Meet the Entrepreneur who Created a £1 Million Pet Portrait Art School
Ripon-based Bonny Snowdon is as impressive an entrepreneur as she is an artist
Mum-of-three Bonny became a professional animal portrait artist in her mid-40s after her daughter bought her a colouring book and pencils despite her not having drawn since school. ‘I wanted to be an artist when I left school but was told I wasn’t good enough so went into the corporate world,’ Bonny explains.
‘I was working overseas for a coaching company, and while it was fantastic, it was quite stressful because I was away from home, I had a couple of my children going through exams and my marriage was not the happiest so I was looking for something that would help me cope with the stress, and colouring was exactly what I needed. When you start being creative, particularly when you’re using colour, it’s like a form of meditation and mindfulness. It takes you away from everyday life.’
When a friend asked if she could do a portrait of their family dog, Bonny realised she could draw too. ‘I’d got a nine-to-five job, but I’d come home and spend all of my spare time drawing,’ she explains. ‘When I began sharing my work on social media it just snowballed from there. I was getting thousands of likes and amazing comments. Then people started asking me if they could pay me to draw their pets (because I was doing it for free to start with). My older sister said “I think you should do this as a full-time career, I think you should be an artist”. By the end of 2017 I was properly supporting my family and making a good living, probably just as much as I was in my corporate job.’
So she launched Bonny Snowdon Fine Art, where she specialises in creating hyper-realistic pet portraits that you can treasure for a lifetime, and such is her talent that there is a 1,500-strong waiting list! As well as doing her portrait commissions, Bonny has since gone on to launch the Bonny Snowdon Academy, one of the biggest online teaching platforms for Britain’s budding coloured pencil artists. She teaches members how to create lifelike drawings of their favourite animals, from cats and dogs to horses and even pigs, and there are members from as far afield as India, the US and Australia.
‘When I created my business plan one of the many things that I put on it was that I wanted to teach, whether that be workshops or online,’ Bonny tells us. ‘In 2018 I ran my first in-person workshop down in London, then in 2019 I took a massive leap and decided I was going to do a Patreon. I started that thinking that I could do with a couple hundred more pounds each month to supplement my commission business, but it just grew and grew. Within the first month I was making over £2,000 a month.
‘In 2021 I really started to think about my own platform though. A third party platform is fine but you’re reliant on somebody else’s customer services and somebody else’s navigation. So I decided to get the help of a membership expert to help me put together my own online teaching platform and that’s when we created the Academy and my artists’ membership community Ignite.’
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Bonny’s now got around 2,600 students each month, and offers real time Zoom workshops and courses aimed at different levels of skill, as well as downloadable PDFs with step-by-step guidance showcasing drawing techniques. Her artists’ membership community has a foundation course, a weekly art club, a monthly skills club, real time tutorials, a monthly Q&A, personalised critique, confidence building sessions and online exhibitions.
With a team of just five, Bonny’s businesses will turn over a combined £1 million in 2023, but her focus remains on how many people she can help. ‘I teach people much more than to draw, I teach how to gain confidence and mindset,’ she explains. ‘With creativity naturally comes this much more quiet mindset. It enables you to disappear. Particularly women in their 50s and upwards, we’ve had families, put ourselves last, and all of a sudden you realise that actually life’s for living.’
Through her work, Bonny also supports York-based IDAS, the North of England’s biggest domestic abuse and sexual violence charity, and is this year awarding free scholarships to her academy, including a year’s membership and all the art-related materials, for five women seeking help from the charity, as well as running a solo exhibition to raise funds for IDAS.
‘I wish with all my heart that these charities didn’t have to exist, but sadly, having experienced mental abuse first-hand, I know what a lifeline they are and I feel honoured to be able to support them. Whenever IDAS have special events I try to donate as much as I can.
‘I give out five scholarships each year,’ Bonny continues. ‘This is an annual membership but I also give each scholar all the equipment they’ll need. Art equipment is quite expensive and if you’re in a situation where you’ve had to move away from home, you don’t know what’s coming next, the last thing you want to be spending your money on is art material. However being creative could be a lifeline because it means you can disappear and stop worrying about the awful things that are going on around you for a period of time. So I supply everything they need to be creative.’
Bonny is a self-confessed blue sky thinker and she has a whole host of hopes for the future of her businesses, including an in-person art event tea party with afternoon tea, live draw alongs and a Q&A session. However her main goal is just to make creativity as accessible as possible and to empower people to be creative. ‘For me it’s important for everybody to be creative in any kind of sphere,’ she says. ‘If you have a look there’s so much that you can do for free. Whether it’s singing in a rock choir, crafting, drawing, dancing or painting, it’s just really important to be creative.’