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Pets, Plants and Paintings: An Afternoon with Illustrator Rachel Victoria Hillis

 
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The use of social media seems to have acquired a bad rep lately. Yet we rarely hear about the positive influence these platforms can have. Despite the notorious flaws of Instagram, for me, it’s become a way to discover and connect with the people that inspire me. It makes me sound like a bit of a stalker really, but when I came across the feed of Rachel Hillis, her collection of gorgeous illustrations combined with snaps of her 8 year old Italian Greyhound helper Alf, had me hooked and we connected instantly. It wasn’t long before Rachel welcomed Henri the 5 year old Tabby/Bengal cat to her pack, so eventually we decided to meet up and do a skills swap.

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When I walk into Rachel’s flat, it’s like stepping into one of her intricately beautiful illustrations. A stunning interior filled with precious nick-nacks, unique artworks and an indoor jungle of dreams.

Henri saunters into the living room like a mini tiger in his natural habitat. He’s careful and cautious but it’s not long until I’m accepted with a gentle rubbing against my legs. He heads straight to the window sill, his favourite perch for bird spotting. His half brother Alf the Italian Greyhound isn’t here yet. He lives with Rachel’s mum who lives close by so until his visit later on, Henri and I have lots of time to get acquainted.

Due to the fact that Rachel works from home, she had been interested in adopting a cat companion to keep her company. Rachel tells me how she found Henri.

We had been looking to adopt either a cat or a dog for a few months, visiting many different shelters without much luck, because we live in an upstairs flat. We were told by the RSPCA that we couldn’t adopt and I was heartbroken. My boyfriend responded by searching endlessly online until we found this little cat with the cheekiest photographs. We went to see him and fell in love straight away so we adopted him that day.
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When it comes to cat shoots you have to follow their lead and let them be in charge. There’s a few instances where Henri decides to take himself off to bed in Rachel’s room, but Rachel returns, presenting him to me in his mushroom shaped den (otherwise known as his ‘Bobie bed’). Rachel tells me how Henri likes to sit on her lap, but only when he grants permission with a little demanding meow. Unfortunately I don’t get to witness this, which means no cat lap snaps. Instead the pair play with his catnip filled banana and when he’s done he sits handsomely in his bed, unaware of how effortlessly and perfectly he blends into his stylish surroundings.

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Rachel tells me how Henri adores his stick. With a long trailing piece of string, it’s his favourite toy to claw and catch. So we set out on finding it. As she digs around in cupboards, Henri paces the floor. He knows she’s looking for his favourite toy and I can sense his excitement. Eventually we find it, and oh my, what a happy little Henri we have. He rolls around on the floor, revealing the unique leopard print spots on his belly. It’s one of Rachel’s favourite things about him.

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During my time at Rachel’s, I realise how she just has that natural ability to make Henri feel comforted and safe. She’s so patient and soft, and with that, Henri knows that he can be at ease around me and my camera. She calls him by his nickname, ‘Little Fella’, while talking to him with such care and devotion in her voice. It’s a joy to see such a strong bond and hear about parts of their shared daily routine.

I love it when he jumps onto the bed every morning to wake me up by purring really loudly
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Just before I leave, Alf AKA Little Sardine/ Little String Bean/ Montalbano/ Little Lord Fontleroy arrives (probably my favourite pet-names ever) and straight away he’s in his favourite spot on the couch. After seeing pictures of him on Rachel’s Instagram feed for so long, I feel like I know him so well already. His tail wags as I fuss over him and his little Iggy ears are right back making him look, not like a dog, but an excited little seal pup. Especially with his gorgeous fawn coloured coat. It’s like he’s covered in suede. Alf and Rachel have a moment as they greet each other while Henri is nowhere to been seen. Henri and Alf are both very cautious around each other, but slowly slowly they’re getting braver.

Henri is really interested in Alf. He’ll approach him delicately kissing at his nose. Alf is more submissive because he’s nervous of cats.
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Alf gives Rachel kisses as he sits regally on the couch, still with his tail thumping away with excitement. I witness a brief moment between Alf and Henri as they daintily sniff at each other but it seems it’s Alf’s sudden movements that cut the moment short. Considering Alf isn’t a massive fan of cats, he’s doing incredibly well.

And as I leave, Alf perches his paws on the armrest - his own little wave goodbye. As with all my Pet Stories shoots I ask Rachel to summarise life with Henri and Alf into 3 words.

She replies with, ‘Comical, eccentric and loving’.

And that’s exactly what today has been.

You can see more of Alf, Henri and Rachel’s work by following her Instagram feed and visiting her Etsy shop.

If you’re interested in capturing life at home with your little sidekicks, get in touch
emily@petstories.co.uk or visit our packages page for more info.