For the love of dogs and colour

Although Ian Mowforth and I have a mutual friend in common, I first came across Ian’s work at “The Dog Show” in Brighton, an exhibition organised by Joanna Osborne & Sally Muir featuring art for dog lovers. I was drawn to his very strong black & white, Lino cut print, dog portraits and was totally unaware of his big, bold and colourful paintings; until, encouraged by our mutual friend, I researched him online and saw that this was an artist clearly in love with colour.

An Interview with the artist Ian Mowforth

Ian Mowforth in his Wimbledon studio

Besides being a dog lover I am also very passionate about colour, so my trip to down to the Wimbledon Art Studios, to interview Ian for this blog did not disappoint.  On walking into his studio space I was immediately excited by the large colourful canvases hung on the wall.  Ian’s paintings of dogs are so full of vitality and energy that you feel the dogs are going to jump right out of the canvas.  These dog portraits, skilfully painted, are definitely not of the twee dog painting genre but then Ian is an accomplished artist, who has been painting & drawing for over 30 years.  A fine art graduate of Wimbledon School of Art, Ian also has an MA in Fine Art Printmaking from Brighton University as well as being a qualified art teacher.  In 2017 he exhibited a Lino cut in the prestigious Royal Academy Summer Exhibition where he sold 74 copies. The RA also published a greetings card with his image of Princess. It sold over 4,000 copies in the first 6 months. 

“Princess” – Ian Mowforth’s Lino Cut Print from the 2017 RA Summer Exhibition

Ian doesn’t exclusively paint dogs, and is in fact currently exhibiting his landscape paintings at the Graham Hunter Gallery, in Marylebone, which equally demonstrate his passion for colour.  Although, clearly a man who has great affinity and a rapport with dogs (he affectionately refers to each painting by the name of the dog rather than breed), it is a bit of a surprise to learn that Ian doesn’t currently own a dog and is in fact allergic to many of our four legged friends!  So I asked him how did this obsession with painting dogs begin?  He recounts that about 6 or 7 years ago, he painted a picture of a friend’s dog for her birthday; it was so successful that he realised this was something he had a talent for and so continued to focus on dogs as a subject matter.  Learning in the process that the type of brush you use should be sympathetic to the fur of the dog; no good using a hog hair brush when the fur you want to portray is soft and silky or conversely using a sable brush for a coarse haired terrier!

Shots from Ian’s studio inside and out

As the eyes of the red setter in a canvas, propped against the wall of his studio, stare quizzically at me, I wonder if the eyes are the key to the success of Ian’s dog portraits.  Ian explains that the eyes are very important and that he always paints in the eyes first; but that the background colours he selects are also key to the success of the painting.  He paints in an acrylic base but then builds the painting up in oils.  Ian loves using oil paint for the way in which he can expressively move it across the canvas and finds it gives him the depth of colour his work demands. His drawer of oil paints is a sight to behold. an artwork in itself!

A snapshot of Ian’s paint drawer!

In contrast to his colourful paintings are Ian’s monochrome Lino Prints, mentioned earlier.  These beautiful dog studies, demonstrate his skilled draughtsmanship and like his paintings, also show great texture and expressive mark making.  

For his commissioned portraits paintings, Ian works from photographs that he prefers to take himself; this often involves taking the dog out of the studio for a walk, as he wants the dog to look as happy and as relaxed as possible.  From the myriad of images taken, Ian will whittle it down to about 10 and in consultation with the client, chooses the best image to work from.  The client then decides on whether to have the painting on a panel or canvas, as well determine as the size of the finished piece.  Ian’s one metre square canvases can cost approximately £4,000, so it is important that the client is involved in the process from an early stage.  Ian also keeps the client up to date on the progress of the painting, sending them photos of the various stages of the drawing and painting process.  

Ian is a prolific artist, creating over 100 images per year of which about only 20% to 30% are dog portrait commissions.  His work is in demand and he often has a waiting list for his portraits; although this may all change soon as he is leaving his teaching post this summer and hopes to devote more time to his artwork; as well as having some tentative plans of offering one to one tuition and creative workshops.  

For more information and examples of Ian’s work please visit his website http://www.ianmowforth.com/

Ian can also be found on Instagram

Compelling images that show great empathy with our four-legged friends

Justine Osborne is an artist who clearly loves and understands dogs and their relationship to man; her work, whether it is a sketch or a painting, truly captures the essence of the dog’s personality.

