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A Dream Comes True

A very smart person once said that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. I confess that ever since I decided to take art a bit more seriously I’ve dreamt about being a finalist in the Wildlife Artist of the Year competition.

This competition is hosted by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and has run annually since 2008. David Shepherd established the competition as a fundraiser – a way to use art for wildlife conservation and has raised a small fortune for the work the foundation does all over the world. Not only is it a worthy cause – with half of every artwork sold going to aid nature conservation – it has become the Oscars of Wildlife Art.

If I have to risk a further confession – I wasn’t going to enter this year. I had lined up a lot of commissions and was running far behind my anticipated schedule. Its difficult being a mom, wife and artist. My sons keep me extremely busy and while I thought I’d have more time as they grow older, it seems my time diminishes with every school term. Long and short – I had nothing to enter, I had no time to draw anything and the closing date was only two weeks away.

It was after a phone call with my amazing arty friend Coleen that the little wheels in my head started turning…and finally, one day later, as I was enjoying a glass of red wine while looking through my reference images, inspiration struck. There are moments that you laugh about later, and suffice it to say this is one of them…because not only did I decide to enter, I decided to enter the largest piece I have ever drawn with only two weeks to get it done (and that is with two commissions overdue!).

In the end, despite my trepidation, I managed to finish ‘Hope’ a 70cm x 100cm artwork in panpastel and pastel pencil the day before the closing date.

‘Hope’ is inspired by the plight of our Rhinos. As we stay only 30km from the Kruger National Park, I often pop into the Park with my camera to take my own reference images. Of late it has become quite clear to me that their numbers are dwindling drastically. Even though the news seems quiet, I have noticed that we hardly encounter these majestic giants these days. It scares me to thing that I might have to show a drawn image of a rhino to my grandchildren one day.

It was one one of my trips that I found two rhinos quite close to the road, but both quite jittery and darting left and right as if they were trying to decide where to go. I snapped quite a few images and as I sat that evening, looking at the morning light falling onto her back, Hope was born. It might be a bit contrived – but I envisioned her running into the light, escaping the dark of extinction…hopeful.

My dream came true.

One sunny morning I received confirmation via email that Hope was selected as a finalist in the 2020 Wildlife Artist of the Year competition…

Its been quite a ride since then – with Covid-19 stopping all of us in our tracks – the exhibition was subsequently cancelled and will now take place as an online exhibition. I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this event with my work showcased next to some of the Wildlife Superstars who are my idols and thankful that I can hopefully contribute to conservation in my own little way…

‘Hope’ 70cm x 100cm Panpastel and pastel pencil on pastelmat.

A Note on Pet Commissions – Pricing and Timing

Pricing has always been a challenge to me – and this is not my first creative endeavour! As a photographer I often struggled with it as well, and my experience has taught me a couple of things.

I honestly wish that I could draw pets for every person who contacts me – I believe that anyone who loves their pet so much as to consider creating an artwork of the animal deserves a portrait. But the unfortunate fact is that there are only so many hours in a day and I also need to pay bills and eat. As with a doctor or accountant I have put an effort into honing my skill and it is unfortunately not really a job I can delegate to anyone else either. My time to create is therefor really precious.

With a Pet Portrait – and indeed many commissions – the subject is of a very personal nature. While you might love pets in general, chances are you won’t want someone else’s Poodle on your wall, and therefor the portrait I create for you is really a one-of-a-kind. I cannot make prints and I cannot sell it to anyone else. Depending on the size I will spend a minimum of 20 hours creating it and make sure that I meticulously capture every detail. Larger portraits (think 50cm x 70cm) often take me up to 3 weeks – that is 3 weeks that I cannot spend on anything else to generate an income and pay my own bills.

Clients often tell me they ‘just want something small’ or ‘a quick drawing’ and if you’ve been following my work or inspected my page, you’ll know that the same amount of detail goes into every drawing. And as a matter of fact smaller – is often more difficult as the details are finer. My heart and soul goes into creating a drawing that will make your loved furry friend come alive on paper and I am not prepared to attach my name to a hurried job that I did in order to save some time and charge less.

