The banana horned cow was my sister’s cow. Granddad got each of us girls a cow when we were young and every time those cows calved he sold the calves and put the money into a savings account for each of us to help pay for college. Tanessa’s cow actually got struck by lightning, but before she died she had her one and only heifer. So that calf, which grew up to be the banana horned cow (we just referred to her as Banana Horn), replaced her mother for Tanessa’s college fund. She was a really good mother; she loved her babies, always weaning heavy calves. We hoped before she got too old she would have a heifer to replace her, but year after year she had bull calves. That was great for Tanessa’s college fund, but not so good for her commercial herd to grow. Tanessa is about to graduate college with a degree in English literature and thanks to Banana Horn, she was able to do a study abroad in Oxford, England, for a semester.
We are so fortunate to have such a generous grandfather. It’s neat to see the results of his planning!
This is a painting of the Nunley Brothers cattle. They have ranches in several different parts of Texas. In one area they focus on their Santa Gertrudis base herd, raising replacement heifers and in another they take Santa Gertrudis cows and breed them to Hereford bulls and get cherry red, motley-face calves. They have a production sale and sell all of the calves. If anyone is interested in some quality motley-faced heifers visit their website: www.nunleybrothers.com/. Their grandfather started with the Santa Gertrudis cattle and passed down the cowherd and the desire to ranch to the brothers.
I started this painting when I was really sick. I have a different relationship with this painting than I do with all of the others. This was the second one of these I did, because both of the brothers wanted an original of this same painting. But when I was supposed to start painting I found out that I had, as Forrest Gump says, “the cancer”. I had a type of slower growing thyroid cancer, which was not life threatening at that point, but it did require surgery and radiation–rendering me very sick for several months. I have always been a very active, independent Texas woman! So to be weak and vulnerable was a big change. I felt like a dark fog had come upon me–I had neither physical nor emotional strength. But I had promised to get this painting done! So I pulled myself off the couch and made a nest on the floor and started painting. It gave me a reason to get up and something to look foreword to. I learned how important it is for a person to have some responsibility and to have something that depends on them to get done, especially during a time of recovery. I also learned that no matter what may happen God is good and He loves me. That is just as true when I am blessed with health as when I am struggling with sickness. While I was dealing with my cancer, country singer Joey Feek and her family were dealing with hers. I had seen Joey and Rory in concert while I was in college. Since then I have been a fan of theirs. I am healing and starting to live my life as it was before. Joey just lost her battle with cancer and she has gone to be with Jesus. Her life really made an impact on me: she lived well, she suffered well and praised God. I hope I can do the same.
I wanted to share a few things I have found really helpful in my artistic process. This is a picture of a canvas that I painted before I put my outline on. I like to do that sometimes because it doesn’t let any of the white from the canvas show through my painting. It can also leave a neat effect if I leave a little of the blue showing through my painting, especially if I have used a contrasting color. When I have used a darker color for the under painting, it makes it very difficult to see the outline that I put on the canvas, so I like to use a Sharpie.
This is my Sharpie; it really helps if you can identify which Sharpie is yours. Put some distinguishing mark on it and people won’t run off with your Sharpie near as often. You can see mine has a calf band on it. That is what we use to castrate our calves. I went to a cattle convention and they were demonstrating how the castration tool worked on these Sharpies. Like I said, think of some identification to put on your tools and you will keep them around longer. Sometimes my outline is still a little hard to see so I will just call this Cow in Blue and say it is supposed to be like this–Picasso would have been proud.
Moving on, this is the easel my sweet boyfriend got this for me when I first started art school. As my paintings got larger I needed it to be able to balance bigger pieces. I added about a foot to the top of my easel by using a cattle de-wormer box. I used a Safeguard box, but I’m sure any brand box would work. The box fit over the end of the support and added extra stability. To attach the box I used tape. I have heard that with duct tape you can fix anything, but I didn’t have any duct tape so I used the next best thing: masking tape. The masking tape is just now starting to peel after about a year so it has definitely held for a while and served its purpose. Ranching has certainly aided my artistic endeavors. If I come across any other helpful tips, I will be sure to pass them on!