The stunning artwork of, Cirencester based artist, Justine Osborne has universal appeal and can be found in dog loving homes all around the World. I have been a longtime admirer of her style, so I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed for this blog.

Justine at work in her studio

I began by asking her what was her earliest memory of falling in love with painting and drawing. Justine explained that although she loved art from an early age her real passion, and one that would feed into her work today, was sparked by the introduction to life drawing at around the age of 17. Justine says she fell in love with the “urgency and excitement of working from life” and this was reinforced after visiting the Lucian Freud show at The Whitechapel Gallery.  The careful observation and skilled hand of a life artist can be seen in her work today and it is particularly interesting that it was Lucian Freud’s work that first lit this flame.  Freud’s inclusion of his whippets in a number of his paintings show his equal respect for his doggy companions as much as his human subjects; their weight, presence and character is as strong as the human figure portrayed.

However it wasn’t until after Justine had graduated with a degree in painting at Central St Martins in 1998, and had her first dog as an adult that she turned to drawing dogs.  She explains that she always loved animals as a child “my dog was my constant companion, and I loved being in nature. The quietness, and watching.  It wasn’t until I had my first dog as an adult, after art school, that I turned to drawing dogs, I looked at other artists work that showed dogs, and I really wanted to treat them as seriously as their human counterparts, with a fine art approach. Artist’s such as Maud Earl, and Landseer were inspiring at this stage”.

“Serene” Justine’s successful sketch of a seated Whippet

It was Justine’s beautiful drawings of sighthounds that first brought her work to my attention.  Her understanding of their form, posture and character traits made me assume that she must have a sighthound of her own (and wouldn’t that bring us nicely back full circle to Lucian Freud and his whippets); but no Justine has an elderly basset hound, which she jokes … “no grace and long limbs there”!!  Sighthounds, Justine explains, give her the same feeling as when she is life drawing, exploring and observing the lines, limbs and body shapes.  She says that she drew her first whippet by accident … “I had an hour to draw, an experimental hour,  and then Serene was created! Prints of this drawing have been sent around the world, I still have the original and it is my most precious object. You’ll see from the large amount of sighthounds sketches that I have, that I fell in love with them.”

Justine’s basset hound Morris in front of his portrait

Justine’s body of work is so much greater than drawings of sighthounds though; she not only creates prints but also takes on commissions and is in the fortunate position where the popularity of her work affords her the time to continue to experiment, which as an artist is important for maintaining a freshness and curiosity.  As she says …“As an artist the main aim is to develop and explore, to keep time aside for those moments you have a strong instinct to just make a mark and see where it leads.  This is of course hard to do as the need to make a living often dominates, but I am lucky now that I can balance the priorities”.  

We’ve already learned that Lucian Freud is an artistic inspiration but what other artists does Justine admire … “I love Morandi and Lucian Freud for their brushwork and remarkable dedication to their singular subjects. Picasso and his animal drawings, simple lines, his pigeons! I also recently have got into the work of Tracey Emin, she talks so eloquently that I have rejected any former opinions I had of her, and really love the way she draws and paints.  Benjamin Bjorklund, is also a contemporary favourite who paints animals exquisitely”. 

Justine appears at home working in either pencil / charcoal or paint, so I wondered what was her preferred medium … she says  “That’s difficult to choose, but I think charcoal is my “go to” medium for sketches, but I do love mixing paint, I love building up coat texture with different brushes”.  Indeed her painting style shows the same fluidity and softness of touch as her drawings and I wondered if this style came instinctively or whether it had taken time to develop; for she successfully manages to bridge the gap between realism and representation of her doggy subjects, without their ever being just a study of a breed or sentimental in their portrayal.  Justine explains that it came instinctively ..  “I always want a piece of work to show the brush marks, but I also want the connection of detail that draws the viewer in.  A tension between reality and paint. There is a moment in painting where a sudden strong connection occurs with the subject and at that moment the painting comes to life – I want my empathy for the dogs, and love of the paint to create a compelling image”.  

The Dachshund plate and mug from Justine’s ceramic collection

Most recently Justine’s work has found it’s way onto ceramics.  In collaboration with Victoria Armstrong Fine Art, Justine’s black and white sketches can be found on a range of mugs and plates.   Different breeds are being added to the range all the time and the latest product is a diffuser, for which Justine worked with a local fragrance company to develop a unique scent. Justine says it has surprised her just how beautiful the products are and she has found it a great way to reach a wider audience.

