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Raymond Warren: The Finer Points of Art

Raymond Warren

Published on 1st March 2017

Every weekday morning, Raymond Warren helps his sons with their uniform, serves breakfast and takes them to school. As any parent will testify, it’s a manic start to the day. But when he returns home, Raymond can relax. He picks out an audiobook, puts on his headphones and spends the next few hours producing detailed portraits with graphite pencils.

His work recently featured in a pop-up art and craft emporium at Horsham Museum. Raymond is hoping to build a body of work to stage his own exhibition in future. We meet the artist at his Horsham home as he puts the finishing touches to his latest portrait.


The story goes back to the war…

 ‘After my father passed away a few years ago, I was going through the various stages of grief and looking for something more fulfilling to do in terms of work. I was at my grandfather's house and he was showing me photos from when he served in the Army just after after the Second World War. There was a pencil portrait of him, drawn by a street artist in Palestine, which he sent home to his partner, now my grandmother. Upon seeing it I thought I too would like to try drawing.’

The wife knows best…

‘I didn't know if I was going to be any good at drawing. Whilst at college, I studied graphic design, but I then studied economics at university and hadn’t continued drawing at all. I bought some pencils and paper, drew a few things, but really didn’t think they were very good. That might have been the end of it, but my wife saw some potential and encouraged me. I then drew my son’s eye when he was just a baby, which won a competition held by the local Hobbycraft store. That really kick-started everything as the drawing then won the national competition, which gave me the self belief I needed.’ 

A worldwide network of teachers…

‘I looked at the work of other artists and picked up new techniques from YouTube videos. Soon, things started to click. Art is so much more accessible now. When I was at school, you physically had to go somewhere to see art, whereas now it's all there at the click of a button. Many artists on YouTube allow people to watch them at work, so it’s a great way of learning various styles by many different teachers.’ 

A dramatic change of career…

‘The next two years is my window of opportunity, where I need to see what I can achieve with art. Most of my working life has been spent in local government. I worked for a city council in North Carolina before returning home to work for local authorities in Tunbridge Wells and then Horsham District Council. When my contract was coming to an end in Horsham, I had the chance to spend more time at home and concentrate on art, although I still need to do the school run!’ 

The little things count… 

‘I have received requests for pictures of pets and animals, although faces interest me the most. Some people perceive portraiture to be quite a simple artistic method, but it’s challenging. That’s why my drawings can take 15 hours. When you are staring at pictures for so long, you notice the tiny details you would never notice in everyday life. I had one commission where a child had a slight imperfection in their eye. Picking that up was vital. It's not enough just to draw the eye in the right shape. You need to show minuscule changes, like the colours in the iris, because a parent knows those distinguishing features.’  

How many wrinkles on an elephant…

‘Everyone has features that are unique to them and you need to reveal an individual’s true character in a picture. There is no room for error. If I added an extra wrinkle to a picture of an elephant, nobody is going to notice. But if I do that to somebody's face or misplace a mole, something won’t look right. I once drew a boy with lots of freckles and it was important to capture them all in the right place. You need to be patient and capture everything perfectly. That is why it’s important to have a good photograph to work from.’ 

A good image is important…

‘I create portraits from photos, so what I am doing now is experimenting with photography to create the right ambience for each drawing. There have been occasions when I’ve had to reject a commission as the photo doesn't offer enough for me to produce an accurate portrait. Now, I offer to take the pictures myself, as I know how to give it enough character and lighting. It’s all aiming towards producing a better portrait at the end.’ 

It’s not all in the eyes… 

‘People often think that eyes are the hardest part of a portrait. However, their shape and depth doesn’t alter greatly. For me, the mouth is the key. A smile affects every part of the face; the wrinkles around the eyes change, as does the shape of the ears and nose. You need to show how that smile spreads across the entire face.’

Just John 

‘My most recent work is ‘John.’  John came to England in the 1950s and built his life here, working in a factory for 30 years. He has a long Indian name, so his friends simply call him John. I try to imagine what those eyes have seen over their 87 years. Older people have many more features that you need to show if you’re to capture their character. That requires focus, although, I find drawing to be very relaxing. I put on headphones and listen to music or audiobooks, so even though you are concentrating for long periods it is enjoyable.’ 

Capturing a unique character… 

‘In today's culture of instant photos, there is something unique about a commissioned drawing. They reveal something that cannot be captured in a thousand photos, so people are keen to have one. The feedback to my pictures so far has been lovely, especially from parents who’ve asked for a drawing of their children.’

Sharing his passion with the world 

‘I post my work on social media websites like Facebook and Instagram, as it’s a good way of showing people what I can do. It's nice having a two-way conversation with feedback on your work, rather than waiting for something to hang in a gallery. Having learned so much from other artists on YouTube, I have also created time-lapse videos for my own YouTube channel. It’s interesting to watch them back at high speed, as the videos show how layers are built up to achieve depth.’ 

Dabbling in abstract 

‘I may experiment with oil paintings or abstract art in future. It’s not something I’ve tried yet, although I keep an open mind as I didn’t even know I could draw three years ago! Even in the field of realism, there is huge variety in the range of work and I'd like to try and meet up with other pencil artists working locally to share ideas. In terms of exhibiting, I’ve submitted work for an exhibition at Horsham Museum and have entered the Ashurst Emerging Artist competition. Perhaps later this year, I will be able to have my own exhibition if I can build up a body of work on one subject matter.’ 

Carry on improving 

‘I want to carry on with art, whether it’s something I need to do in my spare time or as a standalone career. I can see a lot of progress from my early pictures. I was in the loft just before Christmas and came across my very first portraits. They were not that good, at least by my current standards, so I am fortunate that my family could see some potential and pushed me on. Perhaps in another few years, I will be looking back at my current work thinking I have improved just as much again.’

You can find Raymond Warren online at www.raymondwarrenart.com or www.instagram.com/raymondwrn/ or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/warrenportraits/