My name's Alex Fleming, and I create realistic wildlife and pet portrait art for a living. I love the challenge of trying to do a subject justice as it stands, and it’s very fulfilling when I get it right! I've worked in several mediums over the years: graphite, charcoal, colour pencil, pastel and very occasionally touching a canvas with acrylic paint, before remembering this medium doesn't seem to like me too much!
How did you become the artist you are today?
Well, I took Art & Design GCSE in 2001, and stopped for a few years, picking up the pencils again in my spare time in 2007. Between then and 2019, I'd been pretty much exclusively a graphite artist, making portraits of people in whatever free time I had. It's easy to forget how mind-bogglingly advanced is our computation and recognition of human faces, so when making such an artistic portrait, there's very little room for error. Through this, I learned to be very strict about proportions and values. I'll always have a soft spot for this medium, as it formed a basis of understanding for most technical parts of the job I'm lucky enough to enjoy today.
I like to take photos and edit them on a very basic level, manipulating colour as I go, and with my portraits I felt I was missing out on a world of colour by staying so faithful to graphite. In the last two or three years, I've branched out into other mediums for this reason, and also to offer my commission customers a little more variety and choice. Pastel is firmly my favourite medium these days, for its forgiving nature and sheer colour potential. It seems to boast many of the benefits of working with any kind of paint, without quite as much mess, and allowing you to work as quickly or as slowly as you like. Without doubt, I err towards the "slow" end of the spectrum!
I've had a keen interest in wildlife, conservation and environmental concerns for many years. In addition, I've made a very gratifying dive into pet portraits in the last few years. As subjects, animals pair exceptionally well with pastel (for its vibrancy of colour), so this is pretty much all I do now. A career "rebirth", of sorts!
How do you support wildlife conservation and why do you choose to do so?
Along with a monthly donation to David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, I also donate 10% of all my print profits to various wildlife charities at the end of the calendar year. I mainly give to the World Wildlife Fund, but if there are any charities dedicated to the specific subject I've drawn, printed and sold, I'll donate to one of those instead.
Animal welfare is still swept under the rug by many, and needs more service and attention than ever, so donating is the least I can do. I'm also developing a connection with like-minded buyers, who regard this issue with as much concern as I do. I look forward to increasing the percentage in the future, if I can increase my print sales in turn!
What has been your biggest learning curve as an artist?
My biggest learning curve has definitely been the art/science of marketing and selling. You'll know just as well as I do, the "drawing" part of the job, in and of itself, is easy. Every day I could happily abandon thoughts of deadlines, demands and external pressures, whiling the time away at the drawing board. The truth is that if nobody can see what you're doing, you won't sell anything, and if your job is to do anything, it's to know how to sell, and act upon that knowledge. There are all sorts of resources on marketing for small businesses out there, and I suggest everyone looking to sell their work use their time researching whatever they can first.
What is your favourite/ most enjoyable part of being a wildlife artist?
That's an easy one! In the world of work, aside from the regular "grunt work", so many of us only hear from a higher-up, or from a customer, when something has gone wrong and needs to be fixed. It’ll be a rare day you’re directly appreciated for having done an excellent day’s work, and it dawned on me much later than I care to admit that this is the case for the overwhelming majority of people, while I was one of them. It's the sort of truth that can eat away at you, and leave you feeling a little undervalued.
Once I began my career as a wildlife artist, it became a genuine treat to be sought out by a customer who just wanted to say “thank you”, or send a photo of a finished, framed work in situ, one that will last a lifetime. It's in your hands to develop a reputation not only as someone who can deliver everything they promise on time, but as someone who might even make a difference to that person for their whole life. That's absolutely thrilling to me.
"Damselfly 05", 24cm*30cm, pastel and colour pencil, DSWF Wildlife Artist of the Year 2021 Finalist. This piece is about A4 in size, and will sit alone, "in the silence of my heart" (!), as the most challenging wildlife artwork I've ever completed. It's thanks to the exceptionally gifted photographer Paul Browning (www.instagram.com/macro.paul) that I had the chance to do this, as part of a series of five works, all inspired by his photos, which he very kindly allowed me to use as references.
This piece is both a nod to a world of photographic skill I can only sit and admire, e.g. the shallow "depth of field" afforded by a very wide aperture macro lens (most areas are blurred; even some parts of the eyes in contrast with neighbouring parts), and a dedication to an often forgotten, tiny natural world that lives quietly alongside more visible concerns. We also can't anthropomorphise insects as easily as something with a face, eyes, nose and teeth, but as all wildlife is essential to the ecosystem, so is a mindful inclusion of it in our art.
Which species are you most involved or interested in supporting through conservation projects?
I'm not "out in the field" on the conservation front like so many peers I admire - my involvement is almost purely donation based. As I've begun to branch out a little more with targeted charities, I've taken the chance to make "open" editions of some very popular bird prints. I do most printing in-house, and keeping some works limit-free makes affordable a 50% profit donation to the RSPB, for example.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why? The fantasy answer to this question is the elusive snow leopard. Then I realise I'm nowhere near as photogenic, agile or in shape. A more realistic answer would be a giraffe - seemingly unsteady on my feet, and taller than most. Everywhere I go I look like the substitute teacher at a school disco. What is the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring wildlife artist? Wildlife is slowly getting more and more recognition and respect as an artistic theme, so it's a very healthy one in which to invest, as a collector and as an artist! Show your client base what you're doing for relevant causes, even if you feel doesn't sound like very much in the grand scheme of things. Volunteering, donations, raising awareness, you name it. You'll develop an affinity with like-minded people in the process. As we're all told we should vote for a political party, for the difference it might make, it's as plain as day that we should carry this philosophy into our wildlife art careers. And at the risk of sounding cheesy: "be the change you want to see in the world!"