The Legacy of Love book


10/17/20216 min read

I was invited by the Legend that is Gary Hodges to be included in a book of wildlife art lovers and conservationists

I attended the book launch at Nature in Art and met a whole bunch of amazing, inspiring people.

Here is my section from the book in full!

Finding a Way

I have always loved animals, fundamentally I guess I’m a cat person; little cats share my home, big cats inspire my work. Drawing wildlife is a way to communicate my passion for the natural world and lose myself in it’s wonder.

It was a lovely surprise to be invited by Gary to be part of this book. Throughout the years I have found the wonderful support and friendship from fellow artists, customers and art lovers has driven me to work harder and push the boundaries of what I can achieve as an artist. It is lovely that we can all now share these pages with a common goal to help protect the wildlife we love.

As a self-taught artist, it is difficult to so see yourself in the company of the artists you admire the most, so it has been wonderful over the years to have won quite a few awards, including BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year and twice runner up in the David Shepherd wildlife artist of the year competition. I have always found the David Shepherd Wildlife foundation to be a guiding light; run by artists and art lovers, they have welcomed and encouraged me.

Writing a biography has been a great opportunity to reflect on my journey from childhood scribbles to a career doing the thing I love most. The daughter of a shipping clerk and a secretary, I grew up in London suburbia. As a little girl I would cycle miles just to get to the countryside. Being around animals and nature has always been my happy place. An older cousin had a horse and lived in Lincolnshire. One summer, the grown-ups organised a surprise holiday for me at her house (an old windmill no less). I’m fairly sure it was less of a nice surprise for her to have to babysit an annoying 10 year old, but, as a city girl I spent a week in heaven; riding a horse, surrounded by fields. They even had some kittens knocking around!

So, my first artistic subjects were horses, drawing them to compensate for not being able to have one!

Moving into my teens I realised I wasn’t too bad at drawing and I would sketch anything and everything in my free time. I never enjoyed my art classes, so didn’t continue with the subject in school! But I always drew.

One of my earliest influences was wildlife artist Peter Jepson. When I saw his work in a local exhibition, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before and made a huge impression. With a family that was not so creatively minded, art galleries had not figured much in my younger years, so coming across his work was a lucky chance, which lit a fire in me for drawing wildlife, specifically the majestic big cats. Inspired, I drew my first tiger, but my efforts frustrated me! Disappointed, I moved on to landscape (which is perhaps more forgiving!) finding joy in being outside and painting what was in front of me. I spent quite a few years working plein air, usually in the wildest places I could get to. I would sit on the cold ground drawing the moorland, wooded valleys and waterfalls around Yorkshire. I think this is where my connection to the environment really developed.

At this point I didn’t see art as a viable career. I had my sights on the veterinary profession until, working as a volunteer, I assisted in the lancing of a cyst on a little rabbit and was an emotional wreck by the end! Huge respect for physicians; I quickly realised it wasn’t for me! But the natural world has always fascinated me, so I went on to study ecology. This didn’t really lead to a job as such (I ended up becoming a biology teacher) but as a wildlife artist in today’s world of vanishing wildlife, an understanding of the issues challenging conservation is invaluable.

It was a book I happened on in the library in my mid-twenties about the art of Robert Bateman that blew me away and set the course I am still on. His incredible paintings of wild animals in their natural habitat fuelled my passion for wild places and, despite my earlier disappointments, I thought: if he could do it, why couldn’t I?! I had improved my pastel techniques since my first attempts at wildlife and was immediately hooked, surprising myself with some fairly decent animal drawings. Hungry to learn more, I searched the library for other wildlife artists.

Another book (this all took place before Instagram of course!) introduced me to Kim Donaldson, not only a wildlife artist but a pastel man too!! His paintings needed to be seen in real life! Luckily around that time the Halcyon gallery in London, a prominent gallery in the West End, was exhibiting his work. I came all the way down from the north and still remember the visit clearly. As a scruffy youth, I was obviously not in the market for a Halcyon original, but spent an unreasonably long and very uncomfortable time just staring at the pictures of cheetahs, tigers and lions, much to the curator’s irritation! After that, I focussed my full attention on exotic wildlife.

So as an artist, I am self-taught. This might sound good, but in my case basically meant that I learned to paint back to front! Without guidance I perfected the art of beautiful shading long before I trained my eye to the fundamentals of form, proportion and perspective. It has taken years to straighten things out, although quite an adventure learning from a thousand happy accidents. The wonder of art is that you never stop learning; it’s frustrating, addictive and rewarding!

Some key lessons I’ve learnt over the years:

  • Copying a photograph is a good way to learn but it suffocates creativity, for me the wonder comes from not knowing how a picture will end up.

  • Getting the tonal balance (overall variations between light and dark areas) of a picture right is more important than any amount of painstaking detail.

  • A picture needs space and mystery.

  • Using a simple palette with a couple of strong complimentary colours makes a more striking statement rather than trying to include everything you see.

  • Putting energy into the marks helps to give a picture movement (be more scribbly!)

I am continually striving for original compositions with a strong narrative. As I sketch each picture the story evolves, often influenced by the landscape or the interaction between subjects. I have always worked in pastel. I love the vibrant colours and the immediacy of the medium suits my impatient nature. I feel I know a lot about pastels now and have many strategies to make them behave (mistreated they can be very messy!).

My home town is surrounded by the Pennines. A few years ago, I had a go at some local wildlife, mainly the delicate roe deer in the pleasant valleys. However, despite the beautiful landscape and easily accessible inspiration, I quickly realised that I am addicted to painting mighty and powerful animals in the wildest places! For me it is an opportunity to escape our shrinking, congested space, if only on a piece of paper.

It can be frustrating working with subjects who are very difficult to see in their natural habitat, especially the big cats! Zoos are a help, although, like most people, seeing the animals in such artificial and often quite small enclosures, does make me feel sad.

I have travelled to Africa and seeing the magnificent animals wild and free was incredible. However, driving between safari parks it gradually became apparent that even the iconic Serengeti and Masai Mara have a limit. A later trip to Borneo, whilst inspirational, was even more saddening. When you are within the rainforest it feels vast, even endless, but crossing the island by car and plane reveals the true picture of a decimated natural forest replaced by palm oil plantations. Many orangutans live in small reserves, surviving only because their diet is topped up by human intervention. The squeeze on wildlife and conflict with humans that I witnessed first-hand served was a reminder that we face a huge challenge if we are to conserve these places for future generations.

There is a sense that now is the last chance to halt the destruction of the living world, but it is also clear that, from all walks of life, people are uniting to push for drastic changes. As a lover of wildlife, I am proud to be a small part of this movement and am more determined than ever to keep drawing. An individual can feel a bit helpless, but when we all give a little push in our own way, change is possible.