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Sue Hardy won our Strathmore Artist Papers award for composition at the Society of Graphic Fine Arts Draw 2018. Congratulations to her! Her inspiration is the living world. We chat about animals, media and how she works. Her life in rural North Dorset sounds the perfect location to inspire her creativity and work. 

springfeverpreparatory sketch for winning image by sue hardy

Can you tell us about the winning image? It's rare to see cows gambolling in art, people usually draw them static, it's refreshing to see them alive! How did you go about the composition?

I've always been interested in animals, lived alongside them & helped on farms when younger, observing the way they move, react to different stimuli & that has lead to my wanting to draw them. My home & studio are on the edge of farmland in a beautiful rural area of North Dorset, close to Somerset & Wiltshire and we've kept many animals over the years.

I sketch and take lots of photographs which helps me to compose a finished work like “Spring Fever” [note: you can see the page from her sketch book here too].

This piece came about when I was with an artist friend in her studio one day & spotted a group of bullocks outside careering towards a gap in the hedge two fields away. I shot out and clicked away on my phone's camera as they ran closer across the next field leaping in a moment of bovine madness.You have to be quick sometimes to get the shots needed to work from & I was lucky!

Back in the studio I did sketches from the photos & worked out my composition. In the finished charcoal & pastel drawing I wanted to convey that emotion that sweeps through a group of animals when they're excited. I tried to suggest the movement & solidity of the animals using various charcoal strokes but also maintaining spontaneity. 

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You work in a mix of media, what do you like about each one? How does each allow you to express the spirit of animals and life you see around you?

Charcoal is a great medium for drawings showing movement; so quick & in a way you can sculpt the animal on the surface of the paper by manoeuvring & angling the charcoal in various directions & with differing pressure. I like to use thick pieces of charcoal & it's my first choice when it comes to life drawing.

Pastel is more challenging but the colours pick up light beautifully which helps bring a piece to life in a different way, if it comes right. It takes a lot more thought but I love to show those subtle changes in the colour of light on an animal's coat, formed over the warmth of the muscle beneath. The landscape surrounding that creature is very much a part of it's existence too & I add this in varying degrees. Pastel is perfect for that. 

I find watercolour fascinating to work with & yet nerve-wracking used in the free way I prefer. These days I tend to use it in conjunction with ink or pencil drawing, in loose washes & also in outdoor sketching. I intend to explore its use further. Oil is a medium I like to use occasionally, for outdoor landscape sketching, & portraits but I feel I still have lots to learn. 


How did you start in art? Were you always an artist?

At ten I won a school prize for my pencil drawing of our family dog sleeping. It was the verbal praise from visiting parents on the Open Day that meant so much & probably lead to my wanting to draw more & more. Even though life took me on to a career in Horticulture I always created opportunities within my work to use drawing skills – e.g. illustrating point of sale information for garden centres nationally whilst running a nursery & plant centre with my husband.

My art career took off following a mysterious debilitating illness. During recovery I was encouraged with support from my family to do exactly what I loved, without pressure. I drew & painted in watercolour, framed work & had success in local exhibitions. We then converted an outbuilding into a studio, commissions came & I've continued to draw & paint for the past 20 years. 


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Where do you work mainly, in a studio, outside? Can you tell us about a usual day when you are composing? What do you do? 

I work in my studio & outdoors too. A commission can be a herdsman's favourite cow, a special rescue dog, a favourite landscape view, a family portrait or a village scene populated with animals & people. I can be anywhere taking photos and sketching in preparation for the end result. It does usually all come together in my studio where I can concentrate.

There's always supportive work to do too e.g redesigning website, marketing greetings cards & giclee prints.


What are your main inspirations?

Hard to answer.  Visual harmony. The natural world. The affect of light on so many things. 


What are you working on now?

I'm concentrating on a new body of work relating to people & animals in landscape or townscape here in the south west. Lots of scope!

I like observing people as much as animals, for the huge variation in the human figure and the subtle shapes we make as we move about our daily lives, and for the unique soul within each one. I will try & convey something of the character or emotion of the subjects, as I see them.


To find out more about Sue and follow her work have a look and follow:  (Look out for her new website coming end Nov 2018 with new online shop for sketches, prints, & cards)

Social media links: 


sue hardy



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