Monday, December 27, 2010

Sheep Pellets of Wisdom: The Year in Review

Well, here we are nearing the end of another year. Although I am looking forward to what the New Year might bring, like most people I can’t help but cast a glance backward over the old year now drawing to a close. On our farm, 2010 was a pretty good year. We had a number of successes: a healthy little crop of lambs which sold easily, many bags of beautiful fleeces, a freezer full of fat roosters and Guinea fowl, and a wonderfully productive vegetable garden with some of the most beautiful tomatoes I have ever grown. In the failures column, we had no zucchini, inedible pole beans, edible but strangely deformed pumpkins, some trouble with pasture parasites, and a favourite wether had to be euthanized. We got some things right and we got some things wrong. Where the sheep were concerned, 2010 was a year of learning from mistakes made the previous year and, no doubt, making new mistakes- ones which I am sure are bound to reveal themselves in due course. But that’s for next year. For now, here are the top twenty things I learned about sheep in 2010.

20. From the point of view of the sheep, there is no such thing as too many windfall apples.

19. From the point of view of the shepherd, “too many” windfall apples is approximately one half bushel less than the amount required to cause gastro-intestinal upset in sheep.

18. The friendliest, most persistently affectionate animal known to humanity is a 200 lb wether with diarrhoea .

17. Don’t de-worm sheep on a day when it is cold and wet unless you also would like to be cold and wet.

16. Delphinium: It’s sheep Latin for “Poison? No! Eat me, I taste like candy!”

15. If it is thirty degrees and mid-July, and the renderer says he will be coming on Wednesday to pick up a dead sheep, he really means Friday. If it is minus thirty degrees and mid-January, when he says Wednesday, he means Wednesday.

14. Under no circumstances ever tell your dinner guests what is under that tarp outside the barn. If anyone asks what it is, just say, “Stuff”.

13. Sheep who turn their noses up at slightly coarse hay will, in the very next instant, eat their straw bedding.

12. Sheep are untroubled by such concepts as irony or logical consistency.

11. The first time your ewes lamb, your whole family comes out to the barn with you in the middle of the night to make videos or take pictures or to otherwise be a witness to the miracle of birth. Lambing the second time around, when you complain to your husband about having to go out to the barn at two am, he says, “Well, you were the one who wanted sheep,” then rolls over and goes back to sleep.

10. To a lamb, everything looks like an udder except an udder.

9. Ewes can’t count.

8. When given a choice between running through a gate to rejoin its mother and running headlong into a fence, nine times out of ten a lamb will choose to run into the fence.

7. A fat lamb will always find a way to get into the creep feeder. Getting out is another matter.

6. The first time you take your lambs to the butcher, you cry in the truck during the drive to the slaughter house. The second time, you plan the menu.

5. The most agile animal on the planet is not a gazelle, a cat or a squirrel. It is an overweight seven year old Border Leicester ram who does not wish to have his feet trimmed.

4. If your sheep are standing outside in driving rain when they could be inside, one of two things has occurred: either a) the doorway to the barn is currently occupied by a flock of bad tempered Muscovy ducks or, b) one of Dumb Dora’s offspring is in the barn, racing around with a bucket stuck on its head.

3. A long wool sheep with an itch is a force of nature.

2. The number of times a person is willing to replace, repair, or re-position automatic waterers which have been ripped off the wall by itchy sheep before one gives up on automatic waterers and goes back to using buckets is: six.

1. To look out at your pasture in the spring and see it clothed with healthy ewes and playful lambs is possibly the best feeling in the world.

Photo by the artist

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eric's New Coat

For inexplicable reasons, I have recently developed a fondness for images of dogs wearing doggie coats. There is something about the way they look, the expression on their faces, that strikes me as funny. So when I saw a photo of a friend's dog all decked out in his new threads, well, I just couldn't resist, could I?

Eric's New Coat - 9x12, painted paper collage on panel ©2010 Alyson Champ

Eric, whose official title is Eric the Perfect Dog, is a rescued greyhound. He belongs to Dr. Cathy Gallivan, who is an animal geneticist, and who is also the owner and editor of Sheep Canada Magazine. Sheep Canada, you will recall, is the quarterly magazine to which I contribute a humour column derived mainly from the sheep related contents of this blog.