I decided to paint a brightly colored one-of-a-kind horned cow. I prefer to use my own reference material, so everything that I have painted or drawn that was not a custom piece has come from a photograph that one of my family members has taken. My sisters and parents are all very talented with a camera. The Girls of Circle C series came from right across the fence. Our neighbor’s have a base herd of Corriente and Longhorn cows that they are breeding to various beef bulls and selling the steers. They have found that these cows are really easy doing and make great mothers. After getting permission to photograph the cattle we set out down the dirt roads that wind around their ranch. I was driving the get-away car while my mother and sister were hanging out the windows with their cameras snapping pictures right and left! It’s so fun to spend the afternoon admiring cattle and getting pictures. I love color and the different colored cattle and the various shapes of their horns intrigues me. Since I started painting cattle it has made me look at them in a whole new light. I have grown up seeing cattle and judging which ones were the best phenotypically, which ones were gaining weight and which ones were not and so forth, but I had never focused on the shapes of their faces. I hadn’t noticed in some breeds their lips droop past their chins, while others have tight, shallow lips. I have also noticed that within a breed the way that the ears are set varies exceedingly and I love it. I love the differences in the set of the horns, the expressions of their eyes and I especially love the Brahman’s floppy ears! After taking pictures and finding a photo that seemed to portray an ideal Longhorn, I began to paint.
I knew I wanted a colorful cow with a chevron background. I thought it would be easy just to slap a bunch of colors on the canvas and voila’ it would take shape and be done. So I began with the background. Then I blocked the cow out, starting with all of the darkest darks. Next, I began putting color here and there and what I got I thought looked like a clown! I wasn’t happy with that, so I decided to make it more realistic colored. I added two layers of cream color on the cow, but in the back of my mind I still wanted to use a lot of colors and make something really unique. I looked at some other colorful art that I liked and I noticed that even though they used many colors there was a unifying color that was repeated several times that tied the other colors together. So with my new plan I began adding colors again. I go through stages where I have a new favorite color for a week, then it changes and I might have a different favorite the next week. When I painted this one I was really into turquoise and corals and I used those colors repeatedly. I was much happier with the outcome this time around. That is what I love about painting. I like the freedom that it gives you to try new things. If you don’t like it you can just cover it up and do something different. In most of the painting that I do, I am just as surprised to see how it turns out as everyone else. I wish everyone could experience the freedom and flexibility that painting offers!
“A grayish brindle cow with up-right horns: that’s what your grandma’s Bicycle Cow looked like.”
I think this painting might resemble the cow my granddad was referring to. Bicycle Cow descended from a line of cows that had survived the flood of 1908 when the Red River jumped its banks and hundreds of cattle and other livestock were lost. This particular cow’s grandmother had managed to reach higher ground when the river flooded. The cattle stood in water up to their knees, but they survived. I like to imagine that Bicycle Cow’s grandmother was the hero and led the other cows up the hill to safety, but who knows what really happened. Grandma’s Bicycle Cow was from a long line of survivors that is for sure.
Granddad likes to tell the story of how Bicycle Cow got her name, the day that Grandma was bringing water to him while he was fixing the fence. “I saw your grandma head into the pasture,” Granddad recalls, “and about the time she came through the gate, our horned cow saw her, too. From the look on the cow’s face she had never in her life seen a woman on a bicycle and she had certainly never seen one in her pasture. That cow stood on her tiptoes, head raised, smelling the air. She headed to where your Grandma had just gotten back on her bike. When she looked up and saw the cow coming her direction, she abandoned the bicycle and climbed over the fence, letting the cow have a good long look at the bike up close and personally, while she stood on the road.” Ever since Grandma gave her bike to the cow, they always called the cow Grandma’s Bicycle Cow.
That cow is long gone, but we still ranch and patch fence. My sisters and I are the fourth generation to run cattle here. Currently we raise registered Brangus and commercial cattle. I am blessed to live this life I love: ranching and making art.