Guinea Pig Illustrator, Caroline Whittle, is ‘Out of the Hutch’
After graduating from the Berkshire College of Art and Design with an HND in graphic design, Caroline realised she preferred illustration to graphics and most definitely did not want to work in London. This led her to becoming a greeting card artist for a publisher based in Henley-on-Thames. She left after five years perfecting her craft to become freelancer.
It was through a book recommendation from a colleague and having a poorly guinea pig that Caroline met the awesome Peter Gurney. The book was of course his ‘The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs’. Peter successfully cleared up Chester’s skin problems and he and Caroline became close friends. She painted a portrait of his beloved Doddy as a thank you, which unbelievably was the first guinea pig illustration she had ever done.
Through meeting Peter and other like-minded people, Caroline began to consider why there was such a lack of giftware featuring cavies available. In 1997, she created her own business Christmas card in the cute style she was most often commissioned to paint for the greeting card market. It was then ‘Out of the Hutch’ was born.
|Left: Artwork by Caroline Whittle titled, “Marvellous Marbles,” a very adored guinea pig belonging to Chrissie Slade of Gorgeous Guineas skin care products. Right: Caroline is painting Marbles in “Out of the Hutch” style, having a bath, for the next collection.|
After contacting The Winking Cavy store, Caroline went on to create the images to date, of which ‘Flying Carpet’ became her most iconic. She attended many guinea pig shows with The Winking Cavy and Peter Gurney, most memorably, The Guinea Pig Extravaganza in Virginia. Caroline was delighted to see how much more mainstream the love of guinea was in the US. Back in 1999, adults keeping what were regarded as childrens’ pets were considered rather eccentric and it was not talked about. To this end, in February 2000, Caroline prepared her portfolio and took her work to the annual greeting card fair at Birmingham NEC. There was a resounding no-vote from the emminent publishers who unanimously agreed that only cats, dogs and mainly bears were cute, not guinea pigs. “They don’t have the ahhh factor,” Caroline was told.Undeterred, Caroline decided that her market was indeed the USA, sold up and prepared to emigrate. She initially based herself on the Isle of Wight to concentrate on writing and illustrating children’s books to present to an American publisher. She spent a month in Mississippi with friends building contacts and attending a Southern Breeze children’s writing seminar in Alabama, October 2003, planning to return the following summer to publish the books.
Sadly, this was not to be. Hurricane Katrina wreaked devastation on the Deep South, destroying the lives of thousands of people. Caroline had postponed her trip due to work commitments in the UK. It was the end of her business plan for America, which, of course was inconsequential in comparison.
Caroline concentrated on charity fundraising, setting up a website and producing her own greeting cards and high-quality prints. She mainly undertook portrait commissions at this time as a break from guinea pigs and to broaden her portfolio. Unfortunately, the world lost it’s guinea pig guru when Peter Gurney passed away in 2006. Caroline was devastated and very low. She contracted Epstein-Barr virus, which developed into ME, leaving her no option but to fold her business.
“These days I pace myself and being in a magic world of innocence, beauty, and magic is where I want to be.” -Caroline Whittle
It has been a long, slow journey back to health and Caroline is raring to go with new ideas as well as re-writing her children’s stories with a fresh perspective. “While I was ill, some days all I could do was lay in a dark room,” says Caroline. “My world became a very small place lived at a very slow pace. I spent a lot of time in the restful stillness of the company of my guinea pigs. It inspired me to create my ‘Picnic at Coleman’s Farm’ where the subjects of a petting zoo take some time out after a stressful day. If I had done more of that, I doubt if I would’ve become ill. These days I pace myself and being in a magic world of innocence, beauty, and magic is where I want to be. The world has moved on and now there are guinea pig images everywhere. I like to think I played some part in that.”‘Out of the Hutch’ as we know it has been licensed by Caroline’s Agent, Susan Martin, to Joanna Sheen, who has produced gorgeous decoupage packs with all your favourites, where the nimble-fingered crafters of you can cut out and create your own beautiful three-dimensional greeting cards. ‘Out of the Hutch’ now has it’s own Facebook page where you can keep up to date with what the guinea pigs (and Caroline!) are doing!
Caroline also paints fine art guinea pig portraits and recently finished a huge undertaking, ‘Autumn Pannage’. The client wanted all of the piggies she and her husband had ever rescued in one painting, including their two bunnies and their dog in an autumnal setting. The story and step-by-step progress of the painting can be viewed on Caroline’s website as well as her CW Design and Illustration pages on Facebook later this month.
Caroline is currently busy illustrating the first two of her children’s guinea pig books and hopes to be sharing them with you soon! If you would like to commission Caroline to paint your guinea pig’s portrait, or in an ‘Out of the Hutch’ scenario, please email her via her website or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices start at £160.
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