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Wildlife artist David Shepherd on his perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 17:23 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013

David Shepherd: painting and saving wildlife

David Shepherd: painting and saving wildlife

One of Britain's leading wildlife artists, David Shepherd is also a greatly respected conservationist. For him, our county holds a treasure trove of memories and artistic inspiration, and is home to his wildlife foundation, which is celebrating it...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2009

One of Britain's leading wildlife artists, David Shepherd is also a greatly respected conservationist. For him, our county holds a treasure trove of memories and artistic inspiration, and is home to his wildlife foundation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary

As an artist, the most precious commodity is daylight. Although I spend most of my daylight hours painting in my studio - at 77, I still complete about 50 commissions a year - I do have to venture out to gather reference material and, if I'm lucky, to paint in situ. For the last couple of weekends, I've been finishing a commission of Send Church near Woking. It's a very pretty church but I've used a little artistic licence and moved it to the banks of the Wey Navigation. In fact, I even commandeered a narrow boat owner who was happy to let me paint his boat into the scene. I could spend my whole weekend on the bank of the river - it's so tranquil.

Growing up, I lived for a while in Frimley - my family owned and ran the Frimley Hall Hotel and my mother ran a riding school in the grounds. I even painted a 'drunken fish' mural on the hotel wall during my training with one of the finest portrait and marine artists the country has ever produced, Robin Goodwin. Ten years ago, during a refurbishment, the current owners found the mural - painted on canvas wallpaper - and, seeing my signature, got in touch. I now have it rolled up in my attic and I think there's still a picture of the presentation hanging in the hotel bar.

When my father sold the hotel, we moved to Oakhill House in Frensham. We've always had dogs and the walks around Frensham are among my favourites. But Hydon's Ball and Heath has to be my number one weekend walk. A memorial to National Trust founder Octavia Hill, there's a fantastic bench at the top of the steep south-facing slope that has a view to die for. It's somewhere to sit and contemplate life and is my favourite Surrey beauty spot.

Home inspiration

During our 32 enormously happy years at Winkworth Farm near Hascombe - where we raised our four daughters - the nearby arboretum also provided many restful hours away from the easel. When we sold the farm, the estate agents described the living room as having space for an elephant - I don't suppose people had a clue about just how many elephants and tigers came to life in my studio at Winkworth Farm!

One of my favourite places in Surrey and somewhere that I wish had never been demolished was the locomotive shed at Guildford station, which sat where the station's multi-storey car park is today. Along with wildlife, steam is one of my greatest passions and I spent many happy hours in 1967 painting the last days of steam at Guildford. If the sheds were still there, that's where you'd find me at the weekend - enjoying the company of the wonderful men that made the railway what it was and the glorious sounds and smells of steam.

But today, my weekends in Surrey - on the rare occasions that I emerge from my studio - are spent supporting the wildlife foundation that I set up in 1984. Based at Smithbrook Kilns in Cranleigh, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009 having raised almost 5 million to save critically endangered wildlife. Every year, we hold a special Christmas shopping event at Cranleigh village hall, raising awareness and funds and we often hold events at the office and gallery at Smithbrook. It's marvellous to be able to bring something of my passions - of Africa, India and endangered wildlife - to Surrey.

My Surrey Weekend is a monthly guest column in Surrey Life magazine, where we discover how some of the county's high profile characters spend their weekend. To catch up with the series, click here.

Let us know what you're most looking forward to about your upcoming weekend and share what you've been up to in Surrey recently with us on the Surrey Life forum, or by joining us on Facebook and Twitter

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