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For Art's Sake: Characters!

PUBLISHED: 10:43 24 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:32 20 February 2013

For Art's Sake: Characters!

For Art's Sake: Characters!

With pencil, paint or pastel, Emily Kapff's pet portraits capture the soul and character of her four-legged subjects

With pencil, paint or pastel, Emily Kapffs pet portraits capture the soul and character of her four-legged subjects

I practically grew up in a dog basket. Mum and Dad were dairy farmers in Cornwall and so animals were always a huge part of my life and upbringing. I used to follow my parents down to the barn for the early morning milking (usually in my favourite dress and for some reason in a pair of Dads enormous Wellingtons which came up to my hips). When Mum or Dad picked us up from school it would always be accompanied by a chaotic heap of dogs paws on the dashboard, panting out of the windows, squashing the horn... You can imagine that this became quite embarrassing as one approached ones teens.
On the art front, I was off as soon as the pencil was in my hand, according to my mother. I recall my parents buying us those WHSmith blocks of paper each, and my well-behaved older sister would make hers last weeks while I would get through the entire thing within days. Once I had gone through the block of paper, I then began to draw in my storybooks. As far as I was concerned, end pages and dust covers were blank spaces, which very much needed occupying.
As a child I was never terribly academic and rather disliked school all except art and music. Art particularly, was the one thing I felt confident about (while also allowing me to win over otherwise unpleasant teachers). When I was turning nine, we moved out to Ontario where we continued to dairy farm for nine years.
We moved back to England in 2002 and settled in Devon, and it wasnt until then that I began to consider my artwork more seriously and decided to take an Art Foundation course at Exeter College.
Following this, I attended Falmouth University where I studied illustration for three years, which has had a significant influence on my portraiture work. I think by reflecting a sense of narrative within a portrait it makes it personal and everlasting. If people can look at a study I have produced of an animal and feel that they are viewing a moment within a life and a story that continues beyond the canvas, I have done my job.
Ive always thought that the company of animals maintains our intuitive sixth sense. I love to draw and paint them because there is such pleasure in relying on that sense. I also adore the honesty of an animal.
Meeting the model is an integral part of the process, so perhaps not surprisingly, I sometimes encounter memorable characters (animal and human). One of my first commissions was of a terrier called Bessie. The owner was unable to be at home the day of my visit and informed me that instead I would be met at the house by their elderly mother who was hard of hearing and might not remember I was coming. I arrived and found I could not get an answer at the door because the dear old lady was unable to hear me. After some time I was warmly received and following a courteous (while audibly thunderous) explanation of who I was and what I was doing, I proceeded with the visit.
When I visit I always take my sketchbook and camera. Most dogs tend to dislike the camera, which I think they perceive as a confrontational eye, while to the vain cat it is merely the eye of adoration! Bessie immediately detested the camera. She spent almost the entire afternoon sitting under the old ladys legs growling and making faces. Eventually I discovered she was rather fond of retrieving pebbles and was able to win her over with a game of fetch.
While I would love to complete all my portraits from life, it often isnt practical as a lot of my subjects are either quite lively or deceased. Along with my sketchbook and camera, I get some live pencil studies which are good for noting energy and movement.
The souls and characters of the animal kingdom come in such a vast variety of forms, and I delight in a chance to celebrate them through my work, no matter how large or small the animal. I recently had a proposed commission for a hamster!

To view other work by Emily Kapff see www.ekapff-portraiture.co.uk or for commissions call 07737 357783

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