‘…the eyes are the windows to the soul…’
Passion, love and a life-long affinity with animals is what drives internationally acclaimed, Canberra-based artist, Janet Thatcher, to create her inspiring, photo-realistic works in pastel pencil and velour.
‘While I can paint just about anything, I live and breathe via my love of animals,’ says Thatcher. ‘It is my passion.’
Born and raised in Australia to a family of talented artists and crafters, it was almost inevitable Thatcher would be drawn to a life of art. ‘From my mother’s drawings, to my grandfather, who could create the most amazing sculptures from wood, to a great-grandfather, who was a botanical artist…the children in my family were destined to love and appreciate art in all its forms.’
Encouraged and guided by her mother, Thatcher pushed herself from a young age to create works of art that would continually challenge her abilities. ‘My mother would leave a new box of Derwent pencils out on the kitchen table. We would beg and beg to use those expensive treasures, but she would only relent on the condition that we used them for very special projects.
‘It was like reverse psychology,’ says Thatcher. ‘But it taught us to take care with our creations, and it taught us to respect our medium.’
Thatcher says, ‘My mother felt, with art in our lives, we would never be bored, or lonely. Also, a sense of competition with my sister certainly made me more determined to be the best.’
Together with her love of drawing, a natural affinity with animals has been part of Thatcher’s life since before she can remember. ‘I was drawn to animals, and they were drawn to me.’ With a backyard full of abandoned and rescued pets and wildlife, countless happy hours of Thatcher’s childhood were spent in and around animals, watching them, observing them and learning their ways. ‘I remember sitting as still as possible in a plum tree, surrounded by silver-eyed finches, until finally, I was able to hold one in my hand.’
But it was on a trip to Mogo Zoo with her mother where true inspiration struck. ‘We sat near the jaguars while I sketched and enjoyed the company of the big cats. The jaguar, named Olive, came right up to me and stared at me. I stared back. Where I walked, she walked. It was love at first sight.’
Many such trips followed. Eventually, Thatcher was able to undertake work experience at the zoo, a huge influence on her later love-affair with animal subject matter. ‘Learning about individual animals and their personalities taught me to look past the obvious. A tiger can just be a tiger – or it can be a mischievous beast intent on playing pranks on on-lookers.’
‘Like us, animals have personalities. They are unique individuals who can look past you and into your soul.’ Such was Thatcher’s passion that, years later, she was married at the zoo, and still takes her daughters there now to collect reference material and to share experiences.
It was this love of animals that earned Thatcher her first commissioned piece. ‘I had bought a beautiful German Shepherd puppy, and her breeders wanted a portrait of an ancestor of my puppy.’ Many animal-related portrait commissions soon followed, paving the way for her future style.
While able to paint in many styles, Thatcher found realism best-suited what she was trying to convey with her powerful pieces. Her technique was developed, as her mother always advocated, by hours of practice. ‘I just sat down with objects and photos set in front of me, and kept drawing until I improved.’
‘When I was young, I refused to look at other works, or to be told how to do something. I wanted my creations to be as pure as possible.’
Now, Thatcher’s biggest influence is watching, reading about and studying animals and their behaviour. ‘It has always been a gut thing, for me. I NEED to draw and be creative, and I NEED to be around animals. That is why I continue to volunteer to work with them.’
Thatcher’s current works feature intense detail and emotion, offset against smaller, portrait-style offerings, where the viewer can feel as if they stand face-to-face with the subject. 'My artwork conveys emotion, movement and the essence of an animal—a moment in time, where one can catch a glimpse of the individual spirit, hidden beneath.'