Today’s interview is with someone I met through the fabulous Shelley Art Group, Nigel Proud. As with everyone who comes to this group, Nigel was friendly and welcoming to me when I joined. At that point I was a complete novice and had the artistic talent of a 6-year-old (no joke), so I was especially grateful that they even took me in!
Nigel is a talented artist specialising in working with pastels to create amazing portraits and scenes and more recently pet portraits. He takes commissions from owners and is seeing his business grow, so much so, he’s changed his working hours for his main job, to accommodate his passion. Fridays are now all about fun and creating.
I couldn’t be more pleased for him and when you have an Insta bio like this: ‘I create art because when I’ve finished it me feel all jumpy inside and I want to run round the house telling everyone!’, I knew I had to speak to him about his passion for art and that buzzy feeling that is clearly a big source of happiness for him – a man after my own heart!
So, let’s get started:
Tell me about your work, what it is that you do and how long has it been going;
I paint pet portraits, mainly dogs in pastel pens and paint. I’ve been doing this for the last 5 years. I used to paint watercolours, setting up outside, like the weaver’s cottages in Shepley and then sell them in the village, but I guess I’ve found my niche now. I was good at watercolour but I wanted to be amazing so I started studying portrait artists on YouTube, learning techniques and then I had a go at doing ‘Seth’, our Jack Russell Terrier.
Was this a long-held dream or something out of the blue?
No, not really, I ended up becoming a draftsman after a 4-year apprenticeship which included drafting electrical wiring diagrams and technical drawing, so I suppose it did include some of my skill back then.
Were you creative as a child, what kind of things did you like to do?
I used to draw a lot as a child, I remember sitting on the front step, I think I was about 11 or 12, watching cars drive down the street, and then designing my own car in my drawing, it looked a lot like a Ford Focus! At school I always loved Art, and also German!
What was your first job?
I started at Brook Control Gear in Wakefield and didn’t leave for 30 years!
Where did your jobs / career go from there, prior to becoming a professional Artist?
There were a series of redundancies and I got the feeling I was going to be made redundant too and I was right! Because I’d been there so long, I stood my ground and got a decent amount and took the opportunity to retrain. Outside of work I’d always volunteered as a Youth Worker 2 nights a week, so I decided to go to Huddersfield Uni and do a degree in Youth and Community work.
It was the best 3 years! I found it really nerve-wracking having to stand up in-front of people and present to other students but then I really started to enjoy it, I found just stepping out of my comfort zone and pushing through the nerves really helped me. Another challenge was doing joined up writing, which sounds odd but when you are a draftsman, everything is written in printed capitals for clarity on the plans!
From there, after I qualified with a 2:1, I’ve been working in Housing Support for 7 years now, helping people who are homeless, or have difficult circumstances to apply for council housing and helping to set them up for success, by sorting a system out for their bills etc. It’s really rewarding work.
Does being an artist feel like having a creative ‘business’, or does it feel different? Does this sit alongside your other job and would you like one day to be just a full-time artist?
It’s beginning to feel more like a real business now that I’ve changed my hours and I can devote more time to my artwork. I’m also spending more time doing the ‘business’ aspects around the production, like marketing, sales, printing etc and I’m looking at other avenues to get my work out there, like making them into cards to sell in a local gallery. Eventually I would like to do this full time, dropping my other working days down slowly until retirement age.
What is the creative process like for you, tell me the process of one of your pieces from beginning to end, how do you go about it.
I mainly work from a really clear photo, drawing freehand, or using a grid method, using mainly pastelmat paper. Once I’ve drawn it out, I then work out where the light and dark areas will be and work out what the background colour should be, I like a contrasting colour to the muted tones of the pet. One painting takes approximately 8 hours to produce start to finish.
I work in what I call a ‘butterfly’ effect, there’s no specific structure to it, I flutter about over different parts when I’m painting and use grease-proof paper to prevent me smudging it!
What does it feel like having your skill and talent recognised by other artists, professionals and customers? What was it like to sell your first picture?
I really like it when I get a compliment or comment from a fellow artist and often invite their opinions at Art Group, For example if I feel there’s something not quite right about a painting, I know if I ask Vic and Sybil, they will pinpoint it for me and offer suggestions. I’ve been going to the group for over 10 years and it’s a really important support network for me.
