This is the story of my journey into art and it’s benefits. I hope you find this interesting, insightful, and inspiring.
The first recollection I have of art is a lesson in primary school using poster paints, although it’s a little vague in my memory I can recall my enjoyment from this experience. I do remember that I enjoyed drawing with various pencils and children’s paints as I grew up but I don’t have any recall of specific moments in my memory.
The next art related incident was indelibly etched in my memory because it was quite traumatic. It started of well enough but certainly didn’t end well. I was in my second year in senior school aged 12 and took place in our weekly art lesson. The art teacher gave us the subject of ‘firework night’ (November 5th) and I thought it would be a good idea to use coloured pastels on dark paper. The picture consisted of several people standing either side of a bonfire which was in the centre. I was pleased with the finished result as I had put a lot of effort into the project. When my art teacher saw it he immediately rubbished it and with words I can’t exactly remember let me know that I would never be any good at art.
I still have a good recall of how I felt at the time and I don’t remember any subsequent art Lesson with this teacher, so the incident must have completely killed off any further creative urges while at school.
The next memory I have of art is around the age of 15 when I started drawing human figures and cartoons using graphite. I can remember I did a lot of rubbing out but it brought back my interest in drawing. A few years later having become quite accomplished at the cartoons I used to display them in the staff room where I worked, to the enjoyment of the other members of staff.
Although I continued to draw on occasions nothing really meaningful came of it until my son came home from school one day and said he had to draw a dinosaur. He would have been about 6 or 7 at the time. He had already seen my drawing skills so had asked for my help, so I gave him advice and he produced a good effort. When his teacher saw his picture she was very complimentary, which as you can imagine ‘chuffed’ him no end. He admitted that I had helped him with the drawing and as it was a running subject in the class his teacher asked him to ask me if I would draw one adding colour for his class. This I did and it was displayed on the classroom wall, which in turn ‘chuffed’ me too. I continued to help and inspire my children with their artwork but never thought of taking it any further.
I continued to draw on and off and even ventured into trying my hand at oil as I thought that this would be a medium the great artists used. What really inspired me was a visit I made to the National Gallery in London seeing the work of these great artists. John Constable was one artist that was familiar to me having seen many of his paintings in prints, placemats, biscuit tins etc. When I saw his paintings in real life I was mesmerised. One picture in particular I remember being drawn to was “The Cornfield” where I tried to get as close as I could to the picture to find out how he got such wonderful detail. I was shocked to find up close that the detail wasn’t there, but he had created the impression of detail with just a few brush strokes. That’s probably one of the things that stayed with me all through my career – that an artist can create detail without putting in the realism. I remember thinking to myself “I would love to do work like that”.
Around the same time there was an artist who had a series of programs on the television called Nancy Kominsky. She worked mainly with a pallet knife and produced a complete painting within the half hour slot. I bought her book and some oil paints and followed her teaching techniques as best I could, producing several paintings one of which I was quite proud of. It was a still life showing a wine bottle and some grapes. I put a lot of effort and time into this work of art, it was then that I got my second ‘put down’. A couple of friends came around to see me and spotted the painting on my easel in the conservatory, one of them said “I like the Brussels sprouts”. I pointed out that they were supposed to be grapes but by then the damage was done. After that I did not pursue the oil painting, storing them away for another time and went back to my graphite drawings.
The next phase of my art pursuit took a very unexpected turn. I became very friendly with a maintenance engineer called John who serviced our machines for our company. He told me that his hobby was making bird studies out of bone china. I showed an interest in this and John invited me down to his workshop where he produced the work. I was mesmerised by the process and seeing my interest he asked if I would like to help him in some way. I jumped at the chance and as I had already told him of my ability to draw he suggested that I designed the bird studies for him to recreate in bone china. After I had produced a number of these drawings John also suggested that I try my hand at turning these drawings into 3D plasticine models for him to make moulds and in turn he would then produce the bone china models. John then showed me how to paint these models with underglaze before firing in the kiln. We even went so far as producing a name for our prospective company calling it “Bird Art”. During our many conversations we brought up the subject of my wish to paint landscapes. Having seen many of my efforts with the bird drawings he suggested that I have a go, so with his words of encouragement it really started me off on my art journey proper.
