Once I have a sketch or an image in mind, I source props or more often than not, build them out of cardboard and then find an animal that's willing to play ball. I get as much as I can in-camera, but a lot of the time, I'll use Photoshop to combine elements and bring my sketch to life. Photoshop is also an important factor in keeping things safe for the animals. Not many people want me posing their beloved pet mouse next to a cat who might who eat him, or dangling their pet from the ceiling in a wobbly cardboard plane. So it gives me plenty of freedom to not limit my ideas.
I photograph most of my work in my own home which is tiny but does the job. One day I will have a big studio where I can photograph 15 Great Danes in one go. But for now, I have to clear space in my own home, put up background stands, have any props or toys I might need on hand. Photoshoots with dogs usually last around an hour or so. With cats, I build in a lot longer for obvious reasons!
Without a doubt, adult cats are the least likely to do what I want. They have a habit of figuring out exactly what you want from them and then ensuring that they do the exact opposite. I sometimes work with cats and have people watching and after half an hour they're screaming "WHYYYYY ARE YOU DOING THIS FOR A JOB?" hahaha. I spend a lot of time lying on the ground, waiting for a cat to give me his best face. It can take some time but it's always worth it. Cats can give the most magical expressions. You just have to work on their terms.
I am sort of a mess of ideas and I'm slowly getting better at organising myself. I have a sketchbook that I fill with completely insane scribblings. And when I don't have that with me, I scribble on whatever I have in my bag. I once found myself doodling on the back of an envelope whilst waiting for my car at the garage. By the time my car was ready, I had a finished sketch of a cat balanced on a tall pile of books. I went home and shot it that afternoon.
I think "Ameowlia" is still my favourite just because it was the first time I did something a bit crazy and people actually responded really well to it. I took a bit of a chance putting it online, not really being sure how it would be received. But people are now buying her on greeting cards and pillows and it makes me so happy!
Go with your gut. If you love something and it is inspiring you, then keep pushing forward. I wish I'd started working with animals earlier. I wish I'd graduated with a full portfolio ready to go. But I think I dismissed it as something a bit odd and thought people would think I was weird and not a proper photographer. Which is dumb. You don't get anywhere by playing it safe and just doing the things that you think people want and expect you to do. It's good to show your quirkiness and creativity. That's what people respond to. It's exciting and fresh. And for everyone that dismisses you as a weirdo, there'll be five other people who are excited about your weirdoness and want to see more. That's what I tell myself anyway!
The moment when you actually connect with the animal and you see them make the exact expression you've been waiting for and the camera clicks, it's just magic. I also love it when the owners see the finished artworks. It's particularly cool for them when the work is well-received by lots of people. Who isn't excited about their cat becoming a little supermodel?