Tiverton based artist Naomi Zealley shares her passion for drawing colour pencil portraits from photographs

Q: What’s your first memory of drawing?
I’ve always been drawing, but the first thing that really sticks in my mind, aged probably five or six, was Tony Hart on the TV showing how to draw seashells in pastels. I remember going into school and drawing shells in the same way, and the teacher being so impressed that it got put on the wall!

Q: Where did you study?
I did a university of Plymouth BA in Fine Art though funnily enough, not in Plymouth at all! The course had me split my time across their Exeter campus and SCAT in Taunton. In my final year I had my studio space above Spacex gallery in Exeter, which was great.

Q: Has life drawing portrait work always been your main passion?
It’s actually a long way from my degree work, where I specialised in painting and focussing on texture, which led to all my final degree show pieces being entirely white! I stumbled into portraiture almost by accident. Back in 2007, I was stuck for a gift idea for a friend’s wedding, so I decided to draw them a portrait of their much loved, very elderly, black Labrador. It went down well! From there it’s really taken off and I’ve now drawn everything from Spaniels to tabby cats, goats to guinea pigs, and even a few non-furry subjects such as hotels and sports cars.

Q: Your work is very intricate and attention to detail is incredibly important. What is it about that type of art that attracted you to it? Does this reflect your personality?
Haha! It probably does reflect my personality… Fiddly and overcomplicated! I’ve always been attracted to the fine details in things and so this suits me perfectly.

Q: With detail being so important in order to give a lifelike representation, how do you inject your personality into your work?
One of the best rules of portraiture drawing that I’ve learnt is to draw what you see, not what you think you see. I’m often told by the recipients of my work that I’ve really captured their pets’ personality, even though I’ve only ever seen a photo of the animal. I think sometimes the best way to keep the subject’s personality is to try my best to keep my personality out and only draw what I can see.

Q: What mediums do you mainly work in and why?
For my portraits I use Faber-Castell Polychromos colour pencils. I like them because they give great quality colour and are tough enough to withstand constant re-sharpening – I like my pencils really sharp! I think the fine details achieved by pencil strokes are something which cannot be matched in any other medium. I’ve also switched from working on watercolour paper to Bristol smooth board, which was a revelation! I can get much finer detail on the really smooth surface.

Q: How long does an average commission take you to complete?
Usually between 10-15 hours, it can vary depending on hairiness of the subject and the pose. Curly-hair can get really time-consuming, and open-mouthed poses can take a while, getting to grips with all those teeth!

Q: What has been your favourite, or proudest, piece of work to date?
My current favourite is usually the last piece I’ve finished! But I am very fond of Myrtle the goat. When her owner sent me the photo suggesting it for a piece, I couldn’t help but laugh every time I looked at it, she’s got such a daft expression! She is also one of my newer pieces in which I am moving toward a more informal style of portrait, which seems to be the way forward in this type of portraiture.

Q: Any plans for the future you want to tell us about?
Well my immediate future is full of lots more commissions, and I have a few stalls at various shows over the summer to promote my work. I am hoping to find time between dogs and cats to start on some wildlife drawings and hopefully start a range of prints and greetings cards. One day I will also find the time to draw my own ginger tomcat, Hobbes!

You can see more of Naomi’s work on Facebook and Instagram as ‘Pets and Pencils’ or on her website at www.naomizealley.com

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