During my time with John as well as designing and colouring the birds I also used the coloured pencils for landscapes. Although they were not that good I felt that with the right medium I could do better. I decided to try my hand at watercolour and having bought a set of paints and some watercolour paper I started experimenting with the medium. At first I struggled but soon got into the flow and produced several paintings I was pleased with. I mentioned this to John and he asked to see them. As you can imagine I was reluctant to do so remembering my previous experiences, but as I had nothing to lose I eventually agreed to show them to him.
John was very encouraging and told me that he had frequently attended local art exhibitions and that mine would compare favourably alongside many of those exhibits. Although I did not consider pursuing this avenue I still felt elated and for the first time at least my paintings were not rubbished. So I made up my mind I would continue with my watercolour work and with renewed confidence I was really enjoying myself and my painting.
My World Turned Upside Down
It was then that my world turned upside down. In 1976 my wife Lesley was diagnosed as having a melanoma and it was suggested that surgery to remove the mole was needed urgently. As you can imagine this affected the whole family and over the next four years life for us all was very tense.
Early in 1980 Lesley became very ill and in the July passed away. During this time I had done very little artwork but I found solace in painting again to ease the grief I was feeling. I also had two young children to look after so between my day job, bringing up the children and my new found hobby I managed to fill the loneliness I was feeling.
I was self employed and managed to engage someone I knew and trusted to run the manual side of our business while I managed the administration side. I ran my business from home therefore could easily cope with both my children’s needs and the business commitments, it also meant I had quite a bit of time to devote to my painting. Over the next year all my spare time was spent painting and I produced one painting after another building quite a collection of work. What I did notice though is that at some time during these two years my painting took on a different feel, in other words became more meaningful. Was this because I was being more prolific with my painting or was it due to my need to lose myself in my work to ease the grief I was feeling? I will probably never know.
In 1981 I met with a client through my business who lived locally to me, and he showed me a series of framed watercolour marine paintings he had done. It turned out that he was a professional marine artist quite well known in his field. I did not mention at that time that I also dabbled in watercolour myself. However it crossed my mind a couple of weeks later that perhaps I could seek his opinion on my work, if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity as to whether the compliments my family and friends had showered on me were well founded. I rang the gentleman to ask if he was willing to look at some of my pictures and he kindly agreed.
We met up a couple of days later and I rather sheepishly spread several of my ‘best’ paintings out before him. Surprisingly he was quite complimentary and gave me several tips on where improvements could be made, then came the bombshell. Out of the blue in answer to my question ‘so you think that it is worth my continuing with my painting’ he said, “absolutely in fact Colin I really think that if give yourself a few more years continuing as you are I can see you becoming quite well known for your art in the south east”.
To say I was blown away would be an understatement. After I recovered from the shock I asked if he thought that it would be a good idea to take some sort of art course. Once again his answer floored me saying that I would be wise not to do this as what I had going for me was a natural talent that could well be jeopardised with conflicting ideas etc. if I attended art school.
It took a while for all this to sink in but I was encouraged to seek out an outlet for my art and what better way to test this than to find a gallery that just might be willing to show my work. There was a small private art gallery in my home town just a couple of miles from where I lived. The gallery was run by a well know local artist Tony Blackman so I decided to sound him out. Tony was very accommodating and suggested that I bring a couple of my pictures in for him to look at. He did go on to say that local landscape scenes were always sought-after. As luck would have it I had already painted several pictures of a very picturesque local village called Meopham. This included one of the church and one of the village green and windmill. Armed with these paintings I took them into Tony. He liked them and as I had already framed them suggested I leave them with him there and then. I left Tony’s shop in rather a daze not believing my luck and on looking back at the shop window of the gallery I saw one of my pictures being set up and displayed in a prominent position. I was over the moon to witness this, however an even greater shock was just around the corner.
I drove straight home still shell shocked only to find my telephone ringing when I went through the door. It was Tony asking if I had any more local scenes as both of my paintings had been sold.
My First Exhibition
Needless to say over the next few months I sold quite a few paintings at Tony’s gallery and we became quite good friends. On one of my visits Tony told me he would like to hold a two man exhibition and asked if I would like to show my work together with another local artist. He wanted about 20 paintings from me and said it would be held in the spring of 1982 and did I think I could gather enough paintings together in that short time. Of course I readily agreed even though I had only 9 months to paint at least 18 new paintings, but fate had a few more surprises for me before that exhibition would take place.
