They say true art comes when the head, the heart and the hands work together. They must have had British wildlife artist Sarah Trumble in mind when they figured that one out.
I’ve known Sarah for years. She contributed the artwork for Hunting New Zealand, my second hunting book, and we shared a frantically busy stand at New Zealand’s biggest hunting show together during her visit in 2017. That trip included a working holiday visiting galleries and hunting contacts along the way. She’s bright, funny and though she would blush to hear it, talented beyond belief. By the time this goes to press we’ll be finalising images for my third book Hunting — Moments of Truth. And although she has a solid fan base across Australia and New Zealand her background and achievements are not as well known.
Sarah began drawing and painting at a young age, going on to earn an illustration degree at Blackpool and Fylde College of Art and Design. “My tutor was the late David Johnston, a professional parrot and macaw illustrator. He was the first person whose opinion really mattered to me. His art was exceptional but his method was a little unusual. He’d simply do his own work and let us learn by watching. It’s actually a brilliant way to get a student to really concentrate to what choices to make and what techniques they need to master. I must have been pretty keen. He once appeared over my shoulder when I was working on my final dissection piece and said, ‘Nice, you’re looking at a distinction for that.’ I was bowled over, could have hung my brushes up right there!”
Her stage appeared set for a career in illustration but life had other plans. Marriage, two children and work in France all took priority. Many years passed before a strange twist of fate brought life full circle. “The wedding of a friend was coming up and I had no idea what to give him. What do you buy a gamekeeper? In the end I decided that a personal touch would be best so I did a painting of his gun dog and some pheasants. I knew I’d be a bit rusty but gave it a go. The end result was pretty satisfying. More importantly he was chuffed with it.”
The story didn’t end there. “Months later my friend saw a piece of game art at a local auction, hinting I should have a crack at something similar. I knew straight away how it should look. A dear man (and a deer man) he gave me a roebuck skull and antlers to work from. I drafted up a few ideas, and without telling me he sent my drawings to the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation. It was really well received. The next thing I knew I was back into illustrating, just like that.”
After that first roe deer she hasn’t looked back. Watercolours of red, fallow and sika stags, tahr, chamois, rusa, sambar, mouflon, wild boar, ibex, elk and even warthog, the list goes on. Each of the beautiful and incredibly precise works is created from her home base in Somerset.
Sarah has a deep attraction to subjects like trout and deer. “What’s not to love? Both are beautiful. They’re poles apart in painting technique and colour palette, which is why doing them gives me so much pleasure. A chital stag I did not long ago is a good example. I especially appreciate that hunters are very technically-minded about game animals and anatomy. They know their subjects and recognise the attention to detail involved. They’re also happy to tell me if I get something wrong, which makes me work harder to get it exactly right. I haven’t done a lot of trout or salmon until recently. Once I got going it turned out to be a real joy. The trout prints and calendars have been particularly popular.”
For all these reasons Sarah’s work is one of unyielding attention to detail. “The animal’s eyes need to be watching me. Occasionally I’m really into a painting, working very close, but stepping back I’ve been met with the wrong gaze. This takes time to fix as watercolour doesn’t offer many places to hide, but that’s part of the job. Everything has to be just right, but the eyes most of all.”
Not long ago Sarah donated a print for auction to support the New Zealand Tahr Foundation when tension over culling issues ran white hot. “The hunting fraternity has been very kind to me, providing lots of support and encouragement. It felt like the right thing to do to lend some help.”
Sarah’s business has expanded from prints and commissions to now include cards, calendars, even Christmas paper. The work never ends but it’s obvious that she doesn’t mind a bit. “The Deer of Australia was a limited edition run, right now I’m into a new red stag portrait and will continue with my Trophy Guidelines and Deer of the World book. I get a lot of requests for commissions and many are wonderful species, some of which I haven’t seen before. It has opened up a world for me that I never really knew existed. I really am living the dream.”
Find Sarah on
Contributed by Pete Ryan