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

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

Capturing Ralph, a roaring success

Have you ever considered booking a photo shoot for your dog? To some it may seem a bit indulgent but what better way to capture your four legged friend for posterity than via some glorious professionally shot images.

Ralph taken by Kerry Jordan of Fur and Fables

People happily book photo shoots for their families and children, so why not their dogs too? One of my regrets is that we didn’t have professional photos taken of our previous dog, we only have a few family snaps to remember dear old Ronnie by.  Our dogs are with us such a relatively short period of time that it is lovely to be able to have some quality photos that are not only beautiful pieces of artwork but capture the characters of our beloved dogs for eternity.  

So when I recently visited the renowned dog photographer Kerry Jordan of “Whippet Snippets” and “Fur and Fables” to interview her for my blog (read profile post here), I decided to take the opportunity to book in a mini shoot for my hound Ralph.  Cost is obviously a factor in deciding whether to book a shoot or not; and let’s face it is not something that is affordable for everyone; but there are ways of keeping the costs down and one of the ways Kerry overcomes this is by offering “Mini Shoot” sessions at set times of the year.  These mini shoots, which are just 15 minutes long, are at a set location, normally scheduled one after the other, making productive use of Kerry’s time and thereby keeping costs down; what’s more Kerry doesn’t actually charge personally for these sessions all she asks is for a £50 donation to a dog rescue charity.  There are of course plenty of other shoot options and packages offered by Kerry ranging from a basic package at £150 to £525 all day shoot involving two locations. 

Shoot packages available from Whippet Snippets / Fur and Fables

Kerry kindly agreed to undertake a mini shoot for Ralph, and with our donation paid to the Celia Cross Greyhound Trust, the next step was a phone call consultation from Kerry to ascertain information about Ralph … breed, colouring, okay off the lead or not, sitting & stay ability, any treat allergies etc.  It’s at this point location would be discussed but, obviously as we were visiting Kerry anyway, the location for the shoot was in her neck of the woods.  Not a bad thing, as Kerry knows the best places and landscapes to capture the perfect shot; but she is happy to drive up to an hour from her location in Fernhurst, Surrey, so you can choose where best for your dog, whether that be at home or in your favourite location. 

When interviewing Kerry she did retell a rather funny story about once turning up at the house of a collie she had been booked to shoot.   His owner had already warned Kerry that the dog was rather nervous and unsure of strangers, so when she arrived and saw this dog out in the front garden she thought this was a good opportunity, whilst waiting for the owner, to gain the confidence of the dog.  She began by plying the dog with a few treats, and once he seemed comfortable with her she slowly began snapping away.  Only to discover, after it’s baffled owner came out of the house to ask what on earth she was doing, that this wasn’t the dog she had been booked to shoot, the dog she was meant to photograph lived a few doors down!   

Ralph amongst the ferns, taken by Kerry Jordan

The location for Ralph’s shoot was the beautiful Devil’s Punch Bowl, in Hindhead.  Within minutes of being introduced to Kerry, Ralph was literally eating out of her hands and like the piped piper Kerry lead him to a few favourite spots, where she captured head shots, seated shots and full pace running shots.  We were blessed with a dry, bright autumnal day and Kerry worked the autumn palette to create some stunning images, getting herself into some strange positions in the process.  Kerry joked that she constantly forgets to look where she is sitting as she excitedly plonks herself down in an effort to get the right angle for the shot.  Sitting in unsavoury things is probably not what you would have expected to be an occupational hazard of a dog photographer. 

The shoot was such fun and flew by, so I can imagine how special an all day or even two hour session must feel.  At the end of the shoot Kerry always gives a gift for your dog; Ralph enjoyed some super “Innocent Hound” sliced venison sausage treats and some fabulous handmade coconut dog soap from “The Dog and I”.  Ralph can highly recommend both but, not being a lover of baths, I have a sneaking suspicion he preferred the treats to the soap!

The lovely goodies Kerry gave to Ralph after the shoot

Soon after the shoot Kerry forwards a link to a slideshow of an edited selection of images, which she follows up with a call and shows you how to log onto your own personal online gallery, from where you can order one of many packages or choose from a list of single items.  It is difficult to choose as you are spoilt for choice, but it is best to have a budget in mind before you look, if you don’t want to get carried away.  That’s one of the things I appreciated most from Kerry’s approach, there wasn’t any hard sell; we were left alone to order what we desired and not pushed or encouraged to order more than we wanted or could afford.  But if you find it difficult to decide Kerry is happy to offer advice and can even give you a virtual representation of what a framed print may look like on your own wall!

Following the shoot you Kerry creates your own online gallery from which to select your images

I can’t recommend Kerry or the whole experience highly enough, although it may seem an expensive luxury, it is money well spent to have such beautiful lasting images of your dog, which are also artwork for your walls.  And if you aren’t fortunate enough to live close enough to Kerry, then do keep an eye out on her social media platforms, as Kerry is considering scheduling a few ‘roadshow’ events around the country, even as far north as Scotland, in the new year. 

For more information see the Whippet Snippets website   

You can also find Fur and Fables on Facebook

And Instagram