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P.O. Box 2301
Estes Park, Co 80517

The 2016 Windows to the West Art Show and Sale convenes more than 50 of the country's top contemporary Western heritage artists in one of the most beautiful mountain settings in America at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The three-day sale and exhibition in Estes Park, Colorado, June 3-5, showcases more than 200 new pieces of art, with rich opportunities to meet the artists and discuss their unique depictions of Western landscapes, wildlife and traditional Western American life.  Windows to the West is a charitable benefit event sponsored by the Estes Park Western Heritage Foundation.

Works in Progress

Cowgirl Daydreams -- Portraits of the West

Cindy Long

Choosing the Subject  

In my last post I showed several photos of potential subjects.  They are all photos that I have taken at different times and with a variety of subjects. I feel that any one of those photos would make a good drawing, and I will likely draw all of them at some point.  

It is often hard to choose which one to draw, so usually l go with the one that sings out to me the most at the time.

I am drawn to both the light and the mood in this one. The photo was taken in a large barn, which was open at both ends, letting in some wonderful light.  I like the way the light is illuminating her face as she looks towards it, and I also enjoy her pleasantly thoughtful demeanor as she absently plays with her braid.  It will be fun to try to capture this cowgirl in her daydreams.

The hay in the background will be a new adventure to draw, too.  Besides such a visually satisfying image to reference, I am very fond of this lovely cowgirl. She is a delight in all ways, and I am anxious to draw her. My only regret is that my graphite will not do justice to her gorgeous red hair.  Maybe next time!


In looking at the photo, I think it would be nice if she had on chaps. Although I didn’t take photos of her in her chaps, she had a photo of her own where she was wearing them, and I can use that as a loose reference.

I also have decided that rather than my usual white paper, I will choose a warm tan or golden paper with just a slight bit of color to bring out the warmth of the light.  Once the basic drawing is on the paper, I am ready to begin.

The Beginning: Hat, Face and Hair

In order to try to keep from smudging the work, I usually start at the top of the figure and work my way down.  More often than not, that means the cowboy hat is drawn first.

It is a nice and easy beginning to the drawing, as it eases me into the piece before I have to tackle the complexity of the face. In this piece, her hat will have the darkest value in the drawing, and her face the lightest. It is good to get these two extremes established, so I can work on having a full range of values between the two.

I use my stumps to draw on the paper, saving the pencil points for the detail work that will come later.  My stumps vary in thickness, from large and soft to hard tiny points for finer details. They help me apply the shading on her face, but keep it soft with gentle transitions in value.

Her hair falls against her face and her braid is entwined with her fingers, so her face, hair and hands are almost one element, although they vary in values. Her face is mostly in the light, her hands and fingers in shadow, while her hair ties the two together. I work on her shirt, creating the background for her hands.

The face and the hands are the biggest challenge. I will spend more time on these than any of the other elements in the drawing.

Although I want to make the light and the shadows on her face to be distinct, I don’t want it to be harsh, so I soften the shadows a bit more than in the reference photo. I don’t want quite that much contrast on her face. 

A softer, more delicate look will better set the mood of thoughtfulness that I want to portray. I will save the details on her face for later.

Next Steps

In the final post, I will continue working on my cowgirl’s clothing, and draw the hay in the background, which will involve some interesting challenges. When that is done, I will put the finishing touches on my cowgirl -- refining the different textures, values, highlights, and the subtleties in her expression.