain a satisfying level of success in the marketplace and are then trapped by the expectations of their galleries and collectors.

Now, he’s contributed an essay, “Is Animal Painting Dead?” to the online publication Wildlife Art Journal. Not too many comments there yet, but it’s buzzing on the magazine’s Facebook page. Here are links to the editor’s introduction, the essay itself and the Journal’s Facebook page.

If The Conversation About Art Isn’t Real, What Good Is It? And by the way, Wildlife Art Journal is the only source for what’s happening in the animal are world. They deserve support and currently have a special subscription offer going of $8 a year.

Is Animal Painting Dead?

Wildlife Art Journal on Facebook

I’m Featured In Wildlife Art Journal! Plus Here’s My Latest Painting.

I’m please to announce that the Letter from Mongolia which I recently wrote for Wildlife Art Journal was posted on their website this morning! It’s illustrated with lots of paintings, drawings and photos, many from my Artists for Conservation Flag Expedition last July. Thank you to Todd Wilkinson and the rest of the staff for providing the only publication (it’s online only, no print version) dedicated to wildlife art!

And yesterday I finished the warthog painting. Here’s the  step-by-step from last week. I’m calling it “Gonna Run In 3…2…1”

Gonna Run In 3...2...1 20x30" oil on canvasboard

Additional Comments On Game Ranches and How I See the Issue

My name came up on Julie Chapman’s blog about the article by Thomas Mangelsen in Wildlife Art Journal. In addressing the post and comments there, I ended up adding to my thinking about the issue. The post is here. Here’s my comment.

I guess since my name has come up, I ought to show up and comment here, although I suspect that my comments on the Wildlife Art Journal article make my feelings about the subject pretty clear. I have thought a lot about game ranches since my two experiences at them and have come to feel that they are not a place that I choose to go, for the reasons that I and Mangelsen enumerate.


I don’t believe that for him, and I agree, the issue is being a purist, but of being honest about how and where one collects images of genetically wild animals. If the photo is not labeled “captive”, then people are free to assume, as most do, that the image was taken in the wild, as Larry, and I at one time, believed. Truth in advertising, I guess. That’s not at all the game ranch’s fault or responsibility.

Painters don’t have the same issue of attribution that a photographer has, since a good artist generally uses multiple reference, or brings a unique point of view, for a painting and doesn’t simply copy a single photograph, theirs or anyone else’s.

I think as we live our lives we all end up in the position of having friends, sometimes quite good friends, who do things or have beliefs that we don’t agree with. The choice is either to accept that or end the friendship. Mangelsen chose to stay friends with Bob Kuhn.

By “old school”, I think that he may have been referring more to a way of thinking about animals that has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. We have gone from Descartes’ view that they are “machines”, driven by instinct, feeling no pain and having no souls to a recognition that we share the world with many sentient species. Year by year, the definition of what separates homo sapiens from animals has to be modified. Oh, they use tools. Oh, they recognize themselves in a mirror. Oh, they have culture. Oh, they have a sense of fairness. Oh, they lie and cheat. And the list goes on.

I have found that in order to reconcile, and be personally ethically consistent with, what I have learned over the years about animals and from my involvement in animal welfare (definitely not PETA-type animal rights, a whole different deal) and dog and cat rescue, I can’t justify going to game ranches.

I can, with reluctance, accept zoos that are heavily involved with education, conservation and the preservation of endangered species. I’ve pretty much reached the point where I choose not to support activities in which animals are used for human entertainment where there is a significant risk of abuse, either physical, emotional or psychological. I await the day when animals are no longer needed in any kind of research because computer models are superior.

My thinking is constantly evolving in this area as I add to my knowledge. My husband and I decided last year to no longer eat meat that we cannot source and that we do not know to have come from animals who have been treated humanely. This includes eggs. We refuse to support industrial animal agriculture, with its battery cages, feedlots and cruel confinement.

I wish to emphasize that these are all personal choices. I have no wish to dictate what other artists, photographers or people, in general, choose to do.

