Interview with artist Jennifer Hogwood

Jennifer Hogwood has become hugely successful with her depictions of highland cows, known as the ‘McMoos’. She lives in the countryside with her husband and two children, spending as much time in nature as possible – when she’s not in the studio that is. Which is where we find Jennifer for our interview.

MAB: Are you in your studio as we speak?

JH: Yes I am …

Can you tell us a bit about your studio? You were (aptly) in an old milking parlor but now you’ve moved is that right?

Yeah, when I started I worked from home but completely out-grew that. So I rented an old dairy, which was basically a barn, and worked there for two years but it was just so cold in the winter. It was lovely for 8 months of the year, but, now I’m at working at the studio all day, every day, I just thought “I can’t do another winter” so we moved to an old chapel.

So, is it a converted chapel?

Yeah exactly. It’s just beautiful, I’m really lucky to be here; it’s got a little stream running alongside it, it’s just on the outskirts of a small town, which is lovely because we can just walk in and go to the shops or go for lunch.

It’s the dream life!

It really is. And sometimes it feels too good to be chucking paint around in. It’s a really lovely space, surrounded by trees, there’s a field of sheep just outside…I think the enviroment definitely inspires my work. I think that’s why I do a lot of flowers and things like that, because I’m just surrounded by them really.

You’re self-taught, except for studying at school, where did you get the impetus to teach yourself to paint instead of taking classes?

I suppose because I was just doing it for myself, for fun, to just create something. I didn’t really feel the desire to create anything to sell. It was just for fun and to create pictures that looked nice, it was just a hobby I suppose.

And am I right you started painting to fill the walls in a new place you moved into with your husband

Well, my husband’s in the army, so when we got married we moved in to an Army house. We had no money at all, and the walls were all painted in magnolia. I just hated them; we couldn’t get rid of them, we couldn’t afford to ‘just buy art’, so I thought “Well, I’ll do them myself,” and went to the local art shop, bought some paints and canvases and just sat on the floor in the living room, painting these pictures.

Brilliant! I think everyone should do this, maybe I’ll start doing this…

Do it! Seriously. People say to me, “Oh, I can’t do that, I could never do that …” Well, yes you can! Everyone can. It might be harder for some people and easier for others; but everyone can do it. So do it!

I’m not sure I could create a highland cow to your standards!

It would be different but I think you just learn. You look at it and question “How is this not working?” and so you change it, do a better one next time. You’ve just got to get on with it. Practice, experiement. I’ve spent hours and hours and hours just painting to find my style.

Do you think you’ve improved over the years do you think you’ve evolved as you’ve been doing it?

Hugely. Compared to the first highland cow I did…I think they’ve changed. It’s hard with art, because, who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad, but they’ve definitely evolved. I’ve got better in the sense that I’m quicker, I understand colour and mixing colour, and composition; they’re the little things that you learn can make a good picture. I’ve learnt to understand those much better just by painting every day, for years. A good few years…

How many years is it now?

I’ve think I’ve been painting the highland cows like this for 8 years or so. I always find it hard to define a starting point for this, I don’t know really as it just kind of emerged but, I think when my son was about a year old I started doing the highland cows in this style.

And does someone out there have the first highland cow? Or do you have the first?

The first highland cow I sold online to someone in Scotland, and I’d love to know who’s got it! I think I sold it for about £85 and it really was the very first one; I did it on a black background, a highland cow similar to the cows I paint today. Same kind of colours, nose, horns and so on.

I think sometimes, “I wonder if she knows…”, it would be cool to hear from her on Facebook or something!

Can you tell us a little about the process of creating a McMoo? Do you get an idea for a character first and then go from there? Or how does it work when you sit down every day?

I think it’s very much about their environment and where I want them to be. Sometimes it’ll be a particular setting, a meadow or a field of wildflowers and then sometimes it’s more of a background. I’m influenced by loads of different things and the outcome can be different. Sometimes I go very realistic and others I like to do something that’s more abstract. My ideas come from all over really, I live very rurally, so of course that’s an inspiration, and also the playful element because I’ve got two young children, so, being with them, how they react to things, their imaginations.

