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Love of animals leads Guelph artist to create hyper-realistic pet portraits

'I know a lot more animals than the average person and I know a lot more about them than the average person'

When Laura Harper moved to Guelph to pursue a veterinary career, she never imagined becoming an artist instead.

“I’ve always drawn animals and always been drawing, and to me it's just something that I did,” said Harper, a dog instructor who creates pet portraits and hyper-realistic wildlife art using pencil crayons, ink and watercolour. 

“As my skills and my style has evolved, I’ve sort of shifted away from some of the stuff that I’ve used to the more realistic stuff and it’s been an interesting journey."

With a degree in animal science and a masters in animal wellbeing and behaviour, Harper is using her art and education to inspire others to learn more about animals.

"I sort of try to approach it with a more scientific background," she said about her work, "With a lot of the realistic paintings that I do, I share their scientific name and give people the opportunity to try and find the animal ... and bringing that awareness and education."

Harper has been working on her craft since 2016 with her first commissioned piece being a portrait of a friend’s cat.

“The deal we made was I’ve never done a portrait of someone’s pet before, let me draw your animal and you can take me out to lunch, and wherever she took me was how well I did,” said Harper. “She ended up really liking it and she took me to a really, nice cafe downtown and that’s how it all got started.”

A self-taught artist, Harper remarks it took her a long time to learn how to work with pencil crayons to create realistic images. Her first breakthrough in the medium was drawing a pill bug curled up in a ball.

“It was very segmented and I could focus on one tiny part at a time, and get it very, very accurate,” she said about that piece, “And from there I was able to do other things like cats and dogs.”

Besides an artist, Harper also runs an animal blog called Our Wild World. Started in 2013 before taking a hiatus and starting it again in 2021, the blog focuses on birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and invertebrates. 

“Sometimes it’s animals that I have a personal connection to, that I heard something about in one of my classes...and I have a whole bunch of animal fact books that if I see something interesting, I’ll jot it down,” she said. You can check out the blog here.

The blog also inspired her to focus on wildlife in her art and likes to find animals that people aren’t as familiar with to draw.

“I do love the big, charismatic animals, like the tigers, lions and elephants, ” said Harper, “But for the most part, I'll look up like servals are a less known cat that I think are beautiful, so I'll look up that."

Besides drawing lesser known animals, Harper said she also enjoys drawing insects. She has a series of drawings pairing together bugs and birthstones which includes fruit flies, spiders and beetles.

"Insects are my favourite thing to draw, they're so much fun," she said, mentioning she will go out with a camera to capture photos of different insects, "There's so much underappreciated beauty in the insect world."

Growing up in Vancouver with a house full of animals, Harper recalls owning dogs, cats, bunnies and a horse, Harper mentions everything in her life revolves around animals.

Her art business’s name, Adlaya’s Art, is based off a beloved horse she owned in high school and sold before moving to Guelph for university.

"I know a lot more animals than the average person and I know a lot more about them than the average person," she said.

Planning to run Adlaya’s Art as a full-time operation, Harper hopes to continue to inspire a new interest in animals and insects.

“Do your research and learn about them because they're all so fascinating even though some animals are either scary, or pests, or not the animals we like," she said, “But learning about them can give us a different perspective."

To check out more of Harper’s art, go to adlayasart.ca.