Keen to find out more about his unique process, we caught him before he jetted off on a well-deserved holiday...
When you describe your work you say that you paint backwards onto glass. What do you mean by that exactly?
Of course - so basically when I’m coming to design something I’ll either create the initial image on Photoshop, or draw - depending on what it is. Once I’ve got a rough design together, I’ll use that as a template on the glass. I’ll then paint it backwards onto the glass - in layman’s terms, what that means is that whatever you want to see first at the front, you paint first.
For example, if I was doing a portrait, I’d do the glasses and the eyes and the lips first, and then work from there. And then once it’s complete, you turn over the glass and it should look right from the other side.
"I like the fact that when you walk around you can look at it one way and you’ll see something, then when you look at it another way you’ll see something different." - CT
So then when you put it in a frame, the paint is behind the glass?
That’s exactly correct - and then I frame everything in a box frame, so the image itself is suspended about an inch from the background. The idea behind it is that it creates a shadow - so it adds another dimension and it looks 3D.
I like the fact that when you walk around you can look at it one way and you’ll see something, then when you look at it another way you’ll see something different - whether that’s different colours or light casting on it. So that’s why I do it like that... although sometimes I get to the end and realise I’ve missed a key part - although I’m better at that these days than when I first started.
It doesn’t sound easy - I imagine a lot of thought has to go into each piece.
Yeah - for example I recently did one of the Houses of Parliament. I got the commission in August, but I only finished it last week because it was so big. For a lot of pieces I do, I start them, and then I look at them and look at them, thinking, “That’s not going to work.” And I know this sounds stupid, but then I end up thinking of how to do them when I’m falling asleep - or I’m half asleep. Usually it’s then when I’m thinking, “Oh actually, that’ll work.” And then when it’s the daytime I’ll suddenly remember - and usually it does work.
"Everything I’ve done I’ve learned by giving it a go, and occasionally watching the odd Youtube video." - CT
I know what you mean with that - it’s like that’s the time your brain does its best thinking. I suppose because you’re painting on glass, there’s no margin for error either.
To be honest, you can actually scratch it off on the glass - but I only discovered doing this after doing it for a few years. If you use a Stanley knife a certain way, it doesn’t harm the glass. But then some of them, like the ones at Seen, are done on anti-reflective glass, and you can’t scratch the paint off that because you’d scratch the coating off too.
How else does working on glass differ from painting on paper?
With glass, there’s nowhere for it to absorb, so you have to do every single part of it individually, then let it dry, then do the next bit. I wouldn’t go anywhere near saying I’ve perfected the process, but I’m a lot better than I was at it. It’s a constantly changing process that I’m learning along the way. And it’s all self taught - my degree is in geology and my day job is in recruitment - so everything I’ve done I’ve learned by giving it a go, and occasionally watching the odd Youtube video. When I make mistakes - especially if they’re costly - that’s when I learn.
"I just think if I can give a little piece of happiness to somebody in their day, then it’s worth it." - CT
How did you get into painting in the first place then?
Five or six years ago I went to the Whitworth Art Gallery with my boyfriend at the time. There was a huge piece of art there which must have been about 20 feet high - it was this giant sheet of perspex that had black paint thrown at it. My boyfriend liked it, and his birthday was coming up, so I thought I’d recreate it.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I got a piece of glass, got some paint and dropped it with a spoon from a height, so it splattered everywhere. I then had the glass fitted into a box frame. That was the first one I ever did. I then did one for me - which went onto my living wall - and when friends would come around for drinks, they’d say, “I like that, where did you get it from?” Once I’d told them they’d get me to do them one, and it just started from there.
The first one I did which wasn’t just a splatter of paint was a Lego head. I drew the eyes and the mouth, and then splattered yellow paint on it. And it’s just evolved from there.
So it wasn’t like you grew up thinking you’d be an artist - it’s sort of happened by accident?
Yeah, totally. I know this sounds really cheesy, but recruitment can be a very harsh emotional rollercoaster - so I got to a point where I wanted to give something back, and do something that makes people happy. I needed to balance it, so one of the things I’ve always loved about art is how happy it makes people. I just think if I can give a little piece of happiness to somebody in their day, then it’s worth it.
Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve made? Something you’re particularly proud of?
