THE EVOLUTION OF MY ART (1959-1989)
DRAWING AS A YOUNGSTER (1959-1965)
Back in the day, when I was knee high to a grasshopper, my little hands enjoyed making and creating. I loved anything connected to arts and crafts, but most of all, the simple art of drawing. All children pick up a pencil and attempt to draw, but most are mesmerized by the pizazz of colour. I was not one of those kids.
Both my parents and my favourite teacher, Miss Denison, nurtured that little spark of talent and the patience and enthusiasm I showed for drawing.
When I returned home from primary school, Mum would hand me a pencil and paper and I'd entertain myself, sketching away the hours on our wood effect Formica dining table. Tool in hand, tongue in cheek and concentration at 100%, I was wrapped up in my world of drawing. That's when I wasn't busy daydreaming of creatures roaming in far away lands, or playing closer to home in our local woods with Janet or Nicola, my Tomboy friends. We'd climb trees, collect conkers, search for intriguing creatures, or build elaborate camps for our gang to live in... at least until darkness dropped by, reminding us to return to the luxury of soft furnishings.
DRAWING AT SENIOR SCHOOL (1965-1970)
It was during art classes that my talent for drawing became even more apparent, clearly overshadowing forays into colour. Although encouraged to be more diverse, I was never comfortable using paints and brushes, they felt crude and clumsy in my hands. A sharpened pencil on the other hand...
My astute art teacher Miss Brown recommended that I take my O level 6 months early, with the focus on drawing, so I could sneak in the A level before leaving school at 16. The next step was art college. My future appeared full of possibilities. But fate told another story.
My mum died of cancer in the prime of her life. I was 15 and my heart shattered. I'd lost my best friend, life guide and confidant, and any drive to do well at exams skidded to a halt. I lived on autopilot for ages and fared worse than expected across every test. I scraped through with just two O levels, in Art and English and failed dismally at the Art A level. My heart couldn't have cared less.
DRAWING BEYOND SCHOOL (1970-1978)
I hadn't a clue about my future beyond wanting "something connected with art". I experienced a couple of false starts, first as a trainee technical illustrator. The scene was set in a depressing Dickensian sweatshop where our artworks all had to look identical. It wrung any drop of creativity out of me so I quit after 30 arduous days. And then worse still, a brief spell working in a huge laundry factory sorting through dirty clothes, which was an even smellier sweatshop.
After spotting an advert in our local newspaper, life led me to a printing firm appropriately titled Lion Litho; not a roaring success, but at least it put my hands to good use, as a negative assembler/retoucher. That title may sound impressive, but it wasn't. There was at least some semblance of craft and a dash of creativity involved.
40 hours each week, looming over a lightbox, overshadowed my drawing joy and I only picked up a pencil occasionally. When I did, I pursued the earlier themes of cartoons and superheroes, and with my improved skills at realism, copying album covers of my favourite female singers.
I'd say the main advantage I gained from the seven years 'assembling negatives', was using my eyes to crop photos so they looked their best. A strong composition is so important for me and my artworks. Why spend weeks or even months on a drawing that doesn't zing?
THEN I MET DAVE AND LIFE GOT BETTER (1978-1980)
Dave and I shared an intense love of wildlife... and photography. His professional, mine amateur. I used the skills I had visiting *zoos and then drawing the cream of what I photographed. To further help, I also paid many visits to local libraries for additional references and knowledge on the animals I portrayed.
Dave and my career paths ran pretty parallel, with Dave's as a jobbing photographer beginning to take off. He had just volunteered for six months driving a huge AV caravan around the UK to County events to promote the work of the fledgling WWF. In between time, he wrote some articles, illustrated with his photos for (BBC) Wildlife magazine and became friends with the editor in chief, Roz Kidman-Cox. Significantly, he also spent six weeks traveling to Iceland on Greenpeace's anti-whaling ship, the iconic Rainbow Warrior as their official photographer. That eventually led him to co-founding EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency).