What children are doing is usually a lot more fun than what adults are doing …

It is! It’s their way of looking at life. I painted some highland cows in school uniforms and I feel like my son really inspired those. He’s a little bit cheeky and I like that about him, actually, he’s got a fun outlook on life; and Zara, my daughter, she loves flowers and glitter pink things, I think that comes through quite strongly as well.

How long does a typical piece take you?

I get asked this so often! And, honestly it’s really hard to say because I’m always working on a few at any one time – if I look around the studio now, I have about 12 pictures on the go…

Some are drying, some are waiting for some glitter, some are waiting for… that little something I’m not sure of yet. I’m always chopping and changing, I’ll never just start a canvas and feel the need to finish it straight away.

I suppose you need time to reflect on it a bit as well…

I do. And sometimes if something’s not working I’ll hide it way from my sight because I get annoyed with myself; and then sometimes I’ll pull it out 6 months later and change something slightly, and actually it’ll end up being really good. So, I’ve got lots of just-started ones that for some reason just became abandoned. But, if I’m really excited about something that’s all I’ll be working on.

Do you have a typical collector? Do you ever get to meet them?

Yeah I do get to meet my collectors. I do events at galleries and I find it fascinating because I don’t have a typical collector. People buy them for newborn baby’s bedrooms and then people who are retired buy them because they’re fun and uplifting. They have such a broad appeal, children love them, adults love them; so no, I’d find it really hard to define a certain kind of person who buys them.

How has it been to receive such success for your work? Did you ever expect this?

No, definitely never expected it. Never really aimed for it either, if I’m honest. It just kind of happened. My work was seen by the right person at the right time and it just grew from there. At first I had no idea what it was all about, people tell you, but even now it’s hard to grasp. It’s a side of it that I think I shy away from. People say “Your works are in 70 galleries,” and when you start to think about it, it gets quite scary; so I don’t think too much about and it and just try to…

Just go with it, and keep working…

I think so and I think my life keeps me very grounded – I have two children, dogs, a husband, chickens…so you just carry on with your every day life and all this is going on somewhere else. I’ve been really, really lucky.

It would be interesting to know what you were doing before you started painting …

Before I was painting I did Law at university, which, wasn’t for me…at all. So after that I worked abroad, I worked in Australia for about a year, I worked in France as a campsite rep. I had a couple of horses so a lot of my time was spent exercising them and taking them to competitions – that was in Bedfordshire at my mum and dad’s house and while I was doing that I did a few random jobs: I worked for Vodafone, and in a couple of local pubs…

What’s it like when you hear from fans or admirers of your work? Do you hear a lot?

Its lovely I get loads and loads of feedback on Facebook. Lots of comments and the feedback is always really positive and kind. That is really motivating. Really motivating. I spend a lot of time on my own in the studio and sometimes if a painting isn’t going well, I start to feel that I’m rubbish and I can’t do it, and I that I need to give up… then that feedback is really encouraging. It sounds cliché but it gives me the boost I need to carry on with the work. To think, the picture I painted made someone happy, or connected with them emotionally, or commemorated the birth of a child, really does keep me going, because you can be quite isolated as an artist.

What are you looking forward to from the future? Any secret ambitions you have … that you want to tell us about?

I’m always just trying to create the next new, interesting and exciting thing, and that’s what motivates me: “what can I do next?”

Can you tell us a little bit about anything you’re working now?

It’s funny, I was saying earlier about the first highland cow I ever did was on a black background and actually they work really well on black but it’s something I haven’t done too much and I’m it revisiting now. I’ve also got one here I think I’m going to call ‘Golden Horns’ , so he’s going to have gold leaf on his horns…I think it’s going to work really well, though I don’t know for sure! But this is what I’m excited about, to try new things – I did some of him yesterday and I’m working on him again today.

Just lastly, things you do when you’re not painting?

Gardening. I absolute love gardening, my garden’s really important to me, I think that’s quite creative as well, where to put which plant, how they grow, what colours they are and when they flower. I love being outside, if I could change anything about my job it would be to be outside a bit more. Also, my children keep Ben and I very busy. I love being at home with them, I love being in the countryside.

We have chickens and they’re quite cool. We get plenty of fresh eggs, so many in fact I have a little stand outside my studio and I’ve just sold two boxes this morning!