I think my David Bowie piece, where he’s in the space-suit. That’s my favourite, by far. The original is down in Brighton. When I look at it, I can’t believe I did it.
"It’s amazing that me doing something that I like can inspire someone else to do something they like." - CT
What do your friends and family think of your new art life?
They’re all unbelievably supportive and proud of me. For a long time it was a bit of a running joke - a joke led by me - but I felt like a complete impostor in it all. I wasn’t trained in art, I wasn’t an expert, and some of the stuff I was doing was probably quite crap - but everybody kind of went along with it. They were always trying to support it, even when I thought it was funny.
Sometimes I think a lot of people would enjoy doing something like this, but they feel self conscious about putting themselves out there.
Completely, but they’re often embarrassed of what the outcome is going to be. I’ve been trolled on the internet - but you’ve got to just close off from it, and do what you want. For every one person I get being negative, I get 20 people messaging me saying that I’ve inspired them to do things - and they’ll send me pictures of things they’ve drawn. I love that.
It’s amazing that me doing something that I like can inspire someone else to do something they like. I think because I’ve got no training in anything like this, it’s perfect proof that if you work hard at something, you can do it.
Definitely. Sort of going back to what you were saying before, with your day job being so different, is painting a nice way to shut off from it a bit?
Totally. When all my customers understand the process, then it’s the most relaxing thing ever. If I’ve had a bad day, I can close off from everything, do some painting and feel alright again.
How do you manage to fit all the painting in? Is it hard to juggle it all?
Normally I work from 8:30 to 5, and then as soon as that’s over I go home and start painting. And I’ll usually paint until around ten at night. I’ll do that maybe five days a week, and then I’ll have at least one full day at the weekend where I’ll paint all day. But I love doing it - I really enjoy it. Even something like the huge Houses of Parliament piece - that’s not something I would have picked to paint - but I learnt a lot from doing it.
Even if it’s not something you’re necessarily into, you can still try and put your stamp on it.
Yeah, exactly. For the pieces at Seen, I love Jeff Goldblum - Jurassic Park is my favourite film - but how do I make a painting of Jeff that people would want in their home? That was the challenge.
I imagine you might want to create art a certain way, but you’ve always got to consider what people want in their home. And it's not like you know what everyone’s living room looks like.
Yeah, and it’s a big investment in terms of the time it takes to do these pieces.
How long do they take?
As a total number of hours, I’d say the Jeff Goldblum one took maybe 50 hours. And then something like the Houses of Parliament one was around 120 hours. And bear in mind that I might only be able to do 45 minutes in a day, because I’ve got to wait for them to dry. With the Houses of Parliament, there were maybe around 70 different browns in that one, and you can only do one in a day. So as a number of hours, it might not sound like much, but it’s spread out.
Do you have a few going at a time then?
Yeah, basically. I can have 10 or 12 going at any one point. So I can paint a bit on one, leave it to dry, and then work a bit on another one. And for skin-tones, you have to do that all in one go, because if you don’t, when you go to do it again the next day, you’ll never be able to mix the right colour again. And I learned that the hard way.
What do you look at for inspiration? Which other artists do you like?
My favourite artist is JJ Adams. His work is amazing. When I started to do well with my art, I bought one of his pieces and put it in my living room, and every time I was at that point where I was pulling my hair out, I’d just look at it, and it would inspire me to keep going. Looking up to people like him is what inspires me to keep going with a wide open eye as to what can be achieved.
What’s up next for you? What have you got in the pipeline?
I've got around 20 commissions on order at the moment, which is normal for me to have on the go at any point, so I'll keep working away on these first and foremost. I'm planning another exhibition for Summer or Autumn 2022 in Manchester too, so I’m going to work on a new portfolio of art to present for this. I'll also be keeping up with replenishing the art that sells in various galleries and shops around the UK. There are also a number of large charity events this year too which I will be doing special pieces for to auction. So lots of exciting stuff on basically...
Sounds good. Have you got any wise words to finish this with? What would you say to someone who wanted to start painting?
It sounds stupid, but just try - just go for it. What’s the worst that’ll happen?
If you want to check out Chris' work in real life, you should pop over to Seen HQ! You can book styling and eye health appointments right here and find our new place at 11 Police St M2 7LQ.