5 Minutes with... Animal Portrait Artist and ex-Thomas's Pupil Romy Elliott
When did you first become interested in art?
I have been interested in art since a very young age. My mum is very creative and my dad is incredibly practical and they both encouraged me from when I was small. The continuous theme has certainly been dogs and horses! I used to draw them all over my homework and school diary which teachers found really annoying.
Where and how did you study to become an artist?
After completing a degree in Philosophy at Newcastle university I applied to the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. I then spent three years living out there studying on the sculpture program. Sculpture is essentially ‘drawing in space’ so being able to draw well is an essential part of successful sculpting. We would spend half of every day working in pencil or charcoal from life models and after two years of this I began to also learn oil painting. Majoring in sculpture has greatly helped me to understand how to turn form and the three dimensional aspect of each subject.
What is your connection with Thomas’s?
I went to Thomas’s Battersea, and at 12+ I went on to Downe House.
What are the steps involved in painting an animal portrait?
I have always felt that it’s really important for me to meet my subject so that I can better gauge the character. I also need a bright morning to take photos. I wish I could work from life but this is certainly easier said than done when it comes to animals with their own agenda! I usually take around 80-100 photos and work through them once I’m home to find composition, lighting and expression that will translate well in to oil or charcoal.
When I work in charcoal I prepare the paper myself, staining it with different inks to get the right background colour.
Which is your favourite breed of dog to paint?
I particularly like drawing/painting fine dogs, for example whippets, lurchers or greyhounds. They are not so dissimilar to horses! I find them incredibly elegant and their long limbs provide very interesting and expressive lines. I love the way you can see all the anatomy beneath the skin and I find this complexity fascinating to work on. We studied human anatomy in great detail in Florence in order to help us better understand what was going on under the surface and where and how muscles and bone structure worked. I apply this knowledge to that of dogs and horses and it’s incredibly helpful.
When you are not working what do you enjoy doing?
I am a bit of a cliche as when not working in the studio, I’m most likely to be found either with my dog or on a horse! I love riding, and I have always thought that spending lots of time with dogs and horses helps me to understand and better express the subtleties in their expressions and movement. Understanding your subject well is crucial and whilst grooming horses I’m always thinking about the anatomy, especially in the legs which are often the most expressive part but also particularly complex. And of course a genuine passion in ones subject is certainly helpful.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m currently working with a friend in a studio in Brixton which is great. I’m loving being in a new area and the building is full of other artists which is inspiring. Between commissions I use my time to experiment on my own personal projects- currently more abstract work exploring movement and strength in horses racing. Ultimately the plan is to get a body of work together and hold an exhibition towards the end of the year. My Instagram account acts as a kind of public sketchbook where I post developing ideas!
If you would like to talk to Romy about painting your dog or horse do send her an email and mention The Directory.