HOW I DRAW Curtis Holder
Artists & Illustrators|June 2021
The winner of last year’s Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year shares his techniques, his honest approach to portraiture, and his shameless art shop confessions

Curtis Holder was born in Leicester in 1968. He completed a foundation year, prior to his BA in graphic design from Kingston University. A postgraduate diploma in character animation from Central Saint Martins followed in 2005.

While working as a primary school teacher, Curtis entered and won last year’s seventh series of Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year. His winning commission, a portrait of dancer Carlos Acosta, is now part of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s collection. www.curtisholder.co.uk

Family is one of the most difficult drawings I’ve ever done... I had to trick myself to make that piece

Art as therapy

Self-portraits are strange things. I’ve had to get into using photography, which is better for me because I have to really think about what it is that I want to draw. Drawing an individual is about a conversation, it’s a two-way thing. With a self-portrait, it’s hideous. It’s like going to see a therapist.

Why put yourself through that? That’s one of the questions I’ve been asking myself. I think to be a good artist and have a good life, you need to keep asking yourself questions about who you are, what you are, and where you want to go. Before entering the Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year, I was a primary school teacher. I got to a stage where I thought, ok, either I’m going to be a headmaster or I’m going to be selfish and embrace that part of myself that I’ve ignored. I said, right, I’m going to stop teaching and I’m going to give this a go. It was time to flex a muscle I thought was there, but I wasn’t sure. What the show has done has fast forwarded my practice.

I did have a stint as an illustrator, but I didn’t put myself out there and say this is what I do, take it or leave it. I would be asked to emulate other people’s styles and that made me embittered. I had to stop before I confused that anger with a lack of love for the craft and all things creative.

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