Behind the Sketchbook

Nigel Proud

Nigel is a self taught portrait artist specialising in people and animals. In this interview he talks of the challenges of trying to find time for art when working 9-5, how he’s used art to help cope with cancer and how it felt to win an award for ‘best painting by a first time exhibitor’.

Click to read the interview
About You

How did you get into art and making?

I was good at art in school but had to choose between art and German language, chose German and never used it! Became a draughtsman in 1981 when we still used pencil and paper. Was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1989 and started drawing again to help me through the day.

About Your Art

What art do you like to make?

Portraits of people and any animal – I love a challenge

What materials do you use?

Pastel, pencil and charcoal

How would you describe yourself?

A self taught artist

What or who inspires and influences your work?

I really like the challenge of capturing a likeness in a portrait, especially older people’s faces – they looked lived in and have had a lot of experiences, you can see happiness and sadness in peoples eyes and expressions. John Singer Sargent has inspired me with his attention to detail, everything looks so natural.

How have you and your work changed over time?

Originally I worked in watercolour painting old weavers cottages. They were good but I wanted to paint something which was striking and stopped people in their tracks. When my daughter bought me some pastel pencils I decided to have a go at portrait painting/drawing and found I could get a likeness with pets and people. This spurred me on to research the art of portraiture and I am well and truly hooked.

What challenges have you faced along the way?

I work 9-5pm in housing support, so by the time I have got home, walked the dog, sorted tea, and eaten tea, it can be hard to pick up the pastels and continue working on portraits. I now have an area in the back bedroom to use just for my artwork. Previously I would work in the dining room, however that was a pain because of setting up and tidying up at the end of sessions.

Your Achievements

What has been your biggest achievement/s so far? No matter how big or small?

In 2016, I entered a portrait of my father in the Huddersfield Art Society Exhibition and won an award for best painting by a first time exhibitor.

How did it feel to experience this achievement?

This was very poignant because my father passed away in November 2015. Dad saw the portrait before he died and was really pleased with it. I am very proud and get emotional when thinking of his portrait hanging at the exhibition.

What difficulties, doubts or fears did you face and how did you overcome them?

I have had what I thought to be too many commissions and not enough time to complete them. Following a discussion at a Barnsley ‘Crafty Biz’ support group meeting, they suggested that I should be honest and tell people that portraits would take a certain amount of time. Much to my surprise everyone understood and my stress levels quickly dropped.

What or who has helped you in your journey?

I have always encouraged and accepted criticism, sometimes I tell people that I am struggling to get a certain part of the portrait right, and asking their opinion. You don’t have to take it but somebody else looking from a different perspective might just solve a problem. Fellow artists like to be asked their opinion and this has helped to forge strong friendships along the way, to the point that I am often given advice without being asked.

If someone could wave a magic wand and make amazing things happen for you, what would be your dream?

I have a mental picture of my dream studio, and me painting in it every day as a full time artist.

What is your biggest piece of advice for other artists?

Believe in yourself. Attempt something art related each day – drawing, watch DVDs, read books, observe the work of past masters. Do it because you want to, not because you think you ought to. Enjoy yourself!

I don’t think that there is a need to go out and find your own unique style. We paint or draw what we want to in a style that suits us.

Selling & Marketing

Lots of emphasis is placed on artists finding their own unique ‘style’ & having a refined portfolio, what are your thoughts on this and how have you found yours?

My style has developed over time. I cannot say that I want to paint in a certain way, I have studied many artists and picked what I like about them and then used it when doing a portrait. I have not been to art school or college so am unable to discuss the works of past masters. I don’t think that there is a need to go out and find your own unique style. We paint or draw what we want to in a style that suits us. A style will develop a bit like a happy accident with watercolours.

How do you find the business side of being an artist?

This is hard to balance as I feel that I should be painting when I am doing research or organising for an exhibition or show.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your art and finding people to buy?

I have a facebook page and website which haven’t really brought much work in. I work mostly on word of mouth. It is difficult at first when people ask you what you do and you say ‘I paint portraits of people and animals, would you like to see my work’. I always have pictures of my work on my mobile phone and a business card handy as well for prospective clients.

Who or what helps with the business side?

My wife Angela is a qualified bookkeeper and has excellent office skills geared to small businesses – need I say more

How did you make the transition to part/full time artist?

I am still in the transition period of becoming a part time artist. It is difficult trying to complete commissions while holding down a full time job. The plan is to gradually reduce my hours in the full time job and work towards becoming a full time artist. I have calculated how much to charge for commissions and know how many I need to complete each week, I now need to build up a client base and have a regular income.

What’s the biggest thing you have learnt from being an artist?

Producing a work of art for someone can be a very emotional experience. I have completed commissions for people who’s family member or pet has passed away. It is a fantastic (and nervous) feeling when you see people’s faces when they receive their commision.

If you would like to see more of Nigel’s work please follow these links:

Facebook: @nigelspastelportraits

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