I thought I would take this opportunity to share my process of drawing, using my latest piece as an example. I really enjoy drawing: it’s taking smudges and marks and making them all fit together into something recognizeable. The thing that I get excited about is how you can start with a blank sheet of paper and end with a distinguishable figure. I have enjoyed doing custom work a lot lately, because it means something to someone. It isn’t just another picture; it is a memory that someone cherishes. Yes, that does add a little more pressure to “get it right,” but in the end it adds a level of satisfaction, knowing that this drawing is important to them.
I start by making an outline, then I practice for two to three days before I actually start on “the real” drawing. I practice on an area that I’m not so confident in or that I need to make sure looks distinguishable–a part that is especially important to the drawing. If it is a person, hopefully it will look like them, so I need to study and pinpoint some of their defining features. In this instance I practiced on the face several times. These practices are like several of my others– the first attempt looks like a bunch of blobs and each practice gets more detailed as I go. I also practiced the hands. Hands can be tricky. I practiced on the cow, specifically looking at the eye and nose; I also wanted to make sure I could make it look white. I wanted to make it obvious that it was a Charolais cow contrasted with a sorrel horse. So after I had considered these things and practiced for three days, I began to draw. When I paint I go from dark to light and cover as much of the canvas as I can, with whatever color I am working with at that time. Even though my drawing should probably be viewed more as painting with a pencil, I approach drawing in a different way. I go from left to right as I am right handed and don’t want to smear my drawing. People have different tricks for doing this, like putting their hand on a piece of paper or something like that. I have found it is easier for me not to have to worry about that; I just go from left to right, top to bottom. In some areas I work from light to dark. In other areas, like where something is obviously black, I will make it black and block out some areas, creating landmarks. Then I go back to light to dark again. Specifically for the really light areas on this cow– I used my blending stump and added a really light, soft color, then went over it again with the blending stump until I had reached the desired darkness. If I needed it a touch darker and still wanted a softer, gradual change in color, I used a really soft pencil and made a dark spot on a scratch paper, then dipped my blending stump in the spot and applied another layer on the cow. If I wanted a harsher line I used a hard pencil, colored the area and used my blender to go back over it. Sometimes I get carried away in the breadth of the dark area. At that point I can reduce it by using my eraser pencil. In this project, once a line is made, it stays. The only thing an eraser can do Is change the value a little. Because of this it is really important to leave all the white spaces white because you will never be able to get them back again. Some people use a white pencil or something to fix those areas, but I don’t want to worry about it; I think it adds a different consistency that I don’t care for. Additionally, when erasing or drawing, blending, whatever, I try and use a circular or at least somewhat rhythmic motion. I don’t want to have a lot of pencil lines and eraser marks in my work. The other thing I try and add is a lot of contrast. I tend to make my darks darker than they really are and my lights a little lighter, because I love contrast. My favorite drawings are side lit, where one side of the image is in shadow and one side in light. The darker the value I want to make the softer the pencil, the lighter the area the harder the pencil. If I am adding detail in a small area I prefer a hard pencil, because it doesn’t crumble and get dust everywhere. To clean the edges of the piece once I am finished, I use a kneed-able eraser. It picks up dust and smudges the best. After I pass over the smudges I kneed the eraser, otherwise the eraser can pick up all that dust and get too full, leaving marks on the paper that I am trying to clean! I use carbon pencils and/or charcoal pencils, depending on what is available. I prefer carbon pencils. I hope everyone who is interested in trying drawing will feel a little more confident to go out and try it. This drawing was especially fun for me to do because I love the movement in it: I like the dust, the horse’s tail, the rope and the reins all flying up in the excitement. I also enjoyed this drawing because it is of one of our dear friends and I hope this wonderful family knows how much we are thinking of them and how much we love them. This drawing went to the Ken Hughes benefit ranch rodeo and silent auction. Thank you everyone that put money on it and helped our friends out.
