Chris Down Celtic Designs
In essence, I am self-taught in all my artistic endeavours, having received no formal training. Reading books and observing the work of others have been my teachers. It may have been an indicator, while studying for a degree in electronic engineering, that I was doing the wrong subject, when I would assemble components on a circuit board to look aesthetically pleasing over their functionality.

My journey into art took off with painting parts of motorbikes. That is when I began to do both Celtic art and art that was seen. Previously, I had experimented with an airbrush and used oil paints a little. It was very basic back then. I had no compressor for the airbrush and could only afford the odd can of compressed air. My main means of air supply was from a car tyre inner tube, using an old bicycle pump to inflate it. It took about half an hour to get a sufficient pressure. Then a couple of minutes spraying to deflate it. Progress was slow. Getting a compressor was a revelation, even the rather Inefficient one I first had. When buying my next compressor, I was informed that the previous one was good only for a doorstop!

Almost as soon as I got my first motorbike (in 1980 aged 17), I took bits off and painted them. For several years, my main canvas was the petrol tank and mudguard. More than that, the bikes were at the core of my life and much of what I did. Two of the bikes I painted appeared in shows and had articles in bike magazines about them. A painting of mine accompanied the second article. This was the first printed appearance of my art. Both bikes were covered in Celtic patterns, as was the painting.

The techniques I used back then provided the groundwork for the way I worked with Celtic art. Previously, I would cut out stencils in masking film with a scalpel. The image sprayed on with an airbrush and details added with a paintbrush or technical pen. Now I create alpha channel masks in Photoshop and use them to colour in or alter areas of an image. The only real difference is, that the Photoshop masks can be used as often as I want. I well remember one set of masks that took three days to draw and cut out then 15 minutes to spray. After peeling off the petrol tank, the masks were unusable. (See the BSA tank in the gallery of bike pictures)

A common feature in some of my early artwork was Stonehenge. It was inevitable really. It has had a strong hold on me in my formative years. The Stones are only a couple of miles away from where I live. The school I went to was called Stonehenge school. The school badge was even of the Stones. I have been to many solstice and equinox celebrations there. Seen a full moon from within the circle on the Autumn Equinox one year. Watched the sun go up, the sun go down. Felt the wind and rain in the ancient place. I remember the now departed free festival with affection. It introduced me to much. Not least the band Hawkwind, who became the soundtrack of my life.

For several years, I worked as an architectural technician, surveying and drawing old buildings. This required me to use a drawing board and technical pens, which would later prove a useful discipline for doing the Celtic art. Again, I had no formal training and learnt as I went along. The work was enjoyable. It introduced me to some really fabulous buildings. However, I wanted to do something more than draw existing buildings. I have always had a creative streak. From an early age I would be making and painting things. The recession of the early nineties gave me the incentive I needed. Although I had been doing Celtic art before, it was only the occasional piece. When work dried up it gave me the excuse to lock myself away and really start learning. A fair while later, I was ready and started approaching people with my art. This quickly led to my first set of cards being published and my first book commission. Both appearing in 1994.

Early on, I was persuaded to buy an Apple Mac to produce art on. It was fortunate that my card publisher was also a Mac reseller. I never looked back. Of course, there are times when I just want to have a paintbrush, canvas and some paints, rather than screen, manual and frustration. Having said that, there are things that I can do now that I could not have managed without Painter, Photoshop and Illustrator. Truly liberating tools and very creative ones. I think the engineering background helped. Like when I picked up a book on html and learnt how to build my first web site using code. Ironically, I really did not like the whole programming side of computing when it was being taught to me. Well, I say taught. Not much got through and I have forgotten it all now. I could not see the point. It was only when the computer became a tool in its own right that I could take it on board.

After the first commissions, more followed and my art appeared on a variety of products over the years. Books, cards, mugs, wall plaques, window transparencies all had my Celtic art on, as that was the main focus for a while. The book work did allow me to venture into other territory as I was given commissions that allowed me to stretch myself. And create my first book in 1998. Again, teaching myself desk top publishing from scratch by reading a very big book, I did all the design and layout as well as producing the art for it.

I would also go off and do other things. Small bits of architecture, building labouring and part time manufacturing assembly work when the art work trailed off. In the summer of 2001, I was working in a quarry, processing and cutting up stone. Playing with all the big toys. I did think it was about time to move on from art. In the same way that I had been ready to move on from architecture almost a decade earlier. The commissions had stopped. So it was logical to change. I made the decision one day while driving home from work. Only to find a message on my answering machine from a publisher wanting to commission me on a small project. I could not resist. A string of commissions followed over the next two years. These included my two major books where I am sole author and illustrator. They have gone on to sell tens of thousands of copies and been published in a number of countries. Good job I carried on.

In 2005, I decided that I would no longer concentrate on Celtic Art and changed tack completely. I felt I had worked on Celtic art for long enough. I needed a new challenge. I would move into figurative fantasy painting. Working on the book The Crafters Design Library Fantasy had been the catalyst that got me thinking I wanted to do this. I had always been into fantasy art. Early on in my book illustrating days, I had done a number of acrylic and watercolour paintings. Some are in the book section of this site. However, I had not completed a painting for some 10 years. I had concentrated solely on pen and ink work. Some with digital colouring. Well over a thousand pieces in that time.

Succubus Moon was the first of the new paintings I produced. The one with which I proved to myself I could still paint. Succubus Moon represented a transition from my old way of painting. The underlayer was an acrylic tonal painting. The top layer being digital using mostly Corel Painter. My process now is to produce a pencil drawing using a photograph as the key reference. I scan the drawing and use that as a template for me to apply the colour. I would estimate the average time I spend on a painting is around a week. Maybe two on the more complex pieces.

I am really enjoying the direction the new painting is taking me in. It is opening up new avenues and I am meeting new people. The process of learning has begun again and I am looking forward to see what new creations come from this.

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