Continuing the series of “Hands, Head & Heart” images by local photographer James Warman, we’re pleased to introduce the very talented and self-taught wildlife artist Hannah Cumber.
Tell me a little about yourself and your art?
I am a self-taught, Shrewsbury based pet portrait and wildlife artist. I use coloured pencils, pastels and graphite to create realistic portraits of animals and strive to capture the individual's character through close attention to detail.
How did you first get into your chosen art?
I have always been drawn to nature and wildlife in particular. I grew up surrounded by the welsh countryside. Spending most of my time climbing trees, exploring mountains and forests, and soaking in every nature documentary I could find gave me a deep love and respect for wildlife in all its forms. It wasn't until a few years ago that my partner asked, as a family joke, for an ocelot for his birthday. I picked up a pencil, fully intending to deliver a stick-cat and suddenly became lost in the details. From then on friends and family started to ask for commissions as gifts and I began to see my love of art and animals as a potential, wonderful career.
Where do you feel the inspiration to create your art comes from?
My pet portrait images are usually chosen by the client commissioning the piece. However, the inspiration behind creating each drawing for me really lies in the challenge of capturing that animal's character, it's essence and soul, down onto the paper. You can really feel the warmth and connection when you speak to people about their special pets. My goal is to let this shine through in the drawing, whether that is by capturing the humour in a pose which shows off the animal's playfulness, or by drawing every detail in the reflections of light caught in their expression, resulting in a bespoke piece of art, immortalising the love and connection the client has with their animal companions. In between commissions I draw wildlife. These tend to be images I feel a connection with. They might be of an endangered animal I've always loved, or it might simply be the way the light falls on the colours in the photograph. I always try to honour the spirit of the wildlife in the drawing and similarly try to convey the connection and awe I feel in the presence of these creatures.
The last year has been especially challenging for so many of us. How have you managed, both personally and creatively?
The pandemic has challenged all of us. It put tremendous mental and physical strain on every single person I know, regardless of age, profession or family situation. My art is my way of slowing down. I am a busy mum to two wonderful children. I also work in a primary school as a special needs Teaching Assistant. My life usually has its speed dialled up to eleven. Drawing, getting lost in those details, gently revealing an animal's personality through lines on a page, offered a sort of moving meditation. It forces you to slow down. To appreciate the time you have. And reminds you not to spend a single second of it doing something you don't love.
Has the pandemic or lockdown had any influence on your work, either positively or negatively?
As a key-worker in lockdown my time for drawing became harder to carve out. If I wasn't scheduled in to work I was home-schooling my two children. Checking on friends and family became even more important and the day to day trials of living in a pandemic took their toll on my energy levels leaving little left over to draw. Simultaneously there were less commissions coming in. People's businesses were threatened and money spent on art took a firm backseat. Less pressure on deadlines meant that I could use the time to create more wildlife pieces and start to build my portfolio.
What plans do you have for your art going forward?
My dream would be to draw full time. I truly love creating commissions for people. There is something special about handing them the portrait and seeing their reaction as they unveil the finished piece. I have had the honour of completing a few memory portraits and these will always have a special meaning to me. Being able to draw, even a small part of that deep love and connection with a family member is wonderful. I will continue to develop my original wildlife portfolio and have started to offer these as fine art limited edition prints, available to buy through my website. Ultimately, my plans are just to continue learning and developing my drawing. You learn so much through each piece and with each subject that by the end of each one I am just eager for the next.
What practical advice would you give someone wanting to to take up your form of art professionally?
Just start drawing. So many people say to me they would love to be able to draw. All it takes is the time and patience to work on a piece. Don't give up, every single drawing goes through an "ugly" stage. Keep going and you will surprise yourself. There are so many wonderful pet portrait artists out there, a lot of whom have tutorials on YouTube or on the online platform Patreon to help you get started. You don't need professional materials, just a pencil and paper and the love of your subject. That and a really clear reference photo!
Where can people see your art?
My art can be found on Facebook and Instagram under "Hannah Cumber Art". To purchase prints of my original artworks or to book in a commission please visit my website at www.hannahcumber.com
To see all the artists featured in James’s “Hands, Head & Heart” project, check out the dedicated website https://jameswarman.wixsite.com/hands-head-heart