Lifetime Achievement Award for Pollyanna Pickering

Passionate about wildlife and equally passionate about accurately interpreting her subjects, SOFA member Pollyanna Pickering has dedicated her life to environmental conservation, both on the national and international stage.

And now Pollyanna has been recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Inspirational Women Awards held in Derby on 7th March.

Pollyanna with her Award

Pollyanna with her Award

The trophy was presented by the founder of the awards, Sonya Robotham, who said “We were so impressed by Pollyanna’s achievements across a wide range of sectors that we are proud to confer our highest honour on her, as someone who has not only made a significant and sustained contribution to life and the community in Derby and Derbyshire, but whose impact is felt far beyond the County.”

Pollyanna lives and works in a Victorian farmhouse in a tiny hamlet in the Peak District of Derbyshire. From her studio in this rural setting, she completes her critically acclaimed paintings, and produces exclusive work for corporations including Harrods. Her published work is sold in over 80 countries worldwide. She is most pleased when her work can raise money for causes close to her heart, and has designed for every major wildlife charity in the UK including the RSPB, WWF, Guide Dogs for the Blind and over 50 others.

In order to study and paint wildlife in its natural habitat, Pollyanna has braved some of the remotest and most inhospitable corners of the world. She has canoed through crocodile infested rivers and been charged by a wild tiger while searching for endangered species. In order to paint wild polar bears, she lived with the Inuit, travelling by dog sled and sleeping on the ice in tents and igloos at night. She was the first western woman ever to travel into a remote area of the Tibetan borderlands, where she worked in a hospital for sick pandas, and is the only wildlife artist ever to have painted the Ethiopian wolf – the most endangered wolf in the world – from life.

Every journey Pollyanna makes is followed by an exhibition of work which raises funds to help protect the animals which she so loves, through the Pollyanna Pickering Foundation. Pollyanna established this charitable organisation with the aim of both alleviating the suffering of individual animals and conserving endangered species and habitats. Pollyanna also acts as patron of many other charities including The Born Free Foundation and The Badger Trust.

Pollyanna continues to set herself incredible personal challenges – last year she went on expedition into the Antarctic – and recently trekked through the Virunga mountains in Rwanda to study and paint mountain gorillas.

Pollyanna said ‘It is incredible to be given such a wonderful award for doing something I love. Looking back on my career even I find it hard to believe that I have managed to come so far, in spite of all the many challenges and setbacks over the years. These awards are all about inspiring other women and young girls to follow their dreams and their passion, and I am very honoured to be recognised in this way.”


Making Happy Days 2

S.O.F.A. member France Bauduin talks about the making of her beautiful drawing of a mother cat and her playful kittens, ‘Happy Days 2′. A project that took her 293 hours to draw it over a 6 months period.

Early last spring, I came up with the concept of featuring my queen Laila with the four kittens she had that year, something I had never done before. I selected a particularly good picture of Laila interacting with one of her kittens and two of her three kittens already around her. After that it was only a matter of exchanging these two kittens with others photos of them showing a better pose. The last one was added without references. For this first project, I draw a full but very bland background. I wanted the drawing to be about the cats and the cats only.

It took me 93 hours to complete it, 64 hours for the cats and 29 for the background. Happy Days was my first attempt on an A2 Daler-Rowney board and I considered it quite successful, for a first attempt that is.

Happy Days was my first attempt on an A2 Daler-Rowney board

Last summer, I wanted the repeat this concept but this time by integrating the kittens in a more pleasing and challenging background. I also wanted it to be a true representation of what they had been about last spring. After having taken a few exceptionally good pictures of the kittens playing on the fence with Laila lying peacefully among them, I knew where to start.

Using Photoshop, my first task was to assemble Laila and her four kittens in a believable but also aesthetically pleasing “Happy Days” scene. This time, I also wanted to create a link between each of the cats to picture them as a tight family not an assembly of unrelated individuals.

The first picture I selected was one of Monty and Harley about to pounce on each other, with Monty holding the higher ground and Harley in a defensive position in the grass below. The connection was real and the background beautiful. It became my starting point.

