This happened long before I studied at Wimbledon School of Art and Kingston University. Having stubbornly lived in the world of black and white, I finally made myself paint - all exuberant enthusiasm and no clear direction. However, I had a breakthrough when I was 18 years old. I had painted for some time by then, but this was the first time I had made a painting so seriously, with no experimentation, just care and an urgent responsibility to get it right. It was a portrait of my Dad, and without sign or suggestion, I leapt years ahead to produce something my 18 years could have thwarted. This was the turning point. It was no longer a case of just loving painting, but realising that I could be good at it.
It changed everything. Painting replaced drawing completely. I only drew again at college and again, gave it up when I left. I think that I had spent so much time making preliminary studies with pencil or charcoal, opposing the commitment of using colour, I now paint immediately, considering preparatory sketches unnecessary.
I became an illustrator shortly after leaving college and received a national award. The need to tackle an unlimited range of subject matter, was a very useful experience. I learned a lot in painting what I did not want to, as well as what I loved.
Artists, composers, singers, dancers or writers all have a memorable effect. But sometimes, it is more valuable to notice something not quite so obviously stirring. Often, a glance at the fashion section of the Sunday supplements has shown me something special. The non-posed images of particular models backstage. The structure of their faces still appeals to the light, but now they are distracted and less self-conscious. This could be a face, a character that helps a painting have its story. The added benefit is that I feel I have noticed something that someone else may have missed.
Art in any form, in any media, can be so many things that it can be in danger of being too many. It can be intellectual, conceptual and political, but I am steadfast in believing that Art is at its best when simply emotional. You see something and you are moved. Before analysis or a full understanding, the viewer can just enjoy the emotional sensation.
This moves beyond craft or technical prowess, however important. It is that ''otherness'' in a picture that any artist strives to capture with every piece of work; and is eventually inexplicable and, more precious remaining that way. Each painting should contain something that cannot be repeated.
My all time greats of painting have to be Caravaggio, Velasquez and Rembrandt. There are many others, but I wonder at the works of these great artists more than anyone else.
A great painting will endure long after the initial impact. The spectator will continue to discover more, long after the original viewing and the work itself will breed the desire for new pieces. As I mentioned, more than technical proficiency, there is that otherness element that resists being formulated, but guarantees enough of a challenge to ensure I am still learning and trying always.
As far as subject matter is concerned, I have always loved painting people, favouring glimpses of figures and anatomy. Even in the enormous, allegorical works of classical masters, I have always been drawn to confined areas of a piece - a spotlit area that reveals a rigid jaw line, or the twist in a turned neck. Often I like to have images remain that simple - paring down extraneous material to leave what feels ephemeral. Other times, I need more of a setting and the reward is in the discipline of being more representative. Ultimately what makes me work is that, despite all the wonderful breakthroughs and milestones I have experienced in painting over the years, I never feel that I have quite nailed it. There is always more to be done, as I think it is very difficult to measure what your potential is, only the gratification that you have not yet reached it.
I paint immediately; covering the canvas with a colour I think will help the first detail make the best sense. This can and usually does change as the painting evolves. I do not do preparatory studies, as I prefer to resolve everything on the canvas.
I know what I want to paint, but have often changed composition and colours because a better idea has turned up two days later.
I admire artists who visualise what they will do before picking up a paintbrush or pastel. I can only plan how I will start. How it ends depends on influences I cannot predict. Of course there is a stamp or style that is unique to every artist, but this is automatic and unplanned; a new painting can reveal itself with ease and other times, only after a real struggle. Either process may be indiscernible in the finished piece - it is just the way it is. There is a naivety, not just necessary in rediscovering your potential, but for me, unavoidable.
I have a daily routine that starts and stops at precisely the same time, in my head. What actually happens depends on when I''ve finished the day before, but I like to rise early, have breakfast slowly looking at the garden with my puzzled, morning eyes. I also guard my free evenings as best I can. Soothing music in the background is the perfect balance to how I paint. It is an intense exercise and there are times when only the burgeoning clicks and bubbles in my gut tell me that several hours have gone before I grab a snack.
Ideally, I like to take regular breaks to clear the head and come back to see the work unfuddled. Knowing when to stop is a real skill and I''m no master; but no matter what has gone before I will always stop on a good point - otherwise I will not be able to leave it. Having finished painting for the day, I am nicely exhausted and just sit and stare at things a while. When I stop blabbing narcissistically about painting, I adore the peace and quiet in the evening with Gail - a nice meal, listening to music or watching movies - this is the very best part of the day.