Meet the Artist
Lisa Ann Watkins on art, colour and animals
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
Lisa Ann Watkins is known to many of our followers on social media as one of the most popular animal artists. She won our "Riot of Colour" competition unanimously hands down, with her portrait of "Sherlock". We catch up with her to find out how she got started in art and animal portraiture.
When did you start drawing? Have you always been an artist or how did you begin?
Ah, the old cliche of I have been drawing for as long as I can remember! Well, yes, that is indeed true. I do remember growing up in a small village in Cornwall & at around 6 years of age I used to draw pictures of animals & then go knock on people's doors to sell them for charity. I remember carrying a flowerpot with me to collect the money. My mum wanted me to become a maths teacher but I rebelled & went down the creative 'impractical' route instead, going on to art college & then on to graduate in Fashion & Textile design in 1992.
By then I had fallen out of love with art having been told by tutors that I could not draw or see colour. Hence why I had veered into doing flat design work. I spent a few years in costume design but by then the joy had gone so I turned to having 'normal' jobs in call centres which usually lasted only a couple of years before I became totally fed up & moved on.
20 years saw me not only work from every job from being a restaurant manager to a nail technician, a police 999 operator to a maintenance planner in a paper mill. Accompanied with this was repeated bouts of depression & the last one led to me seeking out counselling. It identified that I had lost my creativity & I needed to get it back so I bought my first tin of coloured pencils. 120 set of Albrecht Durers to be precise. That was in August 2012. By December I had won 2 international competitions & had started to be approached for pet portrait commissions. With the support of my husband I nervously quit the well paid day job & started out of the rollercoaster path of becoming a full time artist.
What do you love most about what you do?
As mentioned above, the path of being a full time artist is one of a rollercoaster with lots of ups & downs & sometimes it goes so fast you feel like you are losing control. For me I don't think I would have had it any other way, although nowadays I am trying to calm things down a little. There are so many things that I love though & each one is very special & brings it's own rewards. When you get a message from a client to say that they could not stop crying when they received their portrait of a pet that had passed away. Or when they tell you that working with me on a piece has helped to heal the sadness & helped them to smile again. Those moments are priceless. Nowadays though I have come full circle so I am now teaching others how to embrace their own creative. When I see my students beginning to lose their fears & grow in confidence now that is an amazing feeling. I absolutely love teaching & although I always want to be pushing my own creative boundaries I thrive on taking others with me on the journey.
You specialise in animals? How did that come about?
I have always loved animals & in recent years always tried to fundraise for various rescue charities. I was not always able to donate money so finding out I could draw animals meant I could finally offer something of real value. I also realised I could us my art to give animals a voice. I have worked with the founders of many international rescue organisations & am also an invited Artist Partner to the Snow Leopard Trust aswell as being a signature member of Artists For Conservation.
I do love the commission side of things, creating special memories for owners, but the charity work holds something much closer to my heart. I try to ensure that I continue to work behind the scenes donating pieces to good causes as those are the special rewards for me as an artist. Of course I also have my own pack of rescue dogs at home but like most pet portrait artists I am guilty of not having drawn them all yet! I do of course want to experiment with more landscapes & floral works aswell as mixing up my usual pencils with other media along the way.
What do you love most about animal portraiture and why is that exactly?
I think it is simply my love for animals overrides everything else. Creating a portrait is not so much about the likeness, it is about capturing a moment or a memory. I always ask clients for a character description of the animal, quite often they initially think I am crazy, but as we work through the project they understand that I am not just copying a likeness of their pet from a photo, I am capturing everything that I know about them in that portrait. I need to know what makes my subjects tick, What is their bond with the owners? Are they playful, or aloof? What is the owner's favourite memory of their beloved pet etc etc. My own dogs are my life so I appreciate just how much animals mean to other people. My clients recognise that in me & I know that is one of the things that has helped me build my pet portrait business. I am well known for getting down on the floor & saying hello to my subject before shaking the hand of my client!
What media do you prefer? And why is that? Can you explain why that media works best for your subjects?
I absolutely love coloured pencil. Saying that though I still have a tonne of other media to try but life does not give us enough time or hands to everything at once. When returning to art in 2012 I looked at pastels & pastel pencils but they seemed a little messy. The Albrecht Durers that I started out with are watercolour pencils & I developed technique of creating fur using these pencils wet & dry. I became known for this is the field of coloured pencils & quite often it is this method that I am now asked to teach at workshops. I am always trying different things with my pencils though as there are so many different brands not only of pencil but also of supports. I mainly use Pastelmat but also experiment with work on canvases, suede mat & various different films. I also like to bring in inks & PanPastels plus other media along the way. I think it is good to always be trying something new, and also pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones. I always return to the safety of my coloured pencils though. They re so clean & easy to use. No mess, no smell & easy to transport.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am working on the first of 3 portraits of the same cat for 3 new tutorials for my students. Nowadays I teach around 300 students per month via workshops & also online with my Patreon channel. I video all of my creations & write digital tutorial to help others to learn the same techniques that I use. I do not claim to know it all as I don't believe we ever do. If so then I think it might get a little boring. For the current piece I am using Caran D'Ache Pablos on Suede Mat Board but the next one will be on drafting film & the 3rd option will be white on black.
Anything else you would like people to know about you?
Looking ahead I am hoping to continue to grow my teaching side of things. I am now an invited artist tutor with the SAA as well as a couple of other prestigious organisations so I have spent this week confirming workshop dates for 2019. I also hope to return to the US for another workshop tour & also include Canada & Australia. My digital tutorials are all being published into hard copies at the moment so a new website will soon see a shop & also a new teaching portal for anyone who prefers not to use Patreon. Yes there might be a book deal & a few other exciting things in the pipeline which I cannot mention yet but the future is looking good. I have never, ever worked so hard in my life but it can pay off. You CAN still make a very successful career out of being an artist.
To find out more about Lisa's workshops, her work, or follow her on social media check out these links.
Website is www.animalartbylaw.co.uk
Teaching channel - www.patreon.com/LisaAnnWatkins