The ceramics, prints  and originals can be found in not only independent shops and galleries around the UK but also on her Paint My Dog website shop.

Originals are also often found in Wadham Trading, a local gallery in her hometown of Cirencester.  Apparently the owner is just as batty about dogs and so most of her originals go there first.  There is a new gallery opening in Sherborne called Elementum Gallery, where you can also currently find three of Justine’s originals too.  

Justine’s studio at her home in Cirencester

As mentioned earlier Justine has undertaken numerous dog portrait commissions, so I asked her what would be her dream commission to which she replied … “Some life size full body commissions are always exciting! I always joke my paintings are much better travelled than me, and many are in amazing locations, Bermuda, New York, Miami, Australia . But there is a story behind every painting, with the same sentiment, a very dear loved dog, and whoever the owner, wherever it’s such a privilege to create a painting for them”.  

Tempted to immortalise your four legged friend with an original, commissioned portrait by Justine? … Then click here for further information.

Justine can also be found on Facebook and Instagram

“Chien Couture” … dog art for the fashionista

Dogs have been used as symbols and devices in art for many centuries and in Selina Cassidy’s collection of paintings “Chien Couture”, they are the protagonists. But these aren’t any ordinary paintings of dogs, her dogs occupy centre stage in a fashionable and luxurious tableau, where the narrative isn’t quite as cut and dried as it at first appears.

‘A Dogue By Any Other Name” by Selina Cassidy from the “Chien Couture” collection

When I first stumbled across Selina’s “Chien Couture” paintings, I was amazed that I had never seen them before; particularly as they combined three of my biggest passions … dogs, interiors & art, I knew had to find out more and so I contacted Selina who kindly agreed to answer some questions and to be featured in this blog.  

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By Selina Cassidy

I began by asking how did “Chien Couture” come about, Selina explains …

“I have always been drawn to interiors and objects, I used to spend hours looking through my mothers 80s interior decoration books and now have my own Terence Conran collection and a small library of World Of Interiors publications. This, along with my passion for second hand furniture, fashion and unusual objects, has for many years provided an endless source of inspiration to carry concept and narrative”.  It was whilst Selina was studying for her MA in communication Design at Central St Martins that she began focusing on the domestic interior, in particular drawing attention to the role of women in the home. However it wasn’t until Selina graduated and found herself living in the South of France, that dogs provided an unexpected inspiration. It was here that she found herself being particularly drawn to the rich and colourful, designer clad stylish locals with their canine companions, often dressed in matching attire.  Selina recalls, “I was both intrigued and amused to often see both dressed head to toe in haute couture, it was a feast for the eyes.  I wanted to tell the story of the designer through interiors and the objects placed within them, with the dog centre stage and that is how it began”.  

The distinctive and playful “Chien Couture” logo

‘Chien Couture’ is such a great name and it truly expresses what this collection of paintings is about, I suggest to Selina that the name in itself is like a “brand name” and wonder at what point did she decide this was going to be a series of paintings.  “The idea grew organically after finishing the first couple of pieces. I have a design background and the subject of my artwork offered itself to being presented as its own unique brand. ‘Chien Couture’, allowing for a bit of poetic license, neatly conveys the concept of my collection whilst referencing where it all began in France. The logo is purposely playful, but at the same time it communicates the luxuriousness of the finished artwork”.  And it’s not only in this branding concept that art is imitating fashion, Selina also carries through the feeling of luxury into how she presents her work.  “I take so much care over every part of the artwork right through to the packaging, allowing the concept to run through the collectors’ whole experience, as you would expect with any luxury ‘designer’ object. I thoroughly enjoyed designing and creating everything and am proud to be able to say that the limited edition prints, archival portfolios and bespoke frames are all made in Britain. I initially made my own portfolios as I am a qualified book-binder and they had to be created to hold a very specific size print whilst also looking attractive, like a boxed perfume. I now work with a wonderful traditional bookbinding team in the West Country who make them to my exacting specifications, this allows me to spend more time painting”.

Below left to right are examples of Selina’s attention to detail, the embossed logo, the handmade portfolio and a folio seal of the logo.

