Sandra Temple, Wildlife Artist and Cartoonist

14 May 2004

   The creativity and imagination of Australian artist Sandra Temple are astounding. In her artistic career, she has worked in fashion design, jewellery design, illustration, murals, fine art, cartooning and more. Her several comic strips have tickled the funny bones of animal lovers, children and families.

    Commissioned art pieces created by Sandra hang in collections across the globe; her awards are numerous and varied. She readily shares her seemingly inexhaustible skills teaching art and participating in numerous fundraising events. Through QWASI (Queensland Wildlife Artist Society Inc.), Sandra and other wildlife artists use their abundant abilities to help promote and protect endangered species.

    Sandra thoughtfully took time from her busy schedule to answer a dreadfully long list of questions for The Cartoonists. Let’s “listen in” as she speaks about her life and work as cartoonist:

    I grew up travelling the world as an army brat. My dad was a chopper pilot sent to various trouble spots around the world and where possible , we followed. My mum was very young and had four young kids of which I am the eldest. Looking back now as an adult, I find what she did truly amazing.

    I was actually born in 1961 in Hertfordshire, England as was my younger brother. My two younger sisters were born in Malta. Growing up I was so disappointed that I didn’t have such an ‘exotic’ claim…as you can see, even at an early age it was never important to me to be a clone of my peers. My mum says I was drawing before I was 2 years old (and after watching my daughter, Stephanie’s skill with the pencil, I can see she wasn’t exaggerating). I must have been a precocious child as I was also conversing like an adult and found other children less interesting than the local wildlife.

    Continuing in the great family tradition of telling everyone how to Save The World, Stephanie ensures I now know what it must have been like for my poor mum. As the only exhibiting Junior member of the Qld Wildlife Artists Society Inc, Stephanie shows a huge artistic talent and although I have never tried to ‘teach’ her as such, I’m sure just watching and listening and absorbing the arty atmosphere surrounding her since birth has helped her develop her own style. She knows if she gets stuck I’m here – and finds it quite easy to ‘share’ my art materials when she needs to. Her father left when she was only a baby and so I’ve been mum and dad for a long time

    I did art until Grade 12 but decided against University when Bill (William) Robinson - a family friend through our interest in breeding Flatcoated Retrievers and, at the time, a teacher at the art college - advised against it. As I was already selling my work, the idea of having to learn to paint like someone else in order to pass an exam seemed like a waste of time. I’d only have to unlearn everything afterwards.

    My mum was very artistic but in her day you were a secretary, then got married and then had children. A career was not an option for her; she did encourage me to be artistic but at the same time was constantly fighting against me going into art as a career. Even today, I get “ why are you wasting time painting, you need to look for a proper job” or the famous parent put down as they look at your latest masterpiece, “Oh, it’s finished is it?” I’m sure that both she and my dad would be shocked to think I consider it as negative, not as character building or constructive. It has helped me though, it made me realize that I actually have to paint, whether I get paid for it is incidental, I’d be doing it anyway…and lets face it, if all artists were in it for the money, there’d be a lot less of us!

    To find outlets for my talents I have done many things including fashion designer, signwriter, vet nurse, animal attendant, jewellery designer, framer, art material seller. I painted a bus to go around Australia, children's room murals, tromp l’oeil walls, I’ve illustrated books, designed company logos, painted sets and lots more. Many art hours are also donated to volunteer jobs to help them raise funding too.

    Being self-taught has meant that no one actually showed me what was the ‘proper’ way to do things. One of the things I often tell my students is that apart from the restrictions of the art mediums used, There Are No Rules In Art. If it works and they like it, OK. If it doesn’t, we can fix it. The only thing I insist on is they must learn to draw. Before you can paint or cartoon, or design, you must train your eye to be able to SEE what it is you are looking at. Many of my students lately are actually Art Teachers and I’m so glad that kids these days are demanding to learn realistic drawing skills as part of their artistic education. The teachers have not been taught these skills and so they come to me. Finally the wheel is coming back

    Cartooning is always fun. The character needs to be captured but there is a lot of freedom in the actual realism. I have always found my cartoons, especially the strips, grow from my life. For example I bred Irish Wolfhounds for a while and growing up with these gentle giants gave me ample fodder for a monthly strip for the small magazine “Aud Righ” (High King) and when I started as an obedience trainer, well, there was just too much material…. “Shemus,” my wolfhound character, was really a merge of dogs. This strip eventually had a throw-off one which consisted of “Shemus’s” dreams. (He always watched too much TV and this flowed into his very silly dreams – he was, of course, always the hero.) Then when Stephanie was born… yes, there’s more!

    As any parent will know, kids do the darndest things which at the time are definitely not funny, but later, in cartoon form, they are hilarious. Mum also got a Labrador puppy around that time, so I had the added help of a food-obsessed yellow lab. “Penny and the Kid” was born. This was put into the statewide mag that went to all the playgroups. I still do the odd cartoon but haven’t got the time to do another strip at the moment, but who knows what the future holds?

    Stephanie has great giggles, (Sorry, I’m sure that a teenager would not giggle.) every so often when she goes through the originals. It’s always interesting to see which ones she finds funny as she grows up, and it’s interesting too as my early ones are around 20 years old. In those days I used any black pen I found and drew them actual size, straight into an A4 sketch pad with tear-out pages. As more info began to arrive about acid free papers and more permanent inks, I began to use better quality materials. My most recent ones are on white Sihl paper using Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens. These come in a great range of permanent colours, including a grey set, and have a brush nib which holds it’s shape for a long time. I also use these for some of my detailed pen and ink paintings now. I still draw them by hand.

    Maybe because I have played around with all sorts of artistic outlets, my wildlife art is now more and more being painted in a mix of mediums. Some paintings start with one and as I go along seem to want to ‘evolve’ to include others. Some subjects dictate what they should be painted in too, I do most of my Pet Portrait commissions in soft pastel as quite often the animal is dead and the photos for reference are terrible. Working in soft pastel I can call on my knowledge of canine anatomy and breed characteristics to blend with the photo, the soft pastel doesn’t need the exact details that, say, pen and ink does, so it looks great and every one is happy.

Thank you very much, Sandra, for giving us a peek into your busy life. It is fascinating to see how you accomplish your cartoons and artwork, and where you find continuing inspiration. Your work is a delight to all.

Oh, to have such talent!

An enlightening two-part interview with Sandra Temple by our own Jo Murphy of Mural Creation, including a sample of Sandra's cartoon work:

Part One:

Part Two:

Have a look at the beautiful art of Sandra Temple:

QWASI in Australia:

© Susanna McLeod 2004  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on