Cat Denby always had a creative side, but never expected to become an artist. Then in 2009 her husband bought her art supplies and the self-taught pastel artist hasn’t looked back.
“I define myself as an animal portraitist, but I end up doing a little bit of everything as doing commission work puts you in that position,” said Denby, who lives in Ruckersville.
On her website you’ll find work that includes her two pugs and other animals, as well as children’s portraiture. During the quarantine due to COVID-19, Denby has been quite busy with commissioned work.
“It’s been an uptick in business. I think because people aren’t going out to brick and mortar stores and people are already starting their Christmas shopping, she said. “But, at the same time I haven’t sold many what I’d call gallery pieces—something that wasn’t commissioned by somebody.”
Denby started life with a degree in comparative literature, “which, of course, means I got a job in anything else,” she said. She got a job as a part-time dog groomer and veterinary technician before working for her husband, who owns a website development company.
When her husband, Chad, bought Denby the art supplies she started to teach herself to draw.
“I already had an affinity for animals so I ended up getting into that and posting some stuff on Facebook and requests started coming in for commissions,” she said. “I figured why not have a hobby that pays for itself. It’s been fun.”
Her favorite part about animal portraiture is the candidness of the poses.
“They don’t pose. You can’t ask a dog to smile for you, he’s just natural,” she said. “There’s something really wonderful about a candid pose.”
Denby works every day on commissioned pieces and tries to fit in other pieces she wants to create, as well.
“I usually spend anywhere from one to three hours a day working on commissions,” she said. “Usually, I’ll spend a half hour or so every day working on something that would either be for an art show or for a gallery. I’m not at the point where I’m brave enough to make this my full-time career.”
However, that’s a goal for Denby and her husband.
“Our dream is definitely that at some point we will sell this business or retire from it, and Chad will be the person who does my logistics while I do the art side of it in the same way that I’ve been supporting him for website stuff,” she said. “That’s the plan.”
Denby’s first piece was of a boxer and she still has that.
“I stepped back and said this is the best work I’ve ever done,” she said. “This is just natural, it just happened.”
Denby first started drawing using graphite, which is a crystalline form of carbon with a dull metallic grey color.
“I was very nervous and reluctant about colors, so I figured the safest jump was to jump into colored pencil,” she said. “I don’t like standard colored pencil because it’s waxy and it’s fine, I just find that it’s sort of flat and for me it loses some nuance. So I picked up pastel pencils and loved it.”
Denby has done some watercolor artwork, as well, but not as much.
“I do like watercolor, but I’m an extremely impatient artist,” she said. “I like the pastel because you can pick it up and you can put it down. I have the kind of life where I have to get up and open the door for a dog every five minutes, so I didn’t want to be worried about whether the pages are drying.”
Denby is also a member of the Art Guild of Greene County.
“It’s good to be a part of a community of artists,” she said. “If nothing else, it gives you someone to talk to and kind of figure out if something isn’t working what other option is there. I think it gives you a lot more opportunities.”
For information, visit her website at artbycatonline.com or her Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2N9F1d9. There is a slight waiting list for her commissioned pieces, and she recommends people have lead time before they need the pieces back.
Denby will also be showing her work at New Dominion Books Shop on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall August-September and will be at the Fall Crozet Arts Festival Oct. 10-11.