Selina’s paintings are as multifaceted as the world of fashion & interiors she portrays.  At first glance they are decorative pieces constructed by many intricate details but can be seen on many different levels, I question Selina on whether they are in fact portraits of the owners, who aren’t even shown, rather than portraits of dogs … or are they a pure narrative on fashion, presented with a slight sense of fun or even mocking nod to the pretensions of the fashion world? To which she responds, like most artists, with a slightly non committal answer … “I would like to believe my artwork is both aesthetically pleasing but also conceptually rich.  I think it is important for people to approach a piece of artwork and take the messages and ideas that they want to from the composition, without being led or shown what to see.  Avoiding any spoilers, my artwork is all about subtleties, some of my collectors enjoy the pieces for their pure aesthetics, unfolding the narrative over time, even contacting me later, surprised that they never noticed the bullet-hole instead of the door knob. The majority of the works explore the history of the designer, this entwined with the dog breeds to continue the narrative.  Without a doubt there is a sense of fun to the subject, how can there not be when a dog takes centre stage, but I think in most compositions there is a sense of human presence through the setting, where you are still left questioning who is in control”.   Recently challenged by a visitor to one of her exhibitions, as to whether fashion was a shallow subject to convey in art, Selina quite rightly pointed out that fashion is very influential and has a rich history with some interesting stories.  It is also something that tells us so much about us and the world we are living in now, as Selina concludes… “We are living in an extremely materialistic world, we collect and exhibit our acquisitions on our bodies and in our homes and that my work captures a moment in time. There is no right or wrong but as an artist I certainly find it an interesting and fulfilling subject to explore”.

Selina in her studio

So where did Selina’s passion for painting begin?  Like most artists, she cannot remember a time when she wasn’t creating in one form or another.  She describes herself as a very visual person and says that her family joke that her version of reading a book is looking at the pictures!  Concerns over being able to earn a living, lead her to study Graphic Design at Bath School of Art rather than Fine Art; but her passion for physically drawing and painting (rather than using computer tools) meant Selina quickly specialised in illustration.  From Bath, Selina secured a place at Central St Martins, where she obtained her MA and honed her skills, learning the importance and power of concept through the artwork she was creating.  

It is no surprise that Selina cites the Surrealist as an influence on her work, especially the artists Dali and Rene Magritte, sprinkled she says, “with the wit and intelligence of Children’s book Illustrator, Anthony Browne. Bosch for his captivating strange little worlds, both fairytale like and horrific”.   Other inspiring artists include, Georgia O’Keefe “for her suggestion of something other than what we initially see, i.e. female genitalia, despite this being denied as intentional” and German artist Rosa Loy, who Selina says “reminds me of the power and importance of negative space”.

Framed “House of Lion”

Inspiration aside, the big question that I’ve been dying to ask is whether Selina has a dog herself, since her paintings show a familiarity and understanding of our four legged friends.  Selina confesses she does indeed love dogs but is currently unable to have one of her own, owing to Ralph, a characterful but somewhat controlling British Blue cat, which she and her husband rescued.  Ralph would certainly not entertain the company of a canine companion!  Selina says that she does however, spend sufficient time with the dogs of family and friends to be receptive to their nuances and behaviours which is also helps to feed her imagination.

I’m intrigued as to who Selina’s clients / customers are for the “Chien Couture” series, are they dog lovers, fashionistas?  And this is perhaps the beauty of Selina’s work, in that she explains her clientele are wide-ranging … “dog owners but also people who through circumstances don’t own a dog but would love to, also those who have an appreciation for conceptual art”.  

“Chien Couture” artwork is available as both original paintings and as limited edition prints, Selina also is happy to undertake commissions and says she has had great fun working with clients to produce a painting that evokes a sense of them and their surroundings through their beloved dog or cat. Her originals are painted in acrylic paint on Fabriano Artistico, in what is quite a lengthy process, “from concept and numerous drafts to the painting of fine hairs or the grain of wood in an almost masochistic way, for me its about the detail” says Selina.  Select pieces are available in small hand-signed limited editions of 50 prints, with a choice of ‘original’ or ‘grande’ size.  Both the originals and limited editions can be purchased at chiencoutureart.com (where worldwide delivery is available).  Selina is also represented online by Caiger Art and Saatchi Art online.

Appreciation of “Chien Couture” is growing, the collection was most recently exhibited at The Other Art Fair in London, where Selina was selected by art historian and Sky Arts presenter, Kate Bryan, as one of thirty female artists to showcase the 30th edition of the Fair.  Prior to this Selina has also exhibited work mainly in London at the Old Truman Brewery and The Mall Galleries. This April she will be exhibiting at the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate.

Selina’s work has been featured in The World of Interiors

So what’s in store I asked Selina, what plans does she have for “Chien Couture” in the future? Big plans she replies and confesses she is ..”both excited and exhausted when I think of the scope for the collection.  I have just completed the first of three smaller originals on Basswood cradles, which I will unveil in the coming months. The Husky is the subject of my next main collection originals and is in draft stage. I am also planning my next triptych showcasing hounds. I have had many requests to start cats and after completing a couple of private commissions I certainly have them on my agenda”.  

Selina in front of “The Finest Hour”

With “Chien Couture”, Selina has certainly created a unique brand and a subject matter that has mileage; one that Selina is clearly enjoying exploring; she concludes “It’s such a rich and entertaining subject and I love sharing my creations with my collectors, the conversation it strikes up and the joy you see, whilst they explore the artwork, is so rewarding.”

To view Selina’s work please visit www.chiencouture.com, where you can also sign up to the news letter to keep up-to-date with exhibition dates and new pieces.

Wonderful Woofers by Samantha Barnes

Let’s be honest if you were recuperating after breaking your arm, drawing would not be the first thing most of us would think to do to alleviate the boredom.  But this is precisely what artist Samantha Barnes did when she found herself incapacitated with a fractured right arm.  This “lucky break” (pardon the pun) led to her selling her first series of ink drawings of dogs to a print shop in the Kings Road, Chelsea back in the 1990’s.  Although Samantha had an arts background, having graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with a degree in printed textiles, she had spent her first working years in London employed in a series of marketing and events management jobs, before this rekindling of her passion for drawing.   

Fast forward 20 years and Samantha, who has had a varied and successful career as both a gallery owner and an artist, can currently be found creating beautiful pieces of art from her idyllic studio The Art Retreat in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Today dogs aren’t Samantha’s only subject matter, but it was her dog art that caught my attention at the recent Art For Cure exhibition at Glemham Hall.  Her delicate simple line prints of Lurchers, which I later discovered are created using a drypoint print making technique, stopped me in my tracks and I had to find out more. 

I therefore arranged to visit Samantha at her Woodbridge studio, where she is currently busy preparing for her her solo exhibition, to be held at The Art Retreat, on the weekend of 16th & 17th June.  Both Samantha and her adorable Cocker Spaniel, Barney, gave me a warm welcome and we sat chatting in her friends’ garden, in which The Art Retreat is situated. It appears that Barney can take the credit for this wonderful workspace, since it was after getting to know the owners of 44 chapel Street through dog walking, that they offered Samantha use of this fabulous building at the end of their garden!  A garden, Samantha and Barney get to share with the owners’ beautiful hairy Lurcher Rex and some chickens!

Samantha outside The Retreat with Rex & Barney
Samantha outside The Retreat with Rex & Barney

Lurchers were the subject of the print I first saw at Glemham Hall, which Samantha explained to me is created using a drypoint print making technique.  A technique that dates back to the 15th Century, is created by drawing with sharp implement directly onto a copper plate, the ink is then applied and wiped off so that the ink remaining in the incisions creates the distinctive line on the paper.  Owing to the delicate nature of the incision in the plate, only a small edition of prints can be created from the one plate.  Samantha creates just 12 prints from each plate, and each of these are slightly different and unique, due to the varying ways the ink can be wiped from the plate.

 

Aside from the drypoint prints, Samantha also paints the most gorgeous dog portraits, in an unfussy style that is bold, full of energy and truly reflects the character of each individual dog.  Her textile roots show through in her confident and clever use of colour and this joyous, colourful vitality is also evident in Samantha’s non dog paintings, which often depict public places and landscapes in and around Suffolk.  Created mainly in acrylics, Samantha’s paintings are happiness on a canvas, and as Samantha says on her own website … “I am an artist that makes paintings, drawings and prints directly from my tummy, not my head”.

Buddy The Cocker Spaniel
Buddy the Cocker Spaniel

Samantha is available for dog portrait commissions and can be contacted via www.samanthabarnes.com or visit her Facebook page ipaintdogs for more information. 

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Samantha in her studio

And don’t forget if you can get to Suffolk, Samantha’s artwork will be on display at The Art Retreat (in the garden of) 44 Chapel St. Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 4NF on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th June.

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