I must have been about ten when I first sketched some dinosaurs from a book. My mum, and uncle, who was visiting that day, were so impressed they inspired me to carry on drawing.
I soon found my forte in my early teens when I began painting portraits. I worked in water colours painting my favourite singer, Elvis. I then did one of Barry Manilow, as a gift for my mum. She loved it and had some prints made at the printers where she worked. When Barry was touring the UK, unbeknown to me, she sent one of these prints to the Royal Albert Hall, where he was performing. It apparently reached Barry himself who showed his appreciation by sending my mum two tickets for his concert.
When I was sixteen, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, but my central vision was relatively unaffected at this time and so I could continue painting. Whilst at college I showed my art teacher my Elvis water colours. To my surprise he encouraged me to sell them. I did too - all three for £15 each.
Barry Manilow commission
I was later given some old oil paints, and once I began using them I never used anything else. When working in a record shop, I brought in a Barry Manilow print to show colleagues. No, not normally a place considered cool to hang such a picture, but that’s where it ended up! One day I was serving a big Manilow fan, so I showed her the print. The next day she came back asking if I would do a Barry Manilow painting for her. It became my first commission. I created many more works and commissions over the next few years and even held an exhibition in my local art centre, which was covered by my local paper.
A second job and family life meant I had little time to paint. It would be another ten years before I picked up the brushes again. During that time my sight had worsened. I began practising by painting family members, but now discovered I needed help occasionally with proportion and details. For example, I would often paint shadows, where there were in fact details like eye lashes or other facial features. To help with this I would often use a magnifier or a torch to light up the photo I was working from.
I spent four years producing new works, including some painted in dots (pointillism) using old, worn-down brushes. This freer style made rectifying mistakes easier. I displayed my works in local cafés and art shops where I secured some sales.
Life drawing class in London
Then, in 2009, I began my radio show on RNIB Connect Radio and this took up most of my time. Painting was placed on the back burner again. That was until last year, when I saw a notice at RNIB about a life drawing class in London, for the visually impaired. Sketching a model in various poses, in soft pastels, is different to what I used to do, but I found it a thrilling challenge.
These ongoing classes are attended by people with varying levels of sight loss, all keen to reinvigorate their artistic side. My peripheral vision, for example, is non-existent but I have enough central vision to enjoy the classes. However, my sight is more grainy now, and the models look more blurry. But I enjoy capturing the tones and composition using a variety of colours.
I recently sketched a Kiribati dancer in pastels for a friend and came up with the idea of signing the picture with my signature followed by the words BPS Art (Blind and partially sighted art). It is my hope, that one day, more art by people with sight loss will be produced under the banner BPS Art.
When I last visited Moorfields for my annual check-up, the doctor I saw was fascinated by my art. She said it would be really helpful if I could reproduce what I see in a painting. Maybe one day this will happen and help towards their research on Retinitis Pigmentosa. In the meantime, I look forward to the next life drawing class.