MY COUNTRY BUSINESS
Artist Clare Brownlow
Artist Clare Brownlow, who paints with a pheasant feather
From an early age, I was always drawing and had my first sketchbook at the age of four,’ says Clare Brownlow of Pheasant Feather Art. ‘I wanted to draw and paint rather than read books – much to my mother’s dismay as she’s an English teacher!’ Such was Clare’s talent that she was offered art scholarships at various schools, eventually taking one up at Uppingham School in Rutland.
After school she took a gap year in Kenya, where she developed a love of African wildlife before going to Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University to study Fine Art and History of Art. After graduating, Clare worked for an investment management company. ‘But I always harboured a longing to paint,’ she says.
Clare’s husband Charlie encouraged her to go back to art school so she attended Leith School of Art in 2008 where she specialised in large atmospheric landscapes and seascapes in oil. She discovered she was pregnant with her first son, Harry, during the course and gave birth one week after her end-of-year show. After she finished the course, she moved with Charlie and Harry to the countryside, determined to combine her creative side with being a full-time mum. ‘I grew up in army quarters, but I loved going to Ireland and the Isle of Man where my grandparents lived, so moving to the rolling landscape of the Scottish Borders was idyllic.’
Then, in 2009, Clare was visiting her parents in Norfolk and, quite by chance, picked up a pheasant feather of her father’s and started doodling. Feeling inspired, she took some pheasant feathers back to Scotland and experimented with them, dipping the quill in ink and doing a series of drawings at her kitchen table. The unpredictable splashing effect caused by the point of the quill catching the grain of the paper created a unique technique with an aesthetically appealing sense of movement. ‘With the spatters it was completely different to anything else I’d seen or done before,’ she says. ‘I had found something unique as no one else paints with a pheasant feather, and no two pictures I produce are ever the same.’
What started out as a hobby gradually grew into a business, Pheasant Feather
Art, some two years later with many of Clare’s designs focusing on British wildlife, including pheasant, hare and deer. ‘I also started painting chickens and pictures of friends’ dogs, and people loved the result and suggested that I should produce stationery and prints, so I did.’
Clare started taking stands at fairs to get her work known and clients advised her to put her designs on placemats and crockery as well as other homeware products.
Her range has now expanded to include kitchenware, such as tea towels, oven gloves and Aga covers, mugs and cushions. She also works on commissions of any shape and size.
Clare sources and finds manufacturers for all her products in the UK – everything, apart from the placemats, is made in Scotland. ‘I take great pride in this as it’s incredibly important to support local businesses,’ she says. ‘It can be a challenge to find the highest quality products to use for my artwork that will have a reasonable retail price for customers.’
She has also embarked on a number of collaborations with organisations, such as Edinburgh Zoo, Bowland Brewery and Really Wild Clothing. Supporting charities is something Clare loves to do and she has worked closely with Tusk Trust, Born Free Foundation, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Countryside Alliance, and the Game &
Wildlife Conservation Trust. Twice she has been shortlisted for Wildlife Artist of the
Year and earlier this year appeared on
BBC’S Countryfile. ‘I couldn’t believe the response. People were so unbelievably kind and I had the most incredible rush of commissions. There were some very moving stories of images that people wanted me to paint and I was so honoured to be asked.’
Clare works at home from her studio at the top of a rambling old Victorian farmhouse close to the River Teviot in the heart of the Scottish Borders. ‘Where we live is magical. We are surrounded by wildlife here, which inspires me so much. There are otters in the river, hares, pheasants, deer and copious amounts of garden birds. It’s the perfect environment for the children.’
These days, she juggles the business around bringing up her two children, Harry, seven, and Alfie, five. ‘I am so lucky to be able to do what I love as a job and also be a full-time mother,’ she says. ‘I think it’s important to show children that you can be whoever and whatever you want. I also think that creativity is essential in childhood.’
Of all her designs, it’s pheasants (not surprisingly) and bees that are her favourites. ‘Bees are just those creatures that always make people smile!’
☎ CLARE BROWNLOW PHEASANT FEATHER ART, » 07768 619777, CLAREBROWNLOW.CO.UK.
What I love most... ‘the fact that every day is completely different and i get to paint a whole range of wonderful things and meet some amazing people’
Clare at her desk, where she wraps products ready to send out to customers.