I worked at a furious pace and the paintings started to add up. By Christmas I was well on my way to meeting the deadline when a very unexpected meeting at a party set my pulse racing. I held a New Years party for friends at my house and also invited my brother and his girl friend having bumped into him in our town centre a couple of days before the party date. During our conversation he mentioned that the flat next door to his girlfriend had a nice neighbour with whom she was friendly and perhaps could she come along too.
I readily agreed (as we were a bit short of ladies for the party) and so it was that I was introduced to my new wife to be. However although we were obviously attracted to each other no further arrangements were made to see each other. In fact it wasn’t until the following April that we were reunited again.
With the exhibition deadline looming I continued my painting with a vengeance, but once again another ‘fly in the ointment’ presented itself. My work colleague gave me notice that he wished to move on elsewhere but was willing to give me time to find someone to take his place. This gave me three choices; either I could find someone else to fill his place, do all the work myself or consider selling the business. I had already had a person who showed an interest in buying it so this was probably my best option. My mind was made up on a visit to Tony Blackman, I told him of my dilemma and he suggested that I start up my own gallery.
I had paid several visits to friends in Broadstairs and had often stayed over as I really liked the pretty seaside town. I mentioned this to Tony and he said he would help me with contacts, artists and equipment manufacturers to get me started. All that was now needed was to find a freehold premises ideally with living accommodation in Broadstairs, not a big ask you might think. I asked my Broadstairs friends to look out for something for me and almost straight away they found an ideal premises just off the main high street, the only problem was that it was leasehold. This was not at all suitable, but as luck would have it when my friend went back and told the agents this and they said they they would consider making it freehold. We wasted no time and my two children and I were off to see the potential new home within a few days. It was ideal, at the right price and as far as we were all concerned a done deal.
I approached my potential buyer for my business, we agreed a price and my business was sold and within a few weeks I was unemployed. All went well with the purchase of our new Broadstairs shop and Tony was true to his word and and supplied me with the contacts I needed. The children and I were very excited at the prospect of living by the sea.
The date of the spring exhibition was a few days away and I had all my pictures framed and delivered to Tony’s gallery. As per usual there was to be a private view prior to the exhibition being opened to the public over a two week period. I contacted as many people as I could muster including friends family and casual acquaintances including the marine artist who encouraged me to pursue my dream the previous year. The preview evening was amazing and by the end of the evening nearly half of my paintings had been sold. One in particular, a small landscape of a farmhouse with a distant view of the river Thames, had already been sold but then two more people also wanted to buy it. Reluctantly I agreed to paint two more pictures of the same size and scene with little adjustments to the detail, so ended up with three sales and three satisfied customers. By the end of the exhibition several more paintings had been sold bringing the total to a 50% sale, considered to be more than acceptable for an art exhibition.
The day following the preview evening I took a very special visitor to see the exhibition. I had met up with Eileen again a few days before during a dance held at a local dancehall. This was the lady my brother’s girlfriend brought to my New Years party some four months before. It was obvious from the start that we we going to spend a lot of time together and I thought it would be a good idea to mention my intention of moving to Broadstairs at the onset.
After the exhibition things started to move very quickly. I had secured the premises in Broadstairs and I started contacting manufacturers of equipment and developed relationships with suppliers of prints and other items needed to start my Broadstairs gallery. Eileen and I became more than good friends and she agreed to come with me to Broadstairs. We were married at the beginning of July of 1982. We had both put our respective properties on the market and found buyers almost immediately and moved to Broadstairs late July, we opened our art gallery in August 1982.
“The Bradley Gallery”
The Gallery also had a framing service and as it was the only one in Broadstairs at the time we had plenty of customers from the onset. We also had a comprehensive antique print selection, thanks to one of Tony’s contacts, which proved very popular. I also tried my hand at pen and ink and found that with a little practice I mastered this medium very quickly. I produced local scenes of Broadstairs and within a couple of months I had several masters that I turned into prints. To start off with they were black and white prints but by experimenting using a watercolour wash I soon perfected the technique. These hand coloured prints became more and more popular bought by visitors and local residents alike.
A couple of years later a friend of mine who lived in Wales commissioned me to paint a couple of pictures of local scenes of where he lived. He was delighted with the finished results. He then asked if I would consider painting his pet poodle. Although I had featured many different animals within my watercolour pictures I had never thought of painting animal portraits, however I said I would give it a try.
This was a disaster. My watercolours would not produce the image to my satisfaction. I told my friend that regretfully I was unable to comply with his request. Even though I did accept that this was a minor setback it still played on my mind but then another strange turn of events was to steer me in yet another direction.
