This is the largest piece I have done this year, and of a familiar subject, my sister Heidi. I think there's never really an end to the things we can learn, even in a medium and a subject we have done before. This piece speaks to the God-given gift of optimism even in the face of opposing circumstance. Cattle people know this hope well. Every year they pray for rain, but not too much, and for warmth, but not too much, and cold, but not too much. Their home and their economy is tied to the sky and the favor thereof. Praise God for the hope He gives beyond dry grass.
One of my prayers for my artwork and my general life is that God would "establish the work of my hands" because so often we can work so hard at something and feel it slip between our fingers. So it is the same with ranching; a lifetime spent building for another generation. I encourage you to pray that God would let your work be established and not in vain.
"Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" Psalm 90:17
This saddle was built between 1914 and 1930 in Alliance, Nebraska by Newberry custom saddles. It was a custom piece commissioned by someone with the initials E.P.H., but that individual's identity is lost to history. My grandfather bought this saddle used, left it to my dad, and now is in use by my sister. Growing up it meant a lot to me because I thought it was so historical and so fancy. Neither of those may be the case, but it has served many generations faithfully and stands a symbol of truly living in a saddle.
Note the fencing pliers and fencing staple bag. This saddle was used daily for moving cattle, but also for fixing any broken fence along the way.
This piece has been the recipient of two awards:
The 12th Annual Strokes of Genius International Drawing Competition-Honorable Mention
The 40th Annual Museum of Western Art Roundup Exhibition - Patron's Award
“Rise and Shine” depicts a young man and his horse, youthful in time, but skilled through experience. The sun is just rising on their lives, but they are “old hands” at their jobs. The focus of the piece is meant to be the man’s hands holding the rope with such practiced habit and his horse attentively awaiting his command.
The Nebraska Sandhills have a unique ecology unlike almost anywhere in the world consisting of grass stabilized sand dunes. It is only about 20,000 square miles in size. Because it is such a small and unique area, I have rarely seen it depicted in western art even though the Sandhills are one of the remaining areas where traditional western life and work are still common. I think people have felt it is either too difficult to capture the soft beauty of the Sandhills or they mistakenly think the landscape is boring. I hope to clearly show the beauty of this place and its people over my career as an artist. I think, like the ocean, this is a place one has to spend a life looking at in order to see it.
I did this piece on Strathmore Bristol 500 cotton paper because it is incredibly smooth. Most charcoal artists avoid bristol because they need the "tooth" to hold charcoal. It is true that a rougher texture makes darker blacks easier, but bristol has a really unique advantage: it allows the me to "slide" the charcoal around and more easily achieve the velvety texture in this piece.
Growing up, my siblings and I would take all our tack and throw it on a stool or a couple chairs and use saddle soap and oil to clean all of it at once.
This saddle belonged to my husband's aunt and she bought it used 50 some years ago from a local saddle repair place. She gave it to me recently. It is a Coggshall from Miles City, Montana.
The spurs were my dad's, the bridle was my mother's-in-law, the rawhide rope is a neighbor's, and everything else is just my own working stuff.
The dynamite crate was a gift from an elderly friend whose occupation was blowing up ice clogs in Nebraska rivers. Each detail and scuff tells a story.
This piece was done on mounted board so it is available without glazing as it is varnished like any other painting.
For my viewers who have never lived in rougher, northern climes, unless your bridles are kept in a heated room, ideally you should warm the bits before bridling your horse to keep an ice cold bit from sticking to your horse's tongue. You wouldn't enjoy licking a frozen metal pole, and neither do they!
This piece features my brother-in-law saddling horses one early morning with a standard western bridle, an o-ring snaffle bit, and horse hair mecate reins.
Some of my pieces are inspired by historical poetry and this one was born of the thought behind Rudyard Kipling's poem "If..."
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
The Hyer boot company operated in the 1900's in Olathe, Kansas. This drawing pays homage to these beautiful handmade boots. Note the intricate stitching and phoenix inlays. It was such a pleasure to explore these different textures in leather, wood, and rawhide.
It's been said that cowboying is poetry without an audience
If that's true, their boots must hold these poems. Their lines worn and stitched into them like words written on a page.
These are Hyer Boots and they tell the story of the family that started it all. CH Hyer invented the cowboy boot in 1875 and his great grand daughter's family commissioned this piece in honor of a new story....
After nearly 50 years, their family is relaunching the boot company and reviving a part of Western history that has been too long forgotten.
Cows are not dumb. They can feel your intentions like a radar before you even ride over a hill.
This cowboy rides out to rope a very saucy looking heifer, but she already knows what's up.
Technically, a few things I explored in this piece were the individual hair reflections on the hindquarters and tail. Also note the flowing and matted tail which is closer to the viewer and moving so it is blurry. I found the right foreleg really interesting and I love that it shows the bottom of the hoof, rarely seen in artwork, but amusing because hooves aren't always trimmed to beautiful circles.
This piece shows a group of horses standing together, probably on a hot day, swatting flies. They are herd animals and rely on each other for protection, help, and comfort.
Each has a different age, color and story. Here I used a few new techniques to get a "glow" off the horses to show the extreme brightness and heat of the day.
"For so the Lord provides His beloved rest".
Sometimes the hardest working of us need rest by the still waters. I was delighted to do a piece showing the shiniest coats paired with the shiniest water. They provide their own technical challenges in drawing.
