Artist Sam Sopwith insists on face-to-face meetings with her animal subjects, be they a feisty camel, skulking crocodile or sedate bassett hound. She captures the essence of their character in fine detail, and proves that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

Sam Sopwith’s skill as an artist materialized quite suddenly when she was 15 years old. It was during a long spell in hospital that she idly copied a postcard of a bassett hound in pencils and found that she could draw well. Shortly afterwards, she spent a year on Vancouver Island in Canada and was encouraged to try art therapy. Inspired by the local landscape and marine life – such as orcas and manatees – Sam produced artwork that surprised even herself: “People looked at the pictures and went “Wow!” and instantly I felt better,” she laughs. She later sold a sketch of two dachshunds to the mother of a friend, and it sparked her career as a professional artist. 


Sam spent two years training at the Charles Cecil Studios in Florence where many renowned artists have honed their classical portraiture skills: “Though I do paint traditional portraits, my choice would always be to paint animals,” she explains. Now 39, she is inundated with commissions from doting owners wanting a tribute to their pets. She travels the world meeting her subjects and takes photographs before working on the piece in her studio in London or Hampshire. Sam’s work is always disarmingly faithful to the animal’s personality: “I get so much from looking into the animal’s eyes and watching how it moves,” she says, “Of course I love to paint from life, but animals won’t sit still!” She chooses the medium – pencil, pastels, charcoal or oil – to suit the form and character: “Hairy animals need the texture that comes from charcoal, whereas smooth muscle definition comes
out better in oil.”


Though Sam has had numerous celebrity, aristocratic and royal clients, she is often found painting for pleasure the majestic creatures that roam the wild. “I’m mesmerized by lions in Africa and how their feet move, also the commanding but wonderfully passive bulk of an elephant,” she explains. She has painted giant tortoises in the Seychelles, alpacas in Berkshire and large camels in Abu Dhabi (one of which was bought by Galen and Hilary Weston, the owners of a fashion and food empire.) Her favourite piece of work to date is a black thoroughbred horse: “A moving horse is a thing of such beauty and grace, with tremendous musculature,” says Sam.

Chris Cecil-Wright first met Sam having sold a yacht to her father, and Chris then commissioned her to paint his two daughters. Sam’s grandfather, Sir Tommy Sopwith, was an avid sailor and competed twice in the America’s Cup with his J-class yachts, ENDEAVOUR and ENDEAVOUR II (and when the former was acquired by a new owner and refitted, he commissioned Sam to paint two portraits of her grandfather to hang on the yacht.) Sir Tommy also founded an aircraft company that produced the Sopwith camel, one of the most iconic fighter aircraft of the First World War. “I always thought it would be fun to paint a camel of the four-legged variety,” says Sam, “I’ve been to Abu Dhabi and painted ten camels now. They’ve lured me in and I can’t seem to stop!”

“Charcoal is my go-to medium for moving horses – it’s wonderful being able to create something with a stick of charcoal, some paper and only your finger.”

Sam Sopwith

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