My wife and I were out shopping locally when I remembered that I needed more watercolour paints. I stopped outside my local art shop while my wife waited in the car for as I knew what wanted I wouldn’t be that long. While waiting for an assistant to serve me I noticed an open tin of pencils on a display. They were different to the kind of coloured pencils I had used before and noticed that they were called ‘coloured charcoal’. For some inexplicable reason I bought a set of 24 thinking that these might work where watercolour had failed in my attempt to draw my friends dog. On showing these to my wife when I returned to the car, she was a little bemused as I could not offer any rational explanation of why I had bought them.
When I opened them in my gallery my first thought was what should I use to draw on as there were no instructions on the tin for their use. Later I learned that these pencils were not a new product but had been around for about 50 years so presumably people who had purchased them before knew what to do with them. This was 1984 and therefore no internet to consult so this would mean browsing through the art section of my local library for information on the medium. In the end I decided to experiment with them and they seemed to show up best on dark paper. As I framed pictures in my gallery I had many off cuts of mount board in different shades and the shade that seemed to be the best was ‘Russian green’.
I decided to try drawing a portrait of a dog as this was what had inspired me to purchase them in the first place. I found a picture of a white poodle similar to my friends dog and after a few attempts produced a reasonable likeness. I did not put a background on it as the dark green showed the image up very well. I was so pleased with the result that I mounted and framed the picture then placed it into the shop window of my gallery. I priced it very reasonably to attract a possible buyer and to my amazement it was not long before a lady came in and bought it. I was encouraged by this sale and immediately produced another couple of pictures. I put those in my window too. This brought about another unexpected turn of events as several people came into the Gallery asking if I could draw their animals. So began another phase of my artwork as I then advertised in my window “Pets Portraits by Commission”. I did however change the colour of the paper and found that the sand coloured Ingres mount board produced a more pleasing affect but still I did not put any backgrounds in for the simple reason I did not know how to do it.
My pet portrait business was flourishing both with commissioned work and general portraits for sale through my gallery. I was halfway through a handsome dog portrait, when my Daler Rowney representative paid me a routine call. After we exchanged pleasantries and we had dealt with business matters he asked me what I was using to create the image of the animal. I told him they were pastel pencils. He was impressed with the half done portrait and then asked me what was the make of the pencils I was using. To my amazement having told him they were coloured charcoal pencils made by Schwan Stabilo he told me he used to work for them as a representative, but he admitted that he had never seen the pencils used in this way. He went on to say that he felt sure that Schwan Stabilo UK would also be interested in seeing my work with their pencils. He told me that within the next couple of weeks there was an annual art trade show in Olympia and if I would care to visit the show he would introduce me the the staff of Schwan Stabilo on their stand. He was there representing Daler Rowney at the same show. Naturally I agreed and we made arrangements for us to meet up on his stand when I arrived at the show.
I decided to take a few pictures with me on my visit to the art show and true to his word I met not only many of the Schwan Stabilo reps but also the managing director, Stanley Vaughn of the UK company who happened to be visiting the stand that day. To say he was impressed with my work would be an understatement, he went around showing all the staff just what I had achieved with their pencils. Before I left them Mr Vaughn asked me if I would be willing to do a portrait of his beloved cat, of course I said I would. He then asked me if I would also consider demonstrating at next years trade show, again I said I would although the thought of doing so seemed daunting. The portrait was successful and as I would not accept any payment I was presented with a full wooden box of their pastel pencils together with a solid invitation to join them as demonstrator at the following years show.
In the spring of 1985 as the date of the art show drew near I was feeling very nervous, to undertake my first ever demonstration at a big London venue like Olympia in front of thousands of people filled me with dread. Seeing how nervous I was my wife came up with what proved to be an ideal answer to my lack of confidence and the nagging feeling that I would not be good enough. She told me to “sell the idea of using the pencils” after all this should come naturally as I had trained as a salesman in my earlier working life. This advice worked a treat. By the end of the first day I had got into the swing of it and more than that I was also enjoying myself. The exhibition was held over four days and on the last day I had another surprise presented to me. The editor of a new magazine called ‘The Artist and Illustrator’ was on the prowl for artists to demonstrate styles of art in all mediums to feature ‘how to’s’ in the magazine. He asked me if I would be willing to supply artwork and text featuring an animal portrait and of course I jumped at the chance. A few months later my article appeared in the magazine and so together with more demonstrations lined up for Schwan Stabilo my adventure into the world of Coloured Charcoal began.
