A griffin, with downy feathers emerging from powerful wings, guards the room, its yellow eyes fixed on something in the distance. Nearby, a hippogriff, talons like razors extending from its gray-white plumage, defends its territory.
The eagle-lion and eagle-horse hybrids – as well as other mythological creatures – have long been popularized by authors like JK Rowling. But these particular beings (in reality a realistic fake taxidermy) are the creations of a 23-year-old artist from the Newmarket area.
It’s been 20 years since Rowling’s Harry Potter captivated audiences around the world for the first time, and on this milestone anniversary, Lara Whatley continues to draw inspiration from her magical world. “It was part of my childhood,” she says.
At 13, she read the “Potter” books and fell in love – with, she says, “characters that look like real people you have met; the idea that mundane things like school, work, or exams could be imbued with magic; that there could be more to life than just the hardware. And, of course, (there is) the greatest story that can be told: light against darkness, good against unspeakable evil.
In his studio, converted from a dining room on the 17-acre family property in rural Mount Albert, the mostly self-taught artist not only performs creatures inspired by the wizarding world of Potter (thunders , howling mandrake and house elves), but also those of legend (perytons, unicorns, the Loch Ness monster and the seahorse) and the forest in front of his house (foxes, fawns and bats).
“The fun part about legends is how they grow and change, how people and cultures are shaped by and add to them,” says Whatley, who shares her creations on Instagram @whatleyswildlife. “I really enjoyed recreating these captions in my own style.”
Also a musician and author (she published her first fantasy novel, “The Last Pages” at age 14), Whatley started using pencils, pencils and paintbrushes as soon as she could hold them. As a family of creatives – her father is an amateur carpenter and her mother taught art – the Whatleys had all types of art supplies around the house.
In 2016 Whatley started working with mixed media including clay, silicone, resin, faux fur, pencil, ink, and digital. After graduating from McMaster University in 2020, she dedicated herself to art full-time, selling her work on Etsy.
Armed with his sketchbook and the digital paint app Procreate on his iPad, Whatley uses a variety of tools (needles, shapers, and brushes for clay; a vacuum degasser for silicone; and a dremel for resin pieces) to bring his ideas to life. Sometimes, she said, “I just go out without a clear idea, and the piece comes to life on its own.”
“It’s tough being a new artist,” says Whatley, who works 60 hours a week. “Every hour that I work leads to a part that may or may not sell out quickly. Every hour that I’m not working is an hour that I could have created something.
This dedication has paid off, with Whatley having sold over 100 pieces last year, sending his work as far as Europe and New Zealand. That’s no small feat, considering that most of these designs are on a large scale and take 12 to 40 hours (add in the paint drying and curing times and that can stretch for weeks or weeks). months). The hippogriff, with its Movable wings made from real feathers, each on its own thread, are one of its most complicated parts and took over four months to build. Prices for his work can go as high as $ 1,000 for a Thunderbird made up of hundreds of feathers.
Life as an artist has its share of challenges and sorrows, such as when the family cat destroyed a twenty-five-centimeter clay baby bird of prey a year after the start of its creation process. Other times, the molds, used to reproduce original sculptures, can break after only one copy is made. “I keep going as best I can when there are setbacks,” she said.
By the time she’s done and sold a piece, Whatley has spent so much time working on it that she feels like saying goodbye to a friend. At the same time, she is thrilled to be supported by a community that values a sense of shared wonder. “I hope that each piece I create will allow someone to stop, wake up from an ordinary moment and remember that feeling of wonder that came so naturally to us as children. ”
Her art, she says, always contains a bit of whimsy, whether she is making something from a real animal or a fantasy. “‘Harry Potter’ and other incredible classics, like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, will always be dear to me,” she said, “at the very least as stories of one. group of fictitious friends whom I liked very much and who I traveled with him.
Whatey’s artistic journey of late has included a foray into bronze (she’s working on a series of bird sculptures), and she plans to make more dragons, another raptor, a phoenix, butterflies, wild animals and a Jersey heck – “lots of other legends that are familiar to us, plus new additions of my own invention,” she says.
“There are a lot of possibilities, and I’m open to them all. The world, and in particular the art world, is a vast space.