Granddad says ranching is one of those things that brings a person closer to God. One of his favorite examples is watching our heifers (cows that have never calved) out in the pasture. They are frisky little things, running around like they don’t have a care in the world. Then they calve, and immediately their first thought is to protect their baby. They get their baby up, they clean it, make sure it nurses, and they keep it safe. Nobody tells them to do this; they just know. It is an instinct they are born with. It is ingrained into their very being to care for their calves.
This is not to say that a few first-time mothers don’t need an extra hand figuring things out. It is common for cows to go find a protected spot in the trees off by themselves to calve. But we once had a heifer who missed the point: she calved up in the front of the pasture then went and hid in the trees by herself, leaving the calf in the front! We found a slimy, hungry baby all alone. We got the cow up and penned her with the baby so she would bond with it. When we reunited them she was thrilled to see her baby and she licked him enthusiastically! She had the right idea to hide and calve, but got a little mixed up in the order of things! This happens with first-time mothers sometimes, but most of our heifers have been great mothers from the get-go. When these first-time mothers calve, we usually can tell when they are close and we trade off checking on them every few hours during the night to make sure everything is going all right. I love having a cow-calf operation and seeing the new life. Watching the babies frolic in the sunshine is one of my favorite things! This is one of the reasons I paint cattle. I love this way of life! This is another one of Circle C’s cows and she looks like she is going to have her baby any minute. I’m sure she will have a strong maternal instinct, caring for and protecting her calf.
I thought it would be fun to show the progression of one of my paintings. Sometimes I have a plan and I know what colors I want to use and how I basically want it to turn out. Other times, like in this instance, I just go with it. I started out blocking all of the darkest dark areas. Black is too flat and one dimensional for me; I don’t use black. I just use dark colors that I mix. For the darks in this painting I used a mix of violet and raw umber (really dark brown) Next I began filling in the rest of the space with greens and turquoises. I like that these colors cover up the canvas so I wont have any white spots showing through my painting. I also like letting the bottom layer of color show through a little on the next layer. I really like using warm and cool colors together, so I thought I could use bluish -greens, on the bottom and use oranges and corals on the top.
So, in the next layer I started adding warm colors. I added oranges to the areas that were highlighted and in some of the midrange areas. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I like to use color, but I have found that sticking to a few colors that repeat themselves throughout the painting works better for me. If I try to use too many colors at once I usually end up with a clown cow instead of a unified piece. I like a lot of variation within a color and that is why I mix a lot of my own colors – or like in this painting, I used a cadmium orange and added reds, white, and yellow to it to give it some life.
I decided to exaggerate the cow’s natural grey color. I used a sea-foam color for her body, but it looked a little blah with the oranges, and I ended up toning them down with a cool magenta. I also used magenta in my shadows to lighten some of them up. If you were wondering what the Na is doing written in the corner of the painting, it is just hanging out. Sometimes when I am trying to decide what to do next I start painting random words in the background. There are all kinds of things written into my paintings!
The last thing I did was add the highlights. A lot of times I do not use straight white for the highlights; I’ll add a hint of yellow or something. But I decided I liked how the white looked on this one. The last thing I did was decide on a background color. After much deliberation I went with the greens that you could see showing underneath the cow from my base layer. I thought this painting was a fun one to talk about because it went through a big transformation from the beginning to the end.
Gracie is my horse. I got her when I graduated high school and she is the best horse ever! I got her from Champion Ranch. The owner of the ranch, Richard Walrath, donates several $10,000 scholarships to 4-H and FFA. I was fortunate enough to be awarded one. I wrote Mr. Walrath a thank you and he liked it so much that he told me to come and pick out a horse. He had two fillies that had been started and the minute I saw Gracie I knew she was the one I wanted. She looked like she could move. I grew up riding pleasure horses and had decided I wanted to try something different, so I traded for a mare that had been shown in working cow and reining. She got hurt and we had to put her down just a few months before I got Gracie. I was thrilled to get another little cow-horse. She is pretty good about not letting a cow by in the pens and it doesn’t matter how big of a fit a colt throws when you pony it: she will hold it. Everything I have learned and all of the new things I wanted to try she has been up for and has met the challenge. I have been able to take her with me to college and everywhere we have moved. Her personality suits me. My Granddad says that a person is lucky in life to have found one good woman, a good dog and a good horse. He always said everything he had was for sale at the right price except for my grandma, his dog Rosie and his horse Corky–that tells you how much he valued those things. I think Gracie is that special horse for me.
