Arts & culture

Fur, Flight and Fancy

Ayrshire artist Elaine Johnston has garnered worldwide renown for her unique way of depicting Scottish fauna. She opened the Johnston Fine Art Gallery in Mauchline in 2016, set inside the tower of the historic Burns Memorial. She’s currently working on her latest exhibition, Ayrshire Fur to Flight

Interview: Irina Nakonechna

Alongside the Highland cows you are famous for depicting, what other subjects are you featuring in Ayrshire Fur to Flight?

The upcoming exhibition will be diverse, featuring kites, eagles, stags, Highland cows – of course – and even the occasional human, but they may have horns as well.

You are known for your distinctive way of painting animals. How did that specialisation come to be?

Bold brush strokes with an angled brush. Also, a sense of movement and ease within the painting are essential – nothing worse than a painting which may as well be a photograph, or over-laboured brush strokes with no life to the piece.


Your artwork varies from monochrome to highly vibrant, and from naturalistic to exaggerated and surreal. How do you arrive at your colour and stylistic choices?

Experimenting is always fun. An artist should always remain true to their style, however if we don’t grow and move the work on in different directions, we stop learning. This can be via a simple change in the colour pallete used or pushing the boundaries of what we like to paint.

Do you nuance your work depending on the country or demographic that is commissioning it?

Absolutely. Each gallery and demographic pick up on and request different parts of my work. California, Australia and Dubai, for instance, like the bright, coloured backgrounds. Scotland likes the natural colour pallete. Japan, meanwhile, prefers monochrome and appreciates bold, precise brush strokes like the black and white Highland cows.

Some of your past paintings have names such as ‘Ae fond kiss’, The Bard’ and ‘Body of the Kirk’. How do you decide on the titles?

Sometimes I base them on a theme, like something that jumps out at me while flicking through a Burns poetry book. Other times I might ask the farmer of the cow I’m painting. For instance, I asked a farmer what the name of his red Highland cow was. “Stella”, he replied. Unusual, I thought, so I asked him why. He replied: “I drink Stella hen.”

Ayrshire Fur to Flight is showing at Johnston Fine Art Gallery until Christmas. For more info on Elaine’s work, visit