Returning to Leicestershire for the final season before the hunting ban left Kate Brooks with a quandary: how to earn money? By Janet Menzies
Returning to Leicestershire for one final season before the hunting ban, Kate Brooks needed to find a way to earn. Her sporting art, full of character without being anthropomorphised, proved to be the answer.
For more sporting artists, Nichola Eddery is painting the sporting giants in deliberate reference to the equine artist greats. And Colin Woolf feels a great responsibility to not just paint the landscape but represent the real countryside within it.
Kate Brooks’s baby boy is too young to appreciate just how lucky he is to have an artist for a mother. His nursery is decorated with a menagerie of pastels of mainly every-day animals that are characterful rather than cute. A rabbit is reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s creations in being extremely well-observed, but there the similarity stops. Wild rabbits don’t wear jackets and bonnets, and neither does Brooks’s. And where decorative artists fall for the charm of a rabbit eating a primrose, Brooks’s rabbit is eating something weedish – and there is a strong suspicion that whatever it is might have been growing in close proximity to a cow pat.
It is the same with her Gloucester Old Spot, which looks as if it has a big grin on its face – but only because all pigs look as if they’re smiling, that’s the shape of their mouths. From a farming background, and now married to a farmer, Brooks is slightly embarrassed to have departed from her normal work. “I am known for my hounds especially, which I love drawing. But when my son was coming along, I couldn’t resist doing these little studies. I definitely didn’t want to go all Countryfile, though, I’m not sentimental or anthropomorphic about my subjects. I think drawing a rabbit is as cute as I get.”
UNSENTIMENTAL BUT NOT UNCARING
Unsentimental doesn’t mean uncaring. One of Brooks’s recent pastels is a study of a fox, to be sold in aid of Art for Egypt Equine Aid. Kate Brooks explains: “I lived in Cairo as part of my university Arabic studies. I love Cairo, it is an amazing place – bustling and mad in some ways but extraordinarily stimulating. While I was in Egypt, however, you couldn’t avoid seeing how a lot of the animals were struggling. So this charity appealed to me. It is a small charity and it is working especially in rural areas with horses and donkeys, aiming to raise awareness of welfare and teach local people about looking after their animals.”
It’s surprising to hear of Brooks’s Arabic and her travels through the Middle East. “I grew up on a farm and all three of us sisters drew and painted. Art was always there but at first only as a hobby because I couldn’t see it as a viable career, even though I loved it. So I ended up working in London but not really feeling that it was what I wanted to do.”
Then along came the hunting ban. It’s a story heard repeatedly among country-sports lovers, that the hunting ban had exactly the opposite effect from that intended. Mobilised by the threat to a sport they loved but occasionally took for granted, many people made the effort to bring hunting back into their lives; often the impact has been transformative.
THE HUNTING BAN
“When I realised they were going to ban hunting I returned to Leicestershire for one final season, and I never went back. I realised I wanted to stay in Leicestershire but obviously needed to be earning. I had been doing some painting for myself and friends, and people started seeing my work and began commissioning me.”
It’s amusing to think that, in some ways, the antis have helped along the career of a successful sporting artist, though Brooks’s talent would have surfaced eventually. “The move back into Leicestershire was good because I already knew quite a few people but the hunting community is so friendly and welcoming,” she says. “Hounds especially are a great love for me – I can’t over-emphasise how much I love drawing hounds. Along with dogs, horses, hares, foxes and gamebirds are my main subject matter, both for commissions and for myself. I think I find these animals are more real and less storybook pretty when you paint them. I spend a lot of time just looking at animals and observing their expression and behaviour.”
Although careful not to anthropomorphise, Kate Brooks does see a lot of individualism and character in the animals she depicts. “Terriers are great to draw because they have so much character in their faces. They have this cheeky, slightly cocky look about them which I love to try to capture.”
Though Kate Brooks loves to paint in oil, with two young children, pastels will be her medium for a while. “My main chance to go into the studio is in the evenings after supper, and I’m delighted to discover that during the day if I’m in the studio my daughter loves to come in and play.”
So it seems another generation of Brooks artists is already in the making.