David Shepherd is one of the world′s most successful wildlife artists.
Travelling the world, painting everything from polar bears to tigers, he has raised over £3 million for endangered species through the David Shepherd
Wildlife Foundation which, this year, celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Ever go anywhere purely for a holiday?
No. If you want to kill me, take me to Barbados, put me in a deckchair and give me a gin and tonic, I′d go insane in an hour. I don′t want to rest. Life gets more exciting as you get older, I′m 73, but feel about 43.
Where′s your favourite place?
Ranthambhore National Park, India. Even if you don′t see a single animal it′s still pure Rudyard Kipling: the jungle ruins, the huge tree
roots growing in and out of the stone, the pools and palaces. I′m totally besotted with the place.
Then there′s Sri Lanka, where you can see Indian elephants in the sea and on the beach. Much as I adore African elephants, the Indian elephant is much more endangered,
just 35,000 left as opposed to around 600,000. There were probably five million African jumbos when I was born it′s frightening.
Is it fair to say you owe much of your success to elephants?
Yes. And tigers and rhinos. They′re all part of the intricate balance of nature that we′ve buggered up. I am so grateful to wildlife. Every wildlife artist I know says the same.
It′s done so much for us, we feel an obligation to give something back.
What frustrates you most about the plight of endangered species?
Politicians and heads of industry. How many big corporations really care about conservation issues? Very few. Esso, for example, haven′t done enough to
save the tiger. Instead of their Price Watch campaign, they should give a million pounds to tiger conservation.
How do you measure the success of one of your paintings?
If people say, ′My God, you can almost smell it.′ Apparently, I get the atmosphere of Africa into my paintings, that′s because I′ve been there. All a camera does is
record the shape of something.
Where do you most like to paint?
South Luangwa, Zambia. And Savute, Botswana, where you can get right up to the elephants. I love to paint all those scars on a lion′s nose.
What do you never travel without?
Sunglasses, but I′m terribly forgetful. I′ve photographed innumerable anthills and termite mounds , all of which probably still have a pair of my sunglasses on top.
So you don′t rate digital photography?
I′m scared of anything new and I certainly wouldn′t know how to work a digital camera. But I do have an old fashioned Minolta that I use to ′sketch′ with. In Africa I once found
an interesting bit of dead wood beside the road, so I got out and photographed it probably 20 times from different angles. That piece of wood has no doubt appeared in dozens of my paintings.
Do you have any tips for aspiring wildlife artists?
Well, go to Africa. To see animals in the wild is very different from seeing them in a safari park. For example, lions in captivity get fat, indolent and have heavy manes.
In Africa they fight, run through bushes and get cuts and scratches. I love to paint all those scars on a lion′s nose.
Where are you off to next?
South Africa , we′ll be running one of my steam engines to raise money for wildlife. I have an awful habit of collecting large toys.
How would you like to be remembered most, as an artist or conservationist?
If I′m remembered for anything, I would like it to be artist and conservationist. To me they are both totally interlinked. If I have anything on my gravestone it′ll be, ′At last I′ve stopped talking′.
But there will also be a money slot in the top with the words, ′But please go on helping to save the tigers, elephants, rhinos.′
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© David Shepherd All major credit/debit cards acceptedDavid Shepherd started his painting career at school in Stowe, and persevered whilst trying to become a game warden in Africa.