by Tom Marshall
Saturday, January 5, 2013
They say the job of a portrait artist is to capture something of the subject’s personality on canvas.
Yet for one Islington painter forging a career in this most skilled of professions, it’s mostly about getting the fur coat and tail right.
Susannah Peel is a fledgling portrait artist dedicated to painting pets – be they dogs in drag or even gorillas – and has produced hundreds of works at her home in Barnsbury Street, in the “studio” which doubles as her bedroom.
From this humble workspace, the 25-year-old’s paintings travel far and wide, with more and more of them winding up on the other side of the Atlantic.
Ms Peel, who also volunteers at Islington homelessness charity The Pilion Trust, said: “I don’t have an art background, but I’ve been doing little sketches of animals since childhood.
“I was fixated on animals, but I didn’t live in the countryside and there weren’t many around. So I just drew them instead.”
She says the wackiest commission was to paint a huge toy gorilla in the driver’s seat of a convertible sports car, but more often than not she does dogs.
Her burgeoning career started as a hobby, but quickly became more as her client base expanded through word of mouth on social network Facebook, where her pictures have become a big hit with animal lovers in the US and Canada.
She said: “Most of my clients are in north America, although I’ve also sent paintings to Norway, Australia and Brazil.
“A few years ago I discovered a community of dog and cat owners on Facebook and I did paintings for free and paid to post them to America myself.
“I started getting real commissions and began doing it as pure enterprise. I also give half my profits to The Pilion Trust.”
The former pupil of Canonbury Primary School in Canonbury Road, Canonbury, works from photographs and charges £50 plus postage for an A3 acrylic paint-on-watercolour paper piece.
“Quite a lot of the time, people’s pets have passed on and they want a memorial of them. Lots of the Americans also do these costume shows with their pets, and often they want pictures of them in their outfits.
“I usually speak to the owners and there are some interesting characters, I must admit.
“My most recent portrait was of a chihuahua in a pink feather outfit at a dog show – the owner told me it was a male in drag.”
While she has no formal artistic training, her background in zoology comes in handy.
“I studied zoology at university and it helps with the observational skills,” she said. “We had to do lots of diagrams and it helps when the photos aren’t too clear, because I know what’s there and can make a guess of what it should look like.”
Ms Peel devotes several hours to each work, before reviewing it with fresh eyes the next morning to make any adjustments.
Much like a painter of people, she emphasises how important it is to get the eyes right to really capture the subject.
She added: “It’s been a hobby, but is hopefully becoming something I can earn a living from.”
Visit www.suzyspaniel.com for more information.