AS one of Britain's top wildlife artists, Pollyanna Pickering's superb paintings are in demand all over the world.
Her work has been featured on the postage stamps of African nations, and she was once even commissioned to produce a study of the Queen Mother's favourite racing pigeon!
Celebrity collectors of her art include John Hurt, Virginia McKenna and David Bowie, while Sheik Mohammed has a specially commissioned series of paintings of his Royal Ascot racehorse winners.
Pollyanna travels extensively, invariably accompanied by her daughter, Anna-Louise, who provides the accompanying text and photographs for her books.
Over the years, they have visited some of the coldest, the hottest and most humid places on the planet where, in less pleasant moments, they have been bitten by numerous insects, not to mention ape and snake.
Later this year, the duo will be heading for what will be their first visit to Australia.
Pollyanna, who is a patron of Born Free and the Badger Trust, has her own website: www.pollyannapickering.co.uk
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND BROUGHT UP?
In a village called Whiston, near Rotherham, in South Yorkshire.
IS THAT WHERE YOU LIVE NOW?
No – for more than 40 years I have lived in the Derbyshire Peak District.
DID YOU GO TO ART COLLEGE?
I completed a foundation course at Rotherham Art School, then studied at the London Central School of Art for a further three years.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE ANIMAL SUBJECTS?
I love to paint anything living! The big cats are always especially beautiful, and I have made several expeditions to study the most endangered species in their natural habitats, including amur tigers in Siberia and snow leopards in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
WHAT ABOUT BIRDS? ANY PARTICULAR FAVOURITES?
I paint a lot of birds. My annual British Birds appointments calendar always sells well, so I complete new images of garden birds every year. My bird table is right outside my window so I can sit and sketch them without even leaving home.
WHAT SORT OF BIRDS VISIT YOUR GARDEN?
As well as the more common species, I regularly see long-tailed tits, treecreepers, goldcrests and flycatchers.
WHAT ABOUT RAPTORS?
Having once run a wildlife sanctuary from my home for 15 years I especially love to paint birds of prey of all species. With their wonderful pale colouring, barn owls are a particular favourite.
WHAT POSTAGE STAMPS HAVE YOU DESIGNED?
I have painted several series of stamps, mostly for African countries including Benin, The Congo, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau. Other sets have featured my paintings of wolves, tigers, and domestic cats. I also designed a first day cover for the Royal Mail some years ago to commemorate the release of a series of photographic stamps of British wildlife.
WHAT'S YOUR BEST MEMORY AS AN ARTIST?
It is so hard to choose! Visiting the printers to watch my first book coming off the presses was very special. So was receiving an honorary degree from the University of Derby, in recognition of my work in the arts, which was an amazing honour. It was something I could never have imagined happening when I first started out!
WHAT ARE THE TITLES OF YOUR BOOKS?
Brush With Wildlife, The Eye of the Tiger, Giant Pandas and Sleeping Dragons and On Top of The World.
AND YOUR BEST OTHER MEMORY?
I have been very lucky to have been able to travel widely to paint endangered species in their natural habitats, and this has lead to some amazing experiences. I think my best memory has to be bottle-feeding a six month old panda bear in a tiny wildlife clinic in the Tibetan borderlands.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?
While I was at art college in London I worked as a waitress at a coffee bar in Soho.
WITH WHICH FAMOUS PERSON WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE DINNER?
I have been very fortunate in having had the opportunity to meet a lot of my heroes in the world of wildlife conservation including David Attenborough and Jane Goodall . Earlier this year, I returned from trekking in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda where I studied and painted mountain gorillas, so I would love to have met the late Dian Fossey and asked about her ground-breaking work with them.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PET ANIMALS?
Not at the moment – my work takes me away from home so much. It seems very strange as I have always been surrounded by animals, not only pet dogs and cats, hens and donkeys, but also all the wildlife that was cared for in my animal sanctuary. Happily, one of my assistants has a gorgeous dog who always comes in to work with him several days each week, so I feel I have a part-time dog , and I always "cat-sit" for friends and relatives when they go away!
DO YOU HAVE INTERESTS OTHER THAN PAINTING AND WILDLIFE?
I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I love to go to the theatre, and I also walk a lot in the Peak District.
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT REALLY IRRITATES YOU?
Actually I am fairly easy going! When you travel a lot through developing countries, you quickly learn that it is no good being annoyed by transport delays or having to change your plans. But cruelty to animals make me extremely angry.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SUPERSTITIONS?
Not really, though I do have some lucky Chinese coins hanging in my gallery – I am waiting for them to bring me prosperity!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE OVERSEAS DESTINATION?
I was absolutely enchanted by Bhutan – it is a unique country which seems very untouched by the outside world. The mountain scenery is absolutely spectacular, and the people are friendly and charming. I was fortunate to receive a fellowship from an international art society – Artists For Conservation – which sponsored my visit to paint the unique wildlife in the region.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITE PLACES IN BRITAIN?
The Scottish Highlands – I try to get back there at least once a year. I stay in a wooden lodge right on the banks of Loch Ness. It is a very inspirational place for my art – both the highland landscapes and the abundance of wildlife. I even managed to catch a glimpse of the elusive Scottish wildcat on one visit.
CAN YOU REMEMBER THE LAST FILM YOU SAW IN A CINEMA?
I seem to see most films on a tiny screen in the back of the airplane seat in front of me! I think the last film I actually saw in the cinema was Black Swan, which was excellent – very atmospheric.
ANY FAVOURITE MUSIC OR SINGER?
I listen to a wide variety of music when I am working in the studio. At the moment I am playing some CDs of traditional African ‘click singing’ which I brought back from Namibia recently. My all time favourite band would have to be Sparks – I love the fact that they create music in their own world which doesn’t appear to have any outside influences, and their recent albums are remarkable!
YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD?
I have been vegetarian for many years, so I am delighted that so many restaurants now offer such an imaginative and delicious range of meat-free dishes. However, I couldn’t live without dark chocolate!
Green tea. I drink it all day and always carry tea bags with me when I travel.
FINALLY, IF YOU COULD TRAVEL BACK IN TIME TO A PREVIOUS ERA, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?
It would be amazing to visit Egypt while the pyramids were being constructed to see how they were really built. I would also love to travel back into prehistoric times so that I could sketch the dinosaurs from life!