While I really work hard at trying to juggle commissions and gallery orders I am often booked months in advance for both. I know an exhibition is coming up 5 months in advance and I have to create artwork for it, in the meantime I also create additional works for my print range and add in those lovely pet commissions. Sometimes life gets a bit in the way and now and then even I need a break. I confess to often miscalculating how long a drawing will take as I seem to put more and more effort into the detail. Therefor I really urge my clients to book well in advance to make sure they have a spot on my waiting list. I usually cannot squeeze in a quick portrait – and as a matter of fact use this opportunity to allow my clients to pay off on their orders. I have had more than one complaint from clients telling me they need something ‘by next week’, but in my job that is simply not doable.

Creating these portraits – both Pet Portraits and Wildlife – is my absolute passion. If I could I’d live on the love for creating and spend 24 hours a day doing it. Life is real however and therefor I do need to charge for my time and skill and then put in the effort to create the best I possibly can. I am truly grateful to do this fulltime and give my clients a little love to hang on their wall…

Interviewed!

Imagine my surprise when I opened my inbox to find a podcast interview request!

I love podcasts and I often listen to them while drawing – real people with real stories, inspiring personalities and spine-chilling ghost stories – I listen to all of them! I find that I concentrate better when my mind is occupied and podcasts really work well for this.

The idea of hearing myself speak initially terrified me though, but Angie Noll from the ‘The Not Starving Artist’ is the loveliest human being. We immediately clicked and in the meantime have become fast friends. Her love for all things creative is contagious and I enjoy her genuine interest in her guests.

To listen to the Podcast – follow this link: http://www.angienoll.com/blog/2019/9/14/henriette-van-staaden

We discussed a couple of things – from my art journey to the process of creating a drawing. We also discussed being ‘self-taught’ and accepting yourself as an artist.

Thank you Angie – what an amazing experience!

Pet Portraits vs Wildlife Art – Why I Adore Both

Someone asked me the other day whether I preferred drawing pet portraits or creating wildlife paintings and it really got me thinking.

The answer is actually quite simple – I adore both and for vastly different reasons.

I never thought I’d be an artist and initially I started doing pet portrait commissions as a way to ensure a steady income. It never dawned on me that I would enjoy them so much. While I have drawn a few dogs now (and my first cat portrait – which I can’t wait to share!) they are all so vastly different and each person who commissions a drawing tells me something funny or interesting about the character I am capturing. Whether its a rescue, a loved pet that has passed or a furry child in the house, they all mean something to someone.

This specifically is why I love drawing pets – the feedback when its a secret birthday gift, or know that its a memory worth capturing for life. Each of them are special and unique and it really makes me happy.

Wildlife on the other hand challenges me – the different textures – from horns to feathers to manes and spots. With each painting I discover something new, really see the animal for the first time. Whether they are perched on a branch or lying on a rock I now really intend to capture a bit of nature in all my upcoming paintings. There is a freedom to create and it excites me to get up and get drawing. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a wildlife artist and pay homage to our natural heritage and hope that each artwork will bring joy to the owner.

There you have it – an answer to a quick question. I love drawing – whether its a pavement special or a majestic lion!

Wishing you a beautiful day!

The Time it Takes

Time.

I often ponder on time. My time, the time I have to do or accomplish certain things, the time I get to spend with my kids, family and friends. Time for myself, time for exercise, time to dream. I never realised how much time would go into planning my time and deciding how much time to spend on each of my priorities (that includes writing 5 school speeches this week and attending rugby matches). And as an artist, time takes on a new dimension.

The challenge is that the longer a piece takes, the less its actually worth. With each passing hour my wage per hour reduces and the fact of the matter is that I will in all likelihood never really earn what I spent in hours.

