Hammersmith artist and illustrator Louis Fowler has been passionate about zoology since his early days as a Flora Gardens primary pupil where he became hooked on animal images and reference books about the natural world.
That passion has translated into an impressive series of meticulously observed ink sketches of endangered species which are currently on sale in an unlikely place... hanging from a washing line on the wall of a pub.
If you’re enjoying a jar in the Stonemasons Arms, opposite Godolphin and Latymer School in Cambridge Grove, Hammersmith, and one of the animal images catches your eye, you can simply unpeg it and buy it for £20 at the bar.
“The manager, Jack, deserves credit,” says Louis. “The pub doesn’t take any money from it – the pub is just doing it to promote local artists.”
Louis (it’s pronounced ‘Lewis’, rather than like any old French kings) has been working on an A to Z series of animal images. And it really is from A to Z for the 37-year-old artist.
The tricky question of dealing with X is solved by one of the finest pictures in the series – the Amboli toad (Xanthophryne tigerina) – a critically endangered resident of a small area of India where its natural habitat is steadily disappearing.
It has a depth of expression in its eyes, displaying a wise yet wistful look which sums up its predicament.
“They’re giclée prints of A5 pictures done with an ink brush pen,” he explained. “It’s pen straight to paper – no pencil outlines, so you work with the mistakes you make.”
For Louis this is an important aspect to the process. Most of the illustrations are done in one intensive, often four-hour, session, working with tiny, delicate pen strokes like a monk illuminating a medieval tome.
“Little mistakes can lead you on to other areas of a picture – they make the picture what it is, and give you a sort-of signature in the drawing,” said the illustrator, who followed up a foundation course at Chelsea Art College with a drawing and print BA at the University of the West of England at Bristol. “The best way to train yourself to draw is not to use a pencil!”
He has set his ink pictures of animals against bright blocks of colour to give the images a dramatic background and bring the animals to the fore.
Produced by a specialist printer in Covent Garden, they may one day be brought together into a book. It wouldn’t be his first, as Louis already has an impressive collection of children’s books to his name – available via his website – including Nothing Rhymes with Scissors, a mix of cartoon pictures and poetry in the Edward Lear mould.
“It’s my journey of self-discovery,” he said. “Each book uses a completely different method of drawing. It’s image first, story second, for me.”
It was Louis’s wife Lucy who suggested he use his talents to stir children’s imaginations. “I’ve got a child’s sense of humour,” Louis admits. “I taught for five years at Wendell Park primary as a teaching assistant, and running an art class.”
He grew up near Ravenscourt Park, and the couple have two children, Flint and Phoebe, both at Wendell Park, and live in Shepherds Bush. As well as the animal prints currently on pegs at the Stonemasons Arms, Louis is an accomplished collage artist, creating distinctive pairings of images which are available through a dedicated website.
The artist is also selling the original animal artworks on show at the Stonemasons. Ten per cent of the purchase price will go to the conservation charity World Wide Fund for Nature.