If you were an artist searching for an inspiring landscape in which to paint or draw, you might find the perfect spot on the edge of the Romney Marsh on the Kent/East Sussex border. Rich in big skies, myth and legend, this is where artist Bernadette Restorick has made her home with her husband Paul and four Labradors and a Jack Russell.

They are a sporting pair — both hunt, Paul shoots and Bernadette picks-up — and a love of animals and wildlife helps to provide Bernadette with material for her pictures.

“I’d always drawn for my own enjoyment,” she said, “but Paul suggested I try painting. It didn’t really work out and so I enrolled on a course in Rye for novices and experienced artists. At the first lesson I joined in with the novices and our first task was to draw an apple. The teacher saw mine and immediately moved me into the advanced class, which had some wonderful artists in it, and I improved as a result of seeing their work.”

Local artist Roger Swan has also been hugely influential and Bernadette has recently benefited from a 10-week portrait course with him. She now concentrates on animal and human portraits, particularly dogs and horses. Working in watercolour, pencil, charcoal, pastel, pen and ink, and lately Conté crayon, Bernadette finds that most of her work comes through friends, which leaves her with a steady stream of horses, dogs and humans to draw or paint.

“I’m selling quite a lot of pictures now, but I used only to paint for myself. I don’t consider myself a particularly good artist, but when I looked around a bit and saw some of the stuff that was being sold I thought I would give it a try.

“Initially I did a portrait of our dogs, and one day a friend came to the house and saw it. He admired it and asked who did it for me — I said that I had and he promptly asked if I would draw his dogs. Then other friends asked me to do their dogs and that encouraged me to start using pastels. I don’t have a huge portfolio as I do pictures that visitors see when they come to the house and then buy. And I don’t advertise — I have just the right amount to keep me busy while having enough time to do the horses and dogs,” Bernadette explained.

“I will paint or draw anything, I only need to be asked. It can be difficult to sit down and think, what shall I paint? But if someone asks me to do a particular subject it becomes a challenge and I have a go at it. It’s more interesting and more difficult. “I have concentrated on animal portraits mostly in the past, as I love animals and I think that if you really love something it shows in your work. Recently, I discovered that I love doing people and have just done my first paid-for commission of a friend’s parents in Conté crayon on blue paper — I agonised over it. I won’t let anything go until it looks like the subject.

“If I’ve done a picture of a spaniel, for example, I want people to recognise that it’s their spaniel, not just a good spaniel. I work both from photographs and the real thing as I like to see the animal so that I can get a sense of its personality — you pick up little things that way. They obviously won’t sit still though, so I end up referring to the photographs too.”

Most of Bernadette’s portrait work is tight, like a photograph. She likes to show definition in the eyes to get them right and to show the animal’s or person’s character, though she recently took a course with Norfolk watercolour artist Ian King, whose style is much looser.

“I think there are certain characteristics in a portrait that should be tight,” she said, “but Ian’s work was so loose that it was a completely different way of working. You’ve got to keep yourself open to other styles.”

Bernadette doesn’t have a studio, preferring to work in the garden room where the light is excellent and with the dogs at her feet. “I don’t spend a lot of time every day doing art because I have dogs and horses, so I do it when I have time,” she said. On the day of my visit in late September, Paul was out partridge shooting on the marsh with their Labrador bitches. Ordinarily Bernadette would have been out picking-up, but one of the Labs was due for a visit to the vet and she was at home waiting for the appointment. “I don’t shoot game myself but I enjoy watching good Shots shooting well and the wholee xperience of the day. I love picking-up and more than anythingt raining my dogs. I have trained three siblings during the past two years andit ’s the toughest job I have ever undertaken, but the rewards have been well worth all the effort. My dogs live as family and the trick has been to separate work from play. They are going really well now and every day out with them is one of life’s rewards.”

To contact Bernadette, email bernadette.restorick@bt.blackberry.com or
tel 07733 892698.