One of Painted Planet's newest additions, April Turner of UTurn Studios has already ignited interest among our licensing partners with her delightfully adorable pet photography. From her studio nestled in the rolling hills of the Missouri Ozarks, April's lens captures the pure joy that our furry friends bring us. UTurn Studios' images are available for cards, calendars, stationery, paper products, apparel and more!
My parents always encouraged me to be creative and to use my imagination. At a very early age, I remember asking my Mom what color something should be as I was drawing. She replied that when I was making art, things could be any color that I wanted...that there was no “right” or “wrong” when it came to using my imagination. That response has always stuck with me, and gave me the power to follow my imagination. I also remember very clearly the moment that the photography bug took hold. I grew up in the country and I was wandering in the woods around my home. It was a beautiful summer day and I was taking photos of the creek. There was a clump of black-eyed Susans, but they weren’t in quite the right spot to get the photo I was envisioning. I picked one and floated it in the water, getting just the shot I had in mind. Something clicked for me in that moment and I was really excited by the idea that I could capture what I saw in my mind's eye and share it with others.
What do you draw inspiration from? Which artists inspire you?
I draw inspiration from so many sources, and I feel like they are ever-changing and evolving. Sometimes, it’s a color combination I see in nature, or the way the sunlight sparkles on the water during a late afternoon walk. Many times, I am inspired by the animals that I work with. Their carefree, playful spirit keeps me smiling and wanting to capture all the great energy they share with their human counterparts. I was lucky enough to become a Mom last year, and now I gather so much inspiration seeing the world through fresh eyes as I observe my daughter’s wonder at discovering the world around her.
Artists that I admire are many, but a few that come to mind immediately are Anne Geddes, Richard Scarry and Marjolein Bastin. Not only do I love their art, but it’s also really uplifting to me that they harnessed their talent and were able to create a successful career out of something that they love to do.
Colorful. Whimsical. Smile-inducing. It’s really important to me to capture the personality of my furry subjects. I think my signature in the images is that the pets are genuinely engaged during the creation of the photo. I don’t use Photoshop manipulation to alter their expressions or pair them with a certain prop. It’s all happening just as you see it in the final image, and I think that approach conveys the joyful spirit of the animal in the resulting image. You just can’t help but smile when you see a happy dog or cat staring back at you.
Describe the most difficult part of your process.
I have to admit, my entire process is pretty darn enjoyable! Probably the most difficult thing is to narrow the photos down after taking them. I get attached to each of the pets I work with, and each image looks cuter than the last when I look back through them. I have to wait a few days and narrow them down again. I’m getting better at flipping through the images more subjectively, and pulling out those where the animals have a certain spark...a moment frozen in time that really draws you in and makes you want to play with that furry critter.
Who’s your go-to person for providing honest feedback on your work?
I am really lucky to have another very talented photographer in the family. My sister-in-law, Erica Turner, is a wedding and portrait photographer here in Southwest Missouri. Erica and I, along with our friend Kim McKinney (another amazing photographer!), like to get together periodically and “talk shop." They are always happy to let me run any crazy idea past them and they give me honest, constructive feedback.
Describe your studio.
My photography studio is a cute little building on the same property as my home. It’s surrounded by old oak trees, rolling hills and lots of places for the dogs I work with to explore. Inside the studio, you’ll find a profusion of colorful props and backdrops, along with nearly every type of dog treat known to mankind. The space is designed to put the pets at ease for their photo session. All of my post-production is done in my home office. It’s one of my favorite spots in the house...it’s filled with natural light from windows that run the length of the room and I have filled it with fun, quirky things that make me happy (like kitschy 1950s cat figurines). And, of course my furry sidekicks are never far away!
Do you work in silence or with music? If music, what kind?
When I’m in a photo session is about the only time you won’t find me listening to music! It’s just too distracting for the pets during a photo session, although I have been known to put on classical music for cats who need help relaxing. I have a really varied taste in music, and when I’m photo editing you could find me listening to anything from bluegrass to Rob Zombie. Current favorites are Florence + The Machine, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
I am really proud of the images that come from The Model Pet Project. I co-founded the Project with marketing guru Robin Bulster and dog trainer Misti Fry. Along with a team of amazing volunteers, we visit the local Humane Society each month and treat 50+ shelter pets to a fun day that includes special treats, positive training, grooming, play time and a photo session that helps show them off at their best to potential families. Our objective is to change the perception of what a shelter pet can be—showing the public that a shelter pet can become a model member of any family. The adoption rate has dramatically increased since we began The Model Pet Project 4 years ago. The resulting images not only help potential adopters discover the pets that are currently available, they also lend themselves well to licensing, which allows us to continue the Project and help more shelter pets.
Have you won any accolades or awards?
I have won a few awards here and there, but the one I am most proud of is the Hamaker Lifetime Achievement award that I received from the Killuminati Foundation. The award is given each year to someone who has made a difference in the lives of animals in need. The award’s namesake, the late Dr. Ted Hamaker, was a veterinarian here in Springfield, MO that gave tirelessly to pets in need. Being given the award was incredibly humbling and I feel so honored to be among the other recipients who have given so much of themselves to pets in our community. Even though the award is not an art award, it still ties very closely to my photography since I got my start by working with homeless pets.
What are your goals for the future?
My goals for the future include creating new collections of images, and I have ideas for two children’s books of animal photography that I would love to develop.
What is your dream project?
I would love to open an animal refuge and adoption center with a big photography studio as the centerpiece.
What is your favorite color?
Robin’s Egg Blue. But if you ask me tomorrow it might be different.
I would own a greenhouse. I had a near miss with a career in horticulture.
What are your hobbies (besides art)?
It probably goes without saying by this point in the interview, but I love to be outdoors amongst nature. My favorite pastime is going for a good walk through the woods with my husband, daughter and furkids. It has been so fun to introduce my daughter to all the things I love about nature and I continue to delight in her growing love for being outside and discovering new things. I also enjoy gardening, cooking, sewing and crafting.