STUNNING DETAILS: Laura Pennell with one of her detailed animal portraits
STUNNING DETAILS: Laura Pennell with one of her detailed animal portraits

LAURA Pennell had always painted animal portraits in oils as a hobby but a switch to the use of coloured pencil drawings has proved such a success that she has reduced the hours of her “day job” to fulfil a long list of commissions from pet and livestock owners in the region.

The key to drawing with coloured pencils is to select the correct paper, according to Miss Pennell, for the oil-based pencils that she uses to produce drawings of a wide range of animals, including horses, dogs and cats and farm livestock.

A clear photograph is used as a reference point for the drawings and for some of her work she will use a trace-down technique, to produce a basic guideline for the image.

“I have always painted animals in oils, but I rarely use the medium nowadays,” says Miss Pennell, who also works as a hospital theatre nurse.

“Coloured pencils allow for much more detail and I will occasionally use a ceramic blade, which gives the impression of individual hairs on an animal.

“The colour on the drawing is built up in as many as 20 layers, in order to produce a highly detailed image. The special paper is designed to take these layers of pigment and I have found that it suits my style of work.

“The fine detail that I am seeking to produce does cause strain on the eyes after long periods, but it helps to use a daylight lamp, which is an essential part of my equipment,” she adds.

“I like to print out the photograph that I use for reference but I will also put it up on my computer screen, so that I can zoom in on individual aspects of the photograph.

“It will take about 20 hours to complete one drawing, but that is not continuous work, so I will allocate about a week for each commission, working on only one drawing at a time. I tend to go out and ride my pony, when I am taking some down time.”

The average size of a Laura Pennell drawing is 20x16 inches, although a recent work showing a horse over a cross country jump is larger at 30x20 inches.

It is an original and will be exhibited alongside several of her other framed pictures at the Designer Makers Market at The Witham, in Barnard Castle, on November 15 and 16 .

Her stand at Art in the Pen, at Thirsk Auction Mart, earlier in the year created a lot of interest, she comments, and she will often share her trade stand with a friend who sells bespoke saddles.

Alongside her original images, Miss Pennell also sells limited edition prints of her work.

Horses are a passion for 32-year-old Miss Pennell and she regularly travels from her home in Brompton-on-Swale to the family farm, near Darlington, which is the base of the Nipna Dales pony stud. Her own Dales pony is Harry, a grey ten-year-old gelding whose official name is Nipna Good King Henry.

“Harry has been a great pony for me; he has a cheeky pony personality and a great attitude,” she says.

“We compete at elementary level dressage and have also taken part in one competition at medium level. He has the potential to get to advanced medium level, but we will have to see how it goes. He really stands out during the tests as he looks so different from the other competitors, which are usually warmbloods.

“Dales ponies are extremely intelligent and they enjoy learning, which makes them ideal to train in almost any discipline.

“I also have a two-year-old Dales which I will be breaking in as my next riding pony when Harry is retired.”

Miss Pennell credits her mentor Bonny Snowdon with helping her to get the best out of the new medium.

“Pencil drawing artists tend to be a friendly bunch and there are several online groups which I use to learn and to share information. Bonny Snowdon is based near Ripon and I have been to several of her workshops, which have been very helpful.”

She has only ever drawn animals and has no plans to change her approach; her most unusual commission to date is a drawing of a group of bats for a client with a special interest in the mammals.

“I love animals and I have never even attempted to draw people or landscapes, because that aspect of artwork holds little interest for me,” she says.

“I am busy at present working on a long list of animal drawings which have been commissioned as Christmas presents.

“If my work continues to be popular, then hopefully at some point in the future I will be able to focus on becoming a full-time artist. I will be attending a large number of shows next year and hopefully my new business will continue to grow.

“It does not seem as if I am working when I am painting, so it is a great privilege to be able to support myself by artwork that I love doing,” she adds.