Pastel Waterbuck Painting
‘Kobus’ 40cm x 60cm Pastel Pencils on Pastelmat

Having attempted to be more ‘loose’ and spend less time on detail has proved to be a disaster. What you don’t see is that behind the scenes I am also trying different other mediums, attempting different subjects and playing around. Not a lot – those commissions are waiting for me you know – but just trying something different here and there. Trying to see if there is another way to add to my income. The fact of the matter is that this is my only income.

Having tried different things I have come to one not-so-astounding (at this point) conclusion. I love detail. I flourish on trying to get the hair just right, creating the texture on a nose or horn. I just love discovering details in my subjects that I’ve never noticed, exploring the feeling of the detail, imagining what touching them would feel like. That is me – I am the can’t-back-down-from-detail freak.

Drawing vs Photo
‘Kobus’ Drawing vs Reference Photo

Detail takes time.

Detail doesn’t allow fat sloppy lines and a couldn’t-care-less attitude. Detail is patient and precise. Detail sometimes doesn’t allow me to sleep 8 hours.

In the end I want to create art that I am proud of. Art that is me, art that combines a sensitive hand with a love for all things alive. I want to capture the essence and grace of our animal kingdom – whether its a well-loved dog of questionable breed or a majestic kudu.

And that takes time.

Bespoke Pet Portraits

I have been very blessed recently to book quite a few Pet Portrait Commissions – to the extent that I actually now have a waiting list! I am so thankful for the support and trust.

For those who don’t know – I used to be a photographer. One of the things I loved most about being a photographer was the knowledge that I was capturing memories that would last a lifetime. In a way it feels like doing these portraits is a little like that too and it really warms my heart. I am having fun capturing the furry kids of the world in pastel pencil!

These are my most recent completed portraits and I am already working on a horse portrait for another client.

For progress photos please follow me on Facebook and Instagram and contact me if you are interested in having your own pet’s portrait commissioned. I will assist you with choosing the best images for the artwork and give some tips and tricks on how to get them!

Pencil Blessings

Pastel Pencils: Reasons to Fall in Love!

If you are anything like me and love art, you might suffer from the same affliction: Art Supply Addiction.  Symptoms include compulsive obsessive art store scouting (both online and in person), yearning for new colours in various mediums and dieting instead of buying new clothes…because that saves budget for more arty stuff!

It was in this way that I found myself the proud owner of only one pastel pencil.  Yes, you read correctly: one single (deceptively innocent) pastel pencil.  Having always had the notion that pastels are messy and difficult to work with, I was determined not to like my single pastel pencil.

But then I did.

Quite frankly I didn’t just like it, I loved it.  My mom, who is the worst influence with art supply buying and whom I openly blame for my affliction, owned a whole set of the deceptively innocent pencils at the time.  She had bought them with the idea of colouring, but was sadly disappointed by how much dust they made and how they did not seem to stick to the paper.  Having watched a myriad of videos and having done a vast amount of research I knew by then that the problem was likely the paper, and therefor I invested in some Pastelmat for that very reason.  I think my fingers were itching in anticipation as I tested her Derwent Pastel Pencils for the first time – I was amazed by the colour, in love with the ability to layer light over dark and basically over the moon at how forgiving and intuitive the medium was.  And right there I swopped my mom a set of Derwent Coloursoft pencils to colour with, so I could get my greedy little fingers on her set of Pastel Pencils!

So what is the difference?  On the left I have a progress photo on a recent commission I did in Pastel Pencils and on the right the Kudu I am currently working on in Coloured Pencil.  There are some obvious differences but allow me to tell you more.

I experience Pastel Pencils to be much more vivid because pastels in general are much more opaque while Coloured Pencil is semi-transparent – in other words your base layers will shine though subsequent layers.  For this very same reason it is important to remember that in Coloured Pencil (much like watercolour) your highlights – and whites in particular – need to be preserved.  Pastel Pencils are much more forgiving with lights easily applied over darks.  Therefor you can work from dark to light – much like oil or acrylic painting. In this sense it is a really fun easy medium!  This also means that Pastel Pencil is a much quicker medium as layers are built up much faster.