When Coloured Charcoal Became “Pastel Pencils”
I had several meetings with Schwan Stabilo discussing different ways in which I could be used to promote the pencils. During one of these meetings I questioned the use of coloured charcoal as a description of the pencils and was this not misleading. I suggested that they could be called Pastel Pencils as I felt that would perhaps be a better title. They did not go along with this idea probably because all the literature featured the charcoal title, however I started calling them pastel pencils from then on and eventually this became the accepted title. Other pencil manufacturers started producing the product, including Derwent and they all called them pastel pencils too so “that” as they say “was that”.
I thought it would be a good idea to offer the pastel pencils for sale in my gallery as I had had many people enquiring where they could purchase them. I splashed out and bought the whole range of individual pencils plus a variety of boxed sets. This was quite an expense so I decided to arrange an open evening in my gallery to try to recoup some of the money by showing off the pencils. I also demonstrated how I used the pencils. I placed an advert locally mentioning the open evening including a demonstration, this was well attended and everyone appeared to enjoy the evening. Towards the end of the evening several of the people attending approached me and asked if I would be willing to teach them how to use them. I pointed out that I was not qualified to teach art as I had no art training.
This did not put them off though and said they would buy the pencils if I agreed to run a class and teach them. I reluctantly agreed to run a 6 week evening class for the six students interested to teach them the basic techniques. At the end of the six week course I felt that everyone had enough understanding of the basic techniques and would be able to go on and produce their own work. However members of the class had other ideas and suggested I continue the class on a weekly basis, moreover they would ask their friends if they too would like to join the class.
I also advertised the class locally and very soon had the 14 students needed to fill the class and make it a viable proposition. Once the word got around many more people enquired about joining so I decided to start a second class to cope with the demand. Once I got into the swing of it I really enjoyed teaching and coupled with the regular demonstrations for Schwan Stabilo the income from these new ventures started to exceed the revenue from the Gallery. I was able to work both comfortably as the classes were in the evening and when I was away demonstrating my wife managed the gallery.
The art trade shows continued and although they were useful from an experience point of view we were only talking to traders and not the public so no sales could be made. However that was soon to change as in 1986 the Artist & Illustrators magazine held a four day exhibition in the heart of London, this time for their readers and the general public. The stall holders could also sell their products. This is what the art trade had been waiting for and due to the popularity of the Artist & Illustrators it was guaranteed to be well attended, and indeed it was.
There were only a few demonstrators on the various stands so those that had them drew the most people. Schwan Stabilo had so many sales that they ran out of stock of the pencils and had to replenish their stock from their warehouse after the second day. The exhibition was a great success both for the trade stands and more importantly the public which meant that this was surely going to be an annual event. This proved to be the case and the annual show went on for many more years.
More magazine articles were forthcoming and so was the volume of demonstrations, but soon there was another string to my bow on the horizon. The A&I magazine approached Schwan Stabilo asking if they would consider promoting a pastel pencil workshop run by me. Arrangements were made and it was to take place in a conference room at the London Zoo in Regents Park. Naturally the subject would be an animal of my choice so I suggested a Cheetah. The full page advert was placed in the A&I and the price of the workshop was covered by the materials offered to the student so in effect the tuition was for free. They wanted 25 students to make this venture worthwhile and was inundated with requests for places. In fact they were oversubscribed by so many that they asked Schwan Stabilo if they could run three workshops not the one, albeit that I would also agree to this too. Again I readily agreed. The three London Zoo workshops were very successful and led to more articles.
I started doing demonstrations for art groups as several of my fellow professional artists were already doing this. I did not need to advertise this as I had already had invitations from secretaries of art groups around the country who had heard of me through all the publicity. This proved very lucrative because this allowed me to sell my products to members of the art groups inspired by my demonstrations.
A chance meeting with the owners of “Phantasm Easels” (Ron and Jan Jones) was to lead me to yet another idea that was to become a major teaching aid. During a conversation with Ron Jones at an art show in St. Albans, Hertfordshire he made the suggestion that I develop a series of art packs with instructions, reference pictures and pastel pencils attached to the pack. The more I thought this through the more the idea appealed to me. I choose a cat for the first subject as a trial run and put together a prototype including 6 pastel pencils. I had to restrict the pencils to 6 to make the pack idea feasible. However this idea had to be put on hold because I was presented with yet another major complication.