Monty and Harley

After that, I tried to select a picture of Laila lying among daisies near the fence with another of her kittens (Pixel) interacting with her. No eye contact this time, the connexion was physical as he was half astride her with one paw on the fence.

Laila lying among daisies

That left me with one kitten to place: Suki, my little climber. As the only girl of the litter, she was also the lightest and most agile. After a few trials and errors, I found a pose where she was near the top of the fence and inserted her on the left, as if she was about to start climbing the fence.

To create a link between the kittens, I then got the idea to make them look at each other’s tail. To do this, I had to modify Suki’s and Monty’s tail by using other reference pictures.   And there I had it. Laila in contact with Pixel looking at Suki’s tail, herself looking at Monty’s tail, himself staring at Harley.

Final reference image

This was the easy part. The hard part was to readjust the background and make it fit. For example, I removed the messy ivy above Harley and replaced it by more colourful foliage, the wild grass and weeds by more daisies & small colourful posts. The difficulty when doing any kind of replacement is that you also need to think of resulting shadows, which is even harder if the pictures are taken at different times or even different days.

Because the kittens were more spread out around Laila, I decided to use an A1 size Daler-Rowney board so each kitten would be more or less the same size as in this spring’s drawing.

I always start drawing the main subject, in this instance the cats and always finish with the background, generally working from inside out.   For this drawing though I did things slightly differently starting from Suki and moving from left to right, the big A1 size of the board making it impossible to rotate as I usually do with smaller drawings.

Being mostly white, the kittens and their mother were completed rather rapidly, Suki taking only 11 hours, Pixel 15 hours, Monty being darker 24 hours, their bigger mum 22 hours and Harley 17 hours, thus completing the whole cat family in less than 90 hours. Again, this was the easy part.

Stage 1

The real challenge would be with the background with its great variety of colours and textures as I was planning to rebuild a good part of it from an assortment of reference pictures to make it aesthetically more pleasing to the eye.

I knew I had to start with the features I wanted to keep from my main reference photographs: the colourful foliage coming through the fence, the smaller fence posts and the daisies in the grass.

The leaves were slow work but I really enjoyed drawings these, each one a little challenge on its own.   As for the small fence of posts, I started with those clearly shown on my two main photographs and recreated those hidden by weeds from other photos. I did the same with the grass and daisies, copying exactly what was around Laila and then extending it on both sides of her by using other reference pictures. Just doing these took over 100 hours.

Stage 2

Then came the difficult part, replacing the messy ivy over Harley with the same kind of colourful foliage surrounding Monty. I also needed to complete what was over him, as my main reference photo wasn’t going that high. Unfortunately, the only reference pictures I possessed had been taken a few days later. The plant had grown so the leaves didn’t match anymore and yet, I had to make it work. While the Photoshop version of the photos could give me a good idea of what the picture would look like, in the actual drawing each leaf had to be imagined and reattached in a realistic way, something a lot more difficult to do than simply copying what you are seeing.

It’s only once I was satisfied with the amount of foliage coming out of the fence on the right side that I considered filling the holes with the planks under it. Because I had used many reference pictures for this, I knew it had to be done plank by plank so the grooves matched and the shadows worked realistically. Until now the drawing had looked pretty good. “Plugging the holes” would either enhance it even more by adding more depth or completely ruin it.

After having completed a couple of planks, I knew it was the right decision.   The left side still had unresolved issues but after 250 hours of work, I knew that the right side of the drawing at least would be OK. Stage 3

When placing Suki with Photoshop, I had made a mistake, placing her a little too high. To make it look like her toe was gripping a plank, I had to bring it higher than it actually was and thus introduced a discrepancy by making the planks slightly narrower on the left side than on the right side. It was only 6mm but the difference was visible so I came with the idea to replace that plank with a little branch coming out of the fence that would offer her some purchase. Sorted.

I had a final decision to make and it had to do with the little lilac flowers found in the grass among the daisies. I thought I had to justify their provenance by adding a small branch of these coming out of the fence.   I didn’t want something big and distracting, just a hint of these that would also complement nicely the rather naked corner on the left of Suki’s head. This meant going ad lib again and why I kept it for the very last leg of this journey, when the rest of the finished drawing could give me a better feel of what and where it was needed.