I think you can see that my decision about game ranches is just one part of a larger question that I’ve been thinking about for years- What is the appropriate relationship between humans and the fellow creatures we share this planet with?

PS, Larry- Barry Bonds- Being a Giants fan, I watched the whole thing play out. My opinion, and it is just my opinion, is that he probably used something in the 1980s at a time when many players did, so maybe the playing field was effectively re-leveled during The Steroid Era. Maybe he should be prosecuted (he’s charged with perjury, not substance use per se), but then there’s quite a few other ball players who used stuff and lied about it. How come they’re not on trial? His biggest problem has maybe been his attitude, which alienated the sports media, who often seem to feel an amazing sense of entitlement in what they feel they are owed by pro athletes. I’m not pro or anti Barry, by the way. It is what it is. Giants fans have moved on.

Should Artists Go To Game Ranches To Shoot Reference?

Every artist and photographer will have to decide for themselves.  For me, after having been to two of game ranches and having been involved in animal welfare and rescue for the past four years, the answer is “no”.

I do want to make the point, as did Mangelsen, that I am specifically addressing game ranches; not zoos, reserves, sanctuaries or other places with wild animals which have vets and other staff trained in animal care and where the animals are not there for the purpose of “modeling” or “acting” for photographers or artists or to be used in movies, tv or advertising.

Here’s the link to a blog post in the new online publication, Wildlife Art Journal, in which Todd Wilkinson introduces an article by legendary wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen. Mangelsen pulls no punches and I applaud him for exposing to the light of day something that’s been hidden for too long: the price the animals pay so photographers and artists can get “that perfect shot”. For example:

baby-bearThis bear cub was allowed to repeatedly shock itself on the electric wire in order to “teach” it to stay within the enclosure. The cub cried in pain every time and is seen here licking the spot that touched the wire. The keeper also “cuffed”, as in hit, the cub to “discipline it the way a mother bear would”.  To my knowledge, the keeper had no formal training, certification or degree in animal behavior. This was in front of a number of artists, including me, and clearly the keeper had no problem with us seeing how the cub was being introduced to working with humans.

Is any painting or photograph worth being complicit in a fellow creature being treated this way?

UPDATE 6-17-09: I have just learned that the person who is referred to above no longer works for that game ranch. He was fired because of how he treated the animals. Very good news indeed.

Here’s the comment that I left for Mangelsen’s article, which is here:

Finally. It’s not just me who’s wondered….

Posted By Susan Fox on Jun 14, 2009

I’ve been to workshops at two of these places and came away very ambivalent since I am also involved in animal welfare (NOT PETA-style animal rights) and dog and cat rescue. Yes, I got some “great” photos, but the other 10-20 artists who were there got almost exactly the same image.

I’ve noticed a proliferation of cougar paintings over the past few years, which coincide with a whole bunch of artists going to shoots put on by one particular ranch. How big a market is there for cougar paintings? Especially when so many show the same animal on the same red rocks? Do cougars even live in that habitat? I dunno.

Part of what makes me and my art interesting to people (Read: potential buyers) are the stories behind the paintings. So, what do you think a buyer finds more compelling:

“I was at the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone and had set up my easel to paint, but ended up watching one wolf attempt to distract the bull bison who had taken up a defensive posture while a second tried to dart in and cut out a calf. After a half hour they gave it up and, all of a sudden six more wolves popped up out of the grass and they all trotted off “(true story)

“I photographed these two wolves splashing in the water and playing. One was the mother of the other, who was a young adult. No, I have no idea if one would see that interaction in the wild. I have no idea if wolves “play” in the water. I have no idea if they run around chasing each other like two crazy border collies.”
“The cute baby raccoon was brought out and inserted into a hole in a tree stump that was placed on a table.”
I did paint that one and have it available as a giclee. I described him and what he was doing accurately, but otherwise feel that I committed at least a sin of omission. And, when people ask me, as they often do, if or where I saw him in the wild, I tell the truth. I like the image, it was fun to paint, but it and another of a captive animal have become somewhat problematical for me.

