Real Animals, Real Art
by Jim Coulson
NORTHERN LIFE TALKS TO MEGAN ELIZABETH ABOUT HER LOVE OF DRAWING ANIMALS
Holmfirth-based pet portrait specialist Megan Elizabeth might not need any more publicity. Her work was endorsed over the festive period by none other than northern royalty Amanda Owen, otherwise known as The Yorkshire Shepherdess of Our Yorkshire Farm fame. And that is about as high as praise can get!
If you live in the White Rose County and you are looking for an expert on animals to pass judgement on the artwork you create, then Megan clearly went straight to the top and received the backing that she wanted and thoroughly deserves.
Because drawing animals is a passion that dates back to Megan’s childhood. Although it wasnt all plain sailing to arrive at her current career. “I used to draw all the time as a kid. I don’t know if you remember the little blue tool caddies that you used to get from the Pound Shop,” she says, “I had one of them full of crayons and it used to go everywhere with me. It was like an ongoing joke that I never went anywhere without it. And then I continued with it [art] through school and college.”
However, she found herself stifled as an artist at college and gave up for a time. “You had to do things a certain way and fit certain briefs. You couldn’t just do what you wanted. I remember being told that drawing pretty pictures of animals isn’t real art. Bear in mind that I grew up near Matlock in Derbyshire, where Pollyanna Pickering is from.”
Pickering, by the way, was one of Europe’s foremost wildlife artists and held the honour of being the most published artist in the UK. Surely no tutor would dare suggest that she was ‘not a proper artist.’ However, the words stung Megan and she left the art behind for a number of years other than occasionally picking up her implements to create gifts for friends.
I REMEMBER BEING TOLD THAT DRAWING PRETTY PICTURES OF ANIMALS ISN’T REAL ART
It wasn’t until 2019, when someone she knew started making art tutorials on Facebook that Megan was tempted to throw herself back into it.
“I’d got some Hobbycraft vouchers for my birthday,” she recalls, “so I tootled off to Hobbycraft and bought a set of 24 polychromos pencils which are the ones I use and which I thought were ludicrously expensive at the time. Before I realised how expensive art pencils are!”
She soaked up online tutorials and found herself back in the artistic routine. Friends and family approached her to produce artistic representations of their pets “then their friends would see it and ask ‘do you want to do one for me’ and, before I knew it, it turned into a little business.”
This coincided with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, when Megan’s main income had been coming from her employment as a horse riding instructor. With the costs of maintaining the horses remaining the same, but without being able to run lessons, the business at which she worked had to make cutbacks and let her go.
At a loss for what to do next and facing the grim prospect of job hunting just as everything else was shutting down, Megan’s fiance Scott told her “you said you wanted to do something with your art. Well, now here’s your chance.” Spurred on by his support, Megan did just that. “And I haven’t looked back since!” she laughs, “I love it!”
Megan really has found her vocation and you can hear the joy in her voice as she discusses her work. “I’m so lucky that I get to spend seven or eight hours a day, seven days a week, sitting here doing something I really enjoy,” she says.
Pet portraits remain her passion, as they were when she started out as a child with that tool caddy full of crayons. And she loves creating artwork that honours people’s beloved animals forever.
“About half of the portraits that I do are pets that have passed away,” she says. “It’s really lovely speaking to the owners and getting a feel for the pet, learning about their personality and trying to capture that.”
“I do wildlife as well, I do a few jobs for charity that tend to be wildlife, but the vast majority of what I do is commissioned pet portraits.”
When she takes on these portraits, there is a certain amount of pressure on the artist. Not only to achieve a likeness in a visual sense, but also to capture their personality too. “It can feel high pressure and I often will spend so many hours on a piece and think ‘this isn’t working’ and I’ll have to restart it,” Megan admits. “It is so important to get the personality as well. I ask for lots of photos of the pets, I’ll ask people to tell me about them and their quirky habits, I often go and meet them as well.”
However, not all of these visits are successful. “I went to visit one dog who loved jammy dodgers,” recalls Megan, “so I took some jammy dodgers, but they were the wrong brand so she wouldn’t eat them!”
But there were no such issues when it came to the portrait she painted for Amanda Owen. “I’m a big fan of Our Yorkshire Farm,” says Megan, “and a couple of years ago, I saw that Bill, who was her 15-year-old sheepdog, had passed away. I thought it was really sad, there’s a different bond with a working dog as a colleague as well as a friend.
I did a portrait over a couple of evenings and sent it off to her and she got in touch and was really thankful about it. And then just before Christmas I saw that Kate, who was Amanda’s own dog had also passed. Again, it’s heartbreaking and you could tell that she really meant a lot to Amanda. I thought I’d do another little portrait and sent it over to her. She messaged me privately on Twitter to say thank you and then posted it online with a really nice message.”
That public message, from the Yorkshire Shepherdess herself, read “Not only have I got great memories of Kate but now have a portrait of her by the super talented @MeganArtUK. She’s captured every detail about her perfectly. This is exactly the way she cocked her lugs & looked forward when she saw sheep. Thank you #talented.”
THIS IS EXACTLY THE WAY SHE COCKED HER LUGS AND LOOKED FORWARD WHEN SHE SAW SHEEP
The plan for Megan now is to run tutorials and build up her gallery portfolio until she has enough material to open a gallery in Holmfirth. She has already been exhibited in London on two occasions, which she regards as a real honour. Her work has been shown twice at the Sketch for Survival exhibition, which raises funds for conservation by the charity Explorers against Extinction.
You can find out more about Megan’s work at www.megan-art.com.
Craven&ValleyLife Spring 23