Tell us how you first started out as an artist?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always drawn and sketched – but it wasn’t something I would have ever considered progressing with. While in the army I used to earn a little beer money by doing caricatures but it wasn’t until I was in my late 40’s and going through university that I realised that other people really liked what I did. I made sculptures and casts which I sold on Tynemouth market to subsidise my university bursary and it soon got to the point where I was earning almost as much from it as I was at work, so I had a real life mid-life crisis and left work to become a full time artist. I’d always wanted to try painting as well so I thought I’d give that a try too if I was going to try being an artist anyway. I did my last shift in the operating theatre on New Years Eve 2015 and painted my first piece on New Years Day 2016. It sold the same day online and I’ve been an artist ever since!
What’s your background? What did you do before you were an artist?
I had a full career in the army (22 years) which took me all over the world and gave me loads of experiences – some great – some not so great! I was injured in a blast while I was on my second tour of Iraq and that made me realise that life really is fragile and far too short to waste it on doing something that you don’t enjoy. After retiring from the army I was at a bit of a loss with what to do with the rest of my life, until I did a university access course and discovered adult learning. I then did a bit of research before deciding on training to become an Operating Department Practitioner. If I could have dropped to part-time I’d still be doing that now but with 4 kids to support I just couldn’t justify working for less than I could earn from my artwork.
Why do you do what you do?
The reactions that I’ve had to my artwork keep me motivated to be creative. My following on Facebook alone has now passed 65,000 people, which in itself is totally mind-blowing – but it’s the comments and messages that I receive from these followers that spurs me on to create more. I’ve had people who say that they’ve never understood art, or don’t get art, yet they’ve been moved enough by my work to purchase pieces. Others have commented that my work has actually moved them to tears…that’s humbling.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by life…although my work tends to be based more around experiences – my own or other peoples.
How would you describe your work?
Varied! I get really bored, really quickly – so I’m always experimenting and trying out new things. So far I’ve sculpted in clay, made casts in resins, used pencils, pastels, coloured pencils and acrylic paints. I’d love to try oils but I’m just far too impatient to wait for it to dry!
Can you tell us what you aim to achieve through your art?
I like the fact that people connect to my work emotionally, but I hope that I also use the subject matters to raise awareness of issues that are close to my heart (such as veterans mental health) and to keep remembrance in people’s minds.
How do you work?
I’ve recently split with my wife of 13 years and moved out of the family home, where I was lucky enough to have a fair-sized home studio. Moving into a small flat with not much space has completely altered the way that I work. Needless to say, I will probably be concentrating on creating more smaller sized pieces from now on!
How have you developed you work?
I am completely self-taught, so my work seems to develop naturally as I learn new techniques. When I look back at my earlier pieces and compare them to more current work I’m always amazed that I’ve actually managed to gain a following at all! I think that the thing which keeps my own interest going is that I’m never happy with my work. I am certainly my own biggest critic and I tend to want to improve on everything that I have ever done.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
I have been influenced by life and my own experiences. Having served in conflicts and seen the aftermath of them I have a burning desire to keep the work of our armed forces in mind.
What influences from The North East have inspired your work?
As far as artists go I have hundreds! I love impressionistic works and pieces that make me stop and stare. There’s a local artist called Kate Van Sudesse who creates the most amazing seascapes. Every time I see her stall set up on Tynemouth market I spend hours looking at her work. I also love the work of Alexander Miller and I especially love the work of the late Jeff Rowlands – his rainy paintings just hit the spot for me. There was also a lovely lady from Whitley Bay called Julie Ingram who unfortunately also passed away recently. Her work was also brilliant and I am lucky enough to own one of her pieces. I also like the work of a young lad I met when I had a stall at Tynemouth market, Sam Wood – who also has work in the NEAC. I’ve really loved to see his work progress!
What work are you most proud of?
It has to be my painting ‘Miss you too mate’. I wasn’t happy with it at all when I painted it and I really just posted it on my Facebook page as I hadn’t done anything for a while. It went viral and was shared over 100,000 times!
What has been your most challenging creation?
Probably the series of 10 similar paintings titled ‘waiting is so hard’ that I donated to the Royal British Legion, one for each of their care homes. Coming up with ideas to make each of them different but essentially the same painting was quite tricky.
What’s your favourite piece of artwork?
One of my more recent paintings ‘Ever Faithful’. It’s a variation on a recurring theme that I’ve painted and drawn a few times over the last few years – but I like how this particular one turned out. In fact I liked it so much that I chose it as the cover for this years calendars.
What are your ambitions for the future?
More recognition would be nice – and to continue creating – although I’m currently also playing with the idea of writing (and probably illustrating) a children’s book…
What is your story with North East Art Collective?
I had mentioned on my page that I was considering approaching galleries to exhibit my work and John commented on the post with the contact details for the gallery. I went in and had a chat with him (and the lovely Gabby) and I loved the place. I really liked the fact that the artists exhibiting are local and I just think that they’ve got the balance pretty much spot on…it’s professional, but it’s got a real personal feel to it too. I’ve had my work in there ever since and I was over the moon to be asked to be the Artist of the month for October.