We set out in the suburban, cameras in hand, to take cattle pictures in the area. We had pulled over in a ditch and were hanging out the windows voraciously snapping pictures from the road along Circle C Ranch, when a grain truck pulled up behind us. It was the Circle C ranch manager and he said if we would come back when he was through feeding, he would take us around in the feed truck and we could take all the cattle pictures we wanted. There was a particular cow he wanted me to see, the one I’m calling Curly Q. She has enormous asymmetrical horns! She’s never had a calf, but they keep her around because she is so cool looking. I have never seen a cow with horns quite like hers and I am excited that I got some pictures. I really hadn’t realized until I started painting all these horned cattle, that none of them are exactly symmetrical and many are off quite a bit. I love the variation! We take our own photos for these original paintings and that is half the fun! The sun was lovely that afternoon and we had a blast looking at cows and taking pictures. It was a wonderful day in northeast Texas!
My sisters and I have always loved to listen to my granddad tell about his life ranching in east Texas. He tells about the cattle he has had and everything he has seen in his eighty-six years in the agricultural industry. Over the years Granddad has tried many different breeds of cattle—it’s not easy to thrive in the heat of Texas. He once tried a Brahman bull to put on his commercial cows. Brahman’s are known for their heat tolerance, hardiness and maternal instinct—and also big ears and a hump between their shoulders. Granddad picked up the new Brahman bull from the local sale barn in Paris, Texas. He said this bull was a good, stout fellow and he put him with the cows. The next day he was straightening troughs and walking around the cows, when the bull spotted him. Immediately, the bull started towards him. Startled by being greeted with such enthusiasm, and unsure of the behemoth’s intentions, Granddad stepped behind the nearest tree. The bull kept coming. When he was about a yard away from Granddad’s hiding spot, he abruptly stopped and put his head down. Granddad reached around the tree and started scratching him. The bull apparently loved being scratched because he promptly laid down right then and there. He turned out to be really gentle. Anytime a person would scratch him, especially when they scratched him behind his ears, he would just flop over! Granddad said he would drive the feed truck in the pasture and the bull would run up to the truck and try and stick his head in the window. If someone would scratch him from the window, he would lay down right beside the truck. My aunt and uncle were really little at the time and they loved that. They would jump out of the truck and want to feel his hump. Granddad said they were mesmerized by the bull’s hump.
Even though this bull was gentle in the pasture, he was like a whole different animal in the corral. You didn’t want to shut the gate on him. At that time, our corrals and alleys were all wooden planks. Granddad had gotten the cattle up, gotten them penned, and the next thing he knew, his bull had crashed through and broken the corral’s wooden gate. After having this bull for a while, he realized he wasn’t getting any Brahman calves, and had to sell the bull. Since the bull wouldn’t stay in the corral, Granddad had to park the trailer in the pasture and lure him inside with a bucket of feed to get him captured. He began pouring a bucket of feed in the trailer and the bull just walked right in to have his supper. All Granddad had to do was close the gate and hauled him to town. Though he was disappointed not to have any calves from that bull, he really enjoyed his personality and being around such a character.
The bull in the painting is one that our neighbors at Circle C Ranch have, and they were gracious enough to let me get a picture of him. He was fun to paint with his long ears and superior expression. We have found that Brahman influenced cattle are great for our area because they can stand the heat, and now we use the Brahman-influenced Brangus cattle for our registered and commercial herds.
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!