I’d like to introduce Shannon from Ruff Sketchings, a talented artist based in Illinois who specializes in vibrant drawings of animals – including pets and wildlife! She has an online store featuring both original works and prints. And yes, you can commission her for a drawing of your pet and she’ll even give you a special deal if you use a photo from one of our sessions. If drawing if your thing, Shannon even does virtual drawing tutorials, too!

Shannon was kind enough to answer some questions about herself, her business, and her craft that I am pleased to share below.

How did you come up with the name Ruff Sketchings?

It took me a LONG time to find the right name. I wanted something punny, but not cheesy. I came up with Ruff Sketchings because many artists do rough sketches before their final drafts, so I thought it made a lot of sense for animal portraits.

When did you notice that you were artistically inclined?

I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, so pretty young. I’ve always drawn, and I’ve specially always drawn animals, so it makes sense that my career would end up being an animal portrait artist.

Did you go to school for your art?

I eventually did, yes. I tried taking art electives every year in grade school/junior high, but I was never selected to join because everyone else wanted to take the class as a “blow off”. As someone who was genuinely interested in art, it was very frustrating. When we were younger, we had to pick our top 3 options for electives, and because my number 2 was always choir, and choir was obviously less sought after than art, I was never able to take art. Once I got to high school, and we had more control over our schedules and elective choices, I was finally able to get into art classes. I then went on to double major in drawing and animation in college. 

How has your style changed over time?

I’ve basically always focused on realism. It’s always been my favorite genre of art. I’ve experimented over the years with looser styles, but I always come back to realism. In my original, non-commissioned pieces, I’ve started incorporating another aspect of my life I’m passionate about – social justice. I have recently been creating pieces that bring awareness to marginalized groups of people or good causes, donating the profits from the portraits to charities that support those groups or causes. 

Tell me about your favorite medium.

My favorite medium has quickly become pastels. I love how smooth and vibrant they are. I also really love how easily you can layer them. They are much like paint in that aspect, but you don’t have to wait for them to try! I am very impatient, so painting, specifically – waiting for paint to dry – is a struggle for me, which is why I prefer drawing. With pastels, you can easily layer lights over darks, which is much harder with other mediums, like colored pencils. I also love how much depth and realism you can achieve with pastels, while simultaneously being able to easily achieve a more abstract, loose design.

Where do you find inspiration?

As mentioned before, a lot of my inspiration these days comes from politics and social justice. I think it’s incredibly important to use my platform and my art to bring awareness to marginalized communities and causes. I also get a lot of inspiration from other artists’ work. Seeing how other artists achieve realism, their techniques, use of color, etc. really helps develop my own style.

What breed has been your favorite to draw? Least favorite? Wishlist you’d like to draw?

My favorite breeds to draw are black labs and husky-type dogs. I love drawing shiny black fur because there are so many other colors within the black, such as blues and purples, which are my two favorite colors. I love drawing huskies because they are my favorite breed. I love the blue eyes and the long, thick fur. It’s also always easier to draw subjects that you really love to draw. It makes the time fly by!

My least favorite dogs to draw are doodles and other curly dogs. I’m just not a fan of drawing curly fur. I think that comes back to my impatience I mentioned earlier. Curly hair takes more time than straight fur, and to me, it’s just not as enjoyable. 

As for my wishlist, I’d love to draw more huskies. I don’t get many. I would also love to draw a Dalmatian, French bulldog, an old English sheepdog, and an Irish wolfhound! I have never drawn any of those breeds, and they seem like they would be fun and challenging.

Does art help you in other areas of your life?

I definitely think art helps in other areas of my life. First off, it’s a huge stress reliever, most of the time. It’s nice to sit in the studio and just draw. It’s very therapeutic and relaxing. It also keeps my brain active, which is always good. My brain is always at work thinking about proportions, lighting, contours, and textures. As we get older, it’s been proven that keeping your brain active can help your mental health and brain longevity. As someone who has dementia in my family history, it is extremely important to me to keep my brain as active and healthy as possible. Art is a great way to do this because it work both sides of the brain. Drawing is both a strategic and creative process, allowing for your brain to thrive in both the right and left hemisphere. 

How do you develop your art skills?

Honestly – practice. Art is so much more than just “talent” like many think. Art is definitely a practiced skill. The more you draw, the more you grow. Since I draw almost every single day, I can definitely see the progression I’ve made in the past 2+ years since I started my business. They expression, “practice makes perfect”, definitely applies to art. 

What’s the purpose or goal of your work?

I think my artwork serves 2 separate purposes. 

For my commission based work, my purpose is to evoke emotion from the customer. I always try to create the most accurate portrait I can, meaning, fully encompassing the appearance and personality of their pet. I want to bring the portraits to life and memorialize their pets as best as I can. Oftentimes, the pet I am drawing is a beloved pet who has passed, so it’s incredibly important to capture the spirit and love of that pet. Being able to create a portrait that the customer lights up when seeing is always the best feeling. 

The second goal for my artwork applies to my original portraits. As mentioned a few times previously, my goal is to raise awareness of marginalized groups and important causes. A few portraits I’ve done so far have been in support of the LGBTQ community, the indigenous community, and the importance of the rainforest. I think being able to use my platform and art to raise awareness and support communities in need is very important. If you have a large platform, I feel like it’s your responsibility or duty to try to make the world better in any way you can. 

What animals do you own?

We have a zoo full of rescue animals. We currently have 4 husky mixes (Sierra, Aurora, Timber, and Dash), 4 cats (Selina, Henry, Neptune, and Daisy), and a chinchilla (Puff). We just recently lost our other husky mix, Bolt. He was a wonderful and beautiful pup. He was my world, and losing him has been incredibly hard. Having a home full of other fur babies has made it a bit easier, though. Having a home so full of love and fur has always been my dream, and I am very thankful to have a partner who loves them all as well. 

Why should people consider a hand-drawn portrait of their pet?

In my opinion, pet portraits are an amazing gift, either for yourself or someone you love. They are personalized, unique gifts that memorialize your pets forever. A portrait can capture their personality and presence in a different way that a photograph can. You can add personal touches, add vibrant colors, and even combine all your pets together into one image. This is especially great if you have lost a pet. I have customers come to me wishing they had photos of their pets together, but one sadly passed before they were able to. Being able to draw them in one portrait together can give you that. 

What are some of your favorite portraits you’ve done?

I love a lot of my original pieces, specifically my LGBTQ Lioness. This portrait was my first social justice portrait, and it ended up being incredibly successful for so many reasons. I think, artistically, it is one of my best portraits. On top of that, it gained so much attention on social media. It ended up selling in less than 12 hours, so I was able to raise a good amount of money for the Trevor Project, not only with just the sale of the original, but also in prints. 

The story behind the portrait is based on a real lioness, names Mmamoriri. She is a female lion who was born with a full mane, a deep voice, and many other stereotypical masculine features. She become the leader of her pride, and provided extra protection for them. Because, by appearance standards, her pride had two males, other prides stay aware from them, leaving the rest of the pride unthreatened. 

I used this story to incorporate design features, such as blue and pink flowers, to incorporate trans awareness. I feel like she is a great symbol for the transgender and intersex communities. She is a strong and beautiful soul, and brings a unique value to her pride, much like the LGBTQ community does. 

Follow Shannon’s Artwork – Ruff Sketchings