Poynton's Jackie Robinson has created contemporary pet portraits you will love
- Credit: ohsoportraits.co.uk
People and their pets, an enduring love we are more and more seeking to celebrate, as artist Jackie Robinson has discovered
Pets take a vital role in any family that has opened their doors, and hearts, to bringing an extra heartbeat into their home. Dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils... whichever your animal of choice, it’s not long before you want to capture their every adorable moment for posterity.
They aren’t that easy to photograph however, and pet photos, while fine on your phone, aren’t always what we want adorning our walls. Jackie Robinson, from Poynton, has designed a solution that appeals to those who love their pets, and a stylish interior, with personalised artworks showcasing their best furry friends in a contemporary, stylish, not sugar-cute way.
Jackie considers herself to be lucky, having built a career out of something she loves to do, and her new venture, Oh So Portraits, fulfils her love of photography too.
‘I am very lucky,’ she says. ‘At school I always knew what I wanted to do and have worked in the graphic design industry now for over 30 years. I worked for a couple of big agencies in Manchester and then another in Buxton, then got pregnant and then was made redundant. My husband and I decided to set up our own agency, Oh So Design, and it was really successful, quite quickly. That was 18 years ago.
‘Because we work together, from home, we both took up separate pursuits, really to get us out of the house and do something “just for me”, and I chose photography and got hooked really quickly. Then a couple of years ago I attended a talk from someone about pet photography and it was as if a lightbulb switched on – I love photography, I love my animals, I’m going to have a go at that. I did it for three years, but it was really weird, as it took the fun out of photography for me, trying to earn money from photography, so I had a re-think and realised that I loved graphic design. That was my first love, and I came back to it.’
Jackie considered how she could combine her two loves, photography and design and realised that the greetings card market might be an avenue worth pursuing.
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‘Pet photography was a brilliant learning experience, and I got to snuggle up to many dogs, but it just lost its magic. I decided instead to design a range of greetings cards. I had joined a local photography club and had been playing with composite pictures – a child sitting on a big pile of books, for example, where the books come from one photo and the child from another – so when I came to think about my greetings cards I was playing with that idea, and I’d done some research into the greetings card trends and apparently the 3D effect was really popular so that took me a step closer. Then I saw some images on Pinterest that I liked, but I thought were missing a focal point – so I added a dog that I had photographed, and it was a real breakthrough moment, I really liked it.’
Jackie has a regular spot at the Treacle Market in Macclesfield, with her landscape photography of local scenes, so created a few greetings cards using photos she had taken of friends’ pets – a rabbit, a cat, a Labrador and a Miniature Schnauzer, and took them along with her. The reaction was immediate and wholly positive.
‘I took them along not to sell, but to get some feedback on the idea and see if there was a market. They went down really well; a girl came along, loved them and took my card, then she contacted me later to ask me to create one with her dog, for the wall, not a greeting card size – she became my first paying client and my idea for greetings cards bit the dust.’
Taking her work to markets around Cheshire allowed Jackie to not only gather feedback and new customers, but show the quality of her pieces.
‘I love a good quality print and use fine art papers,’ she says. ‘On a stall, people can see and feel the quality. I appreciate however that’s not easy to convey that online. People tend to buy one, then come back and buy more once they understand the quality.’
So how does it work – is Jackie still travelling off to photograph people’s pets?
‘I sell nationwide, so no,’ she laughs. ‘People take photos on their smartphones and send them to me. If you have a pet [I do, a cat (and two gerbils, but they can't sit still)] you will know – pet owners take loads of photos, but they just sit on their phone, or up in the cloud. Now, they can be taken to the next level, no need for a photoshoot.’
It’s a complicated process, taking a photo of a beloved pet and converting it into this clever, stylish piece of art.
‘Oh, it’s so much work,’ Jackie cries. ‘95% of the pictures I am sent need re-touching. I know I tend to overdo stuff, because I am so driven to make sure it’s right – it's my business and my baby, and the pets are my customers’ babies, so it’s so important it be perfect. Some people, when they ask the price, say it’s a bit expensive, but they don’t know how much skill work goes into one and have nothing to compare it to. That’s my problem, not theirs, but it’s tricky to overcome.
‘When retouching I often have to bring out the detail in the shadows, or occasionally I might have to patch where there’s a bit missing in the pics – whole ears sometimes. Then sometimes the picture I think will work and look nice just doesn’t, so then I start again with another. It’s all about getting the very best picture for the client and their pet. I have learned a lot about about the way light works and placing shadows to make it realistic and it has to be spot on.
‘It’s often quite funny, though; what the client likes and what I like can be quite different. It’s interesting to see what they choose. Sometimes they want to see different colour backgrounds, two or three options, and I know which one is my favourite, but it’s quite often not the one they choose.
‘I am looking at it as a beautiful image, but they are looking at it as their pet and its personality. I really like the dark grey ones, but my clients choose otherwise.’
Jackie has created her designs with cats, dogs, horses, rabbits – and children, but it’s always the pets people come back to.
‘I can create this artwork with anything, but I am asked for pet pictures way more often than children. I had one client say “I have three children and two dogs, and I am going with the dogs.”
‘Humans are much trickier though, with their hair and especially with skintones, which can be really affected by the light when the photo is taken – evening light adds a reddish glow, indoors can get quite yellow. I have to spend a bit of time getting the skintone more realistic, as once you have cut them out of the picture, and isolate the subject, you can see the colour cast in them. It’s not noticeable in the photo, but as soon as you take them out of the background it’s quite apparent.
‘It’s the same with some dogs – a white dog standing on grass will pick up a greenish reflection on the fur. I had one sent of a dog standing in front of a blue TV screen and the colours had all “bled” together – that one needed a lot of work to separate.’
Jackie is a dog person, recently in receipt of a brand-new rescue puppy, Luna.
‘It’s taken me five years to persuade my husband, since we lost the last one, but finally now is the right time.’
I wonder how long it will be before Jackie’s new puppy is featured on the walls of her own home?