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