Painted-love-small“I’m not sure I could ever be a full-time artist.” Those are the words of portraitist Robert Neil, which probably explains why he simultaneously runs a family building business.

Largely self-taught, Robert has seen his on-the-side hobby get him elected as a member of the Royal Society of Birmingham Artists (RBSA) in 2010, and then to President in 2012. He followed that with having one of his works – ‘Jeweller’ – selected for the 2014 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery. To give you an idea of how hard that is, he was one of just 50 pictures selected from 3,000 entries. Not bad for a part-timer.

“I was surprised when I started getting attention from what I was doing, so I entered more competitions. I got involved with the RBSA and, by their encouragement and that of the artist community in Birmingham, began to take it more seriously.”

He’s a big fan of portraits – “I’m happiest painting the human form” – and you can sense his strong belief that brushes and canvas still have an important role to play in our current digital age. That said, he doesn’t go around chasing business. “I used to do a lot of commissions, but I don’t particularly aim for them these days. I largely like painting what I want to paint. One benefit of it not being my main focus is I can be selective, rather than take every commercial opportunity. There is a freedom there.”

When he does find a subject to paint, it’s hardly ever a friend and is normally someone he encounters in the course of his day. “I like to meet people, get to know them and then see if they’re up for it. It’s quite surprising how much time people are willing to give.”

So why doesn’t he want to do it full time? “Art has always been important to be, but it’s quite emotionally and mentally draining. It’s not necessarily relaxing when working to produce good things; that tends to come in shorter bursts.”

For anyone with aspirations to become a full or part time artist, a good place to start might be to enter a competition. The RBSA runs a number of open submissions exhibitions throughout the year that anyone can enter. And don’t worry if it doesn’t work out first time. As Robert says: “Like a lot of artists, you don’t come out like a fully formed object.”

Wise words indeed.