I was a moderately quiet child growing up in Keighley, Yorkshire. I say moderately only because I grew up in a family full of girls and feathers often ruffled, especially in cases of critical importance, namely clothes and records! My mother was an excellent seamstress and I loved watching her painstakingly measure, cut, pin and sew pieces of fabric which evolved into the most exquisite dresses. I would often sit under her sewing table watching her foot press down on the pedal of her sewing machine and listen attentively to her stories. My mum, originally from Pakistan, often told stories to keep us quite when she needed to work. Her storytelling carried me to a benign world full of hope and love but often with a foreboding and creeping sadness that lay untold.
I knew from an early age I had the ability to draw. But it was the ability to remember and learn by heart details that, when combined, became the future benchmark of the work I now produce. The stories told and retold as a child helped, in part, to create a palpable and lucid world deciphered only through the use of drawing.
At school I was very lucky to be taught by great art teachers. In fact, throughout my schooling my teachers have been very important. Their grounding, nurturing and kind devotion helped provide the push and inspiration to further my potential. I studied for a foundation course in art and design followed by a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design at LeedsMetropolitanUniversity, specialising in illustration. After my three years I left the UK to ‘backpack’ around Latin America and Africa.
Travelling played a pivotal role in my creative work. Certainly giving me the freedom to develop my own ideas and in my own time. I returned to the basic art of drawing using only pen and paper; a process in which the virtues of simplicity unravel the sentiments. This has produced, in my opinion, my most honest and frank sketches to date. Even now when I look back at my sketch books they instantly take me back to my travels.
On returning to the UK I worked as a studio designer, serving a high profile company. As an artist, it was a certainly a complete contrast from the heady days of travelling and challenging at the best of times. To reign in on this fast-moving and often high-paced working atmosphere, I ditched the studio and took on freelance work for the next five years before starting a family and embarking on a career as a full time artist.
I still live in Keighley, Yorkshire and I am married with two young boys.
My ideas and inspirations are ever flowing. I can take a little or a lot from anything I deem to be influential in my work. From the spoken word, travel diaries, people watching and sometimes plain old contemplation. I have always had that ability to remember and ‘mentally’ jot down anything that interests me. Though I do carry a journal bursting at the seams with magazine and newspaper cut outs. Transferring this in my work can be easy but also at times, challenging. If I try to guide too much information into my characters they become complex and therefore difficult even for me to understand. Through painting my characters, I aim to invest into a personality that imbues the emotions of which everyone is privileged to.
I draw a lot of inspiration from the music I listen to or the books I read. I revel in the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez – in particular, A Hundred Years of Solitude. I have read and re-read the book. Each time I read it I am transported into a world full of spellbinding magic and imaginary so beguiling that it is hard not to be influenced by it. My mum’s stories have had the same effect. Her storytelling always left an ineffaceable impression of enchantment and magic, but more often than not subdued with sadness too. It seems fitting that my inspiration comes from those early days of listening to my mum.
I don’t assign to any formulaic way of painting my characters. Often I begin by painting on canvas a faint outline of my characters head and placing them low down on the canvas. At this stage I can do one of two things: firstly I can revert back to sketch books and pick a character that I may have doodled, or I can reign free and see where it will take me. The latter of the two always brings out a surprisingly different outcome often much more successful. My characters become apparent to me as they are being painted. A flick of the paint brush or the eccentricity of the hair can reveal a different character. In some case, the music I play whilst painting can steer me into a different direction.
I paint in oils on canvas which suits me very well, particularly as the medium gives you a lot of flexibility and direction. I loosely use the Renaissance technique of underpainting in order to achieve the depth in skin tone. Of course, glazing or adding colour is very time consuming, so
I sometimes tend to forgo the layering and the glazing and adapt a different approach. I usually work on two or three paintings at one time. Working in oils gives me the freedom to make any alterations.
My painted little characters are presented like the typical portrait paintings of old; quite still and ordinary. Yet there is plenty about them that is peculiar. An unsettling charm made all the more apparent by their enigmatic gaze. They are vulnerable in scale, sharing neither their proportions or their features. Their sizable heads and characteristic hair, dominate the canvas, equalled only by the charming nervousness revealed within the peripheral ‘full stop’ eyes that stare blankly back. The absence of a mouth perhaps gives you the impression that they are essentially solitary and lonely characters, devoid of communication. But this is not to say they are unloved or isolated; rather they provide sentiments of hope joy, sadness and loss. Even as they are being painted, their characters become apparent to me; a snapshot of a moment or a feeling considered. They are in essence a tensely guarded connection to a benign world summoned by the passing of time. They are carefully preserved, given existence and above all loved.
I have a frantic two hours in the morning when I need to get my children up and out of bed. My children collectively referred to as “The Monkey Boys” keep me busy. Each weekday morning I wake at 6.30am and get the boys ready for school and nursery. This is a great undertaking, particularly as I have to giggle my youngest down to the ground in order to try and get a sock or a shoe on. It never works and I constantly sit around waiting for celestial intervention. Unfortunately that seems to have little or no effect at all so it usually means giving up and hoping for the best!
After the ordeal I return home and tackle the mounting mess that awaits me. I make a cup of Earl Grey and walk upstairs to the top of the house and begin work. The first hour I look at the work from the previous day and make any changes necessary before beginning on the next painting. I often have a few paintings on the go and the use of oils is ideal to give me that amount of flexibility.
I can never work in silence. I grew up in a large family and so silence is something that is alien to me. I listen to the radio or sometimes play my own music. I find however, music can alter the outcome of my paintings depending on what I play so I tend to choose the music carefully.
I carry straight through to about 3.00pm and head off to pick “The Monkey Boys” up from school. In the winter this is usually the end of my working day as I don’t like to paint in dull light. In summer however I work late into the evening and “The Monkey Boys” usually play around me whilst I carry on painting. I don’t play any music when the boys are around because there isn’t the silence, just familiarity.