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Animal Portrait Art Gears Up In New Space


Shea Stanfield
Arts Columnist

French poet, journalist, and novelist Anatole France wrote, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains un-awakened.” Local artist April Howland has fully realized this sentiment over the course of her lifetime as an animal lover, master of the animal portrait, and philanthropy for animal rescue and child welfare groups.

April is truly a “hometown girl’. Born and raised in Sedona, she realized her passion for drawing and painting animals at the very young age of four. It all started when her mom arrived home with two books on how to draw cats and dogs. April laughs when she reflects on those early days, “I used those books until not even tape could hold them together any longer!” Today, she is widely known and collected as a domestic and wildlife portrait artist. She shares her home with her husband, son, and a variety of rescue animals.

In high school, April was lucky to have an instructor that she considers one of the best teachers of animal portraiture in David Lash. April shares, “David was not only a phenomenal teacher, but a well-known wildlife artist in Arizona, I could not have had better instruction in method and technique.” After high school, April moving to Phoenix to attend the Al Collins Trade School for Graphic Design, where she learned more about advanced composition and the media side of art production. Although she remembers being “decent at it, the commercial end of art”, it just was not a good fit for her, so after ten years in the industry she began studying painting and drawing under local artists to learn more about the fine art end of the business. It was at this time she started Howland Studios.

Today, April paints in both acrylic and oil, but claims her first love will always be graphite drawing. She loves returning to those early days of growing up where she traced and colored cats and dogs for hours at a time, gradually becoming more sophisticated and polished through her upper level of instruction. As a viewer, one can certainly appreciate the skill and precision exhibited in any media April chose for her rendering. Her work is eye grabbing and awe inspiring. She remembers back to her first acrylic painting she did of her friend’s dog, Clyde. April was looking for an animal subject for a class assignment, Clyde was available not to say an adorable beagle with an infectious personality. Her painting was so successful that the vet’s office instantly recognized him and the requests for further pet portraits came rolling in. Clyde lives on to this day on April’s business cards as a constant reminder of that early period.

A rescued jaguar at the Phoenix Zoo named Lucero was April’s reintroduction to wildlife painting. She had read a story about him in the Arizona Republic and arranged to meet him personally at the zoo. The large canvas painting was so well received that she donated it to Zoofari, a charity event the zoo holds every year. Today, Lucero’s portrait hangs proudly in the Phoenix Zoo’s corporate office. This prompted April to incorporating wildlife portraits into her domestic animal portrait portfolio. April grabs every opportunity she can fine to travel to the animal’s natural habitat. She has traveled to Alaska to walk with the grizzlies and South Africa to observe the “big five” on the vast open plains. As she shares, “seeing the wild animal in their native surroundings connects you to their natural life and their free spirits, there is nothing that can replicate that experience.” These experiences have led to April donating to many causes over the years, including the Africa Foundation that services children’s needs on the continent. She now serves on the Board of Gabriel’s Angels (, a local charity and is currently on the Salud Wine Event committee for their upcoming October fundraising event.

Locally, April is represented by Calvin Charles in Scottsdale and participates in the Desert Botanical Garden for the Dog’s Day in November ( Her work is also showing in Boise, ID at GalleryFive18 ( April has moved to a new studio space in the Phoenix Downtown Arts District. Her new studio opening will be 1st Friday, November 4, 2016. To find out more about April Howland’s art, her involvement in animal protection and child welfare causes and to arrange your own commissioned piece, and to get on her mailing list for events and updates, visit her Web site at 

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield at