I got in touch with Jess Ridley after I came across her amazing animal portraits. Jess primarily gets commissioned for cat and dog portraits but also has a wonderful array of wildlife artwork inspired by her trip to Africa. I asked her to draw my golden retriever, Jofra, and I’m incredibly excited to share with you the results. I also asked Jess a few questions about her work.
How did you get started in pet portraits? Is it something you’ve always been interested in?
My whole life has been dedicated to performing, so it’s safe to say that I never saw drawing becoming as important in my life as it is now! Alongside my lifelong training in musical theatre, I drew purely as a hobby. I loved drawing as a child and would draw everything from the candlestick on the living room table to school portraits of my brother. In fact, some of my earliest (and perhaps best) pieces were crayon on wallpaper – much to the dismay of my parents! Drawing was always something that I found therapeutic. I never really envisioned it becoming such a large part of my life.
A trip to Africa provided me with a huge amount of inspiration to create some wildlife pieces that caught attention on social media and so I began my small business. I had only ever created drawings as gifts for friend and family but quickly realised there was a demand for portraits of the lovely furballs we share our lives with.
What is the most challenging aspect of drawing pets?
The most challenging aspect of creating a pet portrait is working with the customer to get the right reference photo. Animals are notoriously tricky to get to stay still, but getting a clear, well lit, high-quality reference picture really is the key to a good portrait. Creating features that can not be seen in the reference photo (for example if part of it is blurry) is something I find very challenging.
Why is graphite or charcoal your go-to medium? What do you like about them?
Graphite has been my go-to medium simply because it is what I began drawing with as a child. It was a natural progression from scribbling on printer paper with a HB pencil from the kitchen drawer to where I am now. I only bought my first ‘proper’ drawing pencils in my teens and used to draw with whatever I found around the house. I have always loved the effect of monochrome pieces but hope to branch out into pastels soon to add a different element to my wildlife and pet portraits.
How has your artwork evolved over the years? What have you learnt in the process?
Although I took art GCSE, I would say everything that I have learnt about drawing has been through trial and error. There are hours of tutorials on youtube as well. Practise really is what it is all about and I truly believe anyone can draw if they have a structured approach and time to dedicate to it. I learn something new with every portrait I create.
One of the biggest challenges is knowing when to stop! Once I have finished a piece I will often hide it away for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes before deciding it is complete. My biggest lesson has been that patience is very important. It takes a while for a piece to take shape and it has taken me a long time to have patience with the process.
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