Artist Profile - Jo McGrath

Artist Jo McGrath

Artist Jo McGrath - Credit: Archant

A talented woman from the south Lakes has turned her passion for art and animals into a business. Jane Watson reports

Hare print - Jo McGrath

Hare print - Jo McGrath - Credit: Archant

As a child Jo McGrath would be in trouble at school for daydreaming and drawing when she should be working. ‘Drawing just came naturally to me,’ she says.

Fast forward into adulthood and Jo, based in the north Lancashire village of Broughton-in-Furness, does rather less daydreaming but a lot more drawing as a full-time artist.

She is still drawing animals, taking inspiration around the Lake District, living and working between home and partner Jon Watson’s farm in Coniston, where herdwick sheep and belted Galloway cattle have a wonderful life, grazing the fells around Tarn Hows.

Helping to feed and care for them provides a constant source of inspiration. After leaving school, Jo trained as a graphic artist and that skill blossomed into natural history illustration.

Highland bull - Jo McGrath

Highland bull - Jo McGrath - Credit: Archant

She worked as an illustrator with the National Trust and Lancashire County Council but her love of animals, wildlife and the outdoors led to her retraining as a countryside warden, moving to the Lakes in 1999.

There, she set up her own business - the Mobile Farm, which took animals to local schools. ‘Orphan lambs and kids were bought at market each spring and I would feed them on milk from my own goats. I kept my own geese, ducks and hens too,’ she said.

‘The school children loved the chance to get up-close to the animals, hold a fleece, bottle-feed a kid or a lamb, and learn where our food comes from. People say you should never work with children or animals but I loved doing both! ‘

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Jo received lots of interest and she was mentioned in a speech by Princess Anne at a National Women’s Conference. Two years on, disaster struck with foot and mouth. The end of any animal movements was also the end of the Mobile Farm.

Red Squirrel With Nut - Jo McGrath

Red Squirrel With Nut - Jo McGrath - Credit: Archant

Jo had always loved animals and her passion and talent for painting them was growing. ‘I was working in conservation, with rare breeds as well as pets and I was being asked more and more to do commissions. It felt like it was now or never – take the leap and go full-time as an artist.’

It was the right decision. The British love affair with animals – as pets or in the wild - has driven the desire for artworks on our walls. Jo is one of those talents who cannot only capture the look of the animal, but the character.

Her work can be lifelike, inspiring, moving, and sometimes funny. She has an uncanny knack of capturing facial expressions of an animal on the canvas.

Jo was recently part of the ‘Best of Cumbria’ showcasing at the first Luing Cattle open day at High House Farm, Winster, where she was ‘live-painting’ these lovely Luing cattle. She has been involved in Kendal Brewery Green Door art consortium and had her first solo exhibition at Brantwood. She was also an artist-in-residence at C- Art at Dalemain.

Horses remain her first love. ‘I was thrilled to have work accepted by the Society of Equestrian Artists’ open exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London and I’ve two large horse paintings on permanent display at Lowther Castle,’ she said.

‘ All animals are a pleasure to draw, but horses give me the most enjoyment with their graceful lines, their beauty and power – they are very exciting! Birds are the most challenging as their entire skeleton is obscured, leaving you no ‘roadmap’ under all those feathers.

‘I love doing commissions, as I have a lovely time at the owner’s home, doing a two hour photo-shoot, getting to know the animal and the owner’s preferred style of painting. They also receive a book which contains all the photos taken on the day. For me, as an animal lover, it’s a great way to make a living. I’m also exploring the possibility of a permanent studio in Broughton next year, and potentially running workshops with other collaborators such as Sally Bamber and David Sims. So watch this space.’

For more information about Jo McGrath’s work, go to or contact her on 07798 517 392, or 015394 41433.