Sheep Portraits, by Tom Hickman

6 Sept – 27 Oct 2023

It must have been four years ago now that Murray Croy asked me if I could do him a sketch of a black face ram in exchange for bringing in my peats. Working on the theory that exchange is no robbery I immediately gave the idea my full attention. Having been brought up with hill sheep farming on the Mull of Kintyre I was well aware that sheep have their individual characters, but the blackface markings only serve to enhance this. My favourite time of the year was clipping, when neighbours would come to help shear sheep brought down from the hill and over from the island. I would be on hand with the tar pot in case of any cuts and helping to roll the fleeces. Almost as big as me I would look at them face to face.

Later when we moved south my father favoured the Scottish half breed crossed with a South Downs. Due to my father’s ill health by the age of 14 I was in charge of the herd at lambing time. On a dark February evening I would walk out with a torch to give the ewes a last check and see their familiar faces staring back. When living in Brittany, I kept tiny Isle de Ouessant sheep that although mainly black come in all shades but seldom more than 50cm high at the shoulder. It was a far cry from my childhood days, but I often found myself talking to them, particularly the ram. His skull now resides in my studio staring down on me as I paint. On moving to Lewis it didn’t take long before sheep started to figure in my artwork, and combining this with Harris Tweed yarns, a variety of offcuts and raw wool resulted in a jovial batch of folk art sheep that were enthusiastically snapped up by Americans.

In mounting this small exhibition I wanted to demonstrate not only the accessibility of art but also that original art does not have to be expensive so the prices have been kept deliberately low. Many would not see being an artist as a proper job. My heroes are those who sit at the supermarket checkouts, somebody has to do it, but thankfully not me. I count myself lucky to be doing something I love in a place that I love. I was shocked recently to discover several local people had never even been in An Lanntair and decided to offer one of these sketches free to the person offering the best answer to a possibly deceptively simple question.


This was open to anyone currently living on the islands. There was no age restrictions, simply a case of visiting the An Lanntair café area and filling in the form. In the case of identical answers the youngest was to take precedence.

The triple sheep portrait was awarded to Fiona Hamer for the best answer.
There were lots of fantastic answers written, and it was great to hear such positive feedback.