Local artist attracts worldwide audience
Sarah-Jane Whitworth tells Kate Chapman she had given up all hope of pursuing a career as an artist, until her husband encouraged her to pick up her paintbrush again.
“And thank goodness he did,” she says smiling. After taking inspiration from the abundance of wildlife and the landscape surrounding her Lincolnshire home, Sarah-Jane has found a whole new audience for her work, which includes stunning paintings of wild animals such as hares, stags and foxes alongside pet portraits and landscapes.
Thanks to the power of social media her lifelike paintings have also won her a large following across the globe, particularly in New Zealand, where they’re also proving popular.
“I’d always hoped that one day I might be a children’s illustrator,” says Sarah-Jane, who lives in Bassingham, with husband Stephen and their children Eve (13) and Joseph (8).
“I’ve always loved painting and drawing. I completed a foundation year at art college in Lincoln, where I had the best time, but then I went away to university and got homesick, so I came back after nine months.
“From there I had a succession of various jobs. I’ve done pretty much everything.
“Once the children came along, life just sort of took over and I never had the time, or the inclination to paint anymore.
“It was actually Stephen who persuaded me to finally get back to it – he bought me some new paintbrushes and paints as a gift and encouraged me to just go for it.
“After a while I posted a few of my pictures on social media, and got such a great response from my friends that I set up a dedicated Facebook page. It was when I shared a picture of a hare I had painted that it all just took off. I couldn’t believe it, the response my work was getting.”
Born and bred in Lincolnshire, Sarah-Jane has always been a keen artist, initially inspired by the work of Alfred Bestall, who famously illustrated the Rupert Bear comic strips.
She drew pictures for her own school magazine and still wonders how she got away with some of the cartoons she produced at the time, while her later work focussed on caricatures of Britpop icons such as the Spice Girls and Oasis.
While her painting had taken a back seat for a number of years, Sarah-Jane rediscovered her interest after being gifted with her new art supplies.
“When I was at college I’d always loved figurative painting and real life drawing, so to start with I did some drawings of legends like John Lennon, David Bowie and Mick Jagger,” recalls Sarah-Jane.
“I shared a few on Facebook and got a really positive response. Then, inspired by my surroundings I drew a picture of a Friesian cow and people just absolutely loved it.
“So I did some more animals – Harry Hare was next – and before I knew it, it all just took off, thousands of people started liking my page. It went from nothing up to almost 20,000 likes.
“I’ve done lots of hares since then. I love them, I don’t know why, there’s just something so magical about them.
“Whenever I’ve drawn them I just find there is some kind of magical element; I’ve done some moongazing ones too and other people seem to love them just as much as me.
“And that’s one of the things I love about living out here in the countryside, the wildlife; there is just such an abundance of it. When I’m driving home from work past all the fields and country lanes I see the hares, I could just watch them forever.”
Other animals in Sarah-Jane’s portfolio include cows, foxes, stags, cockerels and even zebras. She gives each one a name and insists they are all individuals with their own unique characteristics.
She works from photographs she has taken and online pictures to help her get the basic anatomical shape and features right before letting her imagination take over.
Working in her studio at home, Sarah-Jane uses oil and acrylic paint, although favours the latter, which dries more quickly, allowing her to add more depth to her work.
“My subtle use of colour combined with thick brushstrokes give each painting an expressive beauty; every one is slightly different in style,” she says.
“I’m influenced by a vast array of figurative and portrait painters and my influences are incorporated into each piece, combined with an individuality all of my very own.
“Some of my work has a bright cartoon-like feel, other pieces are more delicate and sympathetically executed, but all of my work demonstrates a passion and understanding of composition and colour.”
Since setting up her own website and Etsy shop where she sells prints and originals, Sarah-Jane has also illustrated a book cover. She’s been invited to provide the artwork for a children’s book next year, a project she’s immensely looking forward to.
“When I was younger I desperately wanted to be a children’s illustrator, so with this project, it feels like I’ve gone full circle – I’ve finally arrived at where I wanted to be and this is only just the beginning of my journey.
“I never expected things to take off quite like this – people have been so supportive of my work, it just amazes me,” she says.
“I’m getting a get a lot of enquiries from New Zealand and have sold a few paintings to customers there, and someone’s even been in touch about distributing my work there too.
“As for the future, my next step is getting my pieces into more local galleries and exhibitions. I suppose my main problem is that as soon as I finish an original it’s sold, so I never have all my originals together to put on a display. It’s a nice problem to have though.
“It’s been overwhelming, but it’s lovely things are going so well and people are enjoying my work.”
For more information about Sarah-Jane’s artwork visit her website www.sarahjanewhitworthart.com