I can recall, as a ten-year old boy, the first time I painstakingly copied an illustration of a freshwater fish from a dusty old encyclopaedia; it was hard work but it felt amazing to recreate something so realistically, well at least I thought so at the time! I always loved doodling as a kid - including the obligatory defacement of schoolbooks - but soon progressed beyond that, learning how to draw from life at the age of sixteen. On leaving school I studied design for a year, followed by an additional two-year course in the more specialised area of product design. At that point I remained undecided about which field to pursue, but had always felt at home drawing from life (creating a realistic image on a simple piece of paper was the best feeling in the world to me and it wasn't an experience I was going to relinquish any time soon…). In deciding which path to follow, natural history illustration seemed perfect as it would allow me a great opportunity to practise realistic painting, with an endless number of fascinating subjects to explore. After a working gap year I was accepted for a course in Scientific and Natural History Illustration at Blackpool & the Fylde College (one of only a handful of places in the UK that even offered that type of course; I was most fortunate). I graduated in 1996 with a B.A. (Hons.) in Design and thereafter worked for several years as an illustrator with London-based 'David Lewis Illustration Agency'.
Influences - Growing up, my paternal uncle (Glenn Nicholas) would occasionally send us prints of his intricately detailed, beautiful black & white scratchboard art. These prints were shipped all the way from America - where my father's side of the family lives - and the wildlife he depicted seemed very different to what we were used to seeing here. I studied his work with amazement, and on reflection I think he must have been my biggest influence. We had been living in the US ourselves for a while but moved back to the UK in December of '74 - sadly we never had the means to return and visit, and time goes by so very quickly, but if I could meet my uncle now I would shake his hand and thank him for fostering my interest in wildlife art.
Method - To achieve an acceptable level of detail in my paintings I do work from good, clear photographs but with ongoing illness (see 'Health', below) the process of obtaining photos still remains problematic - In short, I can't walk far or stand for long without severe discomfort and pain. Being primarily housebound, I'm reliant on my existing library of photos and the generosity of some extremely talented photographers on Flickr (to whom I owe a heartfelt ‘thank you’). It would be fantastic to have the energy to study and photograph nature subjects from my own point-of-view, but for the time being I can only hope that my work isn't judged too harshly, given my current reliance on others. Realistically I can only work the hours that I do because I have a bed or couch/recliner close to hand. By way of good fortune, however, some lovely little critters have wandered into my back yard this past year and I was able to photograph them (below, left); some of these images may even serve as a basis for upcoming paintings.
Medium - I work with watercolour as I've always felt naturally drawn to this medium (no pun intended) and find it a joy to use, but it does take a great deal of time to produce adequate depth and contrast in a painting. In a perfect world it should take me 4-8 weeks to complete a painting, but typically this is longer with so many unknown factors involved. It's a labour of love though, and something that I hope to be learning and doing well into my twilight years.
Health - Unlike other artists who seem to live and breathe nature, I have mixed emotions when it comes to the great outdoors…although not the wildlife itself I hasten to add. As a young teenager I developed heavy seasonal allergies and spent most of my summers indoors to find relief; the medications I took were largely ineffective and I often felt overwhelmed and badly fatigued - even back then - but at least I could bounce back to somewhat robust health when the pollen season drew to a close. In my late twenties I took a job as a postman for several years due to declining illustration work, but after an extended period of overwork and severe stress I was diagnosed with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). I suffered a breakdown in 2005, and since that time I've been working hard to improve my situation. Over the last few years I've had some success with new pain and anxiety medications and I've recently made some changes to my diet (in an attempt to lose weight and lessen fatigue even further) but the upshot is that I've felt well enough to paint again and I'm very, very thankful for that. I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for their ongoing support, my doctor and helpful neighbours too; without their care and support I would be in a much worse place.
Creating art helps me feel connected to such a diverse and beautiful world and it's my hope that you can see in my work the love and appreciation I have for nature (although, granted, I don't spend much time in it these days). I do have a great deal of lost time to make up for but in many ways I've never felt so motivated, and optimistic about the future.