An interview with Vic Bearcroft

... and the chance for you and a friend to get his latest book and DVD FREE!  

Vic Bearcroft is a self-taught professional wildlife and pet portrait artist, who specialises in pastel on velour Having spent part of his childhood in Kenya, Vic is passionate about wildlife in general - particularly wolves – which enables him to work with a large number of animal welfare and conservation organisations worldwide, donating prints, merchandise and funds.

He runs regular art workshops, art club demonstrations and attends numerous exhibitions to inspire others to give painting a try.

How long have you been an artist and how did you get started?
I’ve been drawing and painting animals all my life, and have been a professional for about 12 years. My career began by winning Best in Show for my first wildlife art exhibition.  

Why did you choose pastels as your preferred medium? They allow me to create both softness and detailed textures in my paintings. I also feel that I have more control with pastels than with brushes.

What’s the best thing about painting for you? As well as painting being very relaxing, I find it so rewarding helping others to paint.

I run lots of workshops and also have a book and several DVDs available, in which I aim to teach by using simple step by step methods, as well as hopefully inspiring others to try different materials and techniques.

You are a member of the SAA. How has membership helped you and can it help others?
I work on my own quite a lot so it is great to be an SAA member and to feel part of a worldwide family of artists who I can talk to about ideas and share tips.

I know there are so many people out there who would love to paint but aren’t confident enough to pick up a pencil, pastel or brush. The SAA is there to help and encourage anyone who would like to start painting or improve their art.

What’s in your sketchbook?
Usually sketched out compositions for paintings, or new ideas for animal paintings of all kinds, either in pencil or ballpoint pen, which I find very useful for checking tonal values.

I tend to think of the ballpoint ones as doodles – visually formulating ideas which are running around in my head constantly. These doodles are usually accompanied by other strange images, like scary snowmen or wierd made-up creatures – all part of the creative process I think!

How did it feel to be a BBC Wildlife Artist of The Year 2012 Finalist and Endangered Species Category Winner?
Definitely one of the highlights of my life, and absolutely made my year in 2012, along with having my first book published.

For me it was as though my art was striking a chord with the judges, and that they were seeing what I was seeing, and trying to portray in the painting. The painting in question also started life as a ballpoint doodle in my sketchbook!

Has your style changed over the years?
It has changed quite a lot. Thirty plus years ago, I was painting a lot in oils. I recently uncovered a leopard oil painting from 1980 which shows me just how much you can improve with lots of practice!

I then moved onto pastels, as I was painting a lot of commissioned dog and cat portraits, so this was quicker. Discovering velour was a revelation to me, as I could now paint finer and finer details, with lots of layers, and it wouldn’t smudge. I then used those techniques to paint some wildlife in acrylics, with some ‘commercial’ success.

Finally, in the last year or so, I have been trying to break away from detailed paintings to concentrate on tone, composition and lighting (the latter being the principal tool in creating atmosphere and drama).

I think that this probably helped to ‘sell’ my gorilla painting to the BBC magazine judges. Now, it has come almost full circle, and I am happily resuming my original love of oil painting, with new ideas buzzing around my head.

What do you believe is a key element in creating a good composition?
There is no single element as far as I’m concerned; it could be a simple diagonal, leading the viewer into the painting, or the rule of thirds, or ‘framing’ the subject with trees, or just darker edges in the case of a portrait.

What I will say is that composition is an important part of the finished artwork. If the painting is being viewed in an exhibition, along with 400 plus others, then there need to be things that make it stand out; composition is one of those, along with tonal values.

I tend to believe more and more that detail is of less importance, especially in an exhibition of hundreds of paintings. The vast majority of people who buy my kind of artwork do however prefer ‘classic’ compositions, rather than abstract ideas I believe.

What is the most challenging part of capturing animals in a painting?
If it’s a portrait, then the eyes. The eyes need to be realistic, wild-looking for non-domestic animals, and have some sense of feeling or life in them. If the painting is to be in a natural setting, then the challenge is to take animal reference photographs from a sanctuary, for example, and changing the colours, tone and lighting to suit a more realistic environment.

Because I run workshops at wolf and big cat sanctuaries, it becomes easier to capture the anatomy and ‘essence’ of the animals in question, as we always are able to get  sometimes inches away from their eyes, and even as far as stroking the wolves to feel the fur. This gives me, and my students much more information than we could ever get from photographs alone, or even from zoos.

Tell us more about the many wildlife organizations you support and why they are important?
Through my artwork we support a number of organisations - The California Wolf Center, UK Wolf Conservation Trust, Wildlife Heritage Foundation, as well as numerous smaller dog and cat welfare organisations.

It is important for me personally, as an animal artist, who is fortunate to earn a living from painting animals, to be able to give something back to those animals that enable me to do what I do.

We have three dogs, thirteen cats, five rabbits and three ferrets at home – most of whom are rescued. My partner, Liz, is a part-time locum vet nurse, so we know how desperate life is for many animals at home and abroad.

Where do you see your future as an artist?
Now that I’m a published author as well as an artist, I would like to try some illustrated book work at some point – perhaps children’s books about domestic an wild animals.

I am always trying to come up with new ideas for drawings and paintings, or series of drawings and paintings; a new series on which I’m working at the moment (more of that a later date!).

This, for me is very important, as it helps to prevent my work, and myself, becoming ‘stale’ I, as I’m sure many other artists do, need to frequently break out of my comfort zone and try new ideas. Watch this space!