Born in Sussex in a small village at the foot of the South Downs, my mother told me I began drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. Though a clever child, I wasn’t particularly keen on school, prefering to be sliding down mud slopes in the beech woods or cantering across the windswept Downs on a pony.
When I was 15 my family moved to Ilkley in Yorkshire, another beautiful area where I loved to sketch the bracken-clad moors, mossy stone walls and tumbling streams.
On leaving school I attended Bradford Art College to take a Foundation Course, which was followed by a degree at Leeds Polytechnic, where I attained a B.A.(Hons.) in Illustration. Never a big fan of formal education or very good at accepting rigid authority, I did not have a wonderful rapport with my lecturers, but I looked upon it as three years in which to hone my skills and sharpen my direction.
Never fancying the idea of 9 to 5 in a stuffy office, jobs in various bars and restaurants followed, while I struggled to make a living from my artwork. I undertook commissions for pet portraits and would work late into the night in a tiny box-room studio in my parents’ house, straining my eyes under a single daylight bulb, my very own ‘garret’!
In an attempt to save money for a much-desired trip round South America, I chanced upon a small, isolated community on the far Northwest coast of Scotland, called Achiltibuie, where I landed a job in the local Summer Isles Hotel. A bit culture-shocked at first, it wasn’t long before I realised I had found somewhere truly special and unique with a lifestyle that suited me completely, and it was several long years before I was able to drag myself away from the wild, rugged landscape and warm, welcoming bar to begin the travelling I’d always dreamed of.
For a good few years I spent the summers in Achiltibuie, returning to Ilkley each winter, but as time progressed the ‘returning’ grew more and more difficult, and in 1990 I decided to make my life in the place that had captured my heart. I went to live on Tanera Mhor (one of the Summer Isles), where I spent 4 unforgettable years, surrounded by chickens, ducks, cats and the occasional otter.
In 1993 (and initially commuting by boat), I opened my first gallery, ‘Picture Shack’, in a large old tin-roofed barn, which had originally been the village kirk.
Visitors appreciated my pastel and pencil interpretations of the local landscapes and Picture Shack went from strength to strength, in 3 different premises, for 14 years. With the itch never having really left my feet, however, winters would see me trotting off to far-flung destinations where I would wistfully examine alternative lifestyles. On one such adventure I made the mistake of falling in love, and eventually took the heartwrenching decision to give up what had become an idyllic and comfortable lifestyle and move to Morocco, where I lived on the edge of the Sahara in a small, dusty town called Erfoud with my new family.
A complete contrast to the damp greenness of Scotland, yet similar with its vast, empty, rugged landscapes, I learned to love the silent desert and its rhythms. Finding new artistic inspiration, and with experience working as a tour guide in this fascinating region, I started ‘Painted Desert’ sketching holidays (now morphed into Vistas Sketching Holidays, and incorporating some exciting new locations).
2 years after leaving Scotland I returned, this time to the remote region of Assynt. Among the reasons for this decision: I really missed the smell of the bog myrtle on the hill.
In 2009, in its 4th premises and with all my previous ‘guest artists’ back on board, Picture Shack reopened, now in the centre of Lochinver village. But after 3 happy years reacquainting myself with the mountains and beaches as well as my ever-loyal customers, I felt my gallery-running days were over, as I wished to concentrate on other ventures and spend more quality time in the outdoors. A winter placement at a leatherback sea turtle project in Costa Rica left me surer than ever of the direction I would like my life to take, if not the precise location, which continues to be a work in progress!
I still paint constantly and my work can still be found in Lochinver: the gallery, now renamed ‘Lochinver Landscapes’, remains in place, under different ownership. I currently divide my time between painting, teaching, leading holidays abroad and more recently, writing.
For details of my work and where else to find it, visit my ‘Picture Shack’ website. For details of painting holidays, visit the Vistas sketching holidays website.
For details of my other projects, where I am and what I’m up to, visit my blog page, ‘What’s new’.