Process of Drawing Cowboys- Ken

1I 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 definiunnamedng 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 3and 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 spaces2 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.        unnamed              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.

Painting Progression Blue Bell

blue bell 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.

blue bell-2 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 blue bell-3shadows 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.


Blue Bell 36x38" Oil
Blue Bell 36×38″ Oil


Bonus Tips from The Quirky Cowgirl–Artistic Process


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 becaindexbcuse 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 indexshon 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 indexeaextra 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!

Process of a Painting “Girls of Circle C 6”

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 haindexve 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 index1ones 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 tindex2ake 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. Whenindex3 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!index4