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Dean Smith's Art

I started painting in 2016 and joined a local art class at at Barleylands Craft Village (not far from Billericay), the venue being an art shop and studio called ‘Dean Smith’s Art’. When you walk through the front door you immediately realise that the owner, Dean, loves The Beatles, Elvis and The Jam. The walls and ceiling are decorated with colourful artwork and memorabilia that features these famous musicians and most of the tea/coffee is served in a similarly themed mug!

Dean and his teacher colleague Jennie, are very friendly, welcoming and their enthusiasm for art is infectious. There is a timetable of art classes that are usually busy and there is always a fun atmosphere in the studio. All of the artists I’ve met are friendly, supportive and encouraging of each other and I love seeing different styles and genres of art. A bonus is that I’ve made some lovely friends!

When you view someone as a teacher it is easy to forget that they are also an artist. I recently asked Dean about his art career and how long he has had his studio. He first became interested in art when he was at school, he then left to start work and did not have time to paint. When he was 19 he started painting in his spare time, then in his early 20s he was made redundant from his job and decided to go back to college to study art and to also get some ‘O’ Levels. He was there for a couple of years from his early 20s, then he got married and returned to art when he was 29. He went back to college, then to University, then started teacher training.

Dean knew he wanted to do something involving art but did not know what direction it was going to take him in. He enthusiastically said, “I just knew I wanted to paint and produce artwork”. He started teaching when he left University as it was something that provided an income whilst he was painting. I asked what sort of work he produced whilst studying, he said “we followed a curriculum and would be given projects. I didn’t do a lot of painting outside of that but at University they encourage you to come up with your own ideas and your own work studies and that starts taking you off in directions that interest you.”

His first artistic job when leaving University was teaching at a local day centre, he reminisced, “I was an art teacher there then I ended up working at 3 or 4 day centres, one was an over 50s centre, it was quite relaxed and informal and I got to learn what people wanted from an art class”. Dean knew how he would like to run an art class but said at that time he was worried that what he thought would work may not be what everyone else wanted. Luckily, it turned out it was similar, he said, “people want something that’s social, laid back, not too strict, they want to paint what they want to paint and structure there if they need it. That’s how the classes developed.”

What led to Dean getting a shop and studio? He was doing lots of art classes in the local area and painting at home and decided it would be so much easier if he had the art classes in one place and people came to him. He remembers, “I thought I could then have an area where I can sit and paint. This would be my time and space to paint.”

I asked Dean what he enjoys painting now and he said “I have enjoyed doing portraits since I was at school, painting pictures of people has always interested me. I work in watercolours, ink, bleach and acrylic.” I wondered what artwork he had enjoyed working on the most during his 25 year art career and the first thing that he thought of was a large 8 foot by 6 foot picture of Elvis at the Towngate Theatre in Basildon that he painted 20 years ago, he remembered fondly, “that is a piece I really enjoyed working on and I got a lot from it.”

It is obvious from talking to Dean that helping his art students progress makes him very happy and it is lovely to see. I asked if he ever taught a student that he thought was talented and he said yes and that some students show immediate promise and you can tell they have a talent, they pick things up easily and have an eye for colour, it is great seeing them develop over 2 or 3 years. Other students may not pick things up immediately, but it is rewarding seeing the work they produce and helping them to develop. A big part of the classes is that they are social and the art may be secondary for some people, which is fine by Dean, “as long as everyone gets what they need from a class it makes me happy, so whether you are producing great pieces of art or whether you are producing something that you love working on or whether you are coming for the social side, it does not matter, I want people to get what they need from a class”.

It was inspiring to talk to someone who has been brave enough to follow their artistic dream and I admire everything that Dean has achieved, his studio is a lovely space and to be around art every day must be wonderful. After our chat, I now want to go to the Towngate Theatre to see Dean’s huge Elvis painting (I love art and I love Elvis!).

What are Dean’s artistic ambitions for the future? He does not have any, he just loves art!

Dean in his studio

John Wayne portrait by Dean

Linda and Paul McCartney, portrait by Dean

John Lennon portrait by Dean

Over the door in Dean's shop

Jimi Hendrix portrait by Dean

Frank Sinatra portrait by Dean

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