Down to a Fine Art
Ink artist Colin Brown
As a teenager, Colin Brown loved to stare at the illustrations of David Stone Martin. The Chicago-born artist became famous in the 1950s for his idiosyncratic record covers in which bold colours mixed with dramatically dark inky lines. Fast forward six decades and Colin continues to work in forceful ink like his idol. Impactful illustrations of zebras, pheasants, peacocks, dogs, swans and stags line the walls of his Lancashire home. Squirrels also hang alongside Pekin bantams and Silkies, for Colin harbours a passion for chickens as well as art.
Today he is sitting outside watching his own chickens as he creates his next work –— a picture of Cleo, a Dutch Silkie, who is always last into the coop at night as well as last out in the morning. He picks up a pencil and draws her outline freehand first of all, capturing her sense of life and movement in the blink of an eye. He then spends more time building up her form with fine liner pens. Finally, he applies the coal coloured ink where it is needed, especially on her feathers. And then comes the splattering. Picking up a brush, he dips it in the ink pot and gently flicks on to the watercolour paper to create the strategically placed splatter which has become his trademark.
“The splatter is intended to create drama, movement and activity,” he explains. “Sometimes I’ll use a toothbrush instead of a paint brush. Although it sounds less glamorous, it is more effective at getting the ink where I need it.
“I like to draw my chickens when they are roaming outside, although I do use photographs sometimes just as an reference to look at the close-up details, such as the feathers, that you can’t spot when they are moving a lot,” he continues.
“David Stone Martin is definitely the reason I came to love working in ink. I’ve developed my own style over the years and I use my own techniques to create more detail and texture than standard ink-based painting.”
Before he headed off to Wolverhampton University to study illustration and fashion, Colin undertook courses in art and design and fashion design at Guildford College. “I’d been in love with art since the age of
five, when I liked nothing better than to draw birds, portraits or even buildings,” he says. “Today my favourite subjects are countryside and farm animals and the majority of my collection is based on countryside animals. The great outdoors is a massive part of my life and eventually I would like to combine full-time farming with my art.”
Like a number of his peers, Colin’s days aren’t currently consumed with filling paper or canvas with ink and paint. Instead he decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry and, for the last 10 years, he has worked for luxury brands Mulberry and now Barbour as a fashion merchandiser.
“I look after the visual side of Barbour’s brand in the north of England and Scotland — from how it is displayed in stores, to window displays and shop fittings,” he says. “It’s an interesting job and I stay away a lot in hotels, so I keep my art materials in my car and I use my time in the evenings to draw and paint. When I’m home I love to spend the weekend painting.”
Colin is rarely short of a subject. He has 12 chickens, including Silkies, Sussex, Pekins and warrens, and they all have names.
“There is June Bug — she’s the strong-minded one; Muggy is always stealing food from her sisters; Janice is wise and she’s one of the older hens who is so bold that she would even challenge a cockerel for food; Blueberry-Blue is incredibly beautiful and by far the tamest; Grace is very graceful, hence her name; Roxanne is the smallest of the Pekins and she’s a real charmer; while Juno, like her sister, is named after one of my favourite films.”
Colin has a particular penchant for the Pekin bantams and the Silkies.
“They’re very simple to look after, but cheeky when it comes to feeding time. For example, when they hear my car pull up, they run all the way to the back door of the balcony demanding treats. I have a photo of one of my Silkies that climbed onto
the balcony itself. The picture was even shown on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch a few weeks ago. It’s one of my claims to fame.” He laughs.
Via a couple of first cousins, Colin is also linked to the high-profile world of football. Marvin Bartley plays for Scottish Premiership club Hibernian as a midfielder; while back in the 1990s Mitchell Thomas was a defender with Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Luton and Burnley.
“I’ve always loved football, but I started too late to be any good myself, although I played for local clubs. However, I wasn’t in the same league as Mitchell and Marvin. I often travel to watch Marvin play.”
Colin’s love of chickens and various other birds (he also owns Muscovy, Pekin and Runner ducks, as well as golden pheasants), like his interest in football, can be traced back to his childhood — and even further.
“My family are of Jamaican decent and both sides came from a farming background,” Colin says.
“My mum and dad raised chickens and pigeons before I was born as well as during my childhood, so this is definitely where my passion for chickens comes from. During my childhood I loved drawing my chickens and the wild birds that flew onto our land. My grandad on my mum’s side was a full-time farmer back in Jamaica where he raised chickens, goats and other animals, and I believe that he, too, influenced my interest in chickens.”
Colin started keeping these friendly feathered birds when he was a child, at which point he kept several breeds, including warrens, Rhode Island Reds and Marans.
“I’ve always found chickens to be the most relatable creatures out there and easy to form a bond with,” he continues. “Obviously some breeds are easier than others to raise, but because I’ve kept several breeds throughout my life there isn’t a single one that I haven’t bonded with.
“My favourite aspect of raising chickens is feeding time. I love the lengths that the birds will go to to get food from you. I do have a passion for birds in general, but chickens are the one bird that I couldn’t live without.”
Colin says that he has been “humbled” by the interest in his work since he began posting his creations on Instagram (Colins_art_designs) and Facebook (@ colinartistdesigner).
“My website is also about to launch, so this will be another platform to showcase my work,” says Colin, who undertakes commissions. “I will also be exhibiting my work towards the end this year and during 2019,” he adds.
“Although art is not my full-time living at the moment, the demand for my work has been really encouraging, so it is already developing into a big part of my life. It’s becoming far more than a hobby and I have recently branched out into creating things such as prints for wallpapers and T-shirts.”
It seems likely that June Bug, Cleo, Muggy, Janice, Blueberry-Blue, Grace, Roxanne and Juno could soon be appearing all over Britain — and maybe beyond.
I’ve always found chickens to be the most relatable creatures out there and easy to form a bond with
Colin Brown draws his chickens when they are roaming outside
Janice, the “wise” Pekin hen
Colin’s three Dutch Silkies
ABOVE, CENTRE RIGHT, BELOW & OPPOSITE: Colin is rarely short of a subject to draw. He has 12 chickens, including Silkies, Sussex, Pekins and warrens
ABOVE AND BELOW: Apart from his birds, Colin’s favourite art subjects are countryside and farm animals
ABOVE: Colin’s love of all birds can be traced back to his childhood BELOW: He dreams of becoming a smallholder in the futureBOTTOM: Two of his warrens