Dave's presence in my life had given me the confidence to attempt drawing animals. Before then, I didn't really feel 'up to the job'. My first few turned out pretty good, so I tried more and even sold a couple.
FIRST PUBLISHED WORK (1980-1981)
I practiced loads and Dave became more and more impressed with my endeavours and persuaded me to meet with a few of his contacts at WWF and Wildlife mag to see if they could use my art in some way. I was reserved and uncomfortable promoting myself, but both parties seemed to like my portfolio and soon work flowed. I became a jobbing 'artist'. Through WWF, I illustrated many articles written for local newspapers throughout the UK, highlighting species of animals under threat.
My drawings were still fairly basic and took me just a day to complete. Then a huge creative shift happened. A particularly intricate picture took longer and so I carried on into the following day. I started juggling with a wider range of graphite pencils. That gave me countless shades of the grey spectrum to play with. I drew with more thought and care and detail... and it showed! From that day on, my drawings took as long as they needed to fully come alive. It was as simple as that!
My new improved art won me the accolade of eight of my drawings appearing in Wildlife magazine, the world class mag that Dave and I both read and collected as children. I felt on top of the world.
I TRIED AND FAILED (1981-1987)
In spite of these and other successes, I really wasn't mentally mature enough to make a go of a drawing career and things quietly fizzled out. In 1981 reality and the disappearing bank balance hit me and I found myself with a 'proper' job again. I worked on adventure playgrounds for seven years where some of my childlike qualities proved useful.
In my spare time, I continued drawing, often on commissions of peoples' pets, where capturing their individual characters spot on was paramount. It was such a great learning experience to look deep into the animal's personality and maybe even glimpse into their soul.
DRAWING FOR GREENPEACE (1987)
Allan Thornton was the co-founder of Greenpeace in the UK. In the early 1980s, he was also someone who commissioned me to draw his then girlfriend Elaine's cat. She loved it and still has the portrait hanging in her home in Hastings. Allan also must have loved it as he contacted me early in 1987 to see if Greenpeace could use my drawings to raise funds. He wanted to give the charity a more sophisticated image.
I met with Allan and Greenpeace's wildlife campaigners. Collectively we decided on four aquatic species. I was most excited about creating the picture of a Green Turtle, a gorgeous creature that has been with me for numerous key points in my life.
The drawing took in the region of 30 hours. I tried, and I think succeeded, in expressing the feeling of a wide open space and the supreme effort the turtle made to lay her precious cargo. It remains a significant, evocative piece over 34 years later. In fact, an embellished print of that Green Turtle will be a highlight in the live auction of my art on 1st October 2024 during the private view of the Drawn from the Heart Exhibition in aid of Born Free.
That drawing in 1987 sparked the start of my greatest money maker, limited edition prints. They've been amazing for me personally and more importantly, it's enabled me to raise lots of money to help protect wildlife.
1989 AND THE START OF SOMETHING BIG!
Hugely encouraged by the public reaction to the various Greenpeace prints and confronted head on by the death of my hugely supportive dad, I became a full time, more mature and sensible wildlife artist in 1989... and the rest is history (documented in my previous blog).
I found out that once I was drawing for a living, it was vital to get the balance right. I absolutely didn't want to be a conveyor belt artist, churning out drawing after drawing. So I didn't, but I must add, I work really hard at keeping the charm and excitement alive...
I hope my drawings continue to charm you.
*As soon as I had saved up enough money to travel to see animals in their natural habitats, I stopped going to zoos. I had grown to dislike the concept of imprisoning animals for our entertainment.
Did you know that most animals could never be put back into the wild due to disease rife within the zoos? Also, many healthy animals are euthanized when zoos don't have the space or need for them anymore. Damian Aspinall recently rescued two male orangutans from a zoo that were due to be killed. Orangutans share 97% of the same DNA as us humans...
All that information came from the mouth of Damian Aspinall, owner of Howletts wildlife park in Kent. He is now very much against the concept of zoos. To him, they run as businesses and should be viewed that way, not as conservation platforms to benefit animals.