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Introduction. Profile. The Toni Hargreaves Collection.

Toni Hargreaves.

History & Background.

I spent five years at Blackpool and Fylde College of Art, studying first technical illustration then specialising in scientific illustration with a view to becoming a medical illustrator. I worked for a medical publisher in Surrey as an illustrator before returning to the north to pursue a career as a freelance wildlife illustrator eventually signing to a London illustration agency.

Computer based illustration and digitised artwork were beginning to affect the role of the wildlife illustrator and the type of work available. It was then to prove a turning point in my career when, in 1997, I met quite a few international wildlife artists whilst exhibiting at the British Falconry Fair. This led to me painting wildlife pictures, often working from my own photographs of reference as well as sketch material gained from the field, including trips to Kenya and Botswana on safari.

Every artist needs a new challenge to incite the enthusiasm, so after a number of years painting traditional wildlife paintings I decided to experiment on box canvas with a more contemporary approach to my animals.

Signing with Washington Green has enabled me to concentrate completely on my painting by giving me an opportunity to show my work to a wider audience.

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Ideas & Inspirations.

I've always been a huge fan of Gary Larson's cartoons depicted in “The Far Side” where he transposes his animals to the reality of human situations and explores how they might react with humorous results. I suppose my mind follows similar thoughts about what my animals might be experiencing. I always think, for example, that very pale cows always look a bit put out when you walk through their field. They would be the sort of neighbours who stand looking through the window, hooves on hips complaining about the youth of today! You wouldn't want to ask for your ball back from their garden – they'd be the sort ringing the police…well, if they had opposable thumbs of course!

Sometimes I have an idea for a painting based on a play on words; I'll have an idea of the sort of imagery that I want to use, so I'll look through my photos until I see something suitable. I might like an expression on an animals face and immediately have a title for it, however usually I wait until I've started painting to ensure the title is a unique fit to the painting in progress.

My animals are not cuddly toys so I don't seek to portray the cute factor in my work. I like the individualistic nature of them and whether that comes across as docile or plain bad tempered for example then that's what I paint.

Whilst I do attend agricultural shows and the like for inspirations, very often the animals are just too pretty and don't have the lived in tatty edges I like! My subjects are all around me and I'm never short of inspiration – in fact I have a list of titles and subjects on my studio wall just waiting for me to find the time!

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From Palette to Picture.

I begin a painting by drawing out the main areas and outline of my chosen subject in pencil directly onto stretched canvas – only really ensuring that the key areas such as eyes and the nose (the animal's personality) are in the correct place. I usually have something already prepared and drawn out as I prefer to start a new painting first thing in the morning so that I can work wet into wet with the background colour.

After masking the sides of the canvas with tape I always paint the background first and then work logically completing areas which underlie others first. Although when I'm painting cows they can have the hairiest ears and I like to do at least one of those first!

If I'm painting a dark subject then I will under paint the darkest areas first – sometimes in acrylic if I need the area to dry quickly or I'll use a thin wash of oil colour mixed with liquin. I never tackle the eyes first thing in the morning but some days the paint flows from the brush exactly as I want it so it's during that time that I work on the eyes as they are such a vital part of the expression.

When the painting is nearing completion I might add glazes of thinner oil paint to alter an expression or emphasise an area. Like most artists I find it difficult to decide when a painting is finished and so the signature is the final step to acknowledge its completion and stop me going back to it. To give it a neater edge the sides of the box canvas are painted in an off white and when dry the whole painting has a protective coat of varnish applied.

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A day in the Life of...

If I'm starting a new painting I prefer to start the piece first thing in the morning and never on a Friday as I feel compelled to work all weekend when the background paint is wet. Generally, I work “office hours” to keep a routine but if a piece is going well or if I've had an appointment during the day I work later. It's easier in summer when the nights are lighter as I don't enjoy painting in artificial light. Good sunny days are sometimes a chance to join the cows in their field and collect some more reference material. I'm lucky that most of my subjects are on my doorstep.

I check my e mails before I start and then I organise my studio trolley with the brushes I need before I squeeze out the oil colours that I want to use on to my palette. It's a methodical process, applying paint, assessing it, altering it and applying more paint which I do each day whilst the image and character develop before me. I paint through the day listening to the radio, switching between the commercial stations when I know all the adverts word perfect! There's always a CD or some music on in the background whilst I work.

The end of the working day begins the tedious process of brush cleaning and although I know it must be done thoroughly to maximise their life it doesn't get any more pleasurable!

I don't often work after my evening meal unless it's to draw out another painting ready for the next session or to deal with paperwork and e mails. It's nice to be able to enjoy a meal and share a good bottle of wine and conversation.

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