ON a TV monitor beside my painting easel, two playful stoats bound about. Far from a distraction, these happy animals lift my spirits as I finish a new art collection for Christmas.

I have known and cared for both since they were tiny kits and even hand-reared one. A female, this one was just four weeks when she arrived.

Her eyes were yet to open, and she could barely hold her own head up. As she wobbled about on the palm of my hand, squeaking feebly, she was so quiet I named her Whisper.

In those early days I fed Whisper every three hours – waking throughout the night for feeds.

Feeding a stoat kit this young requires considerable skill. Just a drop of milk on the lungs could drown her or leave her at risk of pneumonia.

I used a syringe, pushing the plunger in with the palm of my hand rather than my thumb so that I was able to control the flow of milk better. Sometimes, however, milk ran down her chin and I had to wipe it for her.

It was also important to keep her warm. Stoat kits are normally born into litters of up to seven or eight and curl up together to share body heat, but Whisper had to make do with sleeping bag designed for small pets for her and a heat mat.

Whisper had been found alone, possibly dropped by her mother, and the woman who found her waited some time before picking her up, just in case her mother appeared.

By five weeks old Whisper was getting stronger. Her eyes opened one by one: the first eye a whole day before the second so that for a while she looked like a mini stoat pirate.

It was good to see her put on weight and by seven weeks her tail had developed its distinctive black tip and she became quite “stoaty”, biting and testing everything she came across with her mouth.

But back then what she really lacked was a playmate. I added tree branches to her enclosure and began tugging soft toys along to interact with her, but this was no substitute for the social stimulation a wild stoat receives from its siblings.

Then I was contacted by some people who had a stoat kit the same age that needed rehabilitating. This was excellent news. It would do both kits the world of good to have one another for company.

The new stoat was a female - which was amusing since the people who rescued it had named her Stuart.

Stuart, or Stuart-ette, arrived in a woollen hat which acted as a sleeping bag much like Whisper’s and ensured she felt safe in her new home.

At first both kits were wary and Whisper, who you will remember I named because she was so quiet, squeaked noisily, but within in half an hour they had settled down to play.

By 10 weeks old both stoat kits were ready to take the next step towards release.

They were climbing, fighting, and playing with increasing confidence and so I moved them to an outdoor enclosure, furnished with branches and a drystone wall to explore.

I had been as hands-off as possible after Stuart arrived, so catching them to move them to the new enclosure was a bit of trial.

Whisper, who had been hand-reared from a very early age, was easy enough, but Stuart hid away under the carpet that lined the bottom of the enclosure making it impossible to reach her.

Luckily, she then hid inside her safety hat and I was able to gather her up along with the hat and move her that way. This was a relief because she was quite likely to bite me.

After their move outdoors, I became completely hands-off, just leaving food for the kits without intruding and only monitoring their progress via cameras hidden in the enclosure.

It is now almost time to release the stoat kits. I will miss watching them on the monitors, but luckily, I have plenty of photographs and film studies to paint a portrait to remember them by.

Robert will be exhibiting a new collection of wildlife art paintings at his gallery in Thixendale throughout November until Christmas Eve.

To keep customers safe, visits are by pre-booked hourly timeslots during which visitors get the gallery exclusively to themselves. Bookings can also be made via his website robertefuller.com