Archive for the “In the field” Category

…and a hell of an adventure. We spent 4 days packing in, camping, riding, and packing out of the Great Bear Wilderness (part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex), which is the vast wild area south of Glacier National Park. Notes of interest:

  • It is very difficult to take photographs from the back of a moving horse.
  • 15 miles in the saddle at one time can make the butt sore, along with utilizing various muscle groups in ways they don’t normally get.
  • Advil and Vanquish really help with butt soreness.
  • For reasons I don’t quite understand, heart-attack food and wilderness go together. (We ate breakfasts that consisted of french toast and half a pig’s worth of bacon, or biscuits and gravy, or pancakes and sausage…).
  • Draft mules can carry simply amazing amounts of stuff. Not only that, I watched with admiration as each mule carefully maneuvered its high’n’wide panniers or packboxes to miss all the trees crowding the trail.
  • A good saddle horse is worth a lot when you’re back in the wilderness.
  • Horses and mules get awfully fresh after 2 days of lazing about on a high-line with occasional turns loose in the meadows and forest. (Pack string rodeo is disconcerting, to say the least).

Our hosts were Jay & Kim Diest; Jay has spent half a lifetime packing for the Forest Service in northwestern Montana and living in the wilderness while so doing. His vast experience with stock, campcraft, knots, dogsledding, hunting, and packing is humbling, and he probably represents a dying breed. Jay had stories galore and we clamored for more.


A study in contrasts and irony: this is a wilderness airstrip which Paul (my husband, and the guy on the red roan) had flown us into when we owned a bush plane.


 You better have good steady stock when you’re riding a scree slope like this one.

I’m still sorting through the 1100+ photos that I took, and feeling a bit let down to be back in civilization. Though that first hot shower after being in the back of beyond is always damn nice…

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A gallery dealer of mine and I were chatting once about a certain well-known wildlife artist, and the dealer said “I’ve heard all the stories about this artist copying others…but how can you wildlife artists keep coming up with original ideas?”

My answer to that: time in the field. There is nothing like going to the source – the animals themselves – for fresh inspiration, new light, seasonal stimulation, whatever. Whether your fieldwork is a zoo, a pasture, a park or preserve, or your own backyard – time with the animals will renew you artistically.

This morning I made one of my favorite field trips: driving the full Red Sleep Mountain loop at the National Bison Range, about 55 miles from my house. The road is 20 miles long and usually takes me at least 3 or 4 hours, depending on the wildlife. Today, the bison were in the high pasture and nowhere near the road (you’re not allowed to hike off road), but fortunately pronghorn were scattered all over the north side.


I also had the delightful experience of seeing, and even photographing (sorta) my first wild badger – I saw something small running through the prairie and my first thought was “cat”. Then I thought “what the aitch ee double hockeysticks would a kittycat be doing in the National Bison Range??” When I caught up to the critter my second thought was “raccoon”, but it was too low and lacked a tail. I lucked out and caught just a couple shots before the badger went to ground. Coolness! And, as always, joyous to be out soaking up Gorgeous Wildlife Energy.



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This past weekend (Mar 27 – 29) I spent, with friends, at the world-famous – or at least Montana-famous – Freezeout Lake. This shallow string of ponds is located on the Rocky Mountain Front, near Choteau, Montana (about 40 miles from Great Falls). The “Front” is a dramatic and unusual landscape: the rolling wheat-basket plains of eastern Montana run hard and abruptly against the Rocky Mountains, making for a rich and unique landscape. It’s the only place in the lower 48 where grizzly bears still venture out of the mountains onto the flatter ranching country.

Getting to Freezeout from Missoula takes about 2.5 hours on the beautiful two-lane MT 200. But – why go there?

Freezeout is a major snow-goose staging area on the spring migration route from California (I have photos of the wintering geese at Sacramento NWR) to their summer grounds in Alberta and Saskatchewan. There can be gazillions at Freezeout, but just for a few days each spring; there will be some thousands present over several weeks, but the huge mass of the birds only stops over for 3 or 4 days.

