Serendipity played a part in Lauren Terry’s surprise career move. After drama school, she relocated to London and was a jobbing actress. To alleviate the boredom between jobs, she started painting purely for her own pleasure.
“The problem with acting is that you can’t do it by yourself. It’s not like being a musician when you can still play an instrument, so I needed to do something creative to occupy my time,” she says.
One of Lauren’s favourite pictures, of a cow, was so appealing that her parents decided to get it framed for her at a gallery in York.
“The gallery owner really liked it and offered to do an exhibition of my work so suddenly I had to paint 20 cows. That’s where it started and I never went back to acting,” says Lauren, 28, who studied art to A-level.
She is now one of Britain’s best-loved cow portrait artists and her originals sell for between £2,000 and £3,000, although she also has prints from £50. Her bovine beauties also feature on cards and a range of homeware, including mugs, place mats, coasters, tea towels and jugs. They are sold through her business, Lauren’s Cows, which she co-founded with her mother, Jude.
“It works really well. Mum looks after the marketing and the logistics side of things and I concentrate on the painting,” says Lauren, who painted her canvases on the coffee table of her rented London flat five years ago before graduating to the dining table in her home in York then to a dedicated studio.
Her workspace at Bar Lane will be open to the public next weekend, April 14 and 15, and on April 21 and 22 as part of the York Open Studios event. It is within walking distance of the home that she bought two years ago with her husband, James.
“There was no way we could afford to rent a studio in London and we couldn’t afford to get on the property ladder there, so we decided to move back to Yorkshire. I’m from Scarborough but we have friends in York so it seemed like the ideal place,” she says.
While Lauren dreamed of a period town house, bidding wars and cash buyers thwarted their efforts. Instead, she and James bought a 1930s semi for £205,000.
“I am so pleased we bought it. It was cheaper than a town house and we got a garden, parking and a lot more space. Plus the house was really light and had a lovely feel. It had been in the same family for three generations,” she says.
Lauren and James have since updated it, tackling a lot of the work themselves. What was a corridor is now part of the open-plan living/dining room after they knocked a stud wall out. The 1970s archway between the sitting and dining areas was squared off for a more contemporary look and the old brick fireplace was replaced with a wood-burning stove.
The kitchen was a sale bargain from B&Q for £2,000 and, as the worktop was too long, they used the leftovers, to make shelves, chopping boards and a desk. Furniture includes pieces from Gumtree and Next with some antique and vintage finds, including her grandmother’s apothecary chest.
Lauren made all the curtains and many of the accessories are from her favourite store, Anthropologie.
There is colour in abundance. “We got sick of cream and white walls when we were renting,” she says.
The walls are also full of art, including an investment buy from the Art of Protest gallery, work by Scarborough’s Tracy Savage, paintings from Duggleby’s auction house and her own cow portraits.
“James only allows me to have so many cows, so I’m always swapping them for new ones,” says Lauren, who works from photographs she takes out in the fields. She’s usually lying down so she can capture the cow peering down.
“I was quite nervous at first but I’m more comfortable round cows now and I’ve got to know farmers through showing my work at agricultural fairs so they have allowed me on their land and given me advice.
“I’d never go in a field with bullocks or calves unless there was a farmer with me, though I’ve never had a bad experience with a bull. Most of them are pretty calm unless you have a dog. I also learned that they are colour blind so wearing red isn’t a problem.”
Lauren also finds new subjects through Instagram, including a rare Finncattle cow from Finland, and does a lot of work to commission.
One of her best-selling prints began as a commission to paint a Jersey cow called Bluebell, while another is Ted, the Highland calf she met at the Great Yorkshire Show. Lauren has become an expert on cattle and has painted most breeds from Friesians and Charolais to longhorns and Belted Galloways.
She’s often asked if she gets bored concentrating on one subject but she says: “I really enjoy what I do and all the cows have their own personalities.
“They are so humble and engaging and there’s a natural humour to them and that’s what I try to capture.
“The best thing about this job is that 99 per cent of people smile when they see my paintings and I love that.”
*Lauren will be opening her workspace at Bar Lane Studios, 1 Bar Lane, Micklegate, as part of York Open Studios.
The free event runs over two weekends, April 14-15 and April 21-22, between 10am-5pm. More than 100 artists and makers will open up their studios to the public, including furniture makers, painters, potters, sculptors and jewellers.
See art in the place where it’s made and discover spaces rarely open to the public, from town houses and cottage workshops to garden sheds.
New artists include Iain Wills, whose paintings have been exhibited at York Art Gallery, and printmaker Michelle Hughes, whose linocut prints are inspired by nature. Other printmakers include Dan Howden, recipient of the Anthony Dawson Young Printmaker of Award, and Gerard Hobson.
For full details and maps of all the studios visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk and for a free copy of the event programme, register online or email [email protected]