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The Fabulous Fleece Company Blog

Amazing Animal Portraits by Alison Elliott

Alison in front of her painting 'Lord of Men I'

We recently came across the stunning paintings of artist Alison Elliott when she ordered a sheepskin pet bed for her cats and we got chatting about her work - specialising in painting animals, particularly horses and dogs.

With Fab Fleece Co, and many of our customers, being big animal lovers, we were intrigued to find out more…

'Ambition' 2017 Foal of 'Talent' - Oil on Gesso Panel 18 x 20cm

Bringing subjects to life

The first thing that so striking and admirable about Alison’s animal paintings is their awe-inspiring realism. So it’s very telling that when we ask Alison to name an artist that really inspires her, she says the photographer Richard Bailey.

Indeed it’s hard to believe Alison's paintings are not photographs themselves, as they portray her subjects so realistically through attention to the minutest of detail.

'I want each subject to come to life…so much so that one can almost feel them breathing,' says Alison.

‘Sunny’, 2013. Oil on gesso panel, 10 x 15cm

‘Sunny’, 2013. Oil on gesso panel, 10 x 15cm

A love for her subjects

It is Alison’s attention to the minutiae of an animal’s form that sets her apart from other animal portrait artists. Through her paintings, you can see the deep admiration Alison has for her subjects, a love which is demonstrated by the intimacy and almost obsessional level of detail that she manages to achieve.

Animals have always been a favourite subject for Alison, ever since she was a student doing Art Foundation at Winchester, where she learnt the key skills of life drawing and photography.

As a painter, Allison is completely self-taught, learning the majority of her working process from books and magazines, reading and experimenting with different techniques and supports over the years. She uses traditional painterly methods, updating the techniques of the old masters for a contemporary audience.

‘Talent' 2017. Oil on linen, 105 x 150 cm

More about the process

Each painting starts with a consultation with the subject’s owner to identify the animal’s character. This usually involves both owner and animal visiting her studio for the initial photographs from which the paintings are produced.

Getting these initial images right is crucial to capture the clarity and colours that Alison needs to make an accurate representation of her subject.

Once a single photograph is selected to work from, Alison decides on the scale of the painting by projecting her chosen image onto a paper backdrop.

Stivalery BJ, 2017 Arabian filly. Oil on gesso panel 13 x 18cm.jpg

Focus on the subject and its detail

Like the photographer she admires, Richard Bailey, Alison strips her compositions down to just the bare essentials and focus only on the subject, ‘cutting it out’ from its environment. This minimal approach places the animal at the epicentre of the painting, with no peripheral distractions in the background to draw the viewer’s attention from the portrait.

Each painting takes four layers to get to the most precise detail, with each layer adding progressively finer marks using gradually smaller brushes. The fourth and final layer is a tweaking layer, done to bring out the finest of details such as eyelashes, highlights on hair and light in the animal’s eyes.

This process is the same for both miniatures and larger canvases, although of course the larger canvases take considerably more time.

‘Molly’, 2014. Oil on gesso panel, 10 x 15cm

A question of scale

Indeed the choice of size and scale of the portrait is another distinguishing hallmark of Alison’s painting. Many of her earlier paintings are life size – such as portrait of the horse Fledalji and Boy, her painting of a six month old Giraffe she photographed while in Australia - which are both presented at 1:1 scale.

These larger works create a huge impact on the viewer and dominate the space. However, Alison paints miniatures of smaller animals, mostly made to commission as portraits of much-loved pets and are usually sized between 10x12cm and 18x24cm.

The small works invite the viewer to draw near to appreciate the detail. Because of their size, they can be fitted into even the most crowded home.

Alison doesn’t usually frame her work but these miniatures come with a custom-made presentation box. This is for protection, so that clients can make the decision about framing themselves. It’s also a lovely way of wrapping up the commission as a package, especially if it is a gift.

Most recently, Alison has been focusing on her smaller and more accessible portraits of both dogs and horses. But whatever the size, she is dedicated to recreating her subject’s every detail and bringing them to life in paint!

