Today we’re celebrating Caturday with an interview with Alice Hawthorn (@dogsdogscatsdogs)! Volunteer, Ashley Brown, has sat down with the pet illustrator whose instagram is filled with expressive pets in line drawings, sketches and watercolour among other mediums.
So today, take yourself away from the stressful news, lockdown restrictions and Christmas planning to dive into the charming world of dogs and cats.
When I asked Alice for an interview, tracking her down on her addictive Instagram feed, chirpy energy poured into her warm, friendly responses. Agreeing to meet at our local Joe and the Juice she gave me the feeling I was meeting an old friend. She ordered a large green tea, her staple hot drink. There is something about fellow creative souls that oversteps the need for formalities and dive straight into the deep end. We were soon chatting away about life and her art journey. Alice works as a PA for a family in London around her portrait commissions, fortunately being constantly on the go is something she was born for, she is a Leo after all.
So, Alice first things first tell me, how did you discover your inner artist?
I feel I was born with a paint brush in hand, and have drawn, painted, sewn and crafted all my life. I studied art throughout my school years but instead of following my heart towards an art or design degree, I convinced myself that ‘Architectural Design’ was the right degree for me and I spent four years studying at Edinburgh University, with a view to becoming an architect. I finished my degree when I was twenty-one and decided not to pursue architecture as a career. Since then, I’ve always had art projects underway – my inner artist is always calling!
Talk me through your creative process?
I carry my ‘art studio’ around with me in my ruck sack as I’m always on the go. I paint whenever I have the opportunity, often in coffee shops like this. With dog and cat portrait commissions, I work from reference photos and I love how much of their character you can pick up on from a photograph. I find myself having conversations with them (in my head!) – it helps me get a feel for their personality. My pencil portraits recreate the reference photograph as accurately as possible, so it’s very much a case of drawing what I see, and they take me around twenty-five hours to complete. When I’m doing watercolour portraits and illustrations, I have more of a free reign.
How would you describe your style?
I would say fun and happy – people have described them as whimsical and quirky. I have a range of styles depending on the medium, and my illustrations are often colourful and light-hearted, which I love.
What do you hope to achieve with your work?
Well, a portrait is nothing but a celebration of my customers’ cats and dogs so it’s really important for me to capture their essence and individual personality. Making the client happy is always the goal.
Tell me about the most challenging portrait you have worked on…
That would be a Dachshund called Fifi. She was a Christmas commission in 2019, and with her abundance of Dachsie curls, she was a huge challenge to draw. I remember feeling a little close to tears at some points, trying to capture the fine details of her beautiful coat.
Alice shows me a picture of Fifi and the challenge is immediately apparent. Fifi is adorable though that fur requires the determination of a Leo to do it justice.
It was close to Christmas, which increased the pressure, and I wanted to make sure she was completed on time. Fitting the hours in around everything pushed me, ensuring I made my deadlines. But I was doing what I love, and it’s so important to me to always do a good job. I set my prices based on the work and effort I pour into every piece.
What is it you’re trying to represent with your portraits?
The soul of the animal. I always begin with the eyes so that I can have an imaginary conversation with the little person staring back at me during the drawing or painting process – so that we get to know each other! I love to engage with my beautiful subjects.
What do you find most challenging as an artist?
Time, without a shadow of a doubt, and lack of it.
Would you say art is your anchor?
No, art for me is pleasure, I am pretty anchored as a person, so art is my time to be free and create.
How and where do you find inspiration for your work?
My mind is always ticking away – I find inspiration everywhere. I love spotting little everyday things that make me smile, and I always try to see the funny side of life. I think cats and dogs are funnier than many people, they all have their own stories to tell. When I post a portrait on Instagram, I often write the post from the perspective of the cat or dog, and subsequently reply to any comments as that cat or dog – it’s so much fun and the wonderful feedback makes me smile all day!
What do you love most about your work?
How I feel when I am drawing or painting – it’s a kind of freedom that’s beyond happiness.
I adore the feedback and engagement with my Instagram community, it’s so encouraging and always full of love. The world of dogs, cats, illustrators and artists on Instagram is an amazing place – good vibes and great energy.
How would you like to develop as an artist?
I would love to illustrate children’s books and work on editorial illustrations. I have three or four children’s book ideas, some of which I have submitted, I know it’s a tough world out there which is why I am so grateful for the support I receive on Instagram – super nudges to keep going.
What is the best advice you have had?
I remember I was with an older lady friend years ago, who said to me, “Alice, to everything there is a season, there is a time for everything, to laugh, to cry, to live, to die.” Those words have helped me so much, in simple times and stressful times. I embrace the season and make the most of it accepting that everything is just as it should be.
What advice would you give any women looking to pursue a passion in art?
If you feel the call, pick up a pencil. There is no need for any judgment – a splodge of paint is just as meaningful as an artwork that takes twenty-five hours. It’s about how you feel when you are doing it and that is the magical thing.
Time, that precious commodity, was up before we knew it. As Alice headed of into the rest of her day the pending rain stalled me. Course, I had no umbrella. I decided to head back inside and finish my lingering workload, remembering that old lady’s advice “there is a season for everything”