From Schwan Stabilo to Faber-Castell
One day an unexpected visitor arrived in my art gallery, I had met Marion Bray the co-owner of West Design Products briefly at an art show although we had never had any business connections. Marion said that I had been recommended by an old acquaintance of mine, Siegfried Hochstien who used to work for Schwan Stabilo’s head office in Germany. He had paid periodic visits to Schwan Stabilo UK a few years previously and I knew him quite well. He was always impressed with my work with the pastel pencils. Siegfried had left Schwan Stabilo three years previously to join Faber-Castell and during that time he had helped Faber to produce a new pastel pencil product. West Design was the distributor for Faber-Castell in the UK therefore it was the responsibility of Marion Bray to arrange the Marketing of the new pastel pencil.
Siegfried had suggested that Marion should approach me to see if I would be interested to test run the new pastel pencils. I picked a black and a white pencil from the Faber tin and then selected a black and a white from Schwan-Stabilo’s Carb-Othello range. I tested them side by side and immediately saw that the new pencils had stronger pigments. Marion left me a box of the new pencils to field test and I told her I would get back to her as soon as I could with my findings. They proved to be very reliable and stronger than the Carb-Othello and the pigments were more vibrant, I was very interested in taking the next step. I arranged a meeting with Mike and Marion Bray together with their sales team at West Design head office in Folkestone. This proved very fruitful and a plan was formed for me to join forces with them and help promote the new Faber-Castell Pitt Pastel pencils.
Of course this meant leaving Schwan-Stabilo and this was not going to be a smooth transition, particularly as I had already agreed to demonstrate for them at the forthcoming A & I exhibition in the Design Centre, London and this was only a couple of weeks away. I was up front with their marketing team at Schwan Stabilo informing them of my intention to switch sides so to speak. It did not go down too well with the Managing Director though. I did however agree to honour my commitment and still demonstrate at the show for them but the atmosphere during the show was a little… frosty.
During the show I was approached by the director of the Field Study centre at Flatford Mill in Suffolk inviting me to become one of their tutors. I readily agreed as I was already familiar with the work they do there and told him I would get in touch with him after the show was over. It seems that they also was aware of my work and felt that my animal subjects would fit in nicely with their students. During my telephone conversation with them the following week arrangements were made for my first Flatford Mill workshop. I was to continue with them for more than eight years and run numerous workshops. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them, but then who wouldn’t working and staying in the mill John Constable had spent many years growing up in.
To get my new association with West Design under way Marion Bray invited me along to their head office for another meeting with the sales team to discuss a major promotion of the Pitt pastel pencils. They wanted me to spearhead the campaign with another pastel pencil ‘how to’ article in the A & I magazine and at the same time launch a competition for readers of the Artist and Illustrators to submit their work with a prize of art materials and other goodies and also a place in one of my forthcoming workshops. They asked me to choose 24 pastel pencils that I thought would be a good selection to cover most subjects and it was suggested that they produce these with my name on the tin to accompany the promotional launch. The “Colin Bradley Special Selection” tin was only intended to last for the duration of the launch, however it proved so popular that it is still being supplied by West Design to this day.
Television Appearances and Teaching Aids
One day I received a telephone call from Marion saying that she wanted to show the pastel pencils and some other items from their product range on the Create and Craft TV channel and would I be interested in presenting and demonstrating the pencils for West Design on the show for them.
Arrangements were made for the shoot and I arrived at the studio Green Room with nerves jangling only to find another gentleman who was going to accompany me demonstrating craft products on the other side of the studio. Although I was nervous as I had only just realised that these programs were going to go out live, the other chap was very very nervous and was visibly shaking with fear. This eased my anxiety and I sought to console him forgetting about my own nerves. The show was presented by a couple of men called Alan and Barry.
It went far better than anyone expected, sales went through the roof and Alan and Barry congratulated me saying that they would like to see me on again. In all I went to present a further dozen or so shows over the next couple of years with various products for West Design.
Around the same time during a A&I show Paul Harris (the shows organiser) with whom I had become quite friendly with saw me working with a transparent gridded sheet placed over a reference picture. He asked what this was and I told him I was showing the audience how to proportion subjects and transfer what I saw through the grids onto gridded paper (sound familiar?).
