Eilidh Geddes won the People’s Choice Award for her portrait of Beano, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, in our Pastel Portraits Competition back in September 2016. The work was executed with exceptional sensitivity, the silky hair of Beano’s coat so convincing it made you want to stroke it. Therefore it was no surprise to learn that Eilidh has an understanding of animals that goes beyond mere admiration – she is currently studying Veterinary Biosciences and her pet portrait commissions help fund her studies. In this interview I wanted to find out more about how Eilidh goes about making her impressive pet portraits.
Lisa: Do you think your understanding of animals from your studies in Veterinary Biosciences helps you to be a better pet portraitist?
Eilidh: Yes, I do believe my studies have helped me become a better artist in some aspects. Since starting my course I’ve developed an understanding of the underlying anatomy which helps me with tricky poses and to understand why the light hits the animal as it does due to the underlying musculature. Although my studies have helped, a lot of my improvement has stemmed from simply practicing different poses and paying attention to the reference photograph.
Lisa: Where did you refine your skills/learn to be such a sensitive portraitist?
Eilidh: I started off drawing graphite portraits about five years ago, and it was only this summer that I really took up pastel as another medium. The work with graphite has given me a level of detail to strive for in my pastel work. I also involve my clients in every step of the process, approving sketches and keeping them up to date at each stage, as only they can tell me if the drawing accurately represents their pet. I believe it is this and learning how to properly analyse reference photographs which has brought me to where I am today. I love getting as much detail as I can into my drawings while still keeping them realistic, which can be quite challenging when provided with a blurry reference photograph! I’m certainly still learning how pastel works as a medium as I’ve never used colour before, but it seems to be going well at the moment!
Lisa: Are there any secrets/techniques to painting the coat of a Staffy so realistically?
Eilidh: Sharp pencils are a must! I know a lot of people swear by using knives and sandpaper, but they obviously haven’t discovered the joys of rotary sharpeners! I go through roughly one per drawing as the blades get dull quite fast with the pastel, but it is certainly worth it for the results. I was still experimenting when I created the staffy portrait, I have been using the softer pastel pencils like the Caran D’ache and often the Faber Castell Pitt Pastels to overlay a harder pastel base, like the Stabilo CarbOthellos, as you can get more opaque lines to create hair detail. I also believe a lot of the realism comes from the placement of the highlights and shadows, as these give the viewer a sense of depth, which can only be done correctly from studying the reference carefully.
Lisa: What surface do you like to work on the most when working in pastels?
Eilidh: When I first started doing pastel drawings, I used Daler Rowney Murano paper, but now I have moved to PastelMat board as I find it has a much better tooth to take many layers and to add in fine detail (and it is also a lot more forgiving with mistakes!). I find the board version the best for me as it means I don’t need to use a drawing board when working.
Lisa: Creating portraits as highly detailed as yours must require huge amounts of concentration! How do you manage this if working to a commission deadline?
Eilidh: I actually find working to a deadline helps me focus, as I can plan out when the commissions are going to fit around my university work. I like to get my university work done during the day, and then I sit down in the evening, put on re-runs of my favourite shows, and draw. I do get stressed with deadlines sometimes though, as if a drawing takes longer than expected it can have a knock-on effect to my schedule for the rest of the year. This is particularly prevalent at Christmas time when I can have six or seven drawings all due for the same time, and also exams for university in early December. For the last couple of years this has meant working right up to Christmas eve!
When I’m planning out my commissions, I plan in personal deadlines to have each drawing complete by to stay on schedule, with timeframes based on how long they normally take. This stops me overbooking, allowing time for university too!
Lisa: How restricting do you find working to commission?
Eilidh: Personally I don’t find drawing to commission restrictive at all. It lets me draw a variety of subjects and gives the opportunity to make many people happy too! Sometimes I want to draw other things, but often when I get the chance to draw original artwork it’s hard for me to find the motivation to complete them.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Eilidh: I have just finished all my Christmas commissions, a variety of dogs and cats, and I’m just working on a couple of livestock drawings for fun before I start my 2017 bookings. I often find being a pet portrait artist often leaves me with not very much to show for my work as they all go to new homes, so taking some time to do original drawings allows me to have work to display in exhibitions and shows.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Eilidh: You can see more of my work on my website http://www.eilidhgeddes.co.uk, facebook page http://www.facebook.com/
Header Image: ‘Lisa’ by Eilidh Geddes, Graphite on paper, 10″ x 12″, 2016