I’ve made it a point to do the travel, study and fieldwork required to see wildlife where it lives and learn about a species’ behavior and how it interacts with its habitat. Taking pictures of captive animals I’ve never seen in the wild turns out to be useless to me in that regard. There is so very much more to painting animals than their surface appearance, however appealing.

One thing I always tell people is that I don’t paint what I haven’t seen. And, of course, I have seen the captive animals. But I’ve decided finally that that’s not good enough. Taken out of the context of their habitat ultimately ruins their value to me for reference, except as a supplement to what I would shoot of the real, wild versions. It’s a step better than buying someone else’s photographs to do finished paintings from (as opposed to reference for a detail of some kind), but not good enough for me anymore.

As far as my visits to two game ranches:

I remember seeing, briefly, the cages, one that had an adult snow leopard in it. It was a quarter of the size of a kennel that would be considered an acceptable minimum for a large dog. There was barely enough headroom for the animal to stand up and turn around. It was in a covered area with no natural light.

I remember the baby black bear who was allowed to repeatedly come in contact with the electric hot wire around the enclosure area in order to “teach” him to stay within the boundary. He was also “cuffed” multiple times to supposedly duplicate the discipline of a mother bear. What would you think of someone who did that with a puppy or kitten? How in the world would a human with no background or education in animal behavior, as far as I could tell, have the faintest idea what a momma bear would cuff her cub for?

I remember the owner of one game ranch complaining to us about the owner of another one because the guy had gotten caught and cited by the Feds so many times that it had drawn increased scrutiny onto everyone else.

I remember speaking with a fairly well-known wildlife artist at a show, gingerly asking her about the game ranches. She immediately and strongly assured me that the animals were never mistreated to make them “perform”. I changed the subject.

I’ve wondered more than once when a litter is born, what happens to the babies or youngsters who aren’t willing to be socialized to people. If there are five wolf pups and only one can be handled, what happens to the other four? I think I can guess, but currently have no direct knowledge. However, these people are running businesses that need to make a profit, not sanctuaries.

I believe that there is an inherent conflict in the use of animals for profit at these game ranches. The owner’s revenue stream, profit, mortgage and care of their families is dependent on their ability to “deliver the goods”. And I think, with what I’ve seen in the pet rescue world, history has conclusively shown that if there is a choice between what serves human profit vs. what serves the animal’s interest, the animal almost always comes out on the short end.

Is there a disconnect between wildlife and animal artists who paint what they do out of love for animals, but who then patronize places that are questionable at best? Does the excitement of seeing the animals closeup and getting great photos bury any nagging little doubts or questions about what is going on at these ranches? Is it more convenient to take the explanations of the owners at face value about how they run their business?

I’m not saying that the owners are bad people or that there is deliberate abuse or cruelty going on. But, ask yourself honestly, are the conditions you’ve seen, if you’ve been to the ranches as opposed to the locations, appropriate or right or fair for any animal, much less wild ones.

I am ambivalent no longer. I will no longer patronize game ranches and I urge my fellow wildlife artists to look into their hearts and consider whether or not they should, either.

New Wildlife Art Magazine Debuts!

UPDATE 7-13-16: Unfortunately this online magazine had a short run and is now defunct. For awhile it looked like someone else would take it on but that never happened.

I just found out this afternoon that Wildlife Art Journal is now up and running. Members of the Society of Animal Artists got a heads-up a few months ago and we were able to view a preview version, but the real thing is available now here. Todd Wilkinson, who many will remember from his excellent articles in the old Wildlife Art magazine, is the editor and co-publisher of this new online-only publication. The plan is to update the content on an on-going basis instead of using the old monthly print magazine model. There is a blog also. It’s obvious that a tremendous amount of work and care have gone into creating this, driven by a deep love of wildlife and animal art.

I personally want to wish them all the very best!