While the main goal of this last feature had always been to make the drawing look more realistic, it somehow added something from an artistic point of view as pointed out by my cat artist friend Tamsin Lord:

Those lilac flower are a lovely addition ~ when I opened your pic, the composition now literally draws my eye round the whole picture. 

Other minor adjustments were done as I was drawing the planks like adding a bit more foliage on the left of Suki as that side would have been too plain otherwise. Final adjustments had to be made for shadows with any additional foliage.

This drawing is the result of dozens of hours spent observing and taking thousands pictures of my playful kittens so I could select three “magical “ ones that inspired this composition which took itself quite a few hours to create before I could finally come with a version that worked with Photoshop. It then took me another 293 hours to draw it over a 6 months period (exactly 200 hours more than the original Happy Days).

While I still had over 100 hours of work to put on it, an artist friend of mine, Malcom Cudmore from the UKCPS encouraged me by saying :

“It’s going to be quite an epic piece!”

Epic is indeed the best word to describe this long journey so I can proudly present you Happy Days 2.

Happy Days 2

By France Bauduin S.O.F.A.
France Bauduin’s web site.

Do you have particular materials or techniques you’d like to recommend to other members? Do you have a particular brand of paint or pastels you love to use? Where do you buy your supplies from, do you have a great local art supply shop or do you use an online store? If so we’d like to feature you and your work along with those recommendations on the blog. Contact the editor.







Barbara Bird was awarded ‘Best in Show’

S.O.F.A. member Barbara Bird was awarded ‘Best in Show’ at the UKCPS regional exhibition at Ilminster in June 2014 for her coloured pencil drawing of ‘Josie’.
Congratulations Barbara!

Josie by Barbara Bird

France Bauduin Print Exhibition at Yate Library

If you are anywhere near Yate, South Gloucestershire, then you have a chance to see this wonderful print exhibition by S.O.F.A. member France Bauduin in Yate Library.
It’s on until the 14th of March and is full of her amazing art.

There is even a chance to win a print!

An interview with S.O.F.A’s patron, David Grant

The society’s patron David Grant talks about his work and his travels to China to teach courses in small animal dermatology.


Before I was in the public eye I was better known in the profession for my specialist knowledge in skin diseases in companion animals. Back in the 70’s I had undertaken specialist training at the Dick Vet College in Edinburgh where I spent 3 happy years studying. I passed the Fellowship examination in Veterinary Dermatology meaning I put FRCVS after my name instead of the usual MRCVS. This was the starting point to a continued interest in skin diseases. The RSPCA Harmsworth was an ideal place to see the myriad of skin diseases that are possible. Right from the start I photographed pretty much everything I saw and over the next 30 years amassed the largest collection of clinical material anywhere. These have been donated to the Edinburgh, London and Cambridge veterinary schools. I started teaching vets about these diseases along with Professor David Lloyd of the London school in 1992. Together we lecture every year in Vienna at the school there and have lectured in most countries in Europe and also last year in Mexico.

The Vienna courses are with an organisation called the European School for Advanced Veterinary Studies (ESAVS). A dynamic German vet called Hans Koch founded this organisation and has extended it into China. David Lloyd and I were the first to teach Chinese vets small animal dermatology and have now given 5 courses, each of one week, on a yearly basis. Other lecturers from the United States and other parts of Europe have added to this. As a result there are a large number of Chinese vets that have been brought up to a very high standard. In China the veterinary education is largely food animal and there is little as yet in small animals in many of the colleges. The focus of these Chinese colleagues is incredible and it is very gratifying to see rapid progress after the lectures. They get a lot of practical classes and case material and learn rapidly. Small animal practice in China is booming and many of these colleagues are setting up practice to satisfy the demand of a rapidly emerging pet owning public.

I have been to Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Xia Men, Shanghai and Kunming over the last 5 years-not including Hong Kong (for a conference and quite different from mainland China).

