Cheshire & Wain boss cat Percy is purring with pride at having become a member of the most exclusive gang in town!

Cheshire & Wain boss cat Percy is purring with pride at having become a member of the most exclusive gang in town!

THE world of bespoke pet portraits is a varied landscape: from the weird to the wonderful to the downright freaky, commissioning a portrait of your beloved pet won’t always produce the results you were hoping for. It’s important to choose an artist with a distinctive style, one who can communicate your pet’s personality and deliver a piece of art you would be proud to hang on your wall not just a painted copy of a photograph. When it comes to commissioning a portrait of your animal, I strongly believe that stylistic is better than naturalistic. This isn’t 17th Century portraiture – shouldn’t pet portraits be fun?

Enter: Marlene’s Gang, a bespoke pet portrait service founded earlier this year by London based, artist and interior designer, Leila Talmadge and her French Bulldog and muse, Marlene. Inspired by Mexican sugar skull tattoos, Leila uses heart, flower and cross motifs to create bold and colourful representations of hounds and felines from the UK and beyond. Pets are then added to an online gallery subcategorised by breed to become steadfast members of the most exclusive gang in town: the true animal A-list!

We caught up with Leila on what inspired her to launch the gang and put the fun back into bespoke pet portraiture.


Was Marlene was the main inspiration for starting a bespoke pet portrait service? Tell us how it all started.

Marlene has been a huge inspiration for me. I am an art graduate from Central Saint Martins, but since graduation I hadn’t created much personal art work as my time was dominated by full time work and client briefs.

My first sketch of Marlene in this style was not meant for display, more just a creation for my eyes only. However a few friends saw it and encouraged me to draw more. This positive response led me to expand the style and eventually the concept of Marlene’s Gang.

I’m normally very shy about showing my own artwork, as it can be very intimidating presenting something you have created yourself for others to judge. However art is subjective and not going to be loved by everyone. I can only hope that the passion I have for my subjects and style is translated and appreciated by those who commission me.


You have a really distinctive style – how do you get from photograph to finished design?

The commission process starts with my clients answering a series of questions about their pet, so I can get an insight into their characters. Some of the gang members - cats and dogs alike - I have been lucky enough to meet in person, so I already have a heads-up on the pet’s character and personality. I then request a few photographs to work from just so I can study the pet’s characteristics.

From this I illustrate a line-drawing of the pet, trying to respectfully capture their features the best way possible. Then all the stylised symbols are hand drawn on to decorate the illustration with the Sugar Skull influence. Their positioning is used to create form, and sometimes to highlight features or markings on the pet.

When I have a line drawing that I am happy with this gets scanned, so that I can digitally add colour to the illustration. Normally the colours used are to reflect the client’s personal choices, but on occasion I am given free run with the colours. I like the final illustration to be bright, bold & sometimes clashing in colour as this reflects the Mexican style.


Is running Marlene’s Gang a full time job? What do you like to do when you’re not working on commissions?

Marlene’s Gang is a business that I run on the side of various other freelance positions. I have a career history spanning from working in the fashion to property industries. However, I went freelance a few years ago to complete my MA Interior Design. Since then I have been taking on various freelance interior & graphic design projects, whilst also running a Children’s Charity part time. Clearly I like variety, so when Marlene’s Gang started to develop I jumped at the chance to create a new business, particularly as it was centered around my love of animals.


If Marlene could recruit one fancy feline living or dead, fictional or real which cat would that be?

The first few Marlene’s Gang members were all recruited from her new circle of friends on social media. Marlene is a little over zealous with cats in real life, so recruiting cats through her social media chats is the best way to do so – and spark some interesting conversation, in the hope of getting them onboard!

I really enjoy drawing any pet that has very distinctive features, so the same is true for cats. We recently came across a gorgeous cat called Cookie on Instagram, which has the most amazing face (@juls_m), then there is Venus the two face cat (@venustwofacecat) with stunning markings, so either of those would make perfect gang members!

If you want to commission your cat's very own pet portrait please visit: where you can also check out the current cat gang members. 

Bespoke commissions are £100, cushion covers £35, tote bags £18 and tea towels are £12.50. Everything is made and printed in the UK.  

Be sure to follow Marlene's Gang on Twitter (@marlenesgang) and Facebook: