A lot of people use art as escapism, but very few people discover an incredible, innate talent. When Violet Astor took up drawing as a hobby, she stumbled across something much, much bigger. “Teaching myself to draw began as a way of escaping reality when I was sick with Lyme Disease,” Violet tells What We Seee. “So I chose to draw pieces with a lot of minute detail that would send me into a blissful trance!”
And out of the trance came something powerful. Through experimenting and exploring she soon found that one medium really called to her. “I tried a few mediums to begin with and really enjoyed using watercolor but it was charcoal that really captured my attention,” she explains. “I love the versatility and the depth of texture it can produce. I also place great value on the reduced impact on the environment and my health as a medium to work closely with – particularly due to the fact that I started drawing in my bedroom so was always surrounded by my materials.” Once she realized that charcoal was her medium, she continued to practice and improve. With the excruciating details of her drawings, it’s hard to believe that she’s self-taught. But when you hear her talk with such passion about her subjects, it becomes clear that she’s fuelled by something far more powerful than formal training.
The More Wild
Violet didn’t just find one passion, she took her newfound love of drawing and applied it to her interest in wildlife and conservationism. And in combining the two, she not only found her niche — she hit her stride. “I have always been fascinated by wildlife and culture and I became particularly aware of conservation during my time working in a tiger reserve in India during my 20s,” she explains. “I was able to read a lot more about rewilding and tribal culture during the years that I was ill and this reinvigorated my passion and informed my subject matter. I found that drawing wildlife was a way of bringing nature and ‘the wild’ to me when, at the time; I was unable to go to it due to being too unwell to leave the house.”
But soon, it wasn’t just bringing the wildlife home — when she was well enough, she threw herself into exploring and observing her subjects in the flesh. “Since recovering, I have been able to travel and get my inspiration directly from the source,” Violet explains. “In February last year I spent a few weeks tracking and studying tigers in the wild; watching how they moved and behaved. “And she found something completely different from drawing at home. Seeing tigers in the flesh had a transformational quality — something that she could carry with her to inspire her art long afterward. “Being in the presence of a wild tiger is a completely visceral experience and seems to stay preserved in one’s body memory. So the process of drawing, when back home in my studio, provoked all those feelings of awe, fear, exhilaration, and humility to resurface in me.”
That intensity in her subjects continues to drive her, “The more wild, the more endangered, the more magnificent, the more I am drawn to a subject! I enjoy intrepid travel that takes me to wild and remote places.”
Travelling And Gathering
Although her subjects themselves are a huge source of inspiration, Violet is also inspired by her life as an artist. “No one day is the same,” she says. “My process generally starts with traveling and gathering material from some wonderful and wild place on the planet. I am currently sitting overlooking the remote jungles and breathtaking fiords of Papua New Guinea. Soon I will be heading out to visit a remote tribe only accessible by canoe, where I will spend a few days living with them and learning about their way of life, whilst gathering local and natural materials to work with.”
With such an intrepid spirit and such breathtaking details in her work, it’s hard to imagine that Violet ever doubts herself — and yet, like any great artist, she’s brutally critical of her work. But no matter how critical she may be, her passion for the process keeps her going “Despite the earth-shattering moments of self-doubt during the creative process, I am mainly driven by being able to fill my days with the things I love and feel passionate about; wildlife, culture, travel and drawing,” she explains. “I have also felt indebted to my family and friends who have supported me and pushed me forward when I have felt too scared to. I also feel lucky to be encouraged by the positive reception of my work. “
The Devil On Your Shoulder
For upcoming artists, she emphasizes that formal training works for some — but not for all. “I think studying art would bore me and I would lose all my will to create, so it doesn’t work for me personally,” Violet says. “As we know, art is subjective and taste is as individual as a person’s thumbprint so there is no one right way to create good work. So if an artist feels more creative without training then there is no reason not to forge ahead!” And, whether you opt for formal training or not, she knows that good people around you can make all the difference. “It has been good to meet other artists and build a bit of a network to support each other in the art world, as it can be a lonely industry.”
But she’s also learned to gain strength from herself and, perhaps surprisingly, some of that strength comes from her insecurities. “Someone once told me that the devil on your shoulder will spend time nagging in your ear about how bad your work is, how people will laugh, how you are no good. And while it feels like it’s trying to sabotage everything you do – it is ultimately trying to protect you from making a fool of yourself. It has been really helpful for me to recognize the devil sitting there and not let it hinder my creative process but instead to really listen to what it has to say. Often it can actually help me identify what needs to happen next in the creative process.”
With a talent so undeniable, one of the most striking things about Violet is her humility and generosity — she remains committed to giving back to her amazing sources of inspiration. “I have been able to collaborate and work with different conservation programs and initiatives working at the grassroots level on the ground and through this, I feel confident in donating back proceeds of my sales to causes that I believe in,” she says.
My Secret Weapon
But what comes through, more than anything, is someone who is making art for the love of it, someone who, in the depths of illness, didn’t just find a life raft — she found a springboard. “Becoming sick turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it gave me the time and space to discover a passion that I may not have done had my life continued as ‘normal’,” she explains. “The secret weapon for me was drawing purely for my own pleasure. I never intended for anyone to see my drawings, which allowed me to play and experiment without pressure or expectation. I feel fortunate that a move into exhibiting and selling my work has evolved organically alongside my recovery.”
And that gratitude — and that grace — shines through her work. It takes a lot to capture and recreate the sheer vitality of her wildlife subjects, but to Violet, it’s just a joy.
You can find out more about Violet’s work and upcoming exhibitions on her website.