Capturing the countryside

BASC Young Shots Journalist Jess Smith is passionate about the countryside and animals, but she always finds time to draw. She talks about how her love of art started and developed into a very serious hobby business.

I started my coloured pencil journey in early 2020 after being inspired by another artist. Despite only starting in this medium recently, I have been ‘doing art’ for as long as I can remember, mainly watercolour paintings of dogs and gamebirds.

From the start, even at a very basic level, I’ve experimented with different materials and techniques, honed my skills, and found myself on a wonderful journey of discovery and love for this hobby.

The eye – a window into the soul

My first few coloured pencil drawings were small studies of dog eyes. Playing with colour blending sparked an interest in me as I set about teaching myself the techniques of drawing fur and capturing personality in the animal.

One thing that I kept in my mind from the very beginning was that all the personality is in the eye. That factor is certainly true – if the eyes aren’t just right, the whole drawing will look off.

It took time for me to build up the confidence to tackle a full head drawing, instead of just the eyes, which at this point I had drawn copious amounts of.

Nonetheless when I took that leap of pouring hours, passion and practice into my first ever full drawing, there was absolutely no looking back. From then on, I drew, drew, and drew.

One of my earliest pieces was a drawing of my dad’s past working springer spaniel Crocus.

The road to commissions begins

As my skills slowly began to develop and my drawings improved, I made the decision to set up a Facebook page for my art.

It was rather daunting as I didn’t know what people would think or say about it, but to say it was well received would be an understatement.

Within a short amount of time people started to crop up asking me to draw their animals, even offering to pay. This was completely unexpected but as I had free time due to the pandemic, I took on the challenge.

The passion turns into a business

An increasing amount of people started asking for drawings and recommending me as an artist to their friends. Initially, I was giving away my drawings, but after reassurances from other artists that I should be asking for something in return for my work, I decided to start a little hobby business. This enabled me to start covering the cost of my art materials and to restock. I was only 13 at the time so it was quite an achievement for me.

It will always be quite strange for me to receive any money for something I do purely for joy, but materials, postage and packaging cost so much, it does start to add up. 

I think I must have done more than 50 commissions over the past year and a half. The opportunity to get paid for something I love to this degree is something I will be forever grateful for.

The possibilities these drawings have presented me with are truly priceless, too. From sending a drawing all the way to New Zealand, to drawing a Crufts Best in Show winner and providing competition winners with portraits, I’ve gained friends and so much experience it’s utterly unreal.

It’s so funny to think that I truly had no idea that that one faithful day when I made a choice to pick up a pencil and give drawing a try would bring me so much joy and so many opportunities.

Further endeavours

Many other things have come from my drawings. I achieved a grade 9 in my Fine Art GCSE after choosing to take it early at the age of 14… A few happy tears may have been shed over that result! I’ve won/been a finalist at multiple competitions and to be honest I never entered them to win, it was really just for fun and to see what I could do.

More recently I’ve been working on drawing a collection of British countryside-based pieces in the hope to have a stand at a couple of county shows. I would also like to make prints for people to buy of these drawings. So far, I’ve drawn a cow and a red deer. The plan is to also draw a pheasant, duck, sheep, fox, and some foxhounds. So, there are many pieces to come and I’m very excited!

I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in my future with art, where I can still improve and where I could venture to next.