Each place is spellbinding in its own way. In some of the more remote places particularly Hangzhou and Kunming we were a novelty and we had countless requests for pictures taken with the locals. All smiles and handshakes. My initial impressions of China were the immense size of the large cities. Huge apartment blocks reaching for the skies. Massive traffic and pollution, which is causing the government a problem, and I am not sure how they will eventually sort it. Cars are everywhere and driving chaotic. Getting into taxis was a problem as they seem smaller and I kept bashing my head. Once in I kept my eyes shut at times and hoped for the best!


We had on each trip a team of interpreters who looked after us in the evenings. I have eaten just about everything imaginable, including snake, but in general found the restaurants to be superb and my chopsticks skills have come on no end. In the cities the overall impression is of a booming economy with a growing affluent middle class. The restaurants, extremely large by our standards, often with multiple private rooms, were almost always full. The Chinese certainly like to eat out it seems.

This latest trip allowed for a couple of days sightseeing. At first sight Kunming doesn’t seem to offer many tourist opportunities. It is a large, (8 million or so inhabitants) sprawling city with the inevitable large apartment blocks and traffic jams. On the outskirts however are some exciting tourist attractions. We had the possibility of visiting 4 of these. The Kunming Expo Park is rather like Kew Gardens –with lots of beautiful themed gardens from all over China. On the other side of town are the Chinese minority villages. There are some 50 minority peoples in Yunnan province and the government seems to want to preserve their identity, language and customs. The area consists of many of these minorities in mock-ups of their traditional houses, and regular shows where they sing and dance in traditional dress. A bit circus- like perhaps but an entertaining way to spend a day.


We discovered that in the next room to our lectures there was a tea training room. the University of Kunming runs a three year degree course in tea studies part of which is how to do the tea ceremony in the approved way. On the Saturday after our course we were invited to watch the final exams in the tea ceremony and the attached shows a contestant preparing the tea and then delivering it in the approved way. Each contestant started the proceedings by doing a little dance number and a song. Quite charming and very different. By the end of the 10 days I had tea coming out of my ears and many tea tastings and a couple of ceremonies to boot.

tea ceremony

Also on the outskirts of town is the Western Hill. This is a small mountain reached by Alpine style cable car. You have the easy way-by cable car to the top, or a mountain walk up 1,000 feet via a pathway which has been chiseled into the rock You need a head for heights and be fit. The walk is very steep with precipitous drops to the side and because Kunming is at an altitude of nearly 2000 metres you can get out of breath.

yunnan stone forest

The most spectacular excursion was to the Yunnan Stone Forest 90 kilometres from the city. This defies description. It is an immense area of limestone that has been carved by water erosion over 200 million years. After an afternoon walking around we had our last spectacular evening meal in China with the waiters serenading us.

A flight back in a superb BA A380 jumbo was the perfect way to come home in time for Christmas. Plans are afoot for another course in December next year. I can’t wait!

 David Grant


Artist Papers interview with Irina Garmashova-Cawton

An good interview with S.O.F.A. member Irina Garmashova-Cawton is on The Artist Papers web site.

artist papers article

Keen For Cats at The Adelaide Fringe

S.O.F.A associate member Margaret Slape-Phillips is exhibiting 3 oil paintings of her own domestic cats during “KEEN FOR CATS”  a community art exhibition at The Pepper Street Arts Centre, Magill, South Australia during the 2015 Adelaide Fringe.  Dates 15 February – 20th March.   She will also be demonstrating at the opening event.


TOPAZ IN BLUE by Margaret Slape-Phillips

Keen For Cats
The Pepper Street Arts Centre,
South Australia
15 February – 20th March.

See more of her work on her web site

Exhibition Photos

Slide Shows
See the photos of each exhibition as a flash slide show. Click the links below and sit back and watch the show. These will be quite large photos and may take a while to load.

SOFA London 2014
SOFA London 2013
SOFA London 2012
SOFA London 2011
SOFA London 2010
SOFA London 2009
SOFA London 2008
Or if you don't have flash see them as a photo album.

Photo Albums

SOFA London 2014
SOFA London 2013
SOFA London 2012
SOFA London 2011
SOFA London 2010
SOFA London 2009
SOFA London 2008



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