Guest post by artist Jack Russell – David Shepherd: My Hero, My Insipration!

“If it wasn’t for David Shepherd CBE I wouldn’t be a professional artist. It was his inspiration that made me decide to go for it and teach myself to paint.

“It all started while I was still playing cricket for Gloucestershire CCC and England. Sat in the pavilion watching the rain fall during the wet periods of an English Summer can be very frustrating. Being someone who can’t sit still and needs to be doing something productive all the time and not wasting away life’s precious days I stormed out of the dressing room one day and decided I was going to be a painter. If Rembrandt could do it I thought,  then so could I!  I say Rembrandt, because I love the old masters and I’m a big fan of so many of them.  Constable, Turner, Sargent, Whistler, Seago, Stanhope-Forbes, the list goes on!  I never did art at school, I was too busy missing lessons to play cricket but I had always been interested in paintings and particulary how clever these painters were. It fascinated me as to how they achieved the effects that they did.  When I saw a Rembrandt for the first time it blew me away.  I’ll never be in the same league as him but there’s no shame in trying to aim for the top! But when I saw a David Shepherd original oil painting for the first time that also blew me away! It was at one David’s exhibitions near Bristol promoting wildlife conservation in the 1980’s.  Right I thought, there must be a way of doing this, I’m going to do have a go.

“At the time people were telling me that to learn to paint you first have to learn to draw so during a long rain delay at a county match I left the ground and went to the shops and bought a sketchpad and some pencils.  This was in the beautiful city of Worcester.  I spent the rest of the day wondering up and down the banks of the River Severn sketching. I’ve still got my first ever sketch, “Man Under a Tree Reading a Newspaper.”  It’s only about three inches square but it is one of my most treasured possessions.  I was too shy at first to let people see what I was doing so whenever anyone passed by I would quickly hide the sketchpad.  Eventually I plucked up enough courage to do it at the cricket where I started sketching the grounds and even portraits of my team mates.  It was 1987. At the end of that season I took a number of sketches into a Bristol gallery to have them framed just to put them on our walls at home. However, the gallery owner recognised me.  I had just been picked to go on my first England Cricket Team Tour which was scheduled that Winter for Pakistan.  He told me that if I came back with enough sketches he would hold an exhibition.  I was reserve wicketkeeper at the time so only played 2 days cricket in 8 weeks so there was plenty of time for the sketching!  He was true to his word and at the start of the 1988 cricket season he held the exhibition.  To my amazement, all 40 sketches sold out within 2 days!  I was in a state of shock but my career as a professional artist had begun.  In fact last year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of that first sell out exhibition by exhibiting back in London at The Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder Street.

2It was early days but commissions began to flood in and I was busy for the next couple of years. It was great! I was either catching cricket balls or drawing pictures for people, it was like being in heaven.  During that time I took on the mammoth commission of drawing Gloucester Cathedral literally stone by stone to celebrate their 200th anniversary. I worked on the drawing day and night for 3 weeks solid. After it was finished I put the pencil down and decided that was it, that’s enough drawing now, I’m going to concentrate on the oils.  I felt I’d taken the drawing as far as I could and it was time to concentrate on the colours because they fascinated me most. A couple of years later the same gallery held an exhibition of 30 of my oil paintings and amazingly they sold out as well!  So that was the start of my whole success and my career as an artist snowballed from there.  My two immediate dreams were to one, have a book of my paintings published, and two, sell my work in my own gallery. Well both dreams came true, although not in the same order.  In 1994 I bought an old coaching inn in Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire which we restored and converted into an art gallery.   Only a few years later Harper Collins of London published my first collection of paintings and sketches. Fortunately things didn’t stop there, in fact it still hasn’t stopped to this day!  Thanks to all the collectors all over the world who collect my work the gallery is still going strong.  We now do our own book and limited edition print publishing in house.  I’m still furiously trying to paint everything I want to paint before it’s too late, so life is very good I’m fortunate to say and 24 hours a day simply isn’t enough! If anyone can organise a 48 hour day please get in touch!!

“All this is down to David. Or rather David’s unquenchable enthusiasm for life and his paintings. If he could paint such amazing pictures having learnt from scratch, then so could I.  That’s what gave me the confidence to go for it. I know he had Robin Goodwin to guide him in the early years but basically he started from nothing and that was a big motivation for me.   Even he himself has been quoted saying that the paintings that were rejected when he attempted to enter the Slade School of Art were “Birds travelling in rather doubtful directions!” If you look at those early paintings and see where David’s work went to from there, and where it stands today, that can only give you inspiration. His attitude has been a major factor for me. His sheer determination to succeed was a guiding light.  I can remember in my early years when I was throwing 9 out of 10 canvases in the bin because they were’t good enough, it was David’s determination not to give up that kept me going.  Every so often a couple of square inches of canvas would work out well and that was the light at the end of the tunnel that spurred me on. Taking a closer look at his work he taught me the lesson of creating the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface.  Whether it’s a tusk coming out of the canvas, or the buffer beam on a steam locomotive, or the branches of a tree, his skill of having something leap out at you is one of his greatest assets.  Not all artists can achieve that. It’s something I strive for every day!  By the way, I think some of his train pictures are his best work. In particular the colour sketches painted from life during the last days of steam. They’re sensational. He was right when he said Rembrandt would have loved it in the steam sheds. Talking of Rembrandt, he was a genius, a master of creating light. In my opinion David was the same.  Rembrandt’s paintings are 3-D. You feel as though you could put your hand into the painting and pick something up.  David’s paintings are the same.

“In my early days as an artist I was lucky enough to have lunch with David and Avril at Winkworth Farm.  It was a day I will treasure forever. Not only did I discover David’s boundless enthusiasm for everything important but we talked at length about saving the subjects he was painting. He opened my eyes that day.  I don’t just mean painting, but the work that needs to be done for wildlife.  If ever I get up in the morning and go into my studio feeling a little sorry for myself or a little lacking in enthusiasm I simply put on a David Shepherd dvd and within seconds he snaps me out of my lethargy and I crack on making the day count. Never waste a minute. That was David’s philosophy.  Even to this day his words hold true.  I think that’s why we got on so well.

“Thank you to David’s family and the team at David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation for inviting me to come on board.  It’s a great honour. I feel privileged.  There’s a lot to be done but I’m very much looking forward to working with you all and all the supporters of the foundation. If I can add in any small way to help carry on David’s dream and legacy I am very happy to do so. I owe him a great deal, because David has done so much for me.”

Jack Russell, MBE