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Pet Portraits: Interview With an Pet Artist

By: Margaret Paxton - Updated: 7 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Pets Portraits Artist Animals Wildlife

When painted by a professional artist, pet portraits can make a wonderful gift for the animal-lovers in our lives. We use the term ‘pet’ here rather loosely; as you’ll discover when you read about some rather unusual animals artist Michelle Diprose has painted!

Professional Study

“I’ve always painted, ever since I was a kid,” Michelle told me. She studied as a Wildlife Illustrator at Carmarthen Art College and is a keen wildlife photographer.

Her first commercial venture as an artist was painting greetings cards-each one an original. That was during the last recession though, and in that period of financial difficulty pet portraits were considered to be a luxury item; so Michelle had to rethink her future.

Michelle trained as an Equine Veterinary Nurse, as horses are one of her great loves. “This arrangement gives me a greater balance. I work part-time as an EVN to earn a regular wage, but I have time to paint, too!”

Working from Photographs

Whenever possible Michelle likes to meet the subject she is commissioned to paint, although she can (and does) work from photographs alone in some circumstances. “When a pet has died and the owner wants a lasting memory made I study as many different photographs as possible of the animal, to create a painting that really captures that individual animal’s likeness and character.”

“There’s no big money to be made-hence the day job-but I get so much satisfaction when clients’ first see the finished painting of their beloved pet. It can be very moving: I take great care and pride in all my works.”

Mediums and Materials

Michelle uses acrylic paints for much of her work. “For me they are the most practical; because they dry fairly quickly, are versatile to work with and not as expensive as oils.”

As a professional artist, though, Michelle uses oils when specifically requested by a client. She also does charcoal and pencil sketches; but is not a fan of pastels!

The choice of canvas size for Michelle’s paintings is usually A4, which she likes to work on over a couple of weeks. She did once paint a bulldog for a client on A2 canvas though, “It was massive!”

There was an even larger ‘blank canvas’ that Michelle was once commissioned to paint: the backs of two huge lorries…

Dogs, Horses, Cats…and Water Buffalo!

“I paint more dogs and horses than any other animal, but I’m happy to paint any species of wildlife too.”

Trips around the UK provide Michelle with opportunities to photograph wild deer, dolphins and all sorts of wildlife. Her most unusual subjects, however, include ostriches, goats and water buffaloes.

“That was surreal! There I was, combing the fringe of this enormous bull water buffalo to bond with him before taking photographs, and hoping that he was as tame as the owner described…” Fortunately he was; but there was a moment during the photo shoot when Michelle became very concerned. “The gentleman seemed to disappear amongst the middle of his herd: they were all around him! I was very worried that he could be crushed to death, as the buffalo were so huge.”

Cartoon Characters?

“I remember one particular small and very energetic dog that I was supposed to study. It took forever to get any photographs at all-not just because the dog was charging around the room the whole time, but also, because each time I bent over with the camera to get a close up, the dog leapt onto my head! We got there eventually and I now have a powerful zoom lens for such occasions.”

Wise Words

I asked Michelle what tips she could give to any aspiring pet and wildlife artists. “Have a proper day job too!” she laughed.

“It takes a lot of determination and perseverance to succeed. Most of my new commissions come by word of mouth from people I’ve previously painted for and from the occasional gallery showing.”


“My dream would be to be able to afford to paint what I want to paint, when I want to paint it! I’d love to tour the world and photograph every imaginable species, then come home and paint each one. That would be my idea of heaven!”

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