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Mike Sibley

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Precious few fine artists frame the very likeness of an animal or familiar family pet in the same way as rightly trumpeted contemporary wildlife exponent, Mike Sibley. Specialising in graphite pencil work for the biggest part of 30 years now, Sibley famous and instantly recognizable dog head portraits can be found hanging from private collections across the globe; from Europe and America to Australia and South Africa, such is the extent of his reputation in this hugely popular field. Not only is Sibley a long established and much sought after artist, but he’s also a best-selling author to boot, having had titles such as the drawing bible, ‘Drawing from Line to Life’ published in recent years. What’s more, Sibley runs his own bespoke art correspondence courses which include 2 and 3 day practical workshops both here in the UK as well as America.
Sibley was an artistically gifted child and showed all the typical signs that he could perhaps venture into the professional world of art at a later date from a relatively early age, and once he’d completed his secondary schooling won a place at Manchester College of Art and Design, followed by further study at Leeds College of Art. It was here that Sibley began to develop and evolve his love and obvious talent for originating finely detailed pencil studies of dogs. Sibley went on to put himself and his art in the commercial shop window as soon as he could after graduating, yet recalls some of the obstacles he found himself coming up against back then. Describing this period Sibley says; “When I first began my art career I was often astonished to find more experienced artists treating every technique as a ‘trade secret’ and divulging little”. He went on to add; “I was determined at that time not to emulate them but to be free with encouragement and advice”.
Drawing professionally since 1980, Sibley has, as you can imagine learned a lot about both himself and his art during the intervening years, which is why he’s launched his own instructional books and DVDs to help young artists starting out on their creative journey understand a little more about the life of an artist and what it takes as well as crucial techniques with regards to the work itself, so as to ultimately ensure that they’re better placed for the transition from amateur to potential professional from the outset. Sibley offers; “Why, I ask myself, should I expect less-experienced artists to have to learn those lessons the hard way, when I can provide short-cuts from my own experience?" I can’t think of a single reason. And little gives me more pleasure than to see a novice artist take a giant step forward”.
During the 1980s Sibley set out – whether intentionally or otherwise - to complete in excess of 50 individual dedicated head studies of the canine species, and today this stands as an open edition range of prints that many believe to be the definitive collection of Sibley’s back catalogue. Once these originals were signed off, Sibley’s fine art publisher then set about manifesting the unique limited edition print reproductions, which immediately began selling faster than they could be produced; with some 20,000 prints finding homes a year in those early days, whilst the collection continues to sell in recent times. At the beginning of the 1990s however, Sibley severed ties with his then publisher and opted to self-publish and promote his craft endeavours, and switched to drawings featuring dogs in their specific and often natural environments. For example gun dogs out in the field hunting and pointing to their master’s quarry. Sibley’s debut print in this new context was that of an Irish Water Spaniel, which was released at Crufts that same year and sold out in less than three hours. This unprecedented success paved the way for Sibley to branch out and explore other wildlife-related illustrative avenues, affording him renewed confidence in his abilities and potential audience.
Sibley readily describes his style of graphic work as near-realism, in as much as his aim remains to place great visual emphasis on the character and to tell a story, by conveying the intricacies of the subject’s creation and to go on to sketch in a fashion that routinely implies a certain reality whilst still emotively underlining the feel and ambience of a traditionally hand-drawn work of art. The thing with this realism is that it tends to bring out the Sherlock Holmes in the artist, according to (and paraphrasing) Sibley himself. What he means is that essentially it’s near impossible to walk down a country lane without observing the variety of wildlife and weeds; you'll appreciate the variety of leaves and the insect life that lives upon them; the way Ivy clings to tree bark; and notice the upturned wingtips of the crows that fly overhead. Which he admits can often be a curse rather than a blessing.
Even when he’s residing at home Sibley still feels the overriding urge to look at the myriad of patterns indicative of reflected light that routinely appear on shiny surfaced kitchen appliances from a more considered and intrinsically artistic perspective. Speaking on this very subject Sibley adds; “I feel compelled to display even the smallest detail to viewers of my work, as if to say, ‘Do you see this? Do you really see this? Isn't it beautiful, this marvel of Nature?’ Having said that, should Sibley believe that just one person has been encouraged to see things rather than have to look for them he’ll feel as though he’s answered his creative brief.
As mentioned above, Sibley instigated his own popular online tutorial based website back in 2000 with the advent of the internet, and so began compiling virtual guides to help less-experienced graphite pencil artists. These tutorials proved to be very popular and as a direct result Sibley was constantly being asked if he would consider writing a book on the subject. In 2005 he took 18 months away from drawing to write and illustrate ‘Drawing from Line to Life’, his comprehensive 288-page drawing instruction book. More recently, due to many and repeated requests, he has embarked on a series of Workshops. In addition to this Sibley hosts his own online drawing forum, recruiting the company of fellow artists such as renowned trompe l'oeil exponent, J.D. Hillberry and master oil painter, Alexei Antonov. Sibley also designed and personally runs another self-help website offering artists worldwide exposure for their artwork.