This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
In the eighties, I was having a bottle of wine with an old friend (and fellow sheep farmer) and I told her I was looking for a name for my new art venture. She came up with Slightly Sheepish. Thirty-five years on I am still Slightly Sheepish, painting pictures of farm livestock, prize sheep and cattle, horses, pigs, collies and the occasional pet.
I’ve been painting commissions of animals for over fifty years and I’m still a gibbering wreck when the bubble wrap is undone. Many are surprise presents for special birthdays, so sketches and photographs must be taken in secret. This works well unless the owner of the animal returns unexpectedly. I’ve had to dive headlong into a corn field and squirm SAS style to the nearest hedge for cover. In an old cottage, I suddenly had to pose as a photographer of ancient fireplaces rather than the cat. And when a farmer’s wife appeared out of the blue (he’d asked me to paint her beloved sheepdog), my only option was to clamber up to the top of their hay-barn where I was forced to hide for three hours. I’ve been chased by bulls and had an Arab stallion throw himself backwards and almost land on me.
My best compliment ever was being told that I’m known by some as the Drovers’ Artist. By following the country shows with my livestock paintings they see me as keeping an important historic account of the different breeds. I was thrilled and visualised myself in long mud-spattered skirts and hob-nailed boots following the drovers of old and experiencing the reality of such harsh lives.
I paint in watercolour. Farmers want their animal to look exactly right, so my work is always figurative. The hardest subjects are those with intricate markings – Ayrshires or Long Horn cattle for example. At a rough count, I’ve painted around 1500 pictures.
If I’m painting at an event, I’m always surprised by the interest shown, especially by retired men who’ve taken up watercolour for relaxation. If they ask for advice I suggest they just mess about, mixing colours, testing the amount of water for the style of painting they’d like to achieve, etc. Most importantly, practice! A few years ago when the international sheep dog trails were held at Chatsworth, I gave the following advice to a charming woman: ‘if you have enough room in the house, leave your paper and paints out so you can come back to it at any spare moment in the day’. She smiled and thanked me enthusiastically. I hadn’t recognised the Duchess of Devonshire.
Thanks to Mary Griese for this insight into her life as an artist. She has also been a sheep farmer in the Welsh hills, illustrated and written her own children’s story book and, her first novel, ‘Where Crows Would Die’ was published in 2020 and available on Amazon.
This is what Beryl Bainbridge had to say about her book: “I get many manuscripts – many – and most are so dreary I hesitate to turn the page. Yours is immediately different… I think it terrific: I really mean that. You use language like paint, with an attention to light and shade. You have a very individual slant on life and that is what makes a novelist. You’re bloody good.”