Updated: Mar 2
My name is Jess Pritchard and I’m a wildlife artist who predominantly works in pencils. I’ve always loved nature and art so from a young age naturally combined the two and would often sit sketching animals from the BBC Wildlife Magazine I used to collect.
How did you become the artist you are today?
When ‘real life’ came knocking and I had to choose on a career path, I wanted to be creative but at the time didn’t think being an artist was a viable option so decided on Graphic Design. After gaining a degree in this and a short career as a graphic designer, I quickly realised that it wasn’t for me and having no job I decided to draw to fill in the time between other job interviews.
After a few months of this I knew that there was nothing I’d rather be doing than draw. However… I didn’t have any money and had no way to sell my art (plus I wasn’t as developed in the skill as I am today). So in order to begin my life as an artist, I had to take on freelance graphic design work as often as I could. This always paid well but I can’t begin to describe how much I hated it. After a couple of years the day came when an agency called me with a job and I was finally able to say ‘no thank you’. It was incredibly hard work to get to that point but the effort was completely worth it!
So with that I became a full time artist and have been so now for 6 years. I invested in more pencils as that medium ingrained itself on me as a child and have never looked back.
How do you support wildlife conservation and why do you choose to do so? Animals are the biggest inspiration for me when it comes to my art but even in general life I love them so much. I think most wildlife artists will tell you that all they want to do is give back to the animals that inspire them and it breaks our hearts to see such amazing and complex creatures mistreated.
I don’t often talk too much about the conservation work I do as I prefer to just quietly get on with supporting the charities while creating the art I love and putting a smile on people’s faces. However, I’m currently starting a new series of drawings called ‘Natural Worlds’ which will be based around conservation so I’m going to start talking a lot more about it.
A few of the charities I support are Sketch For Survival who have a brilliant online art auction each year which I highly recommend any wildlife artist should get involved in. I also support the David Shepherd Wildlife foundation and the Born Free Foundation.
I was fortunate enough to have a one to one Zoom call with Will Travers OBE, president of the Born Free Foundation last year to talk about the work they do and in detail regarding the elephant sanctuary they are currently establishing. Following this chat, the foundation has created a page on their website where artists can sell a piece of their work and pledge a percentage of that sale to go to the foundation.
What has been your biggest learning curve as an artist? There are so many! As artists we’re always learning, not just to develop our skills but also the business side of things too. I’ve had to learn not to be awkward and shy when someone compliments my work but accept it and be confident talking about it, especially to prospective buyers.
Being an artist doesn’t mean you’ll be creating all day every day. At the end of the day you’re running a business and you’re creating products to sell which means there’s lots of marketing, stock taking, accounts etc to keep on top of. It’s hard work and takes up the majority of the time but if you plan and structure your days then it’s all possible.
What is your favourite/ most enjoyable part of being a wildlife artist? The endless and limitless opportunities! It’s true when they say the only limit is your own imagination and that doesn’t have to stop with your art but what you do with it. Who says that art can only be displayed in galleries or that you have to stick to one subject your whole life. I recently had my first solo exhibition in a cathedral but I didn’t want just a ‘standard exhibition’ so I filled the room with trees, beanbags, swings and colouring stations etc. If you have an idea, see how far you can push it and have fun!
I also love the amount of people I’ve met and come to know really well over the years which wouldn’t have happened from going to sit in the same office everyday doing a job I hated.
Coloured Pencil on Burnt Sienna Pastelmat paper
27x12 inches I don’t think this is the best piece I’ve ever created as it was a few years ago now but it’s certainly my favourite due to it being the only drawing of African Wild Dogs I’ve done to date (they’re my favourite animals). I love the focus and movement in the piece and how beautiful the patterning is on each dog but also the way the warm Burnt Sienna background mimics the tones of their natural environment. The original piece is currently unsold (to my silent delight) but when it does sell, a percentage of the sale will be going to Artists For Painted Dogs.
Which species are you most involved or interested in supporting through conservation projects?
Definitely African Wild Dogs, they’re my favourite animals but sadly there’s only 6000 of them left in the wild. Unfortunately they’re classed as vermin to some locals in Africa so have been hunted to near extinction not for their fur but simply because they’re viewed as pests. They often get mistaken globally for hyenas which are very unpopular animals and seen as scavengers which couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a great charity that supports these amazing animals call Artists For Painted Dogs which I highly recommend getting involved with.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why? I’d definitely love to be a species of bird, perhaps a Golden Eagle as they’re high in the food chain. I’ve always loved flying and have recently acquired my paragliding license so birds are definitely my spirit animals.
What is the best piece of advice you could give an aspiring wildlife artist? Get your work out there in as many ways as possible, don’t just rely on social media. Join art societies relevant to the work you do. You’ll meet and make an amazing network of artists who are all looking out for each other and you’ll be amazed by the opportunities that come your way. It’s also a way of getting into exhibitions up and down the country which helps to get your work known by a wider circle of people.
Above all, be kind to yourself. There’s no rulebook when it comes to making and selling art. There’ll be good times and there’ll be bad times. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re getting no where but trust in yourself and your ability, keep working hard and you’ll be amazed one day when you look back and realise just how far you’ve come.