Apart from taking art at Intermediate and high school, I haven’t had any formal art training; I did however study and pass University Entrance in Art History. The first portraits I painted at the age of 16 were of The Beatles; after that I followed other paths and never continued painting as persuing an art career in those days was not an option for me. However, looking back I wish I had gone on with it. It wasn’t until I saw the movie ‘Dancing with Wolves’, 17 years later, that I decided to buy some painting gear. The movie was about the American West during the times of the persecution of the Native Americans, and I wanted to try and paint some images of these incredible people.
I started painting Native Americans on horseback, hunting, in battles and in every day life with portraits of men, women and children. All were pretty average but I just kept at it, learning from books and the odd art demo video. American western artists Frank C. McCarthy, Howard Terpning and Martin Grelle kept me inspired with their realistic paintings that oozed action and feeling.
My brother-in-law Barry Stevens was also a gifted artist who exhibited with success, and painted a brilliant mural in the Copthorne Hotel in Omapere, Hokianga. He encouraged me to paint different subject matter and to start using oils. I was a bit wary of using oil paints but I grew to appreciate the versatility of them – especially as they are easy to blend and there is plenty of time to make adjustments – although I will admit, waiting for the oils to dry can be a bit frustrating at times. I’m not a personal fan of thinning the oils with turps and prefer to use linseed oil to produce a better flow. The oil paints I mainly use are Windsor and Newton, and Daler Rowney – I’m not a connoisseur of oil paints but I do find these do the job.
Sometimes I start a portrait laying down a dark background, and without even a preliminary sketch, I start on the face; bringing the shapes and proportions on to the canvas. It is exciting to see a face gradually emerging. This is usually done as an underpainting in white and tones of grey. I find the underpainting helps me immensely with the finished result.