We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Pollyanna Pickering, one of Europe’s foremost wildlife artists. We asked her about her life, her paintings and what inspires her? Pollyanna spoke openly to us about her loves, her favourite countries, her close calls with the Big Cats and her love of painting. Pollyanna will be appearing on Create and Craft TV from 8am on Monday 24th February.
At what age did you realise you had the creative gift to paint wildlife in such fine detail?
“I still don’t know whether I have a creative gift really! I’ve always loved to draw and paint, as soon as I was able to sit up and hold a paint brush and a pencil I was painting. As I was an only child, I used to spend my time happily sat painting, so all my life really.”
Are there any animals you would love to paint but haven’t had the opportunity to yet?
“Not really, but one I will mention, is the snow leopard. I like to paint all my animals once I have seen them in the wild; I travel all over the world to study animals in a natural habitat. I spent 6 weeks trekking in the Himalayas, tracking snow leopard, I had altitude sickness, but found footprints in the snow at such a high altitude that I never managed to find one, so it’s still an ambition to find one in the wild and paint it, and with that in mind I’m hoping to go to outer Mongolia and Afghanistan, to find one. I don’t give up.”
When you go out to study different animals in their natural habitat, how do you capture the animal as they are constantly moving? Photographs for example?
“It’s all done by sketches, that’s the best way because, if you imagine, when you have a camera you look through the lens, you press the shutter and that’s it, you’ve got the image. If you sit there with a pad and pencil, you really have to look at your subject, you take in so much more, much more than a photo can give. I had five years at Art College and once a week we would have time with a moving model to train us to catch movement and get it down fast, and that was invaluable to what I do now.”
You’ve been on lots of expeditions across the globe to paint but what is your favourite country and why?
“That’s such a difficult question to answer because each country I’ve visited has its own special qualities, everyone has something special. I love India, I’ve got a soft spot for India. But I think if you’re going to twist my arm it would have to be a tiny country called Bhutan, it’s a little Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India and China, a beautiful country that has the happiest, friendliest people I’ve ever met, and the most wonderful wildlife. It’s a real sanctuary, they’ve got snow leopards, tigers, wolves, clouded leopards, which are especially rare and beautiful and a very unusual monkey called a Golden Langur, that lives in a tiny area in Bhutan.”
And have you been able to capture some of these animals?
“I have, I was lucky enough to be in Bhutan in the spring time when the golden Langur had little golden babies. It was just magical.”
Are there any countries you haven’t visited but would like to?
“I have a long wish list, I don’t think I’m ever going to run out of places to go to. Top of my wish list was Antarctica, and I’m lucky enough to have returned after spending a cold time there! I’ve made two arctic expeditions, lived with tribesmen and travelled by dog sledge, slept out on the ice at night in tents or igloos; it was minus 40 and incredibly tough. I travel with my daughter because she writes the books that we do together. We’re both vegetarian but were told before we left there would be no other option than to eat meat because there’s nowhere you can sit on the back of a dog sledge and say ‘I’ll have the salad tonight’. You’ll find snow and nothing else. What they didn’t tell us is that we were going to have to live on raw frozen caribou meat, which is as horrible as it sounds, so it was raw frozen meat or raw frozen fish. Needless to say, we lost so much weight, but I don’t recommend it as a diet I promise! It was very tough; before I went I thought ‘Oo lovely, I’ll be sat on the back of a sledge, sketching the odd Polar bear’ but it’s definitely not like that. You’re battling deep ice cracks, crevices, you’ve got to handle all your cargo, and your sledges and get your dogs across. Its seriously hard work!”
It sounds absolutely incredible to experience so many different environments and see so many different unique and rare animals. What has been your favourite animal and why?
“Favourite animal? Again, that’s a really difficult one to answer because I love them all and usually it’s the one I’ve just see and sketched on a journey so I’m eager to get home and paint it whilst it’s still fresh in my mind. If I have to come up with one I’d have to say I love the big cats, Tigers, Cheetas. Tigers are magnificent, especially the Siberian Tiger, they’re the largest cat on earth and have these huge broad faces, thick fur and beautiful markings.”
Sounds like you’ve got pretty close to them?
“Too close to one particular Bengal tiger. I got charged by one in India and I really thought my luck had run out, I thought that was the end. It’s very unusual to be charged by a tiger, they only do it if they’ve got young cubs in the area, and you’ve not realised and got too close or as in this case, if they’ve just killed their prey, and again they think you’re going to take their food. I suddenly noticed there was a dead samba deer just close by, and of course if I’d have had my wits about me at the time I would have told him I’m a vegetarian and don’t want its food, but my heart was hammering away and I truly thought it was the end of me. But the first charge he made was what’s called a mock charge, to warn you off, so we avoided eye contact, because they find that intimidating and back away as slowly as possible, don’t run! That is a major No No! Because that’s it, you’ve had it if you run because they will be after you! Slowly and calmly back away. Don’t scream, don’t have eye contact. We survived and I’ve lived to tell the tale.”
Do you have to train for each expedition you go on?
“Both physically and mentally, yes. We read as much as we can and learn as much as we can about the place and the animals we may encounter. Some countries we need to go into a lot of training for because the conditions are so intense. For example, going up into the Himalayas is a huge expedition for us. I live in Derbyshire and I did a lot of hill walking, but the hills in Derbyshire cannot even hope to compare with the Himalayas as I quickly found out. But it still helps to get you fit and does prepare you, where possible.”
Alongside a huge number of other awards, you were named ‘Animal Conservation Fund-raiser of the Year’ – how did that make you feel? How does this fuel your passion?
“That was just the most incredible honour. I had the award presented to me at the House of Lords, it was tremendous ceremony. I actually felt very humbled and almost guilty because it’s getting an award for doing something you love. But I basically make my living from these wonderful animals and I felt that once I paid off my mortgage, it was time to give something back, and now it’s very very important to me that when I’ve worked in a country; especially third world countries, that we find a specific project to return to that country to raise funds and to help the people as well as the animals.”
What tips could you give to our readers when painting or paper crafting?
“Painting in particular, I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say they’ve been to art class and say they’ve been told ‘we mustn’t do this’ and ‘we shouldn’t do that’ but what they forget is that there are no rules when it comes to creativity. Whatever way creates the effect you are looking for; which I suppose works for paper crafting as well. If you want to paint with your fingers, do so. Another thing I find is that people are terrified of using black. I use it all the time, there are no rules, just go where you want to and have fun doing it! Experiment and come up with your own ideas. Just have fun!”
Thanks so much to speaking to us Pollyanna, we look forward to seeing your inspiring new designs!
You can catch Pollyanna and her World Wildlife Papercrafting kits live on Create and Craft TV from 8am on Monday 24th February.
Sky 671 | Freeview 36 | Virgin 748 | Freesat 813 | Sky 668 and on www.createandcraft.tv