I was born in 1961 in the North West of England and educated at Preston High School. As a boy I was very interested in drawing and regularly won awards for my art. Being a keen ornithologist, I had my own bird sanctuary, taking in waifs and strays and nurturing them back to health, which were later released back into the wild. This early devotion to wildlife led me to be both, environmentally aware, and a keen conservationist.
My passion for nature and art led me to study Natural History Illustration at Blackpool College. It was there that the Rotary Club of Great Britain awarded me the prize of ‘Student of the Year’. This award being for work of exceptional quality and detail. I was also the first student ever to gain a distinction for my work, which was a great honour.
After leaving college I adopted painting as a full-time career and was, and still am, constantly in pursuit of reference for my subjects. This has meant that I have travelled to far off places, from the Jungles of Borneo and Central America, to the spectacular Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, as well as the Plains of Africa and Asia. For me coming face to face with nature is what makes me tick.
I have had five sell-out exhibitions in total, and achieved record prices at both Sotheby''s and Christies. I also won ‘Best in Show’ award at The Wildlife Art Society Exhibition in 1999.
Possibly one of the most important things for any artist is inspiration. I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively in pursuit of my reference, and who cannot fail to be inspired when face to face with a mountain gorilla, or up close to tigers in the wild. It is so important, as an artist, to get reference first hand, not just of the animals and birds that feature in my paintings, but also the native vegetation, landscapes, rocks and trees etc. I am lucky enough to have a kind of photographic memory where I can see a scene that touches me, and am then able to visualise it in detail much later. I couple this with field studies, and photographic reference, to recreate the idea that was formulated in the field, and bring it to life in my studio. As a result of this I am never short of ideas and as soon as I have finished a painting, I am itching to get on with the next new project that has been on my mind during the last days or weeks.
Composition is the key to a great painting, as is the right balance of colour, but I guess that the most important element for me is light. A picture without light is flat and lifeless. Put in a strong light source, and you have a very different story, the shadows play key roles in describing the form of the subject - making it come to life in a painting.
For me painting has long been a passion. As any artist will tell you, the thrill of creating something that may last for generations, and hopefully be appreciated, is difficult to describe.
Starting with field studies, photos, and the memories that I mentioned earlier, I make a kind of pre-study in pencil. This usually starts life as a scribble, and then gradually gets more developed, until I am happy with the content and composition. I am now ready to prepare the surface on which I am to paint. Should it be canvas or panel? The subject usually decides. If panel, it is treated both sides with gesso (this is a white paint, made by mixing the gesso powder with a solution of animal size, and then straining it through a muslin sieve). A further four coats are applied to one side, and sanded down in between coats. If it is to be canvas, I use the finest French linen weave available, and stretch it over the required size stretcher bars. Coating the back with size shrinks the canvas slightly and makes it as tight as a drum. The canvas is now given two thin coats of a neutral coloured oil paint to prime the surface. After gridding up the preliminary drawing, I then scale it up and re-draw it on the panel or canvas. It is only now that I am ready to start painting!
How long does it take? This must be the question most asked of any artist. Infinite patience and a lifetime''s experience... maybe? The answer I suppose is when I am happy with the work. Every time I look at a blank canvas, a familiar nervousness reaches the pit of my stomach. This usually lasts a few days if the work gets off on the right foot, yet weeks can sometimes pass before I become settled that things are as they should be.
I am a very structured, and regimented kind of person. I like to have a strict routine that I try to adhere to. This helps me get on with my work when I''m lacking enthusiasm. I think it is important to treat painting just like any work and just get on with it. The notion that artists have to be in the mood is quite frankly outmoded. Most professional artists are just that – professional! They devote their time to the work in hand, and stick at it. When a piece of work is not going quite as planned, a breath of fresh air sometimes does the trick, and I can then view the painting with a fresh eye. Oil Paintings like mine, that portray animals or birds in a highly realistic way, take a long time to finish. The nature of the medium is slow drying, and requires lots of coats and glazes to achieve the desired result. As a result I usually start work at 9am, finish at noon for a quick lunch then start again at 12.30 and work through to 5pm. I spend the next couple of hours with my son, and more often than not resume work from 7.30 till 9pm. I always try to keep weekends free to spend time with my family, or keep up with various jobs around the house.
Over the last few years I have devoted a lot of time to raising money for various charities from NSPCC to CFTW (Care for the Wild International), and have been instrumental in helping build a school for underprivileged children on the outskirts of Ranthambore National Park in India. This is going to provide much needed education for the indigenous people of the area, whom do not at present understand the value and need of conservation. It is so nice to be able to put something back, into what is such an important aspect of my life.