An artists life for me

For the past 26 years I have been living and working in the New Forest in Hampshire. My studio is in my home, part of a converted Victorian manor house. The grounds are surrounded by ancient woodland, it is teeming with wildlife. I try to take a few minutes day to walk around the gardens or into the woods to see what I can see out there. The great majority of each day however is spent in the studio.

Even after 35 years of life as a professional artist I know that
people still find it hard to believe that I spend the whole day painting, the
image of the artist as dilettante is hard to shift. I’m convinced that friends
and family believe that I spend my days wearing a smoking jacket and swapping
witty aphorisms with the characters from a novella by Oscar Wilde.

My typical working day will start at 8.00-8.30a.m. I love
not having to travel to work and the solitude of my working life suits me well.
 I tend to take a short break every 2
hours or so to give my eyes a rest particularly if I am working in close
detail. I usually finish work between 6.30- 7.30p.m. My technical style of work
is slow and painstaking so it is essential that I work fairly long hours. 

Admin and correspondence is usually done at
the weekends or if I can find time in the evenings.

My daily interactions are minimal. After my wife leaves for
work I will be alone all day and will probably not speak to anyone until the
evening.  I have always been more
comfortable on my own than in a crowd so this suits me well.

Many people find it almost impossible to work productively from
home without the social interaction, distractions and pressures of office life and
a ‘to-do’ list. I learnt long ago not to allow myself the option of whether or when
to start work.  Motivation is fortunately
never an issue, once I have started a painting it becomes an obsession that I
can’t shake off until it the work is completed. It can be quite a relief to
finish, sign the painting and get it out of the studio.

There is never a shortage of work to do as I have more ideas
for paintings than I could ever produce. My sketchbooks are full of notes and ideas
for paintings that I will never have time to make and for whole projects of
work that may never see the light of day.

I do have a life outside of art. More than anything else I
love to travel, the wilder the area the better. I am an outdoor enthusiast and there
is nothing more exciting to me than watching wildlife in its own habitat. One
day I would like to produce work which reflects that love of the natural world.

When I can find time I like to catch up on the cultural side
of things, Realist film directors like Ingmar Bergmann, Michael Haneke, Nuri
Bilge Ceylan and Alejandro González Iñárritu are favourites of mine and a real
inspiration to me.

If I am not in the studio then I can normally be found doing
some kind of physical training. Early mornings and most evenings are reserved
for the endurance sports of running, road cycling and Duathlon.

Overall the day-to-day working life of an artist probably
isn’t so very different from that of other professions but you do have to be
comfortable with solitude and be highly self-motivated to have a chance of
surviving long term. That said, if you can make it work then it can be a richly
rewarding occupation and life. It suits my personality like a glove and I find
it hard to imagine any other way of being.


A life in art is going to be challenging and every artist’s
experiences unique, there is no blueprint for success, no career path to
follow, no reliable advice to take. You have to learn through experience and
whatever course you take and decisions you make, you alone will be responsible
for your successes and failures.

I have now been painting full time for 34 years. In this
time I have worked with and without gallery representation, through agents,
on-line agencies, to commission, for Museum collections and exhibited in solo,
group and show-piece exhibitions and competitions.

Whatever conditions your career may have emerged within
circumstances will change. Galleries close down, your supporters move on,
collectors die or go bankrupt, fashions change, new technologies emerge, the
economy booms and busts, personal circumstances will change through family life
or health issues. Whether as an artist you can adapt to these changing
circumstances whilst remaining focused on your work is likely to determine
whether or not you can survive long term.

I believe that it is always important to remember why you
became an artist, who you are creatively, what your objectives are and to
maintain focus on that. For me those objectives are to produce the highest
quality of work that I am capable of over a lifetime.  I want to be able to place my work amongst that
of any great artists that have ever lived and for it to be comparable in
quality and effect.

In practical terms my strategy, such as it is, has always
been to produce the work without compromise and to trust that it will meet with
enough approval to amount to a career.

Professional decisions will not always be clear or easy to
make, after winning the B.P portrait award in 1993 I was offered and turned
down numerous prestigious portraits commissions, on the surface it was career
suicide but I was clear that at that time I wanted to work towards a Solo show
and if I got side tracked I would never get back on route, it is all too easy to
follow the agenda of your supporters but this can be fatal to your creativity.

Complacency and self-deception are great enemies in
painting. It is important never get carried away with praise and to have the
humility to accept when your work has failed, failure is the fuel  for improvement , if you are happy with your
work I think that you are probably either not trying or not looking hard enough.

I like to produce work which evolves slowly, concentrating
on complexity and nuance rather than obvious dramatic leaps. As I look forward
I have clear ideas about how I would like to develop my work and some specific projects
that I would hope to pursue. Making those happen within the context of changing
circumstances is both the challenge and the fun of being a professional artist.

Lady Diana and the Prince of Fails.

Back in the day, 1994/5-ish, during a time when I was rumoured to be the future of British figurative painting I was invited to a shindig at the National portrait gallery.

At some stage near the back end of the evening I was approached by the NPG’s 20th century curator Robin Gibson, alongside him a very smartly dressed gentleman unknown to me.

Robin Gibson was a keen supporter of my work and I had got to know him a little over the years of my association with the gallery.

After some general chat, Robin casually asked me how I would respond if anyone ever asked me to paint a member of the Royal family.

As an idealistic young cove and a rabid republican (not in the modern American sense of the word) I said that I didn’t think I could consider such a commission. I seem to remember feeling a certain awkwardness enter the conversation and the be-suited gentleman observing me with a new coldness in his eyes but otherwise thought nothing more about it.

A few months later at another NPG event, I was talking to one of the NPG’s grandees who applauded my courage in turning down the opportunity to paint the most famous woman in the world, Lady Diana.

The be-suited gentleman was of course some kind of Equerry to Diana.

Possibly wasn’t the greatest career move of my life, but there it is.

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