Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Sheep markers...what is THAT and WHAT do they have to do with painting??? Well...here is a little back ground and what has promoted this topic! When I lived in central Montana growing up, I remember an artist who lived in a near community, raised sheep, had lived in Paris and studied art, was married to a French woman he met in WWII, and was an author as well. His art was abstract to impressionistic; certainly not the Charlie Russell/Frederic Remmington type of painting that was so popular among the western art lovers.
I remember his work and thinking it was really interesting...that he was going out on a limb with his work and could only assume that he was painting for what he believed and loved. Bill Stockton was a colorful figure - he was raised in Fergus County, MT but after WWII chose to go art schools in the midwest and Paris. He exhibited nationally and his work is now part of the permanent collection at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings for one. As an author he wrote a book, called "Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat." I have not read it, but am on the quest to find a copy of it and read it.
One can google his name and read more details about Bill. He lived in central Montana until his death in 2002. A quote from Donna Forbes a former director of YAM sums up Mr. Stockton, " An outdoor man who loved his sheep, his gruffness belied a tender heart and exquisite sensitivity to the visual world. His sense of humor was apt to burst forth unexpectedly with a sharp bark of laughter at the silliness of life, particularly the "dudes" he would see traveling the western countryside looking for some authentic cowboys. Life was too hard for a small sheep rancher to tolerate phoniness of any kind."
A few years ago I did a solo show at the Lewistown Art Center and there were a few pieces of Bill's illustrations of lambs and ewes and some of his other sketches and paintings. Some of the paintings were done with SHEEP MARKER!! I had never known what "sheep marker" really was. I had seen sheep with markings on them, identifying them in some form to their owner and it looked like a paint of some sort. Occasionally you would see numbers drawn on horses and cattle at a livestock auction as well. A few months ago, I came across some work in a gallery that was done by an artist and they were interesting, abstract renditions and were accomplished with SHEEP MARKER!
I decided that I needed to give this medium a test drive and called the local farm/ranch supply store a call asking for sheep marker. Nobody knew what I was talking about. Well, I didn't either. I wasn't even sure how this stuff was supplied (or how you applied it to cattle, sheep or canvas)! So I put it on the back burner until last week when I was in eastern Montana. There's a Murdock's Store there and they are an "everything" store from sporting goods to clothes, boots, hats, pet supplies, everything you might need if you are a rancher from fencing supplies to branding irons to...When I got to the isle where the branding irons were I knew I would find sheep markers! Well, they are called "Livestock Markers" and they are sticks of colored oil paint in very basic colors. I don't think there is much in the line of quality control with color because there were several shades of green all with the same item number! But here they were and less than $2 a stick and the sticks appeared to hold quite a bit of paint! So, I bought several colors and brought them home. On the stick it says to cut the tip off of the stick to expose the fresh paint...that's the instruction. OK...so last night I got out a couple of smaller canvases, cut the tips off some of the paints, grabbed a knife and started putting some color to the canvas. The above images are the results. It was fun! I put the stick directly on the canvas and used the knife and a piece of a plastic card as well to manuveur the paint. I left them outside overnight and this morning they were dry. Also of note...they are nontoxic. Have no idea of their archival quality, but they are fun to work with and I think I might like to show some and put on the label of the painting: "livestock marker on canvas"!!