The Ottawa Dog Blog had the chance to interview pet artist, Heather Anderson.
What kind of Dog Art do you do?
I do two types of Dog Art actually. I paint Commissioned Portraits of dogs in Coloured Pencil over Watercolour, in Acrylic, and sometimes at special request, in Watercolour alone or a Graphite. I work from a selection of good photos of the dog or dogs, and often include a landscape background if requested.
The other thing I do is to paint a dog in a scene relevant to the breed of dog – something that comes out of my own mind and is done to celebrate the beauty of the breed and the individual dog – purebred or not. I also like to do work that celebrates the wonderful loving companionship between a dog and a human. These paintings are done in the medium that seems to suit the idea and are available as Original Paintings, small reproductions, and in some cases, notecards. I also love to paint Cats and Horses.
How did you get into doing Dog related artwork?
Dogs, Cats, and Horses have always been my subjects of choice because of the deep love I have for these animals, and I have a need to express this love through art. It has nothing to do with the present popularity of Pets – I’ve just always painted them, and often have had to defend my choice of subject from mainstream artists.
I drew these animals when I was a child, and later on in high school, I went to dog shows and did quick sketches of the dogs. Friends and neighbours sometimes asked me to draw their pets. When I was able to, I attended art school and used animals as my subject for assignments whenever possible. When I began my career, it was as an animal artist and I have never wavered from that, although I am enjoying dipping into a little Fantasy art now as well.
When did you first realize that you were an artist?
Looking back, paper, pencils, and paint were always among the top of the list of things I wanted to play with. (The other things were animals and books). I think the pivotal moment came when I was a teenager talking on the phone, and without really being conscious of what I was doing, I used a hairpin to draw a line of rather primitive horses into my windowsill. That made me realize that perhaps I was actually a fledgling artist, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was nothing else I wanted to do with my life other than paint – and it had to be animals.
Could you tell us some more about your work?
My paintings are traditional in that they are realistic, although not photo-realistic. I need to work in this style to be true to myself. I feel that the animals and nature are so beautiful as they are, that I feel no need to manipulate them into something else. I find lots of scope for creativity and imagination within reality. My favourite mediums are Watercolour and Coloured Pencil, although I also often enjoy working in Acrylic and in Graphite as well.
I have exhibited my work both here and in the United States in Galleries and at Art Shows, at Dog or Horse related Trade Shows, and I have been juried into some well known Animal Art shows such as The Art Show At The Dog Show in Wichita Kansas. I have been awarded Best Acrylic at the Pyramid Society’s Egyptian Event, an international show in Lexington Kentucky that spotlights the Egyptian Arabian Horse. A couple of years ago, my Horse Art was the subject of a feature article in a Swedish horse magazine (and I can’t read a word of it!) Last year, I was delighted to be chosen to participate in The Horse Gift, a 7 meter high mural that involved artists from around the world. My panel was about the Horse in Literature.
My main artistic focus however, remains the dog and its relationship to us as a loving companion.
What is it that inspires you to create your pieces of art?
I think it is always the beauty of the animal that inspires me. When I’m working on a painting it feels as, if for that short space in time, the animal sort of belongs to me and some way I almost become part of that animal.
What famous artists have influenced you, and how?
Oh, there are so many! Although I do not paint in an Impressionistic style, the Impressionists, Renoir and Monet in particular have influenced me with their beautiful light and colour, and the sense of peace and happiness you can find in their paintings. Rosa Bonheur, and Norman Rockwell are favourites too, and among the many wonderful contemporary animal artists I admire are Robert Bateman, Lesley Harrison, and Mike Sibley. Theses artists all depict the animals realistically and with respect.
What do you do for fun (besides painting)?
Oddly, I don’t think of painting as fun. It is a passion, a compulsion, a lot of hard work, and I can’t imagine life without it. But for fun, I read a lot, garden, work on a Miniature Tudor style house I am building, and write Village Murder Mysteries. But the most fun is just hanging out with my husband and our pets.
What inspires you to create art and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?
I don’t think there is any one thing that inspires or motivates me to paint. It is simply something that I need to do, and if events keep me away from my studio for any length of time, I start to feel out of sorts and off balance. I can get downright cranky if I can’t work. As to keeping on going when things get tough in the studio (like a downturn in the economy or when the cat kicks over the water jars on top of my new watercolour painting), well, I guess one just has to keep going until you get to the other side of whatever it is. There’s no point stopping in the middle.
How have you handled the Business side of being an artist?
The Business side of being an artist is one of the most difficult things about this career choice. Marketing is hard. There is always so much to juggle when you really just want to paint. I do my best to keep excellent accounts and records, and I try to make sure that my marketing dollars and venues work well for me. I try to stay visible through advertising and by writing articles for animal/animal art publications and by doing whatever networking I can. It is really important to read as much as you can about any marketing that applies to your area of art and your personality. (The hard sell technique works, but it isn’t for everyone. I know it isn’t for me.) Joining an Art Guild for animal artists gave me a place to learn and to share information about my chosen field and about marketing within it. My husband built me a wonderful website that is a big part of my business, and I created a blog where I talk about art and the animals and show new paintings. Recently, I joined Twitter where I post as SheltieHollow, and that is a great place to connect with people. I’ve learned that there is an ebb and flow to business and you just have to ride out the slow times, and keep organized and grateful through the boom times. It is important to me to show that gratitude by donating a set number of paintings a year to Animal Charity Fund Raisers such as the Ottawa Humane Society’s Fur Ball. I feel it is also important to be respectful to your clients and the animals and to be reliable, honest, and meet deadlines.
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
First I would say to ask yourself if you want to be a Recreational Artist or a Professional Artist. One is fun and one is very hard work. Are you willing to give up a lot in order to pursue your art full time? Get yourself educated, both in art theories and mediums, and in your chosen subjects if you are a realist. Then never stop learning.
Do you have a dog?
I have always had at least one dog – Collies and/or Shelties. For a long time now, we have had four dogs and a cat. Three of the dogs are Shelties and one is a Sheltie/American Eskimo cross. They are no longer young, but they still enjoy running around under supervision in our fenced-in country garden and of course, snoozing at our feet inside. (Our cat happily and safely stays inside or goes out in the garden with me on a leash.) Each one is beautiful, clever, kind, and loving, and all are deeply loved by us. Just as I can’t envision life without painting, we can’t imagine life without dogs and cats.