How Clare Donegan became a leading animal portrait and military artist

Decorated female military artist
Clare Donegan BEM

Awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to the Arts in the New Year’s Honours List by King Charles III, she became the first female military artist to be formally decorated.

From pictures of cherished pets and animals to Rolls of Honour for regiments and royalty, Clare Donegan BEM is an accomplished and acclaimed animal portrait and military artist available for commissions. Read on for an introduction to her career and achievements, as well as information for how to contact her.

How did Clare Donegan’s career as a military and animal portrait artist get started?

Clare graduated from Falmouth University in 1995 with a degree in General Illustration, but she did not immediately begin a career as a full-time artist, taking up a position at Shropshire Council instead. While there, Clare had a sideline producing animal portraits for friends and family, but the inspiration to change course and become a full-time artist didn’t arrive for a few more years…

‘I was commissioned to produce my first Roll of Honour in 2002 by a friend of mine who was the Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Mercian & Lancastrian Yeomanry, which has now been disbanded,’ Clare recalls. ‘Although I had trained as an illustrator, this is something that I had never done before and it was certainly a huge challenge. We designed it together over about six months and it took me another six months to produce it. I thought it was going to be a “one off” and after it was presented to the regiment I thought nothing else of it – until it was spotted twelve years later in 2014 by another regiment who wanted me to do one for them to present to Prince Edward.’

At the presentation for Prince Edward, Clare was commissioned to produce a Roll of Honour for the Kings Royal Hussars in 2015, which she was to present to HRH The Princess Royal. ‘It was at this stage that I had my light bulb moment,’ Clare says.

Decorated female animal artist Having worked at Shropshire Council for fourteen years by this point, Clare was offered voluntary redundancy. Researching the market and finding that there were no competitors in her particular field, Clare decided to take a leap of faith and become a full-time animal portrait and military artist.

‘This is something I thoroughly enjoyed and to have two completely different streams of artwork would be to my advantage,’ Clare remembers reasoning. ‘I soon realised there was a huge market for both genres and I haven’t looked back!’

Clare’s artwork is now proudly displayed in Regimental Headquarters, Museums and Palaces around the world.

How does Clare create her animal portraits?

Clare always carries out an in-depth consultation with her clients before beginning work on a commission to ensure she captures the personality and spirit of every pet. When Clare is working on a new portrait, she uses good quality photos of the pet as reference. Wherever possible, she also likes to meet the dog or cat in person to get a feel of their character. Once she’s drawn out the pet’s head, it can take a couple of weeks to paint.

‘They are very detailed and normally painted in gouache,’ Clare explains. ‘I am a complete perfectionist and unless I am 100% happy with my painting then it gets thrown away and started again.’

One of Clare’s favourite portraits is an image of a black labrador called Marvel, commissioned recently by an American client based in North Carolina. They had discovered Clare’s artwork while visiting Farlows at Pall Mall, London, where she sells prints of her wildlife paintings.

‘This was incredibly special as it was my first American client and it was an absolutely wonderful commission, one I will definitely remember,’ Clare says.

Household Cavalry artHow does Clare Donegan produce her military art?

Clare has attained international recognition for her bespoke Rolls of Honour, created for both the UK Armed Forces and those of other overseas countries. Each of Clare’s rolls of honour is meticulously hand painted and depicts the current serving soldiers’ names and battle honours handwritten in calligraphy.

To design a Roll of Honour can take months – ‘I am given all the names of the current serving soldiers in rank and alphabetic order, which can be anything from 30 to 900+, and the images they want to include,’ Clare explains. ‘It is absolutely vital that the final draft template is 100% accurate, as once I have started the original painting there is no going back one mistake and it’s all over!’

Clare’s Rolls of Honour are produced on a 3mm acid free, smooth mountboard and she typically uses a mixture of watercolour, gouache and sometimes acrylic paints. “It takes a huge amount of patience, blood, sweat and tears to get each piece absolutely perfect, the regimental cap badges can be so painstakingly detailed that the brush I use has only about three bristles on it!”

What are some of the achievements of Clare Donegan’s career in military art so far?

One of Clare’s fondest professional memories is being commissioned by the 1st Battalion London Guards, first formed in May 2022. ‘My Roll of Honour is their very first piece of regimental military history, which will be seen by generations of soldiers to come. I was hugely honoured and proud to produce this Roll of Honour for the Regiment.’

Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery Clare has also completed seven Rolls of Honour for various Canadian regiments and a 7ft x 4ft Roll of Honour for the Household Cavalry containing over 900 names, which is the largest piece she has ever produced. It is currently being displayed in the Household Cavalry Museum in Knightsbridge, London.

She is currently working on a Roll of Honour for the Gentleman at Arms, who are the King’s personal bodyguards. The original artwork will be proudly hung in St James’s Palace in a few months’ time.

2023 was a big year for Clare: awarded the British Empire Medal for her services to the Arts in the New Year’s Honours List by King Charles III, she became the first female military artist to be formally decorated. It’s further evidence of the exceptional skill, attention to detail and sensitivity that she brings to every one of her commissions.

‘Being a sole trader, I don’t have a team behind me (currently!). I am the artist, designer, marketing manager, administrator, finance officer and post girl!’ Clare says. ‘To be recognised for all my hardwork over the years was literally a dream come true and also proved a couple of my critics wrong!’

Who are some of animal portrait and military artist Clare Donegan’s high-profile clients?

Her clients have included pet owners and animal lovers, senior public figures and internationally renowned celebrities, such as Louise Kennedy an internationally recognised Irish fashion designer, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, television’s Trisha Goddard and General Sir Richard Sherriff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. ‘I loved the finished result,’ says Nick Mason, ‘but more importantly my wife, who really is the chief dog person in our house, was really delighted with the portraits.’ General Sir Richard Sheriff agrees, stating ‘Clare combines a meticulous eye for detail with real artistic flair’.

Award winning animal artistWhat is a typical working day for Clare?

‘I don’t really have a “typical” day, as every day is different and throws up various challenges,’ Clare points out. ‘However, when I am working on an animal portrait or Roll of Honour, I like to be at my desk for about 8.30am – and if I have a deadline, then I will be working flat out until the evening, sometimes not stopping for lunch!’

The day might also include chores like doing the post run, mailing military prints or paintings. ‘My day always starts and ends with spending an hour or so on Linkedin, which has been an incredibly successful platform for me.’

What are Clare’s plans for the future of her business?

‘My plan is to diversify into schools and sporting clubs, having been commissioned for my first Roll of Honour for Abberley Hall Prep School in 2022 for their “Leavers” pupils,’ Clare says. ‘I was also commissioned by the Australian Invictus Games Team in 2018 and presented each competitor with their own signed print.’

Clare also emphasises that she would be thrilled to have more of her artwork on display in the US and to have her gyrfalcon paintings shown in the UAE. Clare is available for commissions anywhere across the world so to discuss you can contact via any of the links below.

With years of experience behind her and an undying passion for her work, Clare is sure to remain a creative powerhouse in her field.