The Countryside Alliance 2017 Christmas cards are still available to order. For this year we have nine beautiful, top quality Christmas Cards to choose from and the Countryside Alliance 2018 calendar.

One of the cards ‘Deck The Horns’ has been kindly designed by Hannah de Haan, who’s work is all about capturing the world around her. Her work is hugely related to the cultures, landscapes and wildlife she has experienced or been surrounded by.

We asked her a few questions about her inspiration and skills.

  1. Tell us about your background and how you got into painting?

I was lucky enough to grow up in the stunning South Shropshire countryside. Practically born into the saddle, I am happiest surrounded by four-legged friends. I have always been sketching since I can remember and was an art scholar at Malvern. However, having studied the IB and with a love of Biology I went on to Newcastle to study Agriculture and graduated with a Bachelor of Science rather than Arts!

Following school, it was not for another 4 years that I put pencil to paper again. The spark that ignited Hannah de Haan Fine Art was a lovely glossy lab called Clova. I drew her as a birthday present, little did I know that it was be the catalyst to my career and life today.

It was thanks to my University friends that I was spurred on to pursue my dream of being an artist, a prospect I previously thought was unrealistic in the economic era of the time. A brief stint in Kenya for a couple of months secured my decision to follow my dream and when I returned I built my website and moved to London. It was a pretty scary thought that my skill had to support a London lifestyle. Strangely it is only now that I realise how daunting my move was, but at the time I didn’t think I wasn’t going to succeed. Every commission I completed more would roll in, I haven’t looked back since.

I have been fortunate to have had a continuous stream of commissions, which is amazing, I meet the most wonderful people and animals. The most important aspect of my work is that my commissions are predominantly word of mouth, therefore it is the reviews of my existing and previous clients that fuel my future bookings. The most reliable form of advertising there is!

I have started my own work alongside my commissions, which I hope to expand when I have time between bookings! I have an online shop with china, prints and kitchenware and a studio 20 minutes walk from my house. Being self-employed means I can work from anywhere and be flexible with my time, I spend a lot of time in Shropshire as it’s part of who I am, it will always be home.

  1. Is there any particular style you use when painting? Can you explain how it works?

The majority of my commissions are carried out in the traditional style of realism, I strive to capture the life and soul of the subjects in exquisite detail. Despite being trained in fine art using complex techniques of printing (etching, aquatint and silk screen and lino to name but a few), my artwork is created solely through paper and pencils – and lots of them! I can quite easily use up to 50 different Polychromos pencils on a coloured portrait. I love how many tones exist in a dog that is described as black, yellow, or fox-red!

My portraits take a long time to complete, hence I work from photographs rather than having the subject sit for hours! However, I do like to meet and spend time with the ‘client’ as it helps me grasp the character and texture of their coats etc, and who really needs more of an excuse to have a cuddle with a dog or horse!

However, I hope to be able to expand my own work, my existing range consists of watercolour woodland/ farmyard animals. This is in contrast to the tight and controlled style of my portraits with a quick, less restrained technique. I hope to incorporate oils into my future work along-side my commissions.

  1. What inspires you and where did you get your main inspiration from for these Christmas cards?

My inspiration comes predominantly from my love of the countryside, the Shropshire hills and stunning wildlife, which has now started to expand into the Scottish wildlife: the main inspiration behind ‘Frosty’ the Highland cow on the Christmas card. Throughout the Autumn and Winter I spend a lot of time up in Scotland with my fiancés family and friends, who are also from a farming life and so there are quite often ‘frosty’ stock on the highlands and in the fields.

The name ‘Deck the Horns’ was inspired by the carol ‘Deck the halls’, I love Christmas, and so to be able to incorporate this aspect as well as my passion for wildlife into the Countryside Alliance Christmas card was fabulous. I wanted to maintain the realism that reflects my brand, but to also introduce the festive light-hearted aspect of Christmas. I also sneaked in a tartan bauble to reflect the Scottish links, the Campbell tartan represents the family I will soon be part of!

  1. Do you have a favourite subject to paint?

I think my work answers this one, I would of course have to say dogs, but any animal really! I would love to explore the Kenyan wildlife as I have spent a lot of time there and fell in love with the vibrant variety of animal and bird life that exists in the bush. However, I have also completed land and seascapes and child portraits, I love the challenge of new subjects and so I wouldn’t shut the door on any opportunity to develop and expand… I may discover a new ‘favourite’, although the animal kingdom is pretty large so am sure I can be kept busy for a while yet!

  1. What would you say is integral to the work of an Artist?

Passion. Belief. Confidence. These are vital to an Artist’s work. If I did not have a passion for my subject and the technique, the work would probably lack the quality and detail I thrive for in my portraits.

Belief that I can succeed, both with each commission and as an Artist as a whole is crucial. Occasionally I have to take a breath and appreciate how far I have come since deciding to ‘give it a go’. To be able to be self-employed artist living in London with back-to-back commissions from the beginning is rather amazing (or lucky!).

I don’t have colleagues to fall back on or to encourage me, I am fortunate, however, to have a very supportive network of friends and my fiancée would like to think of himself as my Business Director and Moral Booster. I realise that my friends and family to thank for their support and ‘marketing’. However, my work speaks for itself and I sometimes forget to take credit for that as my commissions are predominantly word of mouth therefore I value client feedback immensely. It is always reassuring and touching to receive lovely emails and letters of happy and satisfied clients. The personal impact my hand skill can provide is a wonderful feeling and doesn’t get old. Although I still get nervous awaiting the client’s review as I have such high expectations of myself, I strive for perfection, although sometimes it is the imperfections that create the character of the commission.

I do get attached to the dogs and horses, as I spend such a long time studying and exploring their coats, eyes and character. There is also the pressure that I know that the dog or horse I am capturing has clearly got a special place in the owner’s life, whether current or past I am encompassing life and love and memories into a portrait.

With my belief comes a need for confidence, as, if you do not believe in yourself, how can you have the confidence to put pencil to paper? I am always wanting to think of the next string to add to my bow and these steps push me outside of my comfort zone. But I know I am not progressing unless these steps are made, so I embrace the uncertainty, as without risk you stand still.

  1. What is your most important artist’s tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

I always work to the radio, or audio books… if I’m honest my guilty pleasure is the Harry Potter audio books (Stephen Fry reading of course!). I may have listened to the books practically on repeat since I began my business. James reminds me that I could probably have learnt a language or two in the time I have listened to Harry Potter… and at 28 years old I should probably have grown out of it, but it honestly does help me concentrate and relax, especially during the run up to Christmas when I pretty much have pencil to paper solidly for 3 months in the lead up! I reassure myself that listening to them makes me more productive …. I’m actually listening to it as I write this!

‘Deck The Horns’ is a great image, perfect for Christmas time. You can order a pack of 10 online or call 0370 270 9011 to order by phone.