I was able to use hot press paper for this piece which allows brushing charcoal super smoothly, like painting with a brush.
The title of this piece is based on Alexander Pope's poem "Ode to Solitude" which I think captures the modern cowboy/rancher/farmer quite well.
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
This piece is done in the style of old photography and focuses on differences in focal length and shading. The trees in the background fade away leading you to the possibility of the unseen stream weaving among them.
This piece has a custom frame by Montgomery Framing in Tempe, Az. It was framed with museum quality UV protecting plexiglass.
This piece was also featured in the February edition of Western Art Collector Magazine.
The piece is titled so because humans do have such a tenuous grasp on life. That is even more obvious in agriculture as livelihoods and lives depend on the right wind, rain, and temperature. Humans have created things like bridles and saddles and wool blankets and barns with rough wood as a small piece of their way to maintain that agriculture life. Look at the detail and the pain that went into the creation of these items, and the drawing itself. Just like the work of human hands, God Himself put intricate detail and love into each person intending them for a greater purpose. He knows each hair and line and He loves them.
Probably every artist has a set of pieces that are especially significant to them and feel like a real labor of love and effort. This is one of mine. The emotion behind this piece is based on Deuteronomy 11:10-15 which is a promise God gave to the Israelites when He led them out of Egypt. He said that if they followed His commands and loved Him, He would bless their land, their cattle and their crops bringing rain "in its season" and His "eyes would be on their land from the beginning on the year to the end of the year". That promise has been my prayer for our ranch and the Sandhills for the last few years. Our tenure on the land is entirely due, moment to moment, to God's grace in sending rain in its season. In the last few weeks we have had rain ending what so many were afraid was the beginning of a very dry year. Praise God for rain.
"Things Unseen" is the pinnacle of my high detail work. It focuses on the intricacies of long, knotted horse hair. The horse is young, has its ears tuned to its rider. The headstall is rough, unlatched, broken. "Things Unseen" as a title has several levels of meaning. At its most shallow level it refers to the efforts and time and practice the artist exerts before achieving skill of this kind. People see this work and ask how someone can be so skilled, but the answer is the unseen thousands of hours of work before this piece. At a deeper level, the title is in reference to the Bible verses from 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 which refer to current human affliction being nothing when compared to eternal glorification in Jesus Christ. This meaning has spiritual implications, but also to the effort exerted on this specific piece and the achievement at the end. It was a serious challenge to my technical ability and my mental ability; drawing complicated, amorphous hair is very mentally taxing and I had to take a lot of breaks.
This piece took 110 hours to complete.
This piece was a pleasure to do. It had interesting textures, focal lengths, and motion. I learned a few new things that I will use moving forward. Studying how a new medium functions is always so interesting.
The title is based on Hebrews 12:1 "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,"
The verse relates to both the piece and our lives: do everything with purpose because it is significant and yet focus on the eternity which all of us must face.
The model for this piece is my sister Heidi who, in real life, does personify the idea I am illustrating. Ranch women work hard and struggle with gender roles that are more firmly entrenched than in most cultures in the US. Their lives consist of long hours in the sun and wind, but also the cooking, cleaning, bill paying, and child raising that accompanies being female. The woman in this picture has a college degree, worked harder than most men have ever heard of working, raised five children, and accomplished more in her businesses than most people dream of.
The title of this piece is based on Job 42:5 "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you." This, to me, represents the growth I have experienced in the last year artistically and spiritually. I have prayed for God to open my eyes to see the world more clearly and in depth for my artwork; that I would be able to see into the heart of the person I am drawing. I feel my prayer has been answered this year and it is visible in this piece culminating a year of marathon labors.
Technically this piece consists of many layers, laying down charcoal, brushing it into the paper, erasing it, adding depth, shine, and texture. The wood grain was particularly interesting.
"When You Can See The Cows" is the typical cowboy response to the question of "When do we start work in the morning?" which indicates that work starts as soon as there is enough light to discern black cows from the landscape.
Our cattle ranch still does the traditional hot iron branding of 1100 calves every year and we still use horses and ropes to catch the calves. It hasn't changed in format in 100 years. This picture illustrates the earliest dawn and a cowboy preparing his rope to begin work. Traditional cowboy attire is very unique to each person, often accumulated over a lifetime and each piece is intended to last a lifetime. His boots, his spurs, his saddle, his saddle blanket, his chaps, his hat, and his bridle all tell a story about where he has lived and worked.
This man has the traditional leather covered tapaderos (the things covering his stirrups and boots) which are usually only worn in the southwest of the United States due to the rough plant life and extreme temperatures. His chaps are too small for him and worn. His blanket is frayed. His saddle is handmade and has a specific basket weave. He tucks his pants into his boots instead of wearing them on the outside which also marks him as being from outside the area where I live. The piece captures a single moment of waiting before work begins in a rapidly dying culture: the life of a real cowboy who still lives every day on a horse.
This is the largest piece I've done so far. It was a good study in corral sand. If you have ever been in a dry sandy corral you know the texture. You probably also know the feeling of the sun beating on that sand and reflecting back up at you all day, making the heat of the cows hazy.
I've heard a few people say that if you "can't see the feet" of the horse in a drawing then the artist doesn't know how to draw feet. In reality, you can rarely see the feet of horse because of grass, sand or rocks, but here they are, four horse feet and two human feet!