I'm a cow artist - how did that happen?

by Samantha Morris

I had a dream of becoming a full time artist but I didn’t REALLY believe that it was possible.  My generation, known as “Generation X” held tight to the limiting belief that that the best way to secure a respected future was to stick to the day job and to keep your artistic endeavours as a weekend hobby.  The 9-5 employed model is a tried and tested method, it’s instructive and comfortable and it suits many people but ultimately I found it restrictive, inefficient and at worst, unhealthy.  I had a good go at conforming for many years and realised a significant amount of success, I climbed the ladder, I earned a great salary and had opportunities that took me wonderful places but I wanted to give all of that up to paint cows.  

I will never be able to describe the look of disbelief when I explained to my work colleagues that I was leaving my role as a Director to set up my own business as a “cow artist”.  At first their reaction scared me and made me doubt myself, but the more I said it, the more I believed it to be true.  I think they thought, that I had lost my mind, I could be talked out of it and I’d come to my senses.  The more incredulous they were the more determined I became.  I found a strength in doing something that was not expected and that other people couldn’t really make sense of.

It all started as an idea that I could paint my friends favourite cow as a special birthday gift.  She has a passion for cattle showmanship and a love of cows that is wholly contagious. I was so impressed with her knowledge, professionalism and above all the relationship she built with her animals, it inspired me to paint.  I wanted to create something that would honour their mutual respect and trust.  I wanted to create something that was uniquely special.  Fortunately, my house is directly opposite her farm and I would witness the daily routine of farm life, the change of seasonal duties and the animal human interactions.  One sunny Sunday afternoon, I saw my friend take a moment to sit on the grass lawn, she was promptly followed by “Vanessa” her favourite cow who knelt down beside her and rested her head on my friends outstretched legs.  I felt honoured to witness the perfect moment of quiet tenderness and trust.

 I hadn’t painted for over 20 years but I was ready to take on the challenge.  Conspiring with her family I secured opportunities to study “Vanessa” through sketches, observations and photographs.  The painting took me 2 months to complete and nervously I presented it to my friend on her special day.  The room was full of farming friends and this moment felt like a huge risk.  What if she didn’t like it, what if I’d got it really wrong, just the thought of the cringeworthy embarrassment that we would all share nearly stopped me from handing the painting over.  Encouraged by friends, the wrapped painting was handed over, the room fell quiet and my friend started to shake, she knew this was special.  Happy tears followed and I realised that when you make something for someone you establish an unspoken connection .  It is that exact feeling I repeat with every commission with every client, to this day.

When people first meet me and ask what I do, I explain “I paint cows” this often results in a curious look and I know that they are thinking that I paint the black markings on white cows!  In fact lots of people I meet haven’t come across this type of specialism before, I explain to them that it's like when you go to Ascot and you see the wonderful paintings of beautiful thoroughbred horses, commissioned by breeders, owners and art collectors -  it just so happens that my world of work -  is cows.

There are a number of creative stages involved in the production of each of my animal portraits.  Working collaboratively with professional livestock photographers as an essential first stage or taking my own reference photos. The paintings are built with up-to 50 layers of acrylic and glazes to create the shape and depth. I use subtle blending effects and exaggerating shadows to make the flat surface of the canvas appear to contain a 3-dimensional illusion within the finished piece. I know a painting has been successful when a viewer steps in to inspect the detail.

I involve my customers in the creative process of their painting, as if they’ve designed it themselves.  They entrust my skill to produce a piece of art that they will proudly be displayed in their home, I want them to be amazed.  I specialize in realistic paintings of champion pedigree cattle for farmers, auctioneers, breeders and collectors. Often these pieces of art are commissioned as family legacy pieces, combining the story of agriculture success and family history – there’s a story to every cow. I also design commercial stylised illustrations that reach a broader audience, some of which are licensed and distributed throughout the UK.

I look back on my first cow painting with great fondness that "Vanessa" catapulted me into a new career, a new adventure and a new goal to become a really great cow artist.  

Thank you for supporting on this unexpected adventure xxx

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