Hello, my name is Jill Henderson, and I would like to take a few moments to introduce myself to you and to share with you the story of how and why I came to be a pet portraitist.
I am not a trained artist, nor have I been tutored by a master. Rather, I am a naturally curious artist who has spent the last 30 years exploring the various mediums of artistic expression in order to satisfy my curiosity. Some of those artistic forms include hand-crafted beads, carved fetishes, batik work, stone carving, junk-sculptures, photography, digital imaging and oil painting to name just a few.
But my first love, and probably my last, is the art of drawing and illustrating. I’ve been rendering images on paper since I could hold a crayon in my hand. I love the feel of lines and shades and spaces as they come together to create a recognizable form. My primary medium has always leaned toward the graphic black and white and subtle shades of grey found in charcoal and graphite pencils.
Recently a friend was moving and gifted me with some excess art supplies. Among the goodies was an inconspicuous box of soft pastels – smooth, dry sticks of pigment with the consistency of creamy chalk. I had never used pastels before and honestly, didn’t know a thing about how to use them and was immediately curious. I began by making huge impulsive landscapes, testing the limits and liabilities of my knowledge of the medium.
This pair of seashells was the first serious piece I did with pastels. I began with a good sketch and then carefully painted the canvas with silky, brilliant pastels. I knew then that I was caught hook, line, and sinker by this wonderful medium.
After six months of filling canvas after canvas with wild birds and anything else that struck my fancy, a friend called to ask if I could draw her husband’s beloved yellow-lab. That was the beginning of my venture into pet portraiture and I’ve been busily painting people’s pets ever since.
What makes this type of work so richly satisfying is that I am working with people and subjects I truly understand. With two brothers and a sister, my childhood home was filled with creatures big and small. I have had so many kinds of animals in my life that I don’t dare try to list them all here. Yet each one of them was an individual spirit that moved through my life and taught me new and wondrous things.
Both were rescues of sorts. One was big and one was small. One fluffy and one smooth. Two distinctly different dogs, with two distinctly different personalities – yet they were of one soul. Brothers from the moment they laid eyes on each other and forever loyal to each other and to us. We never thought of them as simply dogs – they were more like kids.
For 18 and 14 years respectively, these two characters enriched our lives in ways that I have difficulty expressing in words. Their passing was more than difficult and it crossed our lives like a dark shadow. But instead of trying to “get over” them, we relish in telling stories about the joy and laughter they brought so freely to our lives.
Buck and Milo were really the first subjects of my portraiture and are to this day the emotional link I convey with every portrait that I draw or paint. Their own portraits hang above my desk, looking over my work and reminding me that pure love and true forever friendships do really exist.
Every portrait I create is an exclusively individual experience. The first thing I always ask of my clients are to relay to me the stories, descriptions, personalities and relationships involved.
I don’t just draw animals – I want to know them. It’s the only way to convey who they are or were. And should you decide to commission a portrait of your best friend, I promise that it will be done with the same care, understanding and empathy I felt for my own.
All the best,