Custom Canine and Equine : the evolution of animal imagery in my practice

Custom Canine and Equine

Custom Canine and Equine is a new body of work for 2019.

Animals have featured in my work for years. My BA dissertation was about animal imagery in art and I used animal imagery in my own work through my BA and MA degrees. For my degree I made a series of embroidered pieces which featured dogs. I had drawn dogs on a very cold and windy beach at Redcar in the NE of England, then drew animals in an equally cold park in Manchester.

 Then I moved to Bermuda for the first few years I painted the sub-tropical flora and landscapes on location.  I was making my art a full-time job and as the weather isn’t always ideal for location work, I started making small paintings in gouache at my dining table. These paintings were an extension of my degree work, they were decorative, colourful and featured whimsical animals.

Just after our son was born, I produced a series of animal paintings for an exhibit called 9x3, I was inspired to make 27 paintings of animals, one for each of the letters of the alphabet plus one extra. A client approached me to paint her sons name using the animals. He was called Matthew. This became the start of a new venture and for many years after I painted ABC baby name paintings.  

Around the same time, I was working freelance for a US greetings card firm. I would send them drawing each month which invariably featured animals. I was also producing lino cuts and etchings of whimsical animals, for the tourist market. I produced a huge series of fish with names starting with “W”. These fish also became a series of commercial fish prints which sold well to tourists and locals. There was also a series of farm animals. There are more farm animals on the island than you might think. The Dockyard sheep which keep the grass short around the oil depot, the dairy cows of Devonshire, the feral chickens of Hamilton Parish and a pig.

 I had begun making papier Mache small sculptures after meeting another artist on the island. I loved making animals in this versatile medium. Sculpture had never been my thing but working with a cheap and easily sourced material was perfect. I went on to make a series of hanging fish and animals featured on mirrors, bowls and boxes. There was even a series of Papier Mache bird theatres. Fortunately, the patrons of the Bermuda Arts Centre at Dockyard totally got my humour and these pieces of whimsy never hung around too long. 

I designed a range of products which were then made in Bali and sold in Bermuda. These all featured animals

One of the final shows I had in Bermuda featured a series of paintings which illustrated the lives of the dogs we had during our time on the island. All rescue dogs, Bessie and Mickey, my husband’s dogs, our dog Hobbes and later Blue. I had so many stories to tell of their adventures around the island. Hobbes learning to swim with Rusty in St. David’s, the dogs visiting Bethels Island, Hobbes waiting for the Belco man, me chasing Hobbes around the garden chasing a chicken, Bessie and flowerpots,  and poor old Bessie falling down a limestone kiln.

Fast forward several years and I haven’t painted animals in forever. I started again very recently and I’m loving it. There was a “painting” of a dog called Frosty in a gallery in Samford around 6 years ago. In 2019 a lady saw another version of the painting in a local café, which turned out to be a very clever print. After some debate (I tried to find the original artist) I offered to paint her my version of it. A mutual friend heard about it and said, “why would you want a picture of someone else’s dog?” A light bulb moment later and “Custom Canine” was born.

Small problem I had never painted real dogs, just my stylised and very whimsical dogs who don’t bear much resemblance to a genuine canine. However, my friend Jo had been asking me for some art for her rumpus room for ages. She’s not ‘arty farty’ (her words) and didn’t know what she wanted. “How about two paintings of your dogs?” I suggested, if I stuff them up not such a big deal as no cash was being exchanged. I painted Wheezy and Freckles for her. I took a series of photos and made pencil drawings from them. The finished paintings are A1, acrylic on board. I wanted plain coloured backgrounds for a more contemporary feel. I was thrilled with the result. It turns out I can paint real dogs. I painted a few more dogs belonging to friends to get a range of breeds and to make sure Wheezy and Freckles weren’t one offs. I painted Lou the staffy and Ceb the Neapolitan mastiff.

Then another friend suggested I paint horses. Now I didn’t even paint whimsical horses. Far too hard. Heads are an odd shape, bodies too big, legs too spindly. I had done a painting by numbers kit of a horse’s head when I was a kid, does that count? I’m not even a horsey kind of girl. But not one to deny a challenge I went over to my very horsey friend, who has three horses. Her three are treated like royalty and much loved. I photographed, then drew and then painted. Quite the challenge. Velvet turned 30 this November so it was a lovely way to honour her.