texasmonthly.com: What did you love most about growing up on a ranch?
T. J. Tucker: That’s an impossible question for me to answer. There’s not any one thing that makes you love it. Over time the experience of it all just gets in your blood. It sounds cheesy, but at some point you find yourself sitting on a tailgate after a hard day, listening to the coyotes and watching the sun go down, and you think to yourself, “I was made for this.”
texasmonthly.com: What was the hardest thing about ranching?
TJT: When I was about nine or ten, I began to understand that a great deal of our livelihood depended on cattle prices and weather. During a drought everything out there seems depressed and thirsty. I could always detect my dad’s anxiety during those times—and that wasn’t fun.
texasmonthly.com: Did any of your friends live on ranches? If not, was it difficult for you to work while they were doing other teenage activities?
TJT: One of my good friends, Sage Diller, basically had the same life I had. He worked with his dad on their ranch between Baird and Albany. It was always nice to have someone my own age to relate to in that respect.
texasmonthly.com: Did you ever think that you would run the ranch someday?
TJT: Every day.
texasmonthly.com: What chore on the ranch did you dread the most?
TJT: I was never much of a farmer. I was into the cattle and horse aspect of ranching more, but hauling hay always got to me a little. Some of those coastal bales get real heavy after a while. But whether you’re loading square bales by hand or round bales with a truck, it takes half a day before you start seeing any progress in those big fields. It’s just one bale after another, all day, until it’s all hauled.
texasmonthly.com: What would you and your friends do for fun on weekends?
TJT: The usual small-town stuff. We’d hit the main drags and back roads around town or have parties out in the country. I always loved taking back roads the most—just getting out there in the middle of nowhere, rolling down the windows, turning up the music, and doing your best to get lost.
texasmonthly.com: How did you get into art and design work?
TJT: I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t into art. I was constantly getting into trouble at school for drawing instead of doing my work. I think a lot of it had to do with just being a bored kid out in the country. When I was little, I spent a lot of time alone after school, so I had to be inventive. I also spent a lot of time with my granddad. He had an incredible library of books and magazines. I’d sit in his office and draw or trace the type out of magazines and make my own books. If I saw a movie I liked, I’d make the sequel in book form. I remember doing Jaws 2. Then my granddad told me there already was a Jaws 2 and a Jaws 3-D.
texasmonthly.com: What were your parents’ initial reactions?
TJT: My mom and dad were always incredibly supportive. My mom spent an enormous amount of her time and energy taking me to art shows and museums. We didn’t have art classes in school, so when I was six or seven, she took me to Gene Swinson, a local artist-teacher and WWII veteran who lived in Baird. Gene is one of the most talented human beings I’ve ever known, and he had a way of capturing my imagination. I’d walk in and he’d say, “What do you want to do today?” I’d say, “Ahhhh, let’s draw some airplanes!” He’d say, “Hell, let’s make an airplane.” We’d spend the rest of the week constructing the thing out of wood or cardboard while he told me war stories. The man could do anything. He always told me, “If you can build it, you can damn sure draw or paint it.” That’s how we’d start many times. If I had trouble rendering something, we’d just sculpt or build it first, and I never had problems with it again.
texasmonthly.com: Did you and your dad’s relationship grow as a result of working next to each other every day?
TJT: My dad and I have gotten closer and closer through the years. I guess that’s the way it works. My dad has worked hard all his life, so it was important for him to instill a good work ethic in me while I was growing up. It wasn’t always fun, but I’m so thankful for it now.