He thought that this was a great idea and told me I ought to consider marketing the grids myself as he thought they would do well. After experimenting with different designs and adding another couple of transparent grids, our popular Square Drawing pack was born.
I continued to attend the A&I show at the Design Centre in London but this time demonstrating the Faber-Castell Pitt pastel pencils for West Design Products. And this was to continue for a few more years until they decided not to attend any more which left me without representation and presence at this most prestigious art show. However by that time I had built up quite a following and I had enough art materials and teaching aids to sell that I decided to take my own stand at the show, demonstrating as before but also selling my own products. As this was so successful I then sought other outlets in which ‘I could go it alone’, one of which was Patchings Art Farm another was at the NEC Birmingham with the Hobbycraft group. I continued to sell on my own behalf at these and many other venues until I ‘retired’ in 2005.
The starter pack that I had previously made up at my friend Ron Jone’s suggestion used six Carb-Othello pastel pencils, so this obviously had to be changed. Fortunately I had not sold many of these as it was only designed to be a test run, but then again enough of them to encourage me to pursue the idea. I found six Faber-Castell Pitt pastel pencils which were very similar in colour and used these to redraw the image with the Pitt pencils. This was an attractive cat portrait that still remains the most popular image ever of the 50 or so starter and workshop packs I was to go on to produce.
I also painted a further five images, so I had three animals and three landscapes, the six starter packs were ready to be launched. By this time I had amassed quite a range of art materials for sale so I sold these to my students, in my demonstrations, in my workshops and through mail order. I also produced a number of pastel pencil technique booklets. These added to my other teaching aids providing the pastel pencil student with a comprehensive range of tutorials on the medium.
Website and YouTube
My art classes in my gallery continued to be popular and I eventually ran six classes a week to cope with the demand. This meant that I had to close my art gallery to the public Monday to Wednesday as I had three afternoon classes. Gradually my tuition career overtook my sales and I had no choice but to close the art gallery completely. Although it was a sad day to see the gallery close, I saw the potential of the teaching side of my business as more and more opportunities presented themselves. My wife had become somewhat of an expert with computers and during a conversation with a friend suggested that we consider starting our own website. Eileen felt that we could handle this so we started making the arrangements to have a website built. This was quite crude by today’s standards but served the purpose at that time.
Over the next few years our website became more professional due also to the fact that my son Stephen had taken an advanced computer course at college and together with Eileen took the website to even greater heights. In 2007 Stephen suggested that we start a YouTube channel to show video demonstrations of my work. This proved to be the ‘big one’. Suddenly we had a platform that was to bring our work with the pastel pencils to the world. We were now able to sell our products to a world wide audience and as the starter and workshop packs were now digital my teaching aids were popular too. Being able to teach in such a unique way and reach so many more people interested in learning how to draw was so rewarding.
I had retired from private teaching in my gallery in 2005 and all demonstrations and workshops in the summer of 2006, so all my efforts now were now concentrated on building my YouTube following and mail order service with the help of Eileen and Stephen. In September 2011 we developed a new website “ColinBradleyArt.com” to provide complete video lessons by subscription. This has been a major success and allowed me to devote most of my time to paint a vast selection of subject material to satisfy all students desires; not surprisingly animals are still the most popular.
In 2016 I was fortunate enough to be invited to Denver, Colorado to front a Craftsy teaching class. As I was then in my 76th year the family thought it best that did not go alone and Craftsy agreed to pay all expenses for Steve to accompany me. We had a great time and it has proved successful both for Craftsy as well as prestige for Colin Bradley Art.
Colin Bradley Art Ltd
In the same year I handed the reins of Colin Bradley Art over to Stephen and retired from the running of the company. I still have a vested interest in the company and will continue to play my part in producing the artwork and advice to students when required. But in Stephens hands “Colin Bradley Art Ltd” will continue to grow providing a much needed service to all the loyal members and friends who have supported us over the years. I have indeed been a very fortunate man to have risen far beyond the prediction of my school art teacher, “you will never be any good at art” I only wish he could see me now and how destructive his silly comment might have been.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my art career especially over the last 37 years and I hope for many more before I have to hang up my pastel pencils. Teaching students has been without doubt the most successful part of my career in art and I am constantly reminded as I count my blessings that when once asked by a close friend “why don’t you consider teaching art?” to which I replied “I could never do that, I have no qualifications anyway”.
How wrong can one be.