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Heather Irvine

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

Artist Bio:

Heather Irvine
Heather Irvine

Full time wildlife and equine artist, specialising in Painted Dogs which are my favourite species.

I draw and paint, mostly in charcoal/soft pastel and acrylics on canvas, but I do dabble in printmaking, mark-making and all sorts really, using bright bold colours and broad large brushstrokes. Movement plays a huge part in my work.

How did you become the artist you are today?

I completed a Fine Art degree (although animal based this was in no way really akin to what I am doing now however) after always knowing I wanted to become an artist – regardless of talent or not! I set myself up initially as a portrait commission artist doing tight photographic portrayals of dogs and horses, but found as I did more of my own work, that I wanted to experiment far more with all mediums and techniques, hence becoming a bit of an eclectic medium loving artist I still do the odd commission for old clients – my own work now takes precedence however, preferring to go with the flow for my own pieces.

I’ve now been full time for over twenty years.

How do you support wildlife conservation and why do you choose to do so? Having volunteered in Botswana tracking cheetah of all things back in the late 90’s, Africa and conservation efforts bit me in the posterior really and especially one special encounter with Painted Dogs in Santawani in the Okavango Delta. That started a love affair with the species and I’ve been painting and drawing them since then, sending pieces to exhibition at the likes of the David Shepherd WAY and NEWA (now EWA) which I’ve been lucky enough to be selected for and sell at for many years. It’s always been a mission for me to give back to the very animals I paint and I’ve tried whenever possible to donate throughout my career as you can’t really use these incredible animals to support yourself without supporting them in the process - it’s cyclical. In 2019 I joined Emily Lamb’s hugely inspiring ‘Sketch for Wildlife’ series and did over 60 small 100% donation pieces and in 2020 during Covid, set up ‘Artists for Painted Dogs’, a collaboration of artists from across the world selling artwork online through a dedicated site where at least 40% of sales go straight back to conservation efforts on the ground for all endangered species. To date AfPD has donated over £85,000.

What has been your biggest learning curve as an artist? Biggest learning curve for me has been to get over rejection and be true to yourself as an artist – not everyone wants artwork on their walls, or appreciates animal art as a whole, especially when it comes to your own work – you really have to learn to have rhino skin and not take it personally! There are so many incredibly talented people out there and comparing yourself to them is foolhardy. Just keep working and do what YOU want to do, how YOU want to do it and not what you think others want you to do. What is your favourite/ most enjoyable part of being a wildlife artist? The process of creating for me is always the most enjoyable part - yes it’s nice when you get good reactions from viewers and a red dot next to one of your pieces, but it’s not the reason I do what I do. Being in the zone, freely expressing yourself and letting that love for wildlife almost take over you when painting, is a unique experience and when it all clicks and comes together (and many, many pieces don’t, believe me!) it is hugely gratifying and humbling. That and knowing you are leaving something behind of you for longevity whilst helping a cause in the here and now for future generations.

And I will wait, I will wait for you (Ox and Tait)

And I will wait, I will wait for you (Ox and Tait)

This piece was just one of those fully engaged, pure, let’s just paint and see what happens paintings depicting two infamous dogs (from the BBC Dynasties Painted Dog program) that I felt compelled to depict. I was lucky enough to get to know Nick Lyon (BBC Dynasties producer) through my dog artwork and he very graciously allowed me to use what images he had of both dogs – this however was pretty much completely made up for Tait in particular, so quite challenging, which propelled the piece into another level of subconscious for me. Both dogs running free, being exactly what they are, sentient, living, breathing and mainly joyous, in a special moment of absolute free will in a painting that was way more ‘painterly’ than I could ever have imagined (if only all of my paintings could work on this level.....). This is how we should see packs of dogs behaving, but alas their endangered status due to human activity, snares, persecution and disease has left them on the brink. Part of the funds from the sale of this piece was donated straight back to Painted Dog Conservation.

Which species are you most involved or interested in supporting through conservation projects?

AfPD has become much bigger than I ever imagined it would and will hopefully only get better at helping raise awareness of Painted Dogs through art. Collaboration (although difficult at times both logistically and in the amount of time you have to dedicate to it) is absolutely key to helping get the message out there and we’ve been fortunate in working alongside PDC Zimbabwe, Wildlife ACT, Game Rangers International and The Endangered Wildlife Trust.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why? Like durr...... If I had a stable and healthy pack, in a protected area, I would love to be a Painted Dog for a day. Lithe and athletic, great family values and beautiful to look at – can’t ask for more really can you?!

What is the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring wildlife artist? Just grab your tools and paint.....don’t do it for anyone else, concentrate on saying what you need to say about the animals you want to paint - your vision will always be unique. That and ‘for every stud there is a dud’....lots of duds!! Even the best and most famous artists produce pieces that don’t work, it’s the nature of the beast, don’t be hard on yourself if not everything comes out as a Rembrandt.

To see more of Heather’s work, head over to her website or follow along on Instagram.

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