Richard Whittlestone: Wildlife Artist

Richard Whittlestone: Wildlife Artist

Question: Can you tell us about yourself/your artistic background and education?

Artist: My name is Richard Whittlestone and I’ve been a professional artist for more than 35 years.

I was born in 1963 and grew up in rural Yorkshire on the family farm. My aunts and grandfather were accomplished amateur artists – as was my mother – and I was encouraged to draw and paint by them, as it was clear I had inherited their artistic ability.

Subject matter for my paintings has always been natural history, my grandmother was a biologist and she instilled an interest in the birds and animals which surrounded me and I loved painting them.

I sold my first pictures aged 13 and set my mind to becoming a professional painter from then on, working unswervingly towards that goal. I hated my art lessons at school and left aged 16 with no desire to go to art college. From that point I taught myself, supported and encouraged by both my parents, I went to galleries and exhibitions and mentally broke down the artworks in front of me, solving how they’d been done, then practised at home for hours and hours.

Aged twenty-two, I had work accepted by the Society of Wildlife Artists in the Mall galleries and continued painting and selling work throughout my twenties and thirties, mainly through the  Malcolm Innes, Harrods and William Sissons galleries, eventually opening my own  in 2005.

All my paintings carry my trademark tiny fly somewhere in the composition. This began as a point of interest, usually in bird pictures but by 1990 all work had one. I regularly get asked to paint flies on pre-fly work from the 1980’s!

Question: Can you take us through the process that you go through to complete your masterpieces?

Artist: For me, a painting begins with a clear image in my mind. I then turn it around and think it through – sometimes over months – even years, this means that by the time I’m ready to paint, I can work quickly and hopefully with minimal alterations on the canvas.

I prefer to paint from life if possible but use photographs and study skins to attain the detail and correct proportions. I have countless sketch books, some going back to the 1970’s which I still draw information from.

My favoured medium is acrylic on prepared panel or stretched canvas. I work quickly, mapping the shapes and building from the back to the front, honing the detail towards the end.

Finished paintings are allowed to dry thoroughly, then varnished and catalogued. They then go on to the photographers, followed by the framers, before returning to the gallery for exhibition.

Question: What is it about Wildlife/animals  that draws you to paint them?

Artist: I love the natural world, birds, animals and the countryside they live in. They are what make me tick. I have studied nature obsessively since I was a boy – and because I could always draw and paint, this was how I expressed my love of it.

As a teenager, I had a huge aviary and I would just sit in there with my birds for hours on end, watching them, sketching them and observing how they interacted with each other. Their mood changes, their busy moments and quiet and the ebb and flow of their daily lives. I remember this even now when I paint. I’m imagining my subjects’ circumstances and next move, this helps create the reality.

Question: Can you take us through the process that you go through to complete your masterpieces?

Artist: For me, a painting begins with a clear image in my mind. I then turn it around and think it through – sometimes over months – even years, this means that by the time I’m ready to paint, I can work quickly and hopefully with minimal alterations on the canvas.

I prefer to paint from life if possible but use photographs and study skins to attain the detail and correct proportions. I have countless sketch books, some going back to the 1970’s which I still draw information from.

My favoured medium is acrylic on prepared panel or stretched canvas. I work quickly, mapping the shapes and building from the back to the front, honing the detail towards the end.

Finished paintings are allowed to dry thoroughly, then varnished and catalogued. They then go on to the photographers, followed by the framers, before returning to the gallery for exhibition.

Question: Throughout your time painting what has been the most important thing you have learnt?

Artist: Perseverance!

The life of an artist is by nature a journey of ups and downs with feast and famine!

In the early days I came close to giving up on numerous occasions when the going got tough. At times, getting a ‘proper’ job that paid regularly seemed far preferable to one as an artist, lurching from one sale to hopefully another. But I persevered and I’m so glad, because things improved and with time, I built a following, a technique and an income which couldn’t have been achieved on a part-time basis.

And regardless, from the start, I always had a wonderful quality of life, nothing can compare with the joy of creating a piece of art that touches the emotions of another human being.

Question: What are your most important tools you use to create your masterpiece?

Artist: Well apart from my eyes, hands and imagination, my most important tools are paint, brushes and prepped boards to paint on. I use the camera on my phone to capture moments which I may develop at a later date and sketch books going back to my childhood.

Over my lifetime, I have amassed a huge reference library of study skins, skulls, feathers and various insects etc. This above all is priceless and irreplaceable to me and I use it every working day.

Question: What makes a good day for you?

Artist: Even after all these years, I must confess, a good day for me is one where I sell a picture…and this is not just from a financial point of view I hasten to add!  

I’m in the fortunate position to have sold many hundreds of paintings over the years, yet I’m still humbled when someone wishes to part with their hard-earned money in order to possess a piece of work I’ve so enjoyed creating.

It gives me sustenance as an artist and the confidence to continue onwards!

Question: Do you showcase or exhibit any of your work? If so, where can we find your work? 

Artist: My paintings are exhibited in my own gallery on the Chatsworth estate, I hold exhibitions of new work here, every July and November.

The internet plays an increasingly important role of course. This on-line presence works well alongside the main gallery and enables me to sell to all parts of the world.

I also exhibit with the House of Bruar Gallery in Perthshire, Scotland.

Question: What are your future plans, and how do you see your career as an artists developing?

Artist: I am not one for planning too far ahead, so now that my current summer exhibition is under way, I’ll start planning my winter exhibition, held in November.

I have many ideas for new work – some quite dark and unlike my usual paintings. These future pieces have been in my mind for some time now and will be oil on canvas and quite large and involved.

I have had a number of invitations to exhibit at venues next year, all of which I will consider.

I’m also compiling a coffee table book of my paintings. This has been on-going for quite some time now, so I really do need to knuckle down and get it finished!

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