We recently caught up with Andrew Forkner, otherwise known as the Dog Listener, to find out more about his other line of work, producing beautiful and award-winning animal and wildlife art.
Hi Andrew! Can you just introduce yourself to everybody and explain what you do?
Yes, certainly. I am a professional animal artist (and Dog Listener) and I have been painting and drawing animals for almost 40 years. I produce work for exhibitions and to commission, working in either acrylic, pastel, or graphite pencil.
What made you choose animals and wildlife as your specialist subject?
It is always tempting to agree to any commission request, when you have someone willing to pay for a painting or drawing of a subject that appeals to them. But I found very early on in my career, that in order for me to produce my best artwork, the subject also needed to appeal to me. Animals have always been a passion with me and were the obvious subject choice when I first started to draw and paint.
How would you describe your style?
Highly detailed. I have always felt that in order to truly represent the creature that I have chosen to depict, it is vital to include all the details of it's appearance. I am in no way suggesting that more spontaneous, or impressionistic styles of art are somehow less valid or effective, just that detailed realism is the approach that achieves the results that I find most rewarding.
When did you discover you had a talent for art?
I have had an interest in animals, and in drawing them, from the time that I went to primary school. Whether or not I had a talent for it, I wouldn't like to say, but the desire to want to do it has been the driving force behind any progress that I have made. When I saw work by the numerous wildlife artists that I admired, I wanted to be able to do it too.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
In October 2014 I had my first book published (featuring my acrylic painting techniques) and that has in turn led to another commission which I am about to embark upon, which will focus on graphite pencil drawing.
Is there an animal you enjoy drawing most?
I have a huge list of favourite subjects, but probably the top slot is occupied by the Snow Leopard. They are an absolute delight to paint or draw, with their wonderful colouration lending itself to monochrome graphite pencil work, just as well as to paint or pastel.
How long from start to finish does it usually take you to create a dog portrait?
The size and complexity of the composition will obviously have a big part to play in the timescale involved. Most of the dog commissions that I produce are usually 'Head & Shoulders' studies, which can take 15 hours or more finish.
What would you say is the hardest thing to capture when drawing a dog?
That depends on whether I am producing a generic painting of a particular breed (perhaps to be used for a limited edition print), or if I am working to produce commission of a customer's dog.
For the general work, then the main consideration is that the work is accurate and recognisable as the particular breed in question. However, there is an extra, elusive element required when painting a specific, individual dog for a client. The owner knows the animal concerned so well, that you have to identify what makes that dog different from every other dog of the same breed and try to capture that in the painting/drawing.
As with any animal (including human beings), the most important things are the eyes. If you can accurately depict them, then the portrait has the potential to be successful. The eyes are the first thing that the viewer will look at, so they have to be right.
How can we go about commissioning you for a portrait of our pet?
It is a fairly simple procedure. Just give me a call, or drop me an email. All my contact details, plus many examples of my work can be found on my website www.wildlife-artists.co.uk. We can then discuss the details (size, framing, costs etc.) and if you decide that you wish to proceed then we would make arrangements for me to visit you. This gives me an opportunity to meet your dog/s (so that I can get a better idea of his/her/personality) and also to take a large batch of reference photos that will form the basis of the finished commission.
Finally, what's the best advice you could give someone thinking of drawing their own pet?
Firstly: Spend lots of time looking closely at your subject, both before, and during the drawing process. It is so easy to fall into the trap of drawing what we think is there, rather than what we actually see.
Secondly: Take your time. It doesn't matter if it takes you weeks to complete, as long as you feel that you have achieved something at the end of it.
Finally: If your results do fall short of what you were hoping for.....Don't give up! Have another go!