This week we chatted to Gill O’Shea about her passion for animals and art. We talked about the paintings of dogs, cats, horses, in fact all animals that she does and where it all started.
Tell us about yourself and where your love of pets came from.
Hello, my name is Gill O’Shea and I am a professional artist who specialises in painting animals and peoples beloved pets. I live in Sandyford Dublin with my husband Philip and my (very spoiled) Old English Sheepdog, Pepper.
I am from Ireland, and grew up in a small village in south Kildare called Castledermot. Having grown up in the countryside I’ve always been surrounded by animals from birds and rabbits in the back garden, to pheasants, foxes, hares, horses and cows in the surrounding fields. Both of my grandparents always kept animals so I think through visiting them and living in the countryside I developed a deep love of animals.
When I was little, I longed for a dog but until I was a teenager I had to settle for teddy bear versions. I would ‘borrow’ my mums belts and attach them to my teddy bear dog pack and lead them around the garden, chatting away to them as if was I was headlining cruffs! I eventually got my first dog when I was 12. She was beautiful liver and white springer spaniel called ‘Zoe’. She was great fun and always full of energy!
When I finished school I attended art college in Dublin. After graduating, I drifted away from art for many years and instead forged a career in financial services as a project manager and accountant. In 2014 I started to make art again, returning to my passion of painting animals, particularly dogs and horses. I also started working in watercolour for the first time and fell completely in love with vibrancy and freshness of this wonderful medium.
After a while, friends and family suggested that I share my work, so I created ‘Dabble in Art’ and began to post images on Facebook. I was thrilled when people started to engage with my work, and I started to consider whether it would be possible to start my own business and work as an artist on a full time basis. Following much deliberation, I decided to make the bold move of taking a break from my financial career to start my own art business. In December 2016 I left my job and launched Dabble in Art to showcase my original art, limited edition prints and pet portraits to the world. Dabble has been up and running for 14 months now and thankfully it’s been going really well. Like every start-up it’s a huge amount of hard work but I love it. It’s so much fun to be able to work in entrepreneurial mode every day and commute across the hall every morning to my art studio J
How did your love of pets transition to now painting them?
From as far back as I can remember I always painted animals; they have always been a source of artist inspiration for me. Even during times of the dreaded artist block, I have always found that an image of an animal will inspire me to get creative again. Art is all about practice, so having persevered with watercolour I am really happy to now be able to capture animals in this wonderful and unique medium. Watercolour is a water-based pigment with a transparent quality.
Paintings are created from building up thin layers of washes to create depth and form. It’s the type of medium that takes on a life of its own as unlike Oil or Acrylic, it’s not possible to completely control what the paint will do! I don’t draw the outline of my portraits in pencil before I start paining, I just go for it and jump straight into painting.
I think this technique allows the portrait to evolve and slowly take on a life of its own as I get to know the subject. This process makes it a really exciting medium as every painting is completely unique. Painting peoples beloved pets is a really rewarding and fulfilling part of my business. It’s such a pleasure to work with fellow animal lovers to capture their best friends unique personality in timeliness piece of artwork.
How does the process work for a Customer?
I paint all my portraits from photographs so when a customer gets in touch either through my website or via my Dabble in Art Facebook or Instagram page, I usually ask them to send me a couple of photos of the pet they would like me to paint and set up a free consultation. Once I’ve reviewed the photos, I will arrange a short 10-15 minute call with the customer to find out a little more about their pet, provide some guidance on which photo might work best, agree what medium they would like me to use (I work in pastel and watercolour), answer any questions they might have and provide a quote.
Once the customer is happy to proceed, I ask them for a small deposit to secure the booking and off we go. The entire process from painting to framing usually takes about 4-6 weeks depending on how many portraits I have on the go (I can also complete a portrait within about 2 weeks if urgent). The painting itself takes me several days to complete and I will often restart a piece if I’m not 100% satisfied with it.
Once I have completed the painting I send a photo of the finished piece to the customer to make sure they are 1500% satisfied with the finished piece. For me its really important that my portraits not only captures the physical features of the pet but they also need to capture the personality of every individual pet. I want my portraits to add real value to every customers life, by not only being executed to the highest professional standards but by also capturing the essence of their pets unique personality.
Its really important that the painting has a spark and energy beyond the original photograph to stand as an everlasting reminder of my customers best friend.
Once a customer is happy with the painting, I arrange to have it professionally framed and delivered. The minimum size of all my portraits is 12×16 inches. Although larger than some other portrait artists, I feel this size supports my particular style of painting and provides real value to customers by giving them a statement piece of art for their home.
What tips do you have for people if they are taking/choosing a photo to give you to create a painting from?
I usually concentrate on the pets head and shoulders so any clear photo taken on a phone or camera is perfect. Photos on phones are super handy as the customer can just text or email them to me directly even when on the go. Ideally the photograph needs to be taken in good light and needs to be in focus. For black or dark haired pets is best to try to get a couple of shots in sunlight to help me see the shadows and tones.
Another great idea is to capture a few photos of your pet in their signature or characteristic pose. For example Pepper always lies on our couch with her one paw tucked under her chest so I love photos that capture that kind of little detail or memory as they can be worked into the portrait.
When might someone consider getting a painting done with you?
People can order a portrait any time. A lot of my customers order a portrait as gift for a partner, family member or friend. The make a really unique Christmas, wedding or anniversary gift and they are perfect for a group who what to buy it together as a joint gift. Christmas is my busiest time of year and to help me get to everyone, I offer a payment plan whereby I offer customers an early bird discount if they order their Christmas portrait anytime up to the beginning of September. The other great thing about this is, the customer only needs to pay the deposit when booking, and they don’t have to pay the balance until they collect the painting in early December.
Many of my customers ask me to paint an old friend that they may have lost. Although this is such sad part of being a pet owner and animal lover, there is something very special about honouring an old friend in timeliness piece of artwork. There are usually tears when the portrait is finished, but they are always tears of joy and these portraits occupy a very special place in customers homes.
What’s Next For Dabble In Art?
I will taking part in two very exciting events this year; the Dublin Horse Show in August and Art Source in November. Both exhibitions will take place in the RDS and will feature lots of brand new original paintings featuring animals. If you are planning to visit either event do drop over to say hello!
This year I have am also partnering with fellow Irish artist pet photographer Audrey Dalton of Pawtrait Ireland to offer pet lovers two very exciting and unique packages that combine photography and painting. Visit my website www.dabbleinart.com or get in touch to find out more.
Gill is a customer of Pet Sitters Ireland and had some lovely things to say about her Pet Sitter Annmarie
“We have been clients of Pet Sitters Ireland for over 2 years now and we are delighted with the quality, care and efficiency of their services. Their customer service is excellent, the online system is super easy to use and their prices are competitive. Our Old English Sheepdog Pepper adores her pet sitter Annemarie. She is absolutely awesome, and always goes above and beyond to make sure that Pepper is really well looked after and happy while we are away. It’s a real relief for us to be able to book time away without worrying about upsetting Peppers routine and stressing her. We find the online diary updates to be really reassuring as it provides us with an update and photos after each visit. We would happily recommend Pet Sitters Ireland to any pet parent.”