Background & History
After studying art at North Tyneside College, I became self employed as a professional artist in 1984. I used this time to experiment with all medium including glass engraving, printing and painting, but always seemed to be drawn back to oil paint. Even as a child I can remember my grandmother using oil paint in a paint by numbers set. This caught my attention and I was fascinated with the medium. I always tried other mediums because I found the process of art exciting. At this time, I had a scatter gun approach to art, working in all areas and not really having any one medium to learn my craft. Times became difficult and I had to re-train. In 2000 I did a HND in advertising/illustration as a visualizer, studying at Newcastle. While there I worked on many live briefs and was successful in winning a NEPA award (North East Print Association).
After graduating and looking for work, I just could not keep away from art. I wanted one more try at being successful in art. After exhibiting in a Northumberland gallery, my artwork was taken to the London Affordable, where I had a sell out in one day. Things began to snowball. I exhibited in Edinburgh and in Dublin with equal success. Over the past two years, I have witnessed a change in my work. I feel that I have honed my efforts and skills into compositions that really express and convey a certain atmosphere or moment.
I like to let the viewer of the painting make their own mind up about what is happening with the characters in the composition. I like to add street signs pointing in two different directions suggesting that these two people are coming together, or are they splitting up? Maybe they are having an affair; is their love a secret or are they simply going back to the bar where they first met? This is also helped by composing the painting on a street corner. A view of two roads meeting or two paths crossing. In their relationship, has the bar become ‘their bar’? The viewer has the answer.
As part of the working process, I am always inspired to experience what I am about to paint. I remember Billy Connelly saying that he hated songs about Scotland that were written by men in London: men who had never even seen the Highlands. In other words, if you are going to do something creative, get to the very heart of it first.
I did a series of paintings about Trawler men some time ago. I researched the project by going out into the North Sea with the men, on a trawler and sketching them while they worked. They thought I was mad, getting soaking wet, freezing cold and stinking of fish…but I loved it. I now use this approach to my rain paintings.
Living on the North East Coast we get our fair share of rain. When it rains, I feel the need to get out there and sketch. Look at how rain can bounce off the ground and car roofs; the reflection from car lights and street lights.
The paintings can be set in any city: again, it is up to the viewer. However, I do like to add a personal touch to my bars. My family tree stretches to Ireland on my mother’s side and Scotland on my father’s, so I like to name the bars in either an Irish or a Scottish name. I quite simply have a passion to paint and if I can get the audience to imagine a scenario of their own, then I feel I have achieved a connection between canvas and viewer.
From Palette to Picture
I find myself constantly looking at buildings wherever I go. Because the composition of my work could be anywhere or any street, it is a wonderful feeling to see a street corner bar, or restaurant and be completely excited about how I can create an atmosphere on that corner. I see old pub fronts or contemporary restaurants and I am completely hooked. By sketching or photographing the bar, I am ready to paint.
I first choose a canvas and decide whether it will be portrait or landscape. I then have a strange ritual I like to perform. Quite simply I run the palms of my hands over the tooth of the canvas and get a lovely feeling through my hands from the canvas, almost a personal connection between artist and material. Then, with a heavy graphite block, I begin to lightly knock in a horizon and areas where buildings will be. I then use my fingers to make marks and shapes giving me an overview of how the painting will look. I like to feel every part of the canvas. At this stage the work is at its most vague. Streaks, smudges and finger marks are just enough to allow me a glimpse of the finished work.
After fixing the graphite, I am ready to paint, mixing five or six colours on my palette. Using cerulean blue, ultramarine, Van Dyke brown, lamp black and titanium white, I create a spectrum of greys and cools blues. The application of these colours is applied vigorously to the canvas using a common decorator’s paint brush. I knock in all of the areas to create an undertone, then, always working from the background, I start to add suggestions of something going on. This may be a street sign, traffic, or street lights. I am now creating a perspective and depth of field. Working towards the middle distance and foreground, I apply the paint darker and heavier, pulling the foreground forward. At this stage I work on the bar front with its suggestion of light and perhaps a glimpse of the bar counter. After finishing the name of the bar, I can see where I want to place my characters or vehicle. Once they are in place I can now really enjoy applying the rain. I have developed a technique of stippling the paint with that common decorator’s brush. Because the brush is old and the hairs are split, I can achieve a wonderful effect which leaves paint marks that are not constrained to a uniform pattern. I can get the same effect from this brush with falling rain. I run the brush down the canvas using only the weight of the brush. The split hairs from the brush allow the strokes to become rain.
A Day In The Life Of…
I live in Monkseaton near to the North East coast with my partner, Alison and our son Chris. I work from a studio at home and I am an early riser, so I wake at 6.15am. By 6.45am I have made tea for Alison and after dropping her off at work, I usually start my work about 7.00 – 7.30am. I like to clear my studio before I start; it also clears my mind. I am very lucky in what I do for a living and can’t wait to start the work. The night before I always make an itinerary of jobs I will be working on the next morning, so I begin by going through what is to be done; at the same time I get that all important big pot of tea on the boil. I then wake my son, Chris, make sure he has breakfast and all of his school equipment and is off to school by 8.40am.
I select a new canvas and go through my little ritual. After drawing out the work and ensuring that I am happy with its progress, I am hooked. When I start to paint, I am transfixed on the progress. To me, it is rather like reading a good book: when you read it you become lost within the story and forget where you are. That is how I am with a painting, even though I paint standing at all times. The only time I am disturbed from this hypnosis is when our cat, Bailey, wants attention. By lunch time I have my sandwich and tea while looking at the progression of work…I can’t resist, I have to paint whilst eating my sandwich . Ham sandwich and oil paint make an interesting and tasty combination. My day’s work can really fly by because I become so involved in the painting.
At the end of the day, I look at the result, but I often just can’t help adding a little more here and there. I think that is always the case with a piece of art, you are always looking for that perfect painting to produce; always seeing if I can go just that little bit further. I really do not think that an artist can find that perfect painting within his or her career, because once you have, you will go on looking.
If I finish a painting that day, I am immediately drawn to the next one, and sometimes find myself painting into the night. When the day is done, and after copious amounts of tea, I finally have an evening meal with a well earned glass of red.