By Ann Evans

Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall

Pet portrait artist, Christine Varley is something of a champion recycler. There’s nothing she likes more than the challenge of finding a new use for something that might appear to be just a worthless piece of junk, fit for nothing but the bin.


This inventive mum of two loves putting her creative skills to use to turn virtually anything into a work of art. As you look around her Leicestershire home, you’ll find that most of her ornaments, soft furnishings, wall hangings and even storage vessels started life as something quite different.


Take the tiling on the inside back wall of her outside toilet for instance. The unusual mosaic tiling is made from all the bits of broken china she and her family have amassed throughout their married life.


“We don’t throw broken cups and plates out,” said Christine. “I just keep them in a box, and use them in mosaics. If you break a piece of china that you particularly liked, then you can still enjoy it in your mosaic.”


Their patio is paved from old recycled broken slabs, inset with squares of concrete in which suns and emblems have been inscribed. The outside walls are hung with a variety of pottery plaques made by either her, her husband Rob or her sons who have all been caught up with the recycle for art attitude.


“It would be quite nice to go out and buy something new but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said husband Rob, who is part of a popular and successful Abba tribute band, and who deals with the internet, website and email side of Christine’s business.


Talking about her work as a pet portrait artist, Christine graduated in graphic design at university and now specialises particularly in horse and dog portraiture although she admits that she sort of drifted into this genre. She said, “Pet portraits wasn’t a life choice. I have always drawn things and just decided to give portraits a go. I did my own dog and a friend’s dog and realised I quite liked doing them, so I put some leaflets out and it took off.”


She works from photographs, then paints in watercolours using a very fine brush (which she recycles – naturally, by passing them down to the children to use).


“It’s better if I can meet the pet owner and chat about the photographs and the animal, to establish which photo is good and get a general feel of the animal’s character and colouring and so on.


“From a good, clear shot I can enhance and bring it to life. For example a photo won’t show all the different flecks of colour in the dog’s eyes, but I can bring this out in my painting. A portrait will always be an improvement on a photo.”


Christine is always on the look out for picking up new craft skills, and happily joins courses to increase her knowledge and abilities whether it’s in pottery, weaving, dying or anything else that takes her fancy.


“I like ethnic designs, textures, furniture, rugs – anything which gives me a buzz,” she said. “I’m always looking at different things to make.”


The desire to create works of art from broken items or junk is something of a challenge which she is always up for, and she loves the finished product to look rough in many instances.


Two mantle clocks are amongst her favourite items. “They’re made of tissue paper crunched up and glued. They are caricatures of clocks but they do actually work. They’ve got clock mechanisms inside. You simply make the basic shape with corrugated cardboard and masking tape, cover with tissue paper, add a bit of string and as soon as you paint it, it will look different.”


Her son’s baby socks framed makes a delightful and unusual 3D picture on the wall, there’s hand-made bed quilts made from scraps of materials, she makes pretty storage boxes and photograph albums from discarded cardboard, she keeps beads from old necklaces and knits with them, threading them randomly onto the wool.


“Some people knit and then sew the beads on, but I knit with the beads – it’s a lot of work but I really like the result.”


She irons empty crisp packs so they shrivel up and form the basis for a new textured material.


“I like random things and I like the fact that you are reusing things. You are getting something free!”


She tends to think of her portraits as her day job, and the other crafts as hobbies. But she really loves her work and for many years ran a studio shop in the heart of Warwick’s tourist area. Her free spirit however, found that too restrictive, and so she and Rob built a studio in their garden where she paints. “I always wanted to work in the garden with the doors open, watching the children at play. Now my dream has come true.”


For further details please visit: www.pet-portraits.co.uk or email: info@pet-portraits.co.uk