The bulk of the migration comes at the end of March; MT FWP (Fish Wildlife & Parks) has a hotline with the current estimate of bird numbers present. During the 48 hours we spent at Freezeout, there were approximately 110,000 snow geese; we also saw tundra swans (a first for me), wigeon, pintail, mallards, mergansers, redheads, goldeneye, canvasbacks, and I can’t even remember what else. We had some sunshine but it was mostly bone-chilling wind (typical of the Front), and on Sunday a blizzard of snow moved in, making for hair-raising moments driving home. And the majority of the geese had already flown by the time we left – such an ephemeral thing.

I shot, oh, at least a thousand images (thank heaven for digital!!!). A couple:


The lake itself, with snow geese by the thousands on its surface, and – over the mountains of the Front – countless more thousands migrating northward.


A blizzard of snow geese – spooked up by a golden eagle.


Pintails in flight – they’re like a squadron of fighter pilots, they move so swiftly and turn so abruptly.

There are so many reasons I love Montana, and the weekend at Freezeout added to that list.

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My “Capturing the Essence” workshop at Triple D Game Farm in Kalispell took place Feb 5 – 8. Rather than bore everyone trying to describe it all, I’m going to operate on the “picture is worth a thousand words” principle. Clearly, there was a lot of suffering going on.








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It’s time for my second annual Winter Workshop at Triple D Game Farm, this Thursday 2/5 through Sunday 2/8.

Last year’s workshop was in the middle of February, over Valentine’s Day…and spring arrived quite abruptly in the middle of our workshop, after nice 25 degree weather and snow preceding it. So I moved the workshop up a week for this year – and, wouldn’t you know it, we’re supposed to get highs near 48 F! That’s waaaayyyy too early for spring in western Montana (not that I’m blaming global warming or anything…). Fortunately, we had a lot of snow in December, so the compounds are in good shape.

And soon I’ll figure out a great excuse to paint one of the gorgeous big exotic cats at Triple D … as Confucius said, “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.

I’ll post after the workshop.

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Well, I’m home and starting to catch up on sleep from Fall Arts Festival in Jackson Hole. This is my mega-networking-socializing blowout each year – boozing, schmoozing, and precious little sleep.

The economic downturn does seem to be affecting gallery sales a bit, but it’s uneven. The crowd, and bidding, at the Quickdraw were large and enthusiastic, and many things went for above retail (including mine, whew). The JH Art Auction, which took place on Saturday afternoon and included a lot of deceased art, did fairly well (from the one update I heard mid-afternoon), with the biggies going for big prices (eg, Howard Terpning’s piece selling for $750K). However, the Western Visions show at the museum didn’t sell as many pieces as usual (again, hearsay).

Fall Arts is an invaluable opportunity to yak with other artists about business – I encourage anyone who is working in western/wildlife representational, and serious about her career, to come to JH at this time of year to hang out with the many well-known artists and ask questions.

OK, enough about “I brushed my teeth last week” and on to the Big Commission (B.C.).

Last winter, an oil exec saw my work in Legacy Gallery (thank you, Legacy!) and contacted me about a commission of his barrel-racing daughters. I followed up, didn’t hear from him, forgot about it. He called me again in June to ask about dates when I could come visit, I followed up, didn’t hear from him, forgot about it. (There’s a lesson I could stand to learn here about being persistent in my follow-up…a true salesperson would probably cringe at my lack of follow-through!).

He called again in late August and wanted me to come visit within a week due to the departure of one of the daughters for college; fortunately, my calendar could be cleared, so after he sent an airline ticket I headed off to his beautiful ranch in the northern Rockies (useful tip: always have a valid passport on hand!). Movies have been filmed at his ranch, and in fact a movie crew was setting up while I was there. I spent several days photographing the daughters on their horses, both at the spectacular ranch and at a high-school rodeo, and came home with 800 or so photos to work from. The daughters were all slender and gorgeous and looked great on their horses.

While at his ranch, I had the entire top floor of a breathtakingly remodeled barn to myself – bar, kitchen with acres of granite, sauna, hot tub, etc. And a limo driver who chauffeured me to and from the ranch/airport (60 miles each way). Sometimes, you gotta suffer for your art.

Bar N.jpg

Next installment: negotiating the deal and first sketches.


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