interview  with dog portrait artist

Interview with Justine Osborne

Tell us a little bit more about yourself! How did you start painting, where do you live, how many dogs do you own, do you have other pets...
My grandfather was an artist, so it was not unusual to see paintings in progress, brushes and palettes around. I began studying from the life model seriously at 17, and this education led to a degree from Central Saint Martins College of Art, London in 1998.
I stayed in London for many years , but as my family of dogs grew, we moved to the Cotswolds in the Gloucestershire countryside. – I have two basset hounds, Minnie and Morris. I am now 33 and have been painting dogs seriously for nearly 10 years.

Why are you so fascinated with your subjects? What so special about dogs that you cannot find while painting other subjects?
I think one of the biggest hurdles for a painter who decides to paint animals is the preconceived notion that somehow the subject matter is not ‘worthy’. I make no excuses for choosing dogs as my subject matter.
I think the relationships we have with our animals, says a lot about us, in today’s world dogs as companions get us through the hardest times, and through their unassuming nature put our own lives in perspective. So whilst I may not paint people, the painting of the dogs say a lot about “their people”.
Painting dogs offers such a variety of shapes, colours and sizes than I never fail to find each portrait a challenge. Dogs are beautiful beings and are fascinating to me.

What kind of techniques do you use?
I use oil on canvas. A traditional medium, but the paint is workable for longer than acrylic and allows for more manipulations of the paint surface. I paint the dogs with more energetic strokes, and the backgrounds in contrast are flat, smooth areas of paint, generally with a single colour.

How would you describe the style of your paintings?
So much of my work is from photographs, that in order to give the work life, rather than a faithful copy of the photograph, I use my life-drawing experience to inject life into the paintings. Sketching is a wonderful way to tune in to your subject matter and I often sketch my bassets as they sleep. Sketching allows for a sense of urgency, demanding the use of fewer lines to convey much more.
My work combines the urgency of sketching with Photography’s ability to capture a moment in time. This results in unusual and candid compositions and energetic brush strokes.

What did you discover about dogs while painting them?
I have discovered how much people love their dogs, how these noble hounds looking back at me from the canvas are able to enrich their owners’ lives so much. I have utter respect for my subject matter and want to create portraits that portray the soul of the dog. At lot of my work involves the dog looking up or gazing intensely into the camera lens, accentuating this bond between owner and dog.

Each dog has a particular personality, even amongst one and the same breed. How do you ‘read’ the personality of that particular dog that you are painting and how do you express that in your work?
I look into the eyes of the dog, I look perhaps at several pictures of them in their surroundings. I don’t treat the portraits as breed studies. When I’m lucky I get to meet the dog. I think now after so many paintings it has become instinctive .It is the small differences between dogs, even of the same breed, that make it interesting. I love the components that make each dog individual. People give me a paragraph or even just a few words about their dogs, but revealed in these profound words is always a great affection. It’s this kind of invaluable information that helps create a very personal portrayal of each dog and makes every painting one of a kind.

If you imagine the perfect surrounding for one of your paintings, how does it look like?
I have paintings in New York apartments, a San Francisco beach house, a modernist house of a London record producer....Dream houses! But of course the paintings are not just fashion accessories and are very personal to the owners. I am just happy that they can be in a place where they are looked at and loved on a daily basis. I have one painting placed above the dog's bed - this is perfect!

Do you paint people and their dogs together as well?
No. It is not a conscious decision, but more of an aesthetic one. I like the images to be a snapshot of the dog’s life, almost as if the owner is the viewer, looking at their dog. Although, it certainly would be interesting to try!

What is the largest painting you ever made?
4 ft x 3ft, a portrait of a chocolate labrador from the USA. My canine subjects often become larger than life with large scale works. Despite the obvious impact, large scale work allows for detail, expression and fun. There are no canvas constraints so you do need to be confident and bold with your brush. I love working large, every mark, every hair becomes monumental and oil paint is such a rich medium.


Interview by Angélique Vindevogel for Zino Magazine, Belgium (April 2007)


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