Nigel’s amazing charcoal drawing of Carol, another artist from Art Group
The first painting I sold was 25 years ago, a prize cow called Treetops Diamante! It was a Christmas present for someone and the lady called me on Christmas Day to tell me how much she loved it!
When you are creating a piece, how important is it to convey the person /animal’s personality?
Usually the painting brings that out itself, the photos taken usually convey that spark or personality and I do my best to capture it.
How do you feel when you are doing your creative work?
I go through a range of emotions; excitement when I start it, I never feel daunted by a blank canvas, then there’s always a point when I want to throw it out of the window! But then I push through that and I know if I persevere it will turn out ok and when it’s finished I do my happy dance!
What are the positives of starting your own business and of course the harder parts too?
Knowing that I can paint whatever I like. The commissions pay for materials and I enjoy doing them but then I have complete creative freedom for the rest of the time. In my day job I work for someone else, this is purely working for me. Plus, I have more flexibility on my Friday’s off now, if I feel like going to an exhibition or a gallery, I can.
The only downside for me is paperwork and book-keeping, not my strong point, but my wife is a book keeper so that helps!
What is your favourite picture you’ve ever done and why is that your favourite?
The one I did of my Dad, he passed away 3 and a half years ago and 18 months before he died he was sat in the corner with the light falling just right so I painted him then. I put it into the Huddersfield Art Society exhibition in 2016 and I won ‘Best first time exhibitor’ with it.
Nigel with his award winning portrait of his Dad
What are your plans for the future, where would you like to take your business?
I’d love to be working on my art full-time eventually and I really want to produce a calendar this year. I’ve started to get my cards into local shops so want to see how that goes and maybe set up an Etsy shop too and try some other products like mugs or cushions. My ultimate ambition is to be on the TV programme, Portrait Artist of the Year and I’d like to enter some more national competitions.
Is it important to you to share your talents with other people, your local community, if so, how do you do this?
It’s something I might explore more in the future but not yet, and because my style of painting is quite unstructured, it would be difficult to teach it!
What would you say to someone who is thinking about turning their hobby / creative passion into something more, a small business?
What have you learned about yourself, along the way, whilst setting up, growing as an artist and running your small business?
That I’m more confident than I give myself credit for. Calling yourself an Artist is a difficult thing to do, people don’t think it’s a real job. I’ve also worked out that the unstructured process that I go through is what works for me, my rebel side coming out I think, although I always finish with the highlights in the eyes to bring the painting alive!
What are your top tips for an artist starting out?
Just be yourself, find your uniqueness by just giving things a go. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and experiment.
Did anything in particular trigger the confidence you now have to make this into a small business? What made you finally give it a go?
Yes, the opportunity arose at work when another colleague changed their hours at work and I took it as my chance to reduce to four days, you can think about these things in your head but you have to take action to make it a reality!
Do you still have other creative pass-times outside of your work, if so, what are they? If not, how else do you relax?
I like crime dramas, detective novels and country walks
What’s the story behind your business name?
Note: I challenged Nigel a little on this! Having my marketing background, I thought having such a great surname as ‘Proud’ lent itself to the obvious name of ‘Proud Portraits’ but Nigel said the most obvious name that came to him was ‘Nigel’s Portraits’! He did say his wife uses it in her business though, ‘Proud Bookkeeping’. Food for thought for later maybe Nigel?! 🙂
And then funnily enough on to the Proud question! – What are you most proud of in relation to your art work?
The picture of my Dad and the award I got for it.
Finally, what does living a creative life mean to you and what are the benefits to you personally?
Being able to be myself, drawing and painting in my style. My work life has been so structured up until now, and doing this is completely different, it’s more flexible and free and has great benefits for my mental well-being.
What came across in my interview with Nigel was his enthusiasm and courage in just throwing himself into things, completely re-training for example after 30 years and knowing how important his passion for art was to him and looking for ways to give his creativity more time; great qualities to have in my book in designing a more full-filled and enriched life through creative living.
Next week, it’s the final post in the series of interviews with local creatives and I’m talking to someone I’ve known for a while through her own business, Adele Doxey, from The Mind Spa, but she is also an accomplished Watercolour Artist and her work in that area is starting to increase, we’ll find out how she juggles is all and the benefits to having both in her life.
Until next time…
Juliet, The Curious Creative
Ps – I did a mini mid-blog-post last Friday, linked to a few life and writing challenges I had, if you fancy a read, it’s here