Prior to 94, my artistic history was fairly ordinary. At aged 9 (ish), I caught the attention of an art teacher who thought I may have something creative within. Fortunately my parents were liberal minded and encouraged me to pursue this 'less serious' form of education.
Obligatory O's and A's were passed. Then followed a foundation year at Middx university, which was a great experience apart from the career advice I received at the end. It would be easy and comforting to place the blame on my course tutors for pointing me in the direction of Graphic design but also unfair.
Frankly I must have been a nightmare student. Quiet, shy and totally lacking ambition, direction or confidence ( on-going problems if I'm honest albeit less severe) Thus it was I embarked on a Graphic design degree. The course was okay for the first few months but as time passed it became very apparent that Graphic design had little to do with producing finished fine artwork and was certainly not for me.
After months of inner questioning and anguish, just weeks before the finals, I left and promptly plunged into depression.
For a while I wallowed in self-pity, disappointment and negativety. A few timely 'kicks up the backside' from key friends and family got me going again, however, any artistic inspiration remained dormant for several years. I didn't so much as doodle a funny face on the back of a phone book, until one particular day in the summer of 94.
At the time I was a self employed window cleaner and not for the first time that summer, I found myself at home boredly staring out of the window at dark skies and torrential rain. Not exactly squeegee and ladder weather!
As I stared aimlessly through the glass, a sudden urge to do something creative grew within, although I wasn't quite sure what? Most of my art materials had been thrown out years before but amongst the left overs was a box of pencils and some decent paper.
A well meaning relative had given me the pencils during my A' levels. I remember thinking then what a naff gift, practically useless. They had been destined for the bin but probably for reasons of conscience, they never quite made it that far. Thankfully!
Some 12 years after being given the pencils, I finally opened the box with the intention of using them for their designated purpose.
Through rustiness and lack of imagination all I could think to do was simply copy a favourite photo from my fishing album of me holding a carp.
45 hours later I stared in curious amazement at the image I had produced with these 'useless' pencils. It was real, credible and far removed from anything I had produced before, but why?
Apart from planning other work and sketching, pencil hadn't appealed to me before. Pencil work in life classes had been a struggle, still life had bored me to tears and it had never crossed my mind to try coloured pencil.
So why, within a few minutes of commencing the self-portrait, had I become so totally fasinated and engrossed despite it being such hard work? I have no answer but it had been so fulfilling and rewarding that I eagerly started the next.
For 2 years I carried on copying photographs, producing numerous pictures for friends and family as birthday/Xmas gifts.
A basic understanding of how to use the pencils formed and a methodical approach to drawing began to emerge.
In 97 someone had shown one of my pictures to a gallery owner in Norfolk. He was surprised that any such work could be produced using cp and convinced me that it would sell like hot cakes in his gallery but only if it was of local scenes that he could sell to the tourists. Abandoning all rational thinking, I quit my job and dashed around the north Norfolk coast with my camera obtaining umpteen photographs to work from. In 8 weeks around a dozen pictures rolled off the production line, framed and ready for sale....and I was shattered!
Then came a bitter lesson in business. Yes, the tourists adored the pictures, but no, they weren't prepared to pay £250 for cp, when they could buy one of the plethora of local watercolours for fifty quid!
Disillusioned, I battled through the stormy waters of depression once more, with the added joy of being jobless and utterley broke.
The pencils languished in their box for a further year before inspiration returned and drawing resumed. Although unnoticed at the time, an important change had happened as a result of the Norfolk fiasco. That was the transition from just copying old existing photo's to carefully thinking about, gathering and composing specific reference material needed. This is something I find immensley pleasurable and can only really liken to a weird form of hunting (there maybe men in white coats out there who disagree!).
Having recovered and produced more work since Norfolk, I tentatively approached another gallery owner closer to home in London only to be told, "You work in what? Crayon? Sorry darling, there's no market for that!"
Her opinion changed after viewing my portfolio and we were in business. At first I thought she had mistaken me for a monkey as initially she would only agree to put my work on the wall for peanuts, "You're an unknown darling, one has to test the Market". Hmm, okay who was I to disagree?
She sold 4 originals in less than 2 weeks then pestered me for more work. I duly returned laden with more pictures but it was then that I realised she had actually mistaken me for a complete idiot as prices would HAVE to remain at peanuts. Oh really? We parted company!
Only with hindsight do I realise that she had done me a huge favour. I was once more gainfully employed and earning wages that kept the wolf from the door with enough left over to maintain a very modest lifestyle. Money was not the big issue.
So I decided to give up any ambition of becoming a commercial successful artist and as I did so a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. No more drawing subject matter that didn't interest me. No more commisions or friends and family. No more deadlines. No more working too fast in a bid to save a few hours resulting in sub-standard work. Sod it! From then on I would draw what I wanted, when I wanted and if it took 75 hrs instead of 25 hrs then so be it. An element of fun returned and remains to this day.
One thing that had consistently bothered me since starting with cp was a growing feeling of isolation. Despite going to numerous exhibitions, galleries, fairs, flicking through publications and generally keeping my eyes open, I seldom saw any other 'pure' cp work.
The gallery owners hadn't helped. I may as well have announced that I painted with moon juice for all the difference it made because they'd certainly never seen cp before.
In 2001, I entered some work for the SGFA annual exhibition which was accepted. One of the pictures won a prize and I was invited to join the society. I was of course extremely pleased and grateful at this opportunity but its a very mixed media society and as such still didn't quite feel like 'my tribe'. That, however, was about to change.
Contrary to my earlier beliefs, someone pointed out to me that a 'search engine' was not something that the fire brigade used to locate lost people but was in fact a useful tool for finding information on the web.
I had typed in the words 'colour pencil' and 'UKCPS' appeared on the screen. I cannot express the joy and relief felt upon realising that I was not alone. Far from it. There were at least a couple of hundred other mad souls out there persevering with this complex, laborius, unsung medium. I promptly wrote a cheque and the rest, as they say is history.
The last few years have certainly been the most artistically fruitful and enjoyable for me mostly due to the contact I've had with the friendly and helpful members of this society and the constant encouragement of my long suffering girlfriend.