Sheep markers…WHAT???

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”!!


About bonnie griffith

I am a landscape artist who works in pastels, oils and acrylics. My work focuses on representational studies of the western US. I am basically self taught with lots of workshops and studies with several landscape artists such as Bruce Haughey and Clark Elster. I live in southwestern Idaho, am a native Montanan with a strong connection to the land. I spend as much time as I can in MT painting as well other parts of the northwest. I appreciate getting out in the field and working plein air because there is nothing like completing a painting in the true light of day and visually not being compromised by the use of a photo. In my work, my goal is to produce a piece of work that draws the viewer into the painting and challenges them to explore the scene; get a sense of the time of day, the temperature, the light or lack of. If I have gotten that viewer to step out of their reality and into that painting and enjoy it, then my work was accomplished as I wished. View all posts by bonnie griffith

6 responses to “Sheep markers…WHAT???

  • Maria

    wow outstanding story, I was curious about how you got a hold of them.


  • B Zahn Griffith

    I think the more rural farm/ranch supply stores carry them. They are fun to work with. I just put them in zip lock baggies when I was finished.


  • Penny Chadwell

    Wow, Bonnie. These are wonderful! I've been thinking about moving to a very limited palette, mostly grayscale, and your livestock marker paintings are a true inspiration.


  • Deb Townsend

    What fun! Love your story and the paintings are wonderful. Love the grayscale especially.


  • Erica Keener

    Have you ever tried paint sticks/oil bars? They are essentially the same thing, oil paint with a bit of wax in them so they can be formed into sticks and dry overnight. They are a lot of fun!


  • B Zahn Griffith

    I did read the book "Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat". It is a gentle book, not about art, but the author's love of his land and his sheep. He gives the reader and insight on the predators of the livestock; some traits of coyotes that I did not know, as example. Raising livestock can be hard, but for one who loves the land and animals; it's a way of life they would not give up. If you get a chance, pick up the book and read it. I bought my copy from Barnes and Noble on line. And if you get the chance and are ever in Billings, MT – go to the Yellowstone Art Museum and see Bill Stockton's collection of drawings and paintings. Some say he is the most important Montana artist since CM Russell…I wish I would have known the guy…


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