Frequently asked questions


Q: How long have you been a professional artist?
I started drawing in 1976 and turned professional in 1980. I was a taxi driver at that time and mark the beginning of my full-time career from the date I decided to not renew my taxi-driver's licence.

Q: Do you have dogs of your own? And what breed are they?
I and my wife Jenny are currently owned by a German Shepherd and four manic Parson Russell Terriers. We also keep horses, Shetland ponies, cats, mini-Donkeys, and assorted poultry.

Q: How did you get started in business as an Animal Portrait Artist?
My wife Jenny bred and exhibited dogs and horses, which pointed my work in its present direction. For the full story visit The Artist page.

Q: Besides art what else interests you?
I have many interests and always enjoy a challenge. I taught myself HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and hand-coded this site. I also hand-coded it's sister-site Starving Artists and another twenty sites that are currently live. I and my wife Jenny live on a four acre smallholding so I have, of necessity, also acquired skills in welding, fencing, tractor maintenance, animal husbandry and I'm learning to ride whenever time permits. Jenny, who shares many of my rural interests, also drives carriages. Fortunately we live in the back of beyond, half way along a two-mile bridle path. You can read more about our lifestyle by reading the Greenfields Gazette.

Q: Where do you reside?
The market town of Thirsk, North Yorkshire, England - home of the late Alf Wight (James Herriot) - when we first moved here in 1990 our vet was Jim Wight and our doctor was Rosie (Alf Wight's son and daughter). Within a radius of 50 miles we can be up in the Yorkshire Dales, roaming the North Yorks Moors or strolling down a beach at the coast.

Q: Do you work from your home? If so, what is your set up?
At home. Until 2011 I used to work upstairs in what should have been the master bedroom. I finally got to build my studio outside, which is now a combined art studio, drawing workshop venue, and DVD film and editing studio. I originally planned to have a 16' × 30' shed and that turned out to be a 20' × 34' air-conditioned studio, office and shipping room - and already the shipping room is too small! :o) Visit My New Studio for the full story.

Q: What type of pencils do you use?
Rather than traditional wood-cased pencils, I use clutch-pencils - also known as drafting-pencils, lead-holders or mechanical pencils. Visit The Tools I Use for a full explanatory list.

Q: What grades of pencil do you use?
Grades range from the softest 6B to the hardest 4H. In general use most drawings involve only 2B to 2H with the most use made of 2B and F. The softest grade 6B is very rarely used as the coarse graphite grains can be visually intrusive.

Q: What types or brands of paper do you draw on?
I work almost exclusively on Mellotex (formerly Ivorex). This is a UK product but is very similar to Bristol smooth board. Ivorex can withstand a great deal of punishment and has a very smooth surface, ideal for fine detail work, but also possesses enough tooth to hold soft grades such as 2B. I rarely use softer grades such as 6B. Mellotex is not widely available (not at all outside of the UK) - either talk to your local printer or visit my shop.

Q: How long do you spend on any one drawing?
Each drawing receives the amount of time that the work demands. On average the open edition head-study drawings took from 75 to 90 hours each (spread over three weeks). I usually allow a minimum of 150 hours for each of the limited edition drawings but many exceed this. The drawing that has taken the longest to date is the Border Terrier study " " which took 236 hours 41 minutes, although others have come close.

Q: Do you work only in graphite pencil?
Yes. Graphite pencil satisfies every aspect of my goals for each drawing. As I have often explained "Graphite pencil offers almost the only medium that gives direct brain-to-hand-to-drawing control". It can be a totally intuitive medium.

Q: Do you use a magnifying glass when you are drawing?
I never use any magnification when drawing as I take pains to preserve the hand-drawn look. If I wanted a photographic finish, I'd take a photograph. I do now have a magnifier/lamp over my drawing board (but only because I bought it cheap at a farm auction!) and use it for close study of the source photos.

Q: Do you use a ruler for straight lines or a template for curves?
I never use templates for curves and only use a ruler during the preparatory stages although I will occasionally draw a very light ruled line within a final drawing but only as a visual guide for a later hand-drawn line.

Q: What typical planning and preparation goes into a new drawing?
I work from photos - lots of them - maybe 5 rolls of film just for the dogs - more for elements of the settings (although most are imaginary). Sometimes I go out to photograph dogs and pose them to conform to my idea for the scene and action. At other times I just photograph the dogs and let the photos suggest the composition. Often it's a bit of both.

The composition comes next, which is usually about 9"x7" so I can see it all in one glance. When I'm satisfied this is enlarged onto my final drawing surface. Sometimes I use the 9x7 to produce a finished trial tone drawing first so I can sort out tonal balances.

Q: Do you work all of the drawing at once?
No. Because I'm right handed I usually start drawing at the top left corner and work my way across. I work on one small area at a time until it's complete - so a 200-hour drawing is really 400 half-hour drawings that join up into one image.

