Using only a No. 1 pencil, Western Horseman art director Ron Bonge renders the intensity and action of a competitor at the Jordan Valley Big Loop.
For the past 54 years, during the third weekend in May in the remote Owyhee upland desert town of Jordan Valley, Oregon, buckaroos and rodeo fans celebrate the Great Basin’s ranching and horse heritage at the Jordan Valley Big Loop.
Inspired by rodeo and cowboy tradition, Western Horseman’s art director, Ron Bonge, drew the May 2012 cover based on a photograph the magazine’s editor in chief, Ross Hecox, took at the Big Loop.
“We were discussing a possible rodeo cover for the magazine, and I thought the ideal image needed to show action, cowboy tradition and an athletic stock horse,” Bonge says. “I have drawn a lot of bronc riders, and thought it would be nice to portray another event. Also, the fact it was shot at the Jordan Valley Big Loop made it appropriate for this month’s cover.”
Bonge lives on a small ranch on the prairie outside of Clifton, Texas, where he has horses, goats, Longhorn cattle and more than 20 rescue dogs. His interest in animals, ranching and preserving open space led him to begin drawing after college.
“I took several art classes in college, but was discouraged by the modern art taught by my teachers,” he says. “I really didn’t enjoy drawing until I started drawing things I felt passionate about—mainly cow kids, cow dogs and rodeo.”
Known for his detail and accuracy in equine conformation, tack and figures, Bonge draws from reference photographs but adds details that not only make the drawings unique to his style, but also bring out the personalities of his subjects.
“There is something basic and pure about the lives of men and women in the West,” he says. “They work hard and play hard, and this cowboy at the Jordan Valley Big Loop is no exception. I think the simplicity of pencil is perfect to portray this honesty. I tried to add detail and light in the horse’s eye and in the cowboy’s facial expression to show their excitement and focus.”
In his drawings, Bonge prefers simple backgrounds that give the viewer an idea of the environment in which the scene takes place, but is vague enough that it could be a ranch or rodeo arena anywhere.
“I also believe that having a shallow depth of field helps make the subject stand out from the background,” he adds. “In this drawing, you get a glimpse that the action is taking place in an arena with the hint of chutes in the background, but your eye is immediately drawn to the horse’s eye and from there moves up to the roper and back down his right side from the line created by the rope slack. The line of the horse and man’s legs direct you around the lower portion of the drawing and back up.”
Using the side of his pencil to smudge the dirt creates the impression of dust. With the tip of his pencil he adds dark flecks, giving the ground texture and creating the illusion of flinging dirt.
Bonge has worked for Western Horseman and its sister publications for 15 years as a designer and illustrator. He has also been the artist and designer for several rodeo posters, including the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo, North Texas State Fair & Rodeo, National Finals Rodeo, and San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. He also donates his time and artistic talents to raising awareness of animal adoption.