9. Feb, 2021

Why I’m Taking a Break from Colour Pencil Pet Portraits

Yes, you read that right.  Those that have visited my website, commission price list lately may have noticed the absence of any prices for colour pencil commissions.  This is because I have taken the decision to 'take a break' from the medium.  I don't know how long that break will be, could be months or years, I don't know.  There are a number of reasons why I've made this decision however.  

1.  Cost - I'm not going to lie, even for an experienced artist, colour pencil takes an extremely long time.  Hours upon hours of work to make the image look realistic, which is the style every customer who commissions me, expects.  That, coupled with the stigma that colour pencils are a fairly new medium in the grand scale of things and therefore don't command the same price expectations for customers as, say, oil paintings, means the artist ends up paying themselves less than minimum wage, or sometimes even makes a loss, if you factor in all the time spent discussing the commission with the customer too. This is not ideal when they, like everyone else, has to pay the bills and put food on the table.  it's not good business sense and a professional artist is running a business, just like everyone else.  The bottom line counts, just as it does for any retail business.  

2.  Developing as an artist - Artists go through 'phases' or 'terms' in their career.  Monet is a great example of this.  In his earlier work, it's very detailed, realistic, classical.  Later on in life, you see his paintings loosen up to the point where his work can be distinguished from everyone else's.  The constant demand for realistic pet portraits in colour pencil means that's all I end up doing all day, every day.  It harnesses thoughts and feelings of being stunted in developing, the feeling of being restricted.  As someone who is constantly wishing to develop and learn and find my own path, style or message in my art, this is rather a passion killer, which, in turn, leads to me not producing my best work.  

3.  Physical health - Due to the long hours sitting at a drawing table clutching a pencil, this has begun to affect my back, hand and shoulder muscles.  Painting is a lot freer, I tend to stand up when I paint also, projecting more energy into the painting and therefore creating a much truer representation of me as an artist and how I see the subject.  After all, art is subjective.   

4.  A Flooded Market - Since Covid, more and more people have wanted to follow the dream of being an artist.  Pet portraits artists are now at an all time high and in the world of colour pencil, it's hard to distinguish one artist from another.  They all strive for the same look of realism, meaning no one has a recognisable style and identity, thus making them less collectible as an artist or body of work and the value of the work suffers accordingly.  This brings us back full circle to point number 1 above, cost.  

5.  Expansion and Exploration - I have a studio/shop/gallery in Rotherfield, East Sussex.  when I'm open I do everything for my day job there.  I do commissions, I teach, I sell paintings and art equipment.  There are rather a lot of facets to my job and my business and I struggle to fit it all in.  This then means, I'm so busy doing art that I've been directed to do, in a medium that is hurting me physically, as well as from a career point of view, and in the pocket, I end up doing the other things less well.  Since lockdown has massively reduced my teaching time, I've had time to paint the things I want to paint, in the style I want to paint it and that has led to record sales of my original artwork in one month.  I've been able to earn more in this lockdown than when I've been at my busiest with colour pencil commissions over several months.  I am my own worst critic and I don't like a lot of the art I produce, but those sales have given me a little boost to perhaps expand outside of Rotherfield a bit and start pursuing a bigger audience.  Knowing I have time to do that, gives me more confidence to go forward with this.  it's even led to me setting up my own YouTube channel! 

So, there are my reasons.  And as I take this break from this particular medium, I have also reduced the number of commissions I am willing to take on and be more fussy about what I agree to be commissioned for.  Many, if not all, pet portrait artists will know the constant battle for good, clear references.  This is not a new thing.  When I can, I try to meet the animal in person, to determine it's proper colour and characteristics, however, this is not always possible, especially at the moment.  So a clear and accurate photo reference is essential to produce a good piece of work.  When I say accurate, I mean, taken in natural daylight, with a flat lense, so it doesn't distort the proportions.  I've had commission requests to draw from photos where the dogs are off in the distance somewhere, where you can't even identify the breed, I've had photos where the dog has the biggest cheesiest grin and I've had to restructure the entire face to not make it look cartoonish and achieve the clients expectations of realism.  These are all examples of huge headaches for commissioned artists and leads to hours more time spent on the piece than can be charged for, forcing the artist to make a loss and in some cases, not giving the client the result they'd hoped for (this has only happened once to me, in my nearly 30 years of doing commissions).  So, only commissions where the reference is clear an accurate will now be taken on. 

Ive realised, whilst writing this, it's started to sound like a bit of a moan, but it's not.  I love meeting peoples animals and creating an everlasting physical memory of them.  I will continue to paint animals and will never stop.  However, this blog has also given me somewhat of a release, a therapeutic cutting of ties which I have longed for for the last year.  And I hope, this means my work quality grows as a result.  My feel my customers deserve honesty and the best work I can produce and going forward, that is what they will get.