Chris Dunn talks badgers.
Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your art?
I grew up in a town called Keighley in West Yorkshire. The town sits in the windswept moors of Brontë country, and the atmospheric landscape has influenced many of the backgrounds to my paintings. The town also has a Victorian industrial past and I think that’s cropped up a few times in my work over the years.
You’re a child, you see a painting or drawing that changes everything… where are you and what are you looking at, and what effect did it have?
I was 14 years old, in a local book shop and looking at a Tolkien calendar illustrated by John Howe. I noticed watercolours could be both vibrant and dark. Howe’s work had a big effect on me: I realised I could paint fantastical pictures and get paid for the privilege.
Can you name one person who helped you on your way? And someone who tried to get in your way?
I had a very helpful tutor in my art foundation course at Bradford College back in 2005. He said to me, “You like realism and narrative – have you heard of Norman Rockwell?” To my shame I hadn’t, and so the next day he came back with a huge book packed full of his amazing illustrations. That was another light bulb moment. I would say nobody has tried to hold me back other than myself. I’m my own toughest critic and I think that stopped me from promoting myself effectively for a long time.
What was your first paid commission?
Editorial illustrations for a history of work article in a management magazine. They were based on ancient Greek plates featuring designs representing the workplace from Ancient Greece, the medieval period and the industrial revolution, through to the modern day. The artwork I produced was mainly digital and I learned a lot doing it, but I don’t keep it in my presentation portfolio.
What’s the last piece that you finished, and how do the two differ?
I’ve just finished a spot illustration for The Wind In Willows showing Toad driving a car into a pond. It’s a small watercolour illustration, very traditional and exactly the type of artwork I normally produce. It bears little relation to my first paid commission and with luck I will continue producing original paintings for the rest of my life.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve taught someone?
Create what you like and find a market for it afterwards, because if you like it then somebody else will, too.
You’re known for your animal art – is there a species you love to paint? And one that makes your heart sink?
Badgers have so much character and they look good in a woolly jumper. I don’t enjoy painting domestic pets quite so much. Wild animals are just better.
What character that you’ve painted do you most identify with?
Probably the badger reading a newspaper in my painting Settling In. Sitting in front of a lit fireplace with a newspaper, cup of tea and biscuits is my idea of luxury (don’t judge me). However, I haven’t experienced that delight in the past three years because my two young boys won’t allow it. Everybody knows newspapers are for tearing and chewing.
Can you describe the place where you usually create your art?
I have a small studio at home, in what would be the small bedroom. There are two desks, a drawing table and a bookcase down one side and then multiple boards, easels and portfolios stacked against the wall behind me. Over time I hope to fill the back wall with originals by other favourite artists.
It’s brilliant to be at home because my wife and kids can drop in, or I can join the conversation, at any point. Saying that, I may have to fit a lock on the studio door to prevent my eldest invading when I’m not there. I’ve already had a few close shaves, but nothing a putty rubber won’t fix.
I realised I could paint fantastical pictures and get paid for the privilege
Settling In “Badger relaxes after a long day. This painting was commissioned by Galerie Daniel Maghen, a gallery based in Paris.” Toad Crashes “Watercolour spot art for The Wind In the Willows, to be published at the end of the year.”