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Issue 93 - Artist in Residence

Scotland Magazine Issue 93
June 2017

 

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Artist in Residence

Roddy Martine meets Sophie Cotton, artist in residence at Oxenfoord Castle in Midlothian

It was love at first sight when Sophie Cotton moved into her studio at Oxenfoord Castle, which boasts sweeping lawns fringed by woodland and open vistas into the Midlothian landscape.

The home of a branch of the prominent Dalrymple family, the original Oxenfoord Castle (which dates from the 16th Century) was transformed in the late 18th Century by the architect Robert Adam. Adopting the Scottish baronial style, he encased the old tower and incorporated grand public rooms as befitted the family's rising status.

Inheriting the family earldom of Stair in 1840, General Sir John Hamilton Dalrymple, 8th Earl of Stair, extended the park, laid out the terraces on the south and east sides of the house and commissioned William Burn to design extensions.

The northeast elevation therefore enjoyed a single storey and basement addition while the bat windows of the south and west fronts were altered to create a ‘Tudor’ style, with a full-height bay added to the west.

The interiors of the principle floor feature a library and elegant drawing room on the south side, and a dining room to the west, which is home to carved woodwork dating from 1750 and an ornate Robert Adam ceiling (See: Scotland Magazine #62). Still family owned, Oxenfoord Castle is popular for events, weddings and private parties.

Sophie says she became an artist by accident. It all began in her second year at The Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, where she was studying rural land management. Through boredom, during a lecture on building technology, she began to doodle after seeing some dogs through a window. A friend noticed what Sophie was doing and told her the drawings were good, sufficiently good to commission a drawing of her mother's dog. That was how it started. The first drawing, which was the size of a postcard, took two days to complete. The client loved it and encouraged Sophie to become a full-time artist.

After graduation, however, she initially found herself working for Carter Jonas, the property consultants, managing three country estates in Lincolnshire. On the side, of course, she drew horses for some of the tenant farmers she met on her rounds. Word of mouth led to further commissions and to exhibiting at the Kelmarsh Country Show in Warwickshire, Jamie Oliver's Big Feastival in the Cotsworlds, at Monk's Kirby near Warwickshire, and the Royal Three Counties Show in Malvern.

Among her early commissions was one from the BBC Countryman TV presenter Adam Henson, to draw his Vizsla. It was around then that Sophie decided she was ready to draw full time.

Her style is detailed realism. She likes to meet her sitters and get to know them. “You have to try and understand animals,” she insists. “You need to work out what they are thinking from their eyes and in the way that they respond to you.”

Layer after layer is applied and the final layer is completed with a mechanical pencil. She draws in every single hair. “It is quite intense,” she admits. “If I've not completed a drawing I have to get back to it as soon as I possibly can and keep at it.”

“I don't really get on with colour and paint,” she continues. “My preference is always black and white, although I once drew a Jack Russell in sepia. It's the challenge of creating depth and tone that I like. It works so much better in black and white.”

It was romance that brought Sophie to Oxenfoord Castle in August 2016 and from here she undertakes bespoke commissions. She is currently working on a series of 20 African animals for the Princes Trust and TUSK Wildlife Trust. She has also been interacting with the Irish ‘super vet’ Noel Fitzpatrick for the Humanitarian Trust.

Country houses and buildings do feature in her portfolio, but Scottish wildlife is next on her agenda: hares, deer, grouse, ptarmigan, salmon and otters. Sophie is working towards holding an exhibition later in the year.

“Never say never, but I never see myself moving away from here now,” she says. “Scotland is now definitely my home.

It’s such a breath of fresh air after living in the south.”

sophiecotton.co.uk | oxenfoord.co.uk