Firstly, congratulations on being a finalist for this year’s award for Best Selling Published Artist of the Year Awards this year, do you think that there are many attributes in being recognised by the Fine Art Trade Guild?
That was a cool thing to be up for! I’m not entirely sure what their criteria are… I just keep doing what I’m doing, keep pushing myself and keep true to myself creating artwork around everything that I’m a fan of in the world, and how I would want it on the wall… if I could hold onto artwork for long enough to put it on my wall.
What can you tell us about the inspiration for your most recent portfolio additions, the “Messy Sparkle” Collection?
It started off trying to think of something I could do with some great reference images that I loved around characters like Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin, but wouldn’t really suit my style of oil painting. Screen prints were something I knew little about so that was a great challenge figuring that process out… but the trickiest bit is actually the diamond dusting on top. It’s taken me a year or trial and error to get nearly everyone to work, and a fortune in imported diamond dust. But I really love the visual effect, and am still working on ways to try and show their effect online – it doesn’t really come across well in photos how crazy sparkly they are. And I have some big ideas to explore the concept further over coming years.
Do you do a lot of research into your subject matter before painting or do you go with where your mood takes you once in the studio?
It varies massively. Usually not too much of what you’d actually call research… because if I paint someone its usually because I’m immersed in that world at the time anyway. Like the piece I created of Lewis and the Union Flag in Mexico after clinching his 4th World title – I was there at the time 20ft away and joining in the celebrations, I knew instantly what I was painting next. I’d only been home for literally an hour before I hit the studio to create the background for the piece, there was little thought needed as to what I wanted to create. The only ‘research’ bit comes in trying to find a reference image that fits with the image that I have in my head. With regard to mood… it can sometimes be a struggle to get into the right head space for sure. It’s a bit like going out for a run or something… when you’re sat on the sofa or typing away at your desk you know you really need to exercise, but it’s all too easy to dither so long that you don’t get round to it. The motivation needed to get into the studio and start painting feels exactly the same as that… but once you start you’re into it quite fast, I often then struggle to down tools at night, and afterwards it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Just that initial push can be tough to find, especially if fighting with a tricky piece to get it right – it’s regularly not actually enjoyable. I use embellishing limited editions as a gentle way to wake myself up – getting that part of my brain working I guess before tackling really tricky stuff.
Your works have progressed over the years; how would you say your influences & techniques have changed since you first started painting?
It’s something I’ve thought about a lot to be honest. I mean… I’ve not made much conscious thought to progress what I’m doing… it’s just practice. But I’ve noticed myself my style evolving… and it’s not on purpose! Technically with anything you get better the more you do it. There’s that 10,000 hour concept it takes to be an expert in something, I buy into that. Although a quick calculation I should be over those hours now in the last decade making this my career, and for sure I’m still learning every day. I make a point to push myself which I think helps – I rarely turn down commissions based on concept because if I’m pushed outside of my comfort zone, or to use a reference image that I wouldn’t naturally have chosen, then that’s where I learn. One thing I know I’ve improved on is use of tones, making skin tone much more complicated, getting my head around shadow tones more, and making my own neon oil paint which took a long time to get right – and adds much more punch to a piece, I use it somewhere in most paintings now. My typical grey backgrounds too… they’re far from a simple tone, there’s at least four colours in there and often six. Grey mixed from just black and white looks lifeless.
You’ve done a lot of charity based works in the past with donations to various causes, usually through charitable auction contributions, is this important to you?
It’s important on every level to me to be honest. When you’re privileged to be in a position to benefit charity in a pretty big way, and at the same time getting to meet amazing people, travel the world doing it, and gain loads of exposure to a very specific set of people…. It would be criminal not to really! Literally everyone wins. Some of the most mental experiences of my life have been or have started through charity projects, and I’m now part of about 30 events literally every year. Some direct with the charities like NSPCC, ‘Its In The Bag’ for whom I’m a patron, and Matt Hampson Foundation, Champions of Cycle sport, several events around rugby tournaments, and about half of them being F1 related that I’m asked back to every year. And there’s no such thing as a crazy idea with them either… for instance I’m currently mid creating a 7ft wide sign for Matt Hampson’s ‘Get Busy Living’ centre in Leicestershire… which when hung we’re then getting Jonny Wilkinson to throw paint covered rugby balls at for the splats!
You are well known for your specific style and of course famous for your Formula 1 based works, for what reasons does motorsport and sporting icons in general play such a big part in your works?
Again it wasn’t on purpose… the crazy thing about what I do right now is that I just paint what I’m in to, and I’ve ended getting sucked into those worlds. That’s how I started painting – the first non-abstract ‘something’ was to celebrate Jenson’s first win in F1 in 2006. And it’s completely nuts that over a decade of painting F1 because I’m a fan… I’m now painting with F1, and with Jenson, for fans, it’s come full circle almost. Same with Star Wars because I’m a lifelong fan, to running around movie sets at Pinewood this year. And being a lifelong keen cyclist… and then finding myself sheltering from a thunderstorm on board the Team Sky bus during a live painting gig on the Tour of Britain. Having a poster of a Lamborghini on my wall as a kid – to having project meetings with them in Bologna. I mean, what!? Rugby is the only one I wasn’t massively into, but was introduced into events by someone who jumped ship from F1 PR to rugby… the first time I met Chris Robshaw I asked him if he played rugby just because he was a big bloke. No-one told me for ages that he’d only been England captain for a couple of years by then – he was certainly humble enough not to! I’m still learning who’s who. But I think in generally everyone attracts and is attracted to those of like mind-sets. I’m fundamentally a competitive sportsman, cycle sport was the first thing I was ever any good at, and once you have that mind set it stays with you for life.
Your limited editions, as hand embellished canvases are very popular and a great stepping stone for clients looking to enter the market for an original painting, are the hand embellishments something you do specific to each image or are they all totally unique?
They’re all unique now you’ve made me think about it… I couldn’t get two the same if I tried! Even sometimes when I create two on easels side by side, they’ll still be fairly different as I get zoned into one of them and run out of the tone of paint I had mixed – so do something different on the other one. And with how I paint there’s always the accidentally-on-purpose bits which look random but aren’t.
You have an incredible social media following from all over the globe, do you find the feedback gained from such a wide appeal effects your works or how you progress as an artist?
For sure I accidentally timed it right getting on board with social media when it was in its infancy… it’s a lot tougher to make noise now as it’s all so saturated. And you have to pay now to get big exposure… which would be difficult if just starting out again now. I’m not sure feedback affects me too much – certainly not in regard to what I’m creating. Well, it might do I guess if there was notable negativity, but I think I’m lucky in that regard. If there are negative comments it tends tend to be more fanboy related to whoever the painting is of rather than actually regarding my artwork. One thing I guess I did respond to was in getting weird comments if I posted work in progress photos of artwork way before it was finished, and I’d get comments like ‘doesn’t look like xxx’. Well it wouldn’t, yet! So I’ve stopped bothering doing that which is a shame. I fully intend to replace them with time lapse videos instead… it’s just that filming slows me down painting quite a lot. I must make more of an effort to do this.
You are one of Wishbone’s latest signings as a professional artist, how have you found life with your publishing company? Are there any pro’s or con’s that you would offer advice to for any other aspiring artists looking to be represented?
It’s for sure worked for me… mainly because we get on well, and both view the art world in similar ways and with sight on the bigger picture if you’ll excuse the pun. But also because I’m largely left alone to do what I want to do, especially with the F1 side of things… but if I come up with an idea they’ll jump on board with full support. An ideal combination for me. But other artists might almost want the opposite of being left to their own devices I don’t know, same with pros and cons – it’s too specific to be able to say much that would relate directly to other artists. I know I’m more autonomous than most, which creates its own set of challenges… but the main thing with that is you have to communicate continuously, and trust each other. Otherwise there’s no point at all. Many artists just want to create and have little involvement in the business side of things which for a publisher I think is usually smoother for a publisher. I’m almost the polar opposite and have driven all of my own headline PR gigs myself for many years, because I enjoy that side of things too. Wishbone don’t try to steer me creatively at all which is very important.
Your works are all compatible with the Wishbone Interactive APP, do you think that this is a relevant step forward in a retail capacity only, or something that clients and customers will use once they have their purchases hanging on theirs walls at home?
It’s a great concept that has potential to go further in several directions is the great thing! And in the art world that has traditionally lagged a little in the use of technology. I know enough to know that second guessing how technology is used and where it will go is as unpredictable as it is user led.. I’m intrigued to see myself!