magic

From cap­tur­ing the in­tense power of a horse in full gal­lop to in­tri­cate, tech­ni­cal anatom­i­cal draw­ings of a tiger’s jaw, Nor­wich based SA­MAN­THA ELMHURST is a lead­ing an­i­mal il­lus­tra­tor of in­ter­na­tional renown

EDP Norfolk - - Art - See Sa­man­tha’s work at www.livin­gart.org.uk

WORK­ING as a teenage wait­ress in the café above Nor­wich arty in­sti­tu­tion Bram­bles, Sa­man­tha Elmhurst would spend any quiet mo­ments climb­ing the stairs to the at­tic to watch a group of il­lus­tra­tors at work. It was, she says, those pre­cious min­utes which helped shape the rest of her life.

“Bram­bles had this won­der­ful arty at­mos­phere, but what I loved most were the il­lus­tra­tors who worked up­stairs. It was heaven, it was the mo­ment I re­alised il­lus­trat­ing could be an ac­tual job,” she says.

Her love of art was long es­tab­lished, but, ad­vised to pur­sue more tra­di­tional sub­jects at school, it re­mained lit­tle more than a hobby.

“I think my par­ents as­sumed that if I stud­ied art it meant I would get up late, spend hours think­ing about paint­ing, not earn­ing much money and liv­ing this very bo­hemian life­style. Iron­i­cally, my artis­tic pro­fes­sion is ac­tu­ally very rigid. Even the course I did was very strict. All artists are in­vari­ably self-em­ployed so we need to be ded­i­cated to pay the bills.”

Hav­ing doggedly pur­sued her artis­tic dreams, Sa­man­tha is now an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned an­i­mal il­lus­tra­tor, pro­duc­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily de­tailed anatom­i­cal draw­ings and pieces of art cap­tur­ing the beauty, strength and power of a huge va­ri­ety of species.

“As a child, I re­mem­ber my dad had a col­lec­tion of old nat­u­ral his­tory hard cover books and I would take one out now and then and study it. I was ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nated by the il­lus­tra­tions, the anatom­i­cal and sci­en­tific de­tail. I thought it was beau­ti­ful.”

Her work is fea­tured in lead­ing equine mag­a­zines and books, in an­i­mal anatom­i­cal and sci­ence texts and for the last 15 years she has il­lus­trated all the BSAVA (Bri­tish Small An­i­mal Ve­teri­nary As­so­ci­a­tion) man­u­als, draw­ing ev­ery­thing from do­mes­tic pets to ex­otic and zo­o­log­i­cal species. Per­haps her proud­est com­mis­sion, though, is one of her most re­cent; pro­duc­ing a num­ber of pieces of work for the Na­tional Her­itage Mu­seum for Horserac­ing and Sport­ing Art at New­mar­ket.

Her de­ter­mi­na­tion to pur­sue art as a ca­reer led her on a cu­ri­ous trail of strange en­coun­ters, ded­i­cated study and ran­dom jobs – in­clud­ing be­ing ap­pointed editor of a new chil­dren’s an­i­mal mag­a­zine in Lon­don, for which she was the only mem­ber of staff.

“I had ab­so­lutely no ex­pe­ri­ence – apart from mak­ing my own horse mag­a­zines as a lit­tle girl – and it seems mad­ness now,” she laughs. “But I got to write some in­ter­est­ing fea­tures and be­cause there was no photography bud­get, I got to use my il­lus­tra­tions. It lasted one edi­tion, but gave me con­fi­dence and some great con­tacts.”

Af­ter de­cid­ing to pur­sue an­i­mal il­lus­tra­tion as a ca­reer, she got a job at the Royal Col­lege of Sur­geons of Eng­land in the An­i­mal Health Unit, where she was en­cour­aged to con­tinue work­ing on her

port­fo­lio by the vet she was work­ing with.

Some of her work was pub­lished in the ve­teri­nary trade mag­a­zine and she spent time with the Zo­o­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL) where she drew the an­i­mals that were un­der­go­ing treat­ment – from flamin­gos to re­cov­er­ing tapirs.

This ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired her to ap­ply, suc­cess­fully, to study for a de­gree in sci­en­tific il­lus­tra­tion. Dur­ing the hol­i­days she would spend ev­ery spare mo­ment watch­ing lo­cal vets at work and help­ing where she could. “I was com­pletely fo­cused. I was a few years older than the other stu­dents and had had a taste of the real world. It gave me the im­pe­tus to work harder and get ev­ery bit of ex­pe­ri­ence I could.”

She has spent the last two decades build­ing up a hugely suc­cess­ful free­lance il­lus­tra­tion busi­nesses, work­ing from her stu­dio in Old Costessey – which she says is very much in­spired by the stu­dio and café at the now closed Bram­bles.

“For me, wit­ness­ing and il­lus­trat­ing the work of vets is in part show­ing how an­i­mals are helped, how they re­cover and how new tech­niques are be­ing dis­cov­ered to help them live longer, hap­pier lives. It is that hope and op­ti­mism that I feel when I am in my stu­dio work­ing.”

Hav­ing been a lover of horses and keen rider her whole life, she says the chance to cre­ate work for the horserac­ing mu­seum at New­mar­ket was a dream come true.

“I was at the vets, idly flick­ing through an an­i­mal health mag­a­zine, wait­ing for my cat to come out of an op­er­a­tion and there was an ar­ti­cle about the new mu­seum at New­mar­ket. I spent all af­ter­noon com­pos­ing an email to the cu­ra­tor ask­ing if I could present them with my port­fo­lio as I re­ally wanted to be a part of it – and when they put it out to ten­der I got the job. It is a huge hon­our.”

Top left: Ex­am­ple of Sa­man­tha Elmhurst’s equine work

Op­po­site: Ex­am­ples of Sa­man­tha Elmhurst’s work on dis­play at the Na­tional Her­itage Cen­tre for Horserac­ing and Sport­ing Art

Top right: Some of Sa­man­tha Elmhurst’s zo­o­log­i­cal work

Above: Sa­man­tha Elmhurst out­side the Na­tional Her­itage Cen­tre for Horserac­ing and Sport­ing Art at New­mar­ket

Bot­tom:

Sa­man­tha Elmhurst cap­tures the work­ings of a cat’s jaw

Be­low:

A cat spring­ing into ac­tion

Left: An ex­am­ple of Sa­man­tha Elmhurst’s work, cap­tur­ing the Suf­folk Punches at Gressen­hall Farm and Work­house mu­seum

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