Q: What do you hope to portray to people through your individual style?
My belief is that once colour is removed the viewer has to look deeper into an image to gain an understanding. I try to show the viewer the true depth of the beauty of the animal - not just its outward appearance. Into this I build character and emotion. I mentally compose a story before I begin and find that this gets woven into the drawing. I imagine what the animal has been doing or is about to do, how it is feeling and its present mood. I think these mental images are necessary because my drawing only captures a frozen moment in time.

Q: Open and Limited editions - what's the difference?
Open editions are reprinted whenever stocks run out. There may be thousands of any one image in existence. Limited Editions are printed just once. If I decide to release a print in an edition of 530 prints I will, typically, have 600 printed. Of these, 530 are reserved for the main edition, 25 are set aside as Artists Proofs and the others are used to replace damaged or flawed prints, those lost in the post, and as samples (suitable stamped 'sample' to devalue them). Any prints remaining after the edition is sold out are destroyed.

Q: What are Certificates of Authenticity?
These certificates are issued with every limited edition print and are personally signed by me, Mike Sibley. They provide proof that the print is authentic and not an inferior copy. They are also proof of ownership. Many people have the Framer tape the certificate to the back of the frame but this should not be done. In the event of theft, the thief gets your proof of ownership and in the case of fire you lose your proof along with the print. Keep your certificates in a safe place away from the print.

Q: What is an Artists Proof?
Artists proofs (APs) are a collectors edition of a limited edition print. I will typically produce an offset-litho limited edition print of 850 copies plus 25 APs. So I have a regular edition of 850 prints and each print is numbered out of 850. And I have a small extra edition of 25 prints and a collector often prefers to buy a more expensive print numbered out of 25. The generally accepted maximum number of APs per edition is 10% so I could have up to 85 APs in this case but I prefer to keep them more exclusive and limit mine to 20 or 25.

Originally an AP was a print pulled from the press during the fine-tuning stage, so each proof was slightly different from all other prints, which gave it its rarity value. This practice rarely occurs now due to cost. For example, every time we make a change on press we run 200 sheets through the press to settle it down. But we run the same 200 sheets through each time so you can see that those prints are worthless.

Q: I lost a Mike Sibley limited edition print in a house fire. Can you replace it?
Yes and No. If you have the Certificate of Authenticity I will reissue a print with the matching number. However, I will not reissue a certificate. If the edition is sold out and all spare prints have been destroyed I regret that I am unable to help you. The same is true if your ownership does not match my records. I keep a record of the destination of every print so if you purchased your copy from John Bloggs in London and my records show that your print number was supplied to a private Swedish buyer I will want to know why before making the decision to reissue.

Q: Some of your prints are Giclée. What are these?
The majority of my prints are produced on offset-litho presses. The original drawing is scanned by a laser drum scanner, digitised and transferred to CD. From that, two printing plates are produced and the printing itself is carried out in the same manner as quality magazine printing. Giclée printing is similar up to a point. The preparatory scanning to CD can be exactly the same. But from here the image is printed directly from a computer onto fine art paper using a state-of-the-art "inkjet" printer. Note that few inkjet printers can claim to be giclée printers. True giclée printers typically use 100-200 year lightfast inks. The inks are pigment based and not dye based, and most use 6, 7 or 8 individual ink colours. The printers themselves can be huge - the Epson 7500, for example, can print up to 112cm (44") wide and uses a roll many metres long! For more information see the FAQ page at Dace Digital.

Q: How can I best draw white whiskers?
When drawing the head-study range I often employed a stylus to indent the paper prior to drawing. See The Tools I Use for a description of the stylus and its use.

Q: How do I draw a white dog on white paper?
When drawing a white dog concentrate all your attention on the shadows and not the hairs. Every white hair has its own shadow - draw the shadows with care and the hairs will take care of themselves. Then when an area (or the whole drawing) is complete begin adding tone to the white hairs, where required, to create a proper sense of three dimensions. See my tutorial on drawing hair.

Q: How do I draw a black dog? My photo is just one big black shape.
When photographing a black dog you should aim to overexpose your film - you want to encourage the dim highlights to burn into the emulsion. You are not trying to achieve the perfect photograph that shows its shiny black coat to perfection - you are trying really hard to produce an awful, washed out photo that shows ALL THE DETAIL.

It's surprising how many people think a black dog is black but the highlights of its coat describe its form. When you draw a black dog you don't draw the hairs - you draw the HIGHLIGHTS on the hairs (or rather, you draw around the highlights). See my tutorial on drawing hair.

There are at least two solutions:
1. Hold up your existing photo with a desklamp close behind it. The light shining through the paper will display a lot of the missing detail.

2. Scan your photo into Photoshop, or almost any graphics program, and adjust the lightness and contrast until the detail is displayed. It is there, it just needs to be enhanced.

Q: What is negative drawing?
Draw one line then, a pencil line width away, draw another. How many lines are there? Three - two black and one white. Learning to be aware of the white space between drawn lines is what negative drawing is all about. See my Negative Drawing tutorial for more information.