We recently came across beautiful watercolour pet portraits by Emma Cox, or @smallcreaturesstudio as she is known on Instagram, and we immediately fell in love! Emma perfectly captures the likeness of her canine subjects but with an air of fun and whimsy that makes each portrait so special. We were lucky enough to chat with Emma and find out more about her inspirations, her soft-spot for rescue dogs and how you can commission your very own pet portrait!
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Emma Cox and I’m a British-Australian currently living in London. By day I care for my toddler and work part-time in communications, and whenever I can carve out the time I love to paint pet portraits and create animal illustrations – it’s definitely my happy place. I’ve been a crazy dog lady since childhood, there’s something about dogs that just lights me up. They have special souls and bring so much joy into our lives. I’m self-taught, other than high school art classes and a handful of weekend and evening courses, and I work mostly in watercolour, with a little ink and coloured pencils from time to time.
How long have you been making your wonderful watercolour portraits?
I’ve been creating pet portraits since 2017 when I started my Instagram account @smallcreaturesstudio as a way of practising my art and keeping a record of my progress. I was surprised and delighted when strangers started asking me to paint their pets. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to paint all kinds of creatures and I’ve connected with so many beautiful people along the way. Animal people are the best people :)
What inspired you to start making art of pets rather than any other subject matter?
I started drawing and painting again in my late thirties, after a break of about 20 years. Looking back, I really wish I hadn’t stopped but work and life overtook and art fell by the wayside. At the time I was going through a series of fertility issues and miscarriages and I think the urge to start painting again and have a creative outlet was like therapy for me. I find drawing and painting such a meditative process and it really took me to a different place and changed my mindset. My first drawings were almost always of my own dog, Harry – I spent so much time starting at him anyway, he was the obvious choice of subject to sketch. And he was the most beautiful thing to draw. From there, I started painting the pets of family and friends, and I’ve also been inspired (and continue to be) by many of the cute dogs on Instagram. I suppose I just draw what I love.
What is the process for creating your artworks?
For my pet portraits I work from photographs and the process starts with a few rough pencil sketches to get a feel for the animal and work out the composition of the portrait. Once I have a pencil sketch that’s working for me, I’ll send a photograph to the client for any suggestions or feedback and once they are happy, I’ll begin work on the painting. I love working in watercolour, I love the colours and layers, and the slightly unpredictable nature of the paint. I often put a few finishing touches in ink and coloured pencil too. I also like to create whimsical watercolour sketches (usually featuring a dog, or occasionally another animal). I dream these up in my sketchbook and it’s a much more loose way of working, as the only person I need to please is myself.
Emma and her late dog, Harry.
We know you are passionate about rescue dogs, can you tell us more about this?
My passion for rescue dogs began with my own adopted dog, Harry. He was a 10-year-old mini fox terrier cross who my husband and I met while volunteer dog walking at a rescue centre in Sydney (our first and last day volunteering walking - it’s a dangerous activity unless you want to come home with a dog!). Harry had been abandoned at a council pound and would have been euthanised if Doggie Rescue hadn’t taken him in. He’d been at the centre for some months when we met him and I immediately fell in love. He was so timid and looked so sad, I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving him there. We applied to adopt him and he came to live with us the following week. Harry became my constant companion and brought so much happiness, love and laughter into our lives. He was a typical terrier: stubborn, a bit grumpy and totally adorable. He passed away in 2019 aged about 16 (we think) and will always be remembered with such love by all of our family. I’d like to adopt again one day, when my son is old enough to treat a rescue with the understanding they deserve and need. Until then, I try to do what I can to raise awareness of rescues by sketching animals available for adoption, and also supporting animal rescue charities in any other way I can. Last Christmas I was so happy to be able to paint a Christmas card design for Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK) – if there are any rescue charities reading this who I might be able to support in some way, please feel free to get in touch.
What is your favourite part about making pet portraits?
Trying to capture the essence of someone’s beloved pet and create a keepsake that will be treasured. I think the connection we have with our pets is so special, we’re really lucky if we get to share our life with an animal, and a pet portrait is a lovely way of honouring that. Memorial portraits when a pet has passed away are always particularly poignant. It’s hard not to shed a tear as I paint, because often the person has told me about their animal and what it meant to them.
What is your favourite piece you have ever made?
Probably my early pieces of Harry as they combine two of my great loves - my dog and my art. I look back at them now and can see so many flaws, but they remind me of Harry and our time together, and the artistic path these sketches set me on. I still regularly draw Harry but have never managed a piece I’m completely happy with. Trying to capture him might be a lifelong project and I’m very comfortable with that.
How can someone get their own pet portrait?
People can contact me through Instagram (@smallcreaturesstudio) or email (email@example.com) to talk about what they would like and we take it from there. There’s some information about my commissioned pieces at www.smallcreaturesstudio.com
A huge thank you to Emma for taking the time to chat with us. If you love her work as much as we do, you can follow her on Instagram here, or visit her website to commission your very own portrait here.