Cathy and I met kind of by accident when I was looking for ways to get my sheep art out to the public, and strange as the world is, it turned out that we had friends in common. Funny how that happens.

Out of this nascent friendship, we have formed a business partnership and this year have produced a line of Sheep Canada Christmas cards which feature my sheep collages on the front.

I wanted to make an artistic holiday arrangement of the cards in order to show them off to their advantage, but as you can see, my studio assistant Tabitha had other ideas. Here are the images:

Winter Julius - 5x7 card, printed on glossy card stock, with envelope, $3 each

Gerry - 5x7 card printed on glossy card stock, with envelope, $3 each

Celeste - 5x7 card printed on glossy card stock, $3 each

Bazoo - 5x7 card on glossy card stock, $3 each

The Sheep Canada logo is the back of each card, along with my contact information. The interior of the cards is blank.

The cards are available from me or from Sheep Canada -see the link above. The cards are sold individually or in packets of eight for $20 CAD, plus shipping. I will accept U.S. money orders and cheques at par.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Can I Get There from Here?

As I wrote in my previous blog post, my studio is finally more or less finished, and every Saturday afternoon for the past month I have been teaching an Intro to Acrylics class to an absolutely terrific group of talented and enthusiastic women who have decided to throw caution to the wind and learn to paint.

Starting a painting is often intimidating, and not just for beginners, but for more experienced artists as well. A blank canvas is a scary thing- so much possibility, not only for success, but also for failure. How do you start?

When I was an art student, I can remember some of the most useful and instructive classes I ever attended were those where the teacher did a painting demonstration for the class. Not only were you told what to do and when, but you were actually shown how to do it. That really de-mystified the process for me. I once watched a teacher in a figure painting class paint a 24x20 inch nude portrait of a model, alla prima style, in just under three hours. He showed us how to make a basic drawing on the canvas to establish proportions. We watched him block in the major areas of the painting, watched him lay down shadows, make choices for colour and value, gradually developing the whole image, until the end when we saw him paint in the brightest highlights in the woman's hazel eyes and on the tip of her nose.

And then we watched him scrape the whole thing off with a knife when he was done.

He didn't destroy the portrait because it was a bad painting, but because it was just a painting, a job, a process, made simple for him because he knew what he was doing. He was capable of reproducing the same steps over and over again, with consistent results.

What's on the easel

That type of demonstration was what I had in mind last week during the Saturday acrylics class. Unfortunately, I am a slow worker and I talk too much in class, so I didn't quite get the painting finished during class time.

Anna-Maria's Garden- 12x16 pencil drawing

When the composition is complicated, I like to work things out on paper first. This saves me a whole lot of headache later on. It's so much easier to correct problems on paper first, rather than trying to fix things on the canvas later. I transferred the drawing onto the canvas by simply putting some charcoal on the back of the paper, placing the drawing over the top on the canvas, and then retracing the basic outlines again with a pencil. When I removed the paper, a simple charcoal outline is left on the canvas, which I then secure by painting over it with diluted, earth toned paint. (Sorry, I forgot to document that stage.)

Anna-Maria's Garden - blocked in

Next, I try to establish the most important shape areas, colours, and shadows. It helps me to have a sense of where the painting is going in its entirety. I keep the paint fairly thin in order to avoid unpleasant lumps and visible brushwork where I perhaps don't want them.

Anna-Maria's Garden - the middle uglies

The middle phase of any painting is usually the worst part. This is where the tough decisions get made. I can see that some of the perspective is wrong and that the busy colours and brush work on the barn wood and the roof is too distracting for its place in the composition. It doesn't recede enough, and since I want the flowers to dominate, I can see I'll have to tone that part down and reserve the colour and detail for the flowers in order to achieve maximum impact.

Anna-Maria's Garden - 12x16, acrylic on canvas ©2010 Alyson Champ

I put a little more time in on this canvas and it feels pretty much finished. There may still be a few wrinkles to iron out, but I'm fairly pleased with it. The art class can critique it on Saturday!