By Karen Carruth
Photographs: Emma Cheape

I recently received an e-mail from a lady asking me to have a look at her daughter’s artwork with a view to writing an article about it. 
I clicked the link and was momentarily confused as I was looking at what I thought were black and white photographs. I turned my screen to my colleague and asked her what she thought. “Are they photographs?” was her first question.
They are not photographs as it turns out, just incredibly detailed pencil drawings by the talented Sophie Cotton, a young lady who is working from a castle, in Pathhead, near Edinburgh.
We don’t often get to visit castles as a matter of course, however, it turns out Oxenfoord Castle is her boyfriend’s family home. Following a move up from her family home in rural Warwickshire, Sophie is now working from a small room in the castle, the warmest one she could find, to concentrate on her artwork.
She starts by telling us quite honestly that she has no formal art training whatsoever, and she is as surprised as her family is with this new found talent. 
She says: “Mummy has a drawing of a stick man I drew as a young child up at home which she has had framed, and it is absolutely dreadful. We all find it utterly hilarious that I am now pursuing a career as an artist. Back then I think it was the last thing my parents thought I would become.”
Sophie initially trained at the Royal Agricultural College (now University) in Cirencester and after graduating, spent 18 months working as a rural land agent with Carter Jonas, which she loved. 
“It was fab, I loved the challenge of managing large country estates, I loved the people, it was such a great experience.”
However, the seed had already been sown, as during a rather turgid lecture in her second year of university, she had been doodling on her lecture notes and her friend noticed what she was doing, commenting: “Have you ever thought about drawing animals?”
“No, not really,” was Sophie’s answer. But she was persuaded to draw her friend’s Jack Russell as a gift for her mothers’ birthday. “I loved the process, I was totally immersed, it took me around 45 hours and I thought when I had finished that perhaps I should do more.”
As is the way, friends and family started asking for commissions of dogs and horses and it has snowballed. It then became an issue to fulfil all her commissions and maintain her work and social life, so after tentatively dropping down to three days a week with Carter Jonas she took the plunge in January, 2015, to work full time on her art.
She is very thankful to her mother who is behind her all the way, she has the business mind (hence the e-mail to me) and has become something of a PA to Sophie. 
“She is my biggest supporter but also knows when to push me. As, like most artists, I am at my most content when I lock myself away from the world and draw. 
“You need that person who can bring you away from your creative bubble and remind you to focus on the business aspects of being an artist too and mummy is a super star at doing that,” she says.
Being a new face in the art work she has had a few artists ask her about her technique, where she studied, what equipment she uses. She seems slightly embarrassed to admit that she has never had a class, has no idea what technique she is employing and the only equipment she needs is whatever pencil is lying at the bottom of her handbag.
In her studio she is working on two or three at one time, does one for a few hours and then swaps to give herself fresh eyes each time she comes back to it.
When she says she only needs a pencil, she has found a few shortcuts that she had now perfected. She uses a bog standard retractable pencil for the finer detail, particularly when she is drawing fur or hair. 
She uses a nail file to file down the lead from pencils to give her ground graphite which she uses to give structure and depth. She uses a cotton bud or a paper stub to add detail. And she has found an electronic eraser – a wonder, she says – to add highlights and white sections.
When Sophie has explained her techniques to other artists, they do look slightly horrified that she is touching and rubbing the paper with her bare hands, she quite rightly says she doesn’t mind, this is her technique and as rustic as it may be, she has no desire to change it.
Sophie has branched out into drawing buildings which has been quite the learning curve.
“My father has given me a lot of advice on perspective when I have been drawing buildings. Having a background in architecture he knows the science of straight lines and dimensions which for me, when I have been used to drawing fur and fluid textures, was rather alien!”
She is now working on Christmas commissions, usually giving herself three weeks to complete a commission, but found last year that she had to close her commission book at the end of October to give her time to finish them all in time. 
However, she was surprised to find that people still eagerly ordered and were happy to wait into the New Year for her to complete their drawing.
At the moment she is still enjoying drawing animals, she starts with the eyes, which have to be right. 
“I can throw away four or five drafts of the eyes before I am happy to continue with the rest of the drawing.” 
She finds horses the most challenging but also the most satisfying to draw, and dogs are definitely the most enjoyable.
Sophie grew up in a small rural village, surrounded by horses and dogs, and her clientele at the moment reflects that. Sophie hopes to have her work shown in London, which would be an excellent area for her subject matter, and with her mother living in Warwickshire but working in London she loves the idea that they could both work together there. 
Sophie is thinking of trying coloured pencils in the near future, she says she has no talent for using paint, but the coloured pencils may be a compromise for clients who want a coloured image.
As for commissions, as you would imagine, she needs super clear photographs. This part of the commission is not to be rushed, as capturing a photo that truly shows your pet’s character takes patience. 
Sophie does make herself available to take photos personally for clients who live not too far from Edinburgh. This also gives her the opportunity to meet the subject in person and get a feel for their personality. 
Recently Sophie decided to draw some vegetables, which she took to Jamie Oliver’s Big Festival in The Cotswolds, and she had excellent feedback. Adam Henson from BBC Countryfile was also blown away by her work and went on to commission a portrait of his wife’s dog. 
In addition to her commissions Sophie also sells limited edition prints of wildlife and vegetables etc, which she sells at £65. 
I tell her that when I initially opened the e-mail her mother sent me that I thought the images were a photograph. 
“Oh, really?” she says, “that is the hugest compliment to me, it is exactly what I am trying to achieve, to make my work as photorealistic as possible.” She is doing just that.
If you would like Sophie to draw a commission for you or order some of her limited edition prints, you can email her on: or submit a message on her website:
Sophie’s Instagram account offers lots of photos of her work and behind the scenes action shots.