Drawing animals is in Nina Squire’s blood. Since childhood the artist loved to combine her passions of art and the animal kingdom through drawing animals. As a young schoolgirl in Devon she was yet to realise that the one past-time she treasured would be the source of much of her financial support throughout her time as an illustration student at Falmouth College of Arts. It was at this time that she began to undertake commissions of family pets as a way of making ends meet. Her reputation steadily grew, and continues to do so. Fifteen years later Nina Squire is known throughout the UK as a leading pastel artist. She is Artist in Residence at Larkhill Point to Point and appears at many of the local shows.
Nina enjoys working in public and finds that the energy garnered from working in a lively atmosphere diffuses into the work she makes.
Q&A with Nina Squire
Lisa: When did you first start making pet portraits?
Nina: I starting drawing dogs and horses when I was in school, like most children who grew up in rural Devon I fell in love with both. I was lucky enough to grow up with horses and dogs never far away and that life-long love of animals has been one of the reasons I enjoy my work. I drew them because I loved them and didn’t initially see it as a way of making a living. I can’t remember my first commission but I do remember the first time someone gave me money for a picture I had drawn, I was no older than 14 at the time, a family friend bought a gift for Christmas. It took me a good few years to build up the confidence to commit to it full time but I’ve never regretted it.
Lisa: Does your illustration work also predominantly feature animals?
Nina: I trained as an Illustrator at Falmouth College of Arts, I’d always wanted to study art further and liked the idea of Illustration being something that you could build a career out of. Illustrators mainly work to commission and although my pathway into my current career isn’t what I studied during a commercial illustration course, many of the skills that I learnt whilst studying have helped my build my portfolio of working into a way of earning a living. My ambition has always been to make a living from my work as an artist. My portrait commissions are a form of illustration commission, I work to a brief, I enjoy creating a personal, life-like, lasting keep-sake of your chosen animal. For me I love the process of making a 2D piece of paper come to life, the magic of making black labradors look shiny but still black and the beauty of a spaniels soft ears and beautiful brown eyes. I equally enjoy drawing beautiful coastlines and rambling country scenes but my love of working dogs and horses means I have a steady line of commissions.
Lisa: How do you go about depicting fur so realistically?!
Nina: I often get asked if there are special tips for fur and I’m afraid there are no quick tricks but being careful to observe fine details, depth and taking time to practice are all things that pay off in the long run. I’m sure that any artist will tell you, that you never stop learning, and I know that each portrait I complete is unique and has its own challenges. It helps to have studied animals closely and look at fur and muscle structure in different lights and settings rather than just from photos. And of course, a selection of good quality art materials too, from Jackson’s!
Lisa: What are your top 3 tips for any budding pastellists?
Nina: Only three.. well, I’ll try… Firstly enjoy it! Paint what you love, it makes it all more enjoyable when you succeed. Secondly, invest in good materials, I love the variety of pastel materials that Jackson’s offer, both papers, sticks and pastel pencils, try them all and see what suits you best, thirdly (there’s two in here, I’m sure you won’t mind…) measure carefully and remember contrast is so important in the final success of a painting.
Lisa: What is the most common problem that you face when making a work of art and how would you try to overcome it?
Nina: Poor quality photos are always disappointing to work from. I never take on a commission if I feel that the photos supplied are a poor representation of colour or character. If possible I like to meet the animal, place or person I am creating a painting of. It helps to get a sense of personality and subtle colour ranges that a camera can’t always pick up. That said, I have enjoyed working from great photos that owners provide that capture a perfect moment or character pose!
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Nina: I have a website which has a range of work on, my portfolio of working has grown from portraits of dogs and horses to a range of prints and countryside cards alongside originals. I’m artist in residence at Larkhill, the home of the Royal Artillery and I’ve recently worked on pastel paintings of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, I had a behind the scenes tour of their newly designed barracks and was escorted to watch the Queens Royal Salute in Green Park by The Commanding Officer of King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, Major Mark Edward and my recent portraits, include the CEO of Waitrose.
I also run workshops for Art groups as a professional demonstrator in pastels and mixed media or, in Dorset, and with the help of a selection of lovely BnB’s and hotels, you can come along and try pastels for a day, I supply everything. If you love it, and I’m sure you will, Jackson’s will make sure you have your own set of pastels and papers delivered to your door!