Pastel Pencils – like soft pastels – are chalky and dry, while Coloured Pencil tend to be more oily or waxy – this difference relates to the binder of the pigment. I therefor blend my Coloured Pencils with odourless mineral spirits and my Pastel Pencils with a paper stump.

Where Coloured Pencil beats Pastel Pencils hands down though is in preserving your artwork.  Pastels do tend to smudge much easier and when using the incorrect paper you can forget about keeping your pastel on the paper.  Therefor the importance of the paper used cannot be underestimated!  All my commissions are done in Pastel Pencil on Pastelmat and I recently acquired some Fisher400 which I will be testing.  Both of these are sanded papers – meaning that finely ground pumice was added into the paper binder.  The paper has a velvety gritty feel and really grabs the pastel, allowing lots of layers and minimal dust.  When using the correct paper and handling your artwork with care, there is no need for fixative either!

While this is just a quick overview, I hope it has inspired you to at least give those Pastel Pencils a try – in the meantime I have also started experimenting with Soft Pastels, and though I am still finding my way, I love the vivid colours and expressive strokes.

Does all of this mean I am giving up Coloured Pencil?  Not at all!  As you can see I am working on a huge Coloured Pencil Kudu (my biggest yet at about 60cm x 70cm!) and I still love the muted fine art look and amazingly fine detail the medium allows.

Unfortunately though it means my Art Supply Addiction is going nowhere…luckily its New Year, so dieting to save on the clothing budget falls right into the same resolution I have every year!

May 2019 bless you with much ‘Arting’ and may the Pencils of the world give wings to your creative dreams!

Pencil Blessings

One Moment of Insane Courage

Have you ever read a phrase that just embedded itself in your mind even though you cannot really remember the context?

Last week an artist friend of mine asked me how I market my work and there it was, popping into my mind like a Perdespookbossie.  Also referred to as the Candelabra flower, they seemingly pop up out of the earth with a head of dark reddish pink flowers.  Once dry they roll around (presumably scaring horses in the process!) like a tumble weed, scattering their seeds.

My tumbleweed came out of nowhere: I market via one moment of insane courage.  It started me thinking though.  A lot of what we do as artists are moments of insane courage.  Even taking the leap to identifying yourself as an artist takes courage – it means putting yourself and your vision and your interpretation out there in the world for people to see and, well, lets face it: judge.

More often than not we don’t even need the judgement of others as we are usually our own worst critics.  But as I have mentioned before, we cannot evolve and develop without a measure of self criticism.

You might find yourself facing fear of a different kind when presented with a new challenge – something simple like an item you have never drawn, a medium you have never used or an audience you didn’t prepare for.  Yet it is in accepting those challenges and facing your fears and just realising that the only way out is through that you discover courage and experience growth.  In those moments your boundaries shift, your intuitive artistic nature expands and you open a new world within yourself.  One moment of insane courage might just be saying yes when you want to shout no or drawing that first line when all you want to do is start a new drawing.

In my experience marketing yourself is very much the same.  The worst that can happen is a ‘no thank you’. Making peace with the negative responses means accepting that we are all different and that we are all entitled to prefer different versions of art.  A ‘no thank you’ shouldn’t ever be seen as personal – especially where art is involved.  Grab that moment and show your work, show yourself and you will be surprised at the amount of yesses that will follow in the wake.

There are moments when I am unsure whether its me or the courage that is insane, but I am thankful for those glimmering moments. Fear doesn’t stop bad things from happening and it certainly doesn’t stop failing – but it does stop life. In my life, art is life and my wish (as I mentioned on my Facebook page today) is that your love for being creative will always outweigh your fear of failure.

No go forth and make art!

Pencil Blessings

August 2018

August was a month in which dreams came true, which is also why I was quite absent from my blog.

Some time ago I was lucky enough to be contacted by Andre from Artsavingsclub.co.za – a brand new online art shop.  I had come across them while searching for some arty thing and had already dealt with the very professional staff and was completely astounded when Andre and I started talking about running their blog.  In Artsavingsclub I encountered like-minded people as enthusiastic about the industry as I am and while trying not to sound too over-the-moon I wanted to jump at the opportunity with both hands, feet and well, everything else!  Writing has been a secret passion of mine since forever, so its the marriage of many passions.  

On 20 August we published the very first blog – you can have a look at that post here.

At the moment we are working on a lot of different topics to interest and entice all the art-lovers and art-supply addicts and I am very grateful to be affiliated with the Artsavingsclub family.  I am so excited at the prospect of talking and connecting with other artists.

Then on 25 August I married the man whom I want to journey with.  In Christo I have found someone who supports all my imaginings, who makes every ordinary day extraordinary in its simple contentedness.  He lifts my spirit while at the same time grounding my whimsical nature.

Our day was spectacular – a simple open-air affair under the stars, complete with full moon and surrounded by the people we love.  If I had dreamt it it could not have been more perfect!  As with all weddings I cannot believe its already over!

4 days later another dream came true when Andre sent me a message showing me the latest edition of The South African Artist Magazine – so unreal and humbling to be featured in their September issue.  I can never wait for the latest edition and I think it hasn’t sunk in yet that this edition featured my work.  What an absolute honour!

After a month like that, one might wonder what next!  Today we are off to Botswana for a rough and tough 4×4 trip into nowhere and I am looking forward to recharging my soul, being inspired and coming back guns blazing.  I have so many ideas and new things I want to try, so many drawings haunting my dreams that I am already rearing to go.

As an artist I have always been interested in different genres and mediums and after listening to a podcast about being multi-passionate I think I am finally giving myself permission to follow all my wild dreams.

In the end all I can do is step back and be grateful for new opportunities and dreams.  So I am sending my thanks out there and also setting my intent to work hard, play hard and enjoy this journey!

Pencil Blessings xxx

 

Drawing Tips: Pencil Facts | Part 3 – Caran d’Ache Luminance

Imagine applying pencil colour to paper… imagine the lead glides over the paper effortlessly, like a warm knife through soft butter, leaving a delicious line of vivid colour.  It might help that the beautifully made pencil does this with a suave Swiss accent!

Luminance – as the name suggests – sports an amazing array of 76 luminous colours.  What I love most about the Luminance colour range is the fact that they are really natural, soft shades often not found in other sets.  They are just so… usable – especially as a wildlife, or animal artist.

From an artist point of view this is the limousine of pencils.  The lightfastness ratings are spectacular ( have a look at my blog here on why that is important!) and the pencils sport a generous 3.8mm soft oil-based core that holds a point fairly well.  Luminance pencils blend exceptionally well with solvents and blenders and enables you to do multiple layers.  I also don’t find that wax bloom is a big problem when doing multiple layers, which is a real plus.

But there is one more trait that sets the Luminance pencil apart from other pencils (*drumroll*) – the fact that the light colours are so opaque that they actually are visible when applied over darker colours.  The Luminance white is viewed as one of the best white pencils around.

Colours are also available open-stock, which means you can buy singles instead of replacing an entire set when your Violet-Grey is reduced to the length of a peanut.

Not an artist?  There is no reason you cannot use a limousine to run to the corner café for milk and bread!  I imagine these must be absolutely heaven to colour with.  They apply and blend so smoothly that you might just become addicted to colouring!

Let’s chat about price then.  Caran d’Ache is a premium brand demanding a premium price, but having tested and used a myriad of pencils I can honestly avow that the Luminance pencil is worth every penny.  Their is a quality to the pencil that is unparalleled – both in build and pigment.  Even the packaging is impressive!

Neither Rome nor limousines are built in a day, so go out, buy a few colours and try them and don’t forget to get a white pencil (insider’s tip: use the white to blend colours together, then layer more colour on top to get a nice rich depth)…you know you want to!

I will be discussing pastel pencils, coloured pencils, paper and other odds and ends too, so keep an eye on my Facebook page for new blogposts.

In the meantime – here is a little look at some of the progress photos of ‘A Mother’s Love’ that I completed earlier this year.

Pencil-Blessings!

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