If you are interested in seeing more of Alison’s work or commissioning a portrait of a much-loved animal, please see Alison’s website - https://alison-elliott.myportfolio.com

Supporting Norfolk Greyhound Rescue

As some of you may know, I said goodbye to my beloved Ruby recently. She was a wonderful dog and companion for over 15 years. As painful as it was to lose her, I knew I had to move on and open up my heart to care for another dog. That search to find another canine companion brought me to discover Norfolk Greyhound Rescue (NGR) and its work...

What is Norfolk Greyhound Rescue?

This non-for-profit organisation, local to Fab Fleece HQ, does a magnificent job of finding caring people in and in around Norwich, in Norfolk and beyond, to look after Irish greyhounds, lurchers, strays and unwanted pets who are otherwise destined for a very unhappy ending.

The organisation is run by retired Norwich based couple Richard and Hayley, who spend all their time tirelessly working to save these poor dogs, travelling to Ireland and rescuing those who are at death’s door. They are also supported by a wider team of volunteers who generously donate their time to this worthy cause.

Why the dogs need rescuing

Norfolk Greyhound Rescue prioritises rescuing Irish hounds in particular, as thousands of dogs are bred for the track in Ireland every year, and a staggering number of them don’t make it. They are either discarded if they are just ‘not good enough’ to race, or if the dogs do make the race track, they are quickly abandoned when they stop winning and have outgrown their use.

Sadly very few of these hounds end up in pet homes in Ireland. The Irish dog pounds are so overrun that they will only hold dogs for a week before destroying the poor creatures. It’s heartbreaking.

New hope and a new home

However, that’s where Hayley and Richard step in to offer these condemned dogs a brighter future by bringing them back to the UK. The organisation has no central kennels like Battersea, as they prefer for the dogs to be housed in foster homes when they reach this country. This is kinder to the dogs, as they get to experience some of the love and luxury of life as a pet.

Whilst the dogs are in foster care, their fosterer can assess their personalities, start training, and be able to tell a potential adopter much more about the hound. Before being permanently rehomed, the charity arrange a home visit with the dog to see how both parties get on.

Meeting Bart

That’s why the lovely Bart (pictured top and below) came to my house for a visit. He was an adorable dog and quite the comedian too - we all laughed as he managed to make himself quite at home by wedging his bottom into the very small bed of my other dog Archie, a wee Jack Russell.

As lovable as Bart was, we weren’t quite the right fit for him, however another adorable greyhound should be coming to live with us soon. That’s another thing I really admire about what they do at NGR - they spend the time making sure that the dogs find an owner, and a home, that’s right for them.

How to help

The whole experience has made me determined to help this wonderful cause as much as I can, which is why I have chosen Norfolk Greyhound Rescue as The Fabulous Fleece Company’s charity to support on an ongoing basis. You can help too...

If you are interested in adopting a greyhound, they do make wonderful pets - being very gentle and affectionate. What’s more, they don’t need as much exercise as you’d think. So if any dog-loving Fab Fleece Fans out there could offer a rescued dog a new home, do get in touch with Hayley and Richard via the contact details on their website.

You can also help by fostering a hound, donating a one-off or monthly payment via the website, contributing quality unwanted items for raffles and tombolas. If you’re local to Norwich or Norfolk, you could also support their events such as walks, quiz nights, craft fairs and more.

Hayley also runs regular online auctions via Facebook so do follow their Facebook page.

The Fabulous Fleece Company has just donated some pet beds for an upcoming auction so do take a look!

For more information on Norfolk Greyhound Rescue, visit the website: http://norfolkgreyhoundrescue.co.uk

A Famous Fabulous Fleece?

Our double rare breed sheepskin - seen here draped over the gorgeous brown leather sofa in Patrick Drake's bedroom - could soon be famous...

Patrick's apartment is available to hire for shoots with brands, magazines, movies and tv shows. Usually they use the lounge upstairs, but the most recent shoot was in the bedroom and our fleece featured in it :-)

Here are some other images of Patrick's fabulous apartment, so you might recognise his pad when it pops up in your favourite magazine or tv show. Do keep your eyes peeled and tell us if you spot it... and our fleece!

We've been lucky enough to be seen in: