Rob Ballentine enjoyed drawing as a child, but when it became an obligation he became disheartened. The music business called to his creative nature, but an interest in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) was a stronger draw.
Find out, then, how it is that he now enjoys creating pet portraits that really connect with the animal owners.
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa https://ketsa.uk/under Creative Commons License
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.ukSupport the show
For this episode, I'm speaking via zoom to Rob Ballantine, a pet portrait artist. Hi, Rob, you have had a very recent return to creativity. What is it you do? Hi, yeah, I do pet portraits. I draw people's pets for them. Brilliant. Were you arty as a child. And did you have a positive experience of arts subjects at school? Yes, yes and no. No and yes, when I was a kid, I drew quite a lot, I think, I think as many or most children do. So yeah, I'd loved it. It was just one of those things I did. But then I kind of remember this time, when I was drawing something like an aeroplane. And I went downstairs, outside my family, my parents were there, my grandparents, and I remember everyone saying amazing, wonderful, brilliant, as you kind of do to a child anyway. And then I think it's my mum, she said, or perhaps it was kind of all of them said, Wow, that's really good, you should do more. What was odd about it is at that moment, I had this change in feeling between something that was just a very natural thing to do, you just never thought about, it to something that became an obligation. And it wasn't that she turned it into an obligation, but something in me just moved from that 'can do' to 'should do'. And that's when my art sort of changed or my sort of motivations changed. And then I went through school, like most people I continued drawing, you know, I was quite good at it, I did O-level. And then went on to do A-level. And there were four of us who got our A's in our, Art O-level. Then three of us, myself and my two best friends we went on to do the art A-level. And it sucked. We didn't like it in a nutshell. So we left there, all three of us just just dropped out. After about six, six or eight months, we all left school left art we were destined to carry on all of us to go to, to to our varying art schools, but we all left. And for me, it was because it was boring. It was uninspiring it didn't have that thing that we had earlier that you just drew because it was fun to draw. It was exciting, it was creative, it was wonderful. It became that same thing I think that my mother said you should do this you have to do this. It became an obligation. And when I think when something becomes an obligation, it loses that whole impetus that whole reason why you do it in the first place. So that was that really that was the last time I drew. Ahh. So after not doing art a level what did you do next? After not doing art A-level I left school I wanted to get into the into the music industry. I play guitar I started learning but about 14/15 years old and then got together with some friends and and I guess like anything that sort of age is kind of cool and you know we loved it. We were playing together as a band and and I probably didn't hold out as much hope as a band as I did for myself for being able to maybe find other ways into the music industry just in case. So I tried to get into becoming a sound recording engineer. But that was a little bit trickier than I thought it would be. And I think I was a little bit put off back back then at the the thoughts after having read a book on it on starting off as being a tea boy, I was I was far, far too good to be a tea boy. So I ended up going back to school and studying retaking my O-level physics actually in doing that, so I could get into somehow in the music industry, but then ended up just just going into work, earning money, doing apprenticeships and stuff like that, and electronics companies and then went into sales. And then around the age of 24/25. I saw this article in a magazine, which was to join this place called Musician's Institute in London, and it was to teach you how to be a guitar player how to get into the music industry, and that advert just jumped at me. So that's what I did. I gave up everything and gave up a well paid career and job and much to the disgust of everyone else, is it? No, that's it, I'm jacking it all in. You might think there's a pattern really, but you know, I left everything went to Musicians Institute in London, and was taught by people like Michael Jackson's guitarist, Jennifer batten, who's awesome. And Gerry Rafferty, who did some Baker's his his guitars who came on board. And it's funny actually, one thing that he said that that really did speak to me. And it also teaches, which was there are many musicians out there who, who, who are good or are perhaps in the, in the chars. The problem with with some of these people is that they don't understand their art. They don't understand why they doing, why they do what they do, or what causes that particular piece of the song to make it good. So make it excellent. It says, If you understand that the structure of your art that whatever art that is, and you understand the technicalities of it, that's how you become creative. If you look, look back at people like Paul McCartney, that guy was a genius. And it wasn't necessarily just because he was good at his instrument. He knew his art, he knew his art, amazingly, and most of the other musicians that have followed and looked at back then then they are brilliant, because they studied their techniques, studied how to write music, they studied how to do that. And that really stuck, stuck with me, and really was about this value art to become an artist. And and I think that's what didn't happen at school. And that's why I think I was uninspired. I never learned how to draw, they never taught me how to draw. So you know, when it came to do things like portraits, and my portrait of myself, I look like a monster. And you want to look you know, you saw look at America hey, yeah, that's me look kind of cool in sunlight. And when I when I got to draw myself, it was a self portrait. It was no, that's bad man, that was just so bad for my friend. Now he could draw portraits. He had that natural ability, but he didn't know how he did what he did. Which is kind of interesting, because and around that time of being in a music college, or just before that actually, I came across this stuff called NLP, which is a psychology based learning. But its main premise is all about how you know what you know, it's about modelling people who are exceptional at a skill and understanding what causes that skill to happen in such a way that if you were to learn the patterns in their structure, you could replicate that skill as if you were there after some years. All right, instead of taking 1020 years to learn that you could do it in a much much, much shorter time. And that really interested me, and it all kind of started to come together and make sense. I then came across a bit of a crossroads actually do I become a rock star? Do I leave music college here and then become a rock? So is that where I'm going to go? Or do I get into stuff called NLP? I thought the whole premise behind it was just amazing. It was awesome. And it was that that actually took took me in the end. When I was doing music college, I looked at a number of other musicians and compared myself to them as one does naturally anyway between colleagues and I thought they had a much much better chance of becoming real stars and I'm making it in the music industry than I did. I love my music. I love playing it sighs it's so personal to me. But there was something about this NLP stuff that that really, really hit home home with me, which is how do you get to be like as good as somebody else? I think I've always always drive and striven strove, and as a as a few words in that one for this the sense of how do you get to be the best that you can be? And you know, what, what is that? What does it look like? What? What is it I don't know, I knew that. When I do things, I tend to push myself out beyond what I'm capable of doing. Just to I suppose test myself. So that's what I ended up doing. I then left music college, and started to work with other people into business and teach this the psychology stuff as an associate trainer and teacher. So I ended up doing that for a few years and then started to sign up my own business, I then was very fortunate, I met the CO creator of NLP, and worked with him on a project in Australia with a professor over there, which is studying autistic savant. And so you know, people like Rain Man, and this other kid, actually a couple of them were artists, you know, that the savant that would that was at the age of seven or eight draw phenomenal pictures, and this guy's story, Alan Snyder was, was about the fact that the difference between servants and us, primarily is that we, we we learn language, and language interrupts this this flow of from our, what he calls that the the higher brain processing unit. And language does it because we start naming things we say, this is a table, this is a chair, this is a ceiling, this computer, this is my name, this is who I am. And by by naming things, you you solidify it in time. Whereas what happens with with it, it seems with the autistic savant is by not having this ability to have this command of naming things in the way that we do. They have this this direct access to to our unconscious, that allows them to see more and experience more than the thing that we see. So if you if you imagine that, that saying one person's milestone is another person's seat, looking at the same object, but experiencing it differently, but the savant seems to experience these things in more ways than what we do. Because we partition the way that we we experience things through language. So David, stuff was all about, well, how can you and I have access to the same kind of abilities that autistic servants have? And my and John's interest was, well, how can we understand what David's doing, but link it back to what we do through NLP? Which is we know that we can model people and we can do this. But was he doing something different? So we, it's kind of like, you know, how can we kind of pull these two things together. And we, we met him and we have this, this whole common long conversation about it. And he got into this, because when people have brain operations, they they're asked if they can experiment, experiment on them during them, because it's the only time they get to have someone in an operation who's conscious, so that they can do an experiment and find out what happens on the brain because there's no nerve endings, he doesn't feel anything, and try things out and get feedback immediately from it. And what they discovered is that when it when it stimulated certain parts of the brain, which produces language, that some of these patients were able to count prime numbers, and prime numbers is what is considered a genius ability that autistic savants have. So a prime number after I think about five or six of them, you're into into your millions already. Anyway, so this is what Alan, Alan discovered, and he found that by repressing people's ability to speak, that they were able to get access to this higher brain function. And so his study was all about this. So he's able to take normal people put it put this light head headset on them, and they were people who said they could couldn't even draw stick figures were then able to draw really quite good pictures actually, and solve mathematical problems and do listen to pieces of music and replay, replay them back who'd never played the piano. So this disc got really, really interesting. And john and i were like, wow, this is kind of cool. But we do this as well with NLP. So what? What's the difference? Well, as was more about when I say ours, because obviously he's a co creator, I mean, he did this back in 1970s. And was more about, well, how can we understand what he's doing because of course, you can't go around with a headset on everywhere, just to become an artist. And one of the things that that we we really agreed on was this whole notion of reducing your ability to, to produce language to have this high performing state. So it's very state oriented. Now, when you go back to something like being a musician, or artist or dancer, these people who have those moments of genius, they don't think about it, it happens is the flow. So yeah, really, really quiet. Very interesting. And that was about the point that I started to, to run to run my own business just to teach this whole stuff called NLP to other people. So that they could use it in business for their own personal and professional development. To still did it back then I still kind of had it as it Yeah, I'd like to do it someday. But But I was into this. Why? Why and how did you start putting pen to paper again? Yeah, good question. Um, I was after my daughter was born, I, I think I want to draw her eye, we had a photo of her, I thought, That's beautiful. I'd love to love to be able to draw that. But then I looked it away. I can't draw portraits, I'm rubbish at them. She looked like a monster. So I couldn't do it. And then, and then one day, and he came across an article about Leonardo da Vinci. And it showed him or a picture of imagery of him using a grid to draw with that, what was that about? And the idea behind the grid is You then take a picture, then you draw a grid, and then you can kind of copy that picture using a grid that recreates it from one picture to another. And I thought, what this actually kind of makes sense. I might actually be able to draw a portrait, so I gave it a go. And yeah, it works. It's like, wow, oh, my God, I could actually draw a portrait and it looked look good. I was really pleased. Very pleased, never done here before. And it was, yeah, it was really good. And then I thought after Well look, if it's good enough for Da Vinci. So I drew her then then did a few more pages and kept using this grid method and thought it you know, this is good either. Now I can actually start to learn how to draw. But, of course, as you're doing it, you know, there's always a part of you thinks it's just cheating a bit. You know, even though Yeah, yeah, Da Vinci did it. But it wasn't just him either, you know, loads of other great artists use it. They use it for what for taking small drawings and making them much, much bigger to make, you know, huge wall drawings. And you can still see some actually at the VNA. So then I had an opportunity of having opportunity sounds really bad, actually, my father passed away. And I think at this point, I wanted to do something really serious as as kind of like I'm not a monument, but maybe something like that, but but to give it to my mom. So I got the got the old grid out and put it on a big a two, AC, a three sheet of paper, and spent 40 odd hours 50 odd hours drawing him. So I really wanted to make this the best that I possibly could. And it was it was lovely. It was really, really cathartic. You know, to be able to draw someone that obviously you care about and who passed away. And, and I think that's the first time I really had this sense of connection at another level that you don't get from just drawing something that when you really do pay attention to to that subject, how much you learn about them. At some level, I don't know what that is, but you just have a deeper sense of connection. And it was, it was Yeah, it was a beautiful thing to do. And then I thought then after that, I wanted to do a big piece for myself. So I took a Lord of the Rings feature that I've always always wanted, that I've loved from the films, which is the riders, the ring raises crossing the Ford into rivendale. And I thought wow, if I could if I could do that, you know, then I can have this kind of artwork at home, you know. So I set my set myself the task of doing that I started that on a two sheet of paper. A big piece. But big for me it was anyway, pencil drawing. And I've got about three quarters way through the first first picture of the horse and realised that I wasn't good enough to finish it. So I'd reached the level of my own technical capability of what I was able to do. I couldn't get the shades, the shadows, the lightness that, you know, I was trying to do things that wouldn't work, and how do you draw white? You know, I didn't understand that. Because I've never been taught that at schools as well, where can I learn? Hey, you know what we're so lucky. Nowadays, we have YouTube. You know, it's, it's amazing. Really, it is. And so I went off there. And my search took me far and wide to, you know, so many different artists. And it was it was difficult, though, because to find the things that I needed to find, I had to go to met so many different places, it wasn't like, Well, here's one person teaches you the whole thing. Actually, there were some, but I was just always just trying to find the bits bits that I needed. So that was my journey, really learning the tiny bits from people, it was really just small bits, it could just be how to draw a small bit of for how to draw a moustache, and how to get that white on there and know the different techniques of what kind of technique that I wanted to use there was going to work well. And in the end, somebody even came down to as much as materials, you know, not having the right materials makes such a huge difference. And I was drawing on some things on on copy paper. It's rubbish. Really, you know, you got to have good paper, and you got to have good pencils. So these things do make a difference. I mean, have good rubbers, you know, the multiple rubber brothers and things like that. Yeah, yeah. You will pet portraits that has taken off really quickly, hasn't it? How did that happen? Yeah, that was, that was weird. That I mean, that really was completely out of the blue. unexpected. So that lockdown happened. And a friend of my wife's his, his dog had passed away. And it was his, it was his best friend. He ran his own business, he would travel around Europe everywhere with his dog. So it was it was his best buddy. He was hurting big time. And my wife said, Look, you've drawn our dog. Why don't you draw his Maybe? Maybe they'll you know, help him be something good for him? Yeah, why not? So it did. So drew his dog. That was a learning challenge as well. My golden drawing phone now. Yeah, I did that. And we sent it off to him. And it helped a lot. And then he posted up on social media. And then loads of other people say, Oh my God, that's amazing. Wow. Can you draw my pet and iPhone? Like? Okay, fine. And then the last look, you know, obviously, you're getting quite a quite a few people drawing it is time. So you ever thought about charging for it? So okay. So people said looking at how much would you charge so so that's what I started with, and started drawing other people's pets. And then I drew them I then posted some of them on social media. And then it just it just took off. Crazy. People said love it, love it. And they just kept coming back and say how much how much can you pay me a price price, please. And so you know, today I don't put up someone get 700 likes and stuff is just as crazy. That's brilliant. What techniques and processes work well for you. When portraying pets in particular. I think one of the main things for me is actually I'll tell you one directly, which happened yesterday. Yesterday was the first time I drew something or the day before actually don't forget I started it. And and I ended up throwing it away. So I've never done that before. So in eight months, like everything had always been a drawing it went through a lot of challenges. Don't get me wrong, every every pet portrait is a challenge. There's not one that I do say yeah, that was a breeze. That was easy. There's there's always a challenge in it. But this one was a massive challenge. And I just said I can't do that. I'm absolutely struggling with this one. I cannot get the light. It's so fine because of the style of drawing. I draw in various highly detailed manner. Not because I want photo realism, but I just like that kind of detail and then drawing. I kind of wanted to really sort of pull out that character. And the lighting was just all over the place. It was just I looked at like I'm a god, how am I going to do this and I struggled. So I didn't do anything. I stopped, I picked up my Xbox put on a game and played that all day and just sat there just trying to think through what do I need to do? How am I going to go about this. And I think as a first time, I probably spent a long time really cogitating on what am I going to do and how we're going to go about this. And one of the things I did was actually choose the right paper wasn't that I've chosen the wrong paper is the wrong paper colour, I went for a buff yellow background, and it just wasn't working. So I went for a grey, and yeah, I'm so over the moon with it is, so making just a simple choice like that can make a huge difference. And I think patience is is is the other one, I can sometimes get a little bit impatient. And it's not that I want to finish it, but it's kind of like I get, ah, I just want to do this bit here. And sometimes I need to sit back. And I think, as much of working doing art is more about managing your own personal, emotional state. That is, that is your technical ability to be able to do something. And if, if you can't manage your state, then you probably can't manage manage the drawing. And this is probably the hardest thing to manage to be honest with you. Well, for me, it is not saying it's for everybody else. And so either techniques is, is really learning about light, really understanding that the way that light hits something and, and the way that you want to create shadows and dark and really get that form of something. And, and the way that you can use colour to sort of build that up, you know, that it's so easy to always have black and white dog, you know, always is black fur. But when you really, really pay it pay attention and close to it, it's not, you know, you've got magenta in there all burn, if you've got Burgundy, you've got Browns in there, and you can pull up all these so many different colours. And that's what I found found with this dog yesterday, there was so many different colours on one range, it was like how am I going to draw them because you go like this colour there and that colour then this colour a different one than another one and another one all in a space of about an inch? And going oh my god, that's it. If I had, if I had a month to do it, I could probably do it. But I don't. So there is a time limit and which you have to do something, you know, for what it is that you do. Well, speaking about that business side of it? Well, there's two things really. Are you concerned that having the Commission's and being successful as you are the your Commission's that that may mean, the quality of your work lessons, or that you use the passion for and the enjoyment of the drawing? Yeah, I think I think it's a great question, I think, I think you have to ask yourself carefully. What is it that you get out from it? And if it's just the drawing for drawing sake, and you're doing it just to get paid, then then it's a job. You know, and then it's a job like any other job that you go to? And it's all about the pay packet at the end of the day. If it's something more than that, then let us know not a job. It's something because you're interested in it because you have a passion for it. Because you're excited by it. Because you think about it at nighttime, you know, when you wake up, you're thinking about well, how can I do this one? Or, you know, what's different about this? Why do I enjoy doing it, you know, I love for me when when I did my my coaching and training, most enjoyable thing, aspect of that was helping people change. And it was that moment of when you coach someone who has had an intractable problem where they've suffered in pain for so long, and then you help them and it's gone. And that, that changed that moment of being there with someone where that change happens is, is something that you can't describe, you have this really deep sense of connection and, and being with that person. And it's a bit like that this is well, there's that when you hand this portrait over to someone and you get them to see it or you get to hear what they say about it. It's a very similar quality, that, you know, in some way at work, I help people have happier lives work. Here I help people have happier lives at home. You know, and it's just a different way of achieving that same kind of outcome is you know, so for me, drawing isn't about drawing is how do I help? How do I help people have a better life or enjoy what they have in their life already and to be fair in at the moment with what's going on. If you can just give a little bit of a smile to someone's face and then as that's, that's even the smallest thing that you could do is a good thing. Yeah, I wanted to go back just briefly you were talking about the colours and the very many colours that you you see in for for example. And you you started with drawing but you have introduced colour and you use pastels. How did you get to that decision? Yeah, I knew I was gonna go into colour at some point, but I didn't know when or how I, I love black and white, I love graphite, I think. I think they're two different things. What I love about graphite is, is the moodiness that you get from it, it has a real moody mood that you can't get with colour. Black and White photographs, I think, you know, when we see them, we all get somehow get really committed to this sort of deep visceral sense. Whereas colour tends to be I think more we see some of our That's nice. That's amazing is wonderful. But does it really have the same thing that black and white does. So they're two different mediums, and they each have their own place. So colour, I knew there was something that I was going to do at some point. At school, I used to paint never did oils, it was acrylics back then I never did watercolour, that's just acrylics. So I knew at some point, I do paint, but I didn't want to do that yet. I tried painting a couple of years ago, for some reason my daughter and yeah, it that turned out to be a monster. So lots of monsters. Yeah, it was kind of funny experiences, because I was going to draw a paint for her a picture from how to train a dragon as a picture of it. Of the dragons. And I really had in my head Yeah, I can do this. No problem. We used to be quite good at school doing kind of fantasy stuff. Let's whip out the old paintbrush and the correct paints and I'll go and no, no, they fail. I I lost my confidence as quickly as I did my ego. And, and, and so. So passing pencils became a possible choice between that and coloured pencils. As a way to go. I tried colour pencils, and it just didn't work. Because you can't put put light on dark. And I thought you could I had no no experience a bit. So I was trying to do light on dark ages failed miserably. So that wanes and then I saw someone else doing some and went Oh, you can do that on on there with pencils, pencil pencils. Well, that's interesting. Maybe I'll get that and go. So before I did it for for for anybody else chose one of our pets. Ripley had passed away a few years ago, but had this wonderful picture of him as a puppy. And, and, and tested it out on him. And wow, I was actually just gobsmacked with the result. It was amazing. I'm not saying I was amazing. I said he was amazing. So glad it was so much easier than I thought it would be. And it really came out wonderfully. So I thought, well, I can if I can do it for us, let's go into other people. And I started offering that. Yeah, it's been crazy. People love it. You're, you're full on Creative return has all happened quite quickly, what are your plans for the future, now that this is in your life, plans the future, the short term, it's, it's just about building this decide at the side of the business up helping people out doing their portraits doing that, I think it's important to have a stable income. So it's about building that stability, having the marketing out there. So so it becomes stable, I can see three, four or five months in advance, you know, where the income is coming. Obviously, being self employed, you are your marketing person, you're you're the accounts, salesperson, you know, you're the website developer and builder and all this kind of stuff. And so that takes up a lot of time. You know, being an artist isn't about or doing art, it's about being a business person as much as it is about that. So it's about having a stable business once I have a sense of that of having for six months, commissions in advance something like that, then I may look to get into teaching what it is that I've learned. And I think for me, my interest going back earlier to this whole thing about you know, modelling people who are exceptional at what they do is when I was realised I needed to upskill myself quickly you know when people say can you draw my dog can you draw my cat can draw my horse is is I'm going yeah, I can but how am I gonna do that? You know, so I I had to learn very very, very quickly how to be good very quickly because people were paying before someone pays you for the do the best you can. And so, yeah, if I can't do something I need to go go and find out how and my abilities and my skill of having learned modelling, allow me to go and watch other artists and just find out what it is that they're doing at this kind of unconscious level, the way drones with fly moves, that's how they do what they do, even though they're saying something differently, and watching what they're doing and trying to pick up on what they're doing, rather than what it is that it is that they say that they're doing. The one of the things that I've found out, is a perfect little sweet spot for finding out what people do is if you can't get speeds, and if you can't hear them, is you look at where, where they start, they're drawing off, where before they get to the top layers, all the details all the underneath out layers, that tells you how they make the drawing up, it's much harder to see once you've got the complete drawing. If you go down a few layers, and watch how they start early on, you kind of you can start to re engineer how they do some of the stuff and that and that's what I was doing. So moving back to your question is maybe billing out out some courses or things like that for other people say, hey, I'd love to draw. I love to draw pets. You know, I don't think there's anything out there yet that the teachers specifically, you know, and how to how to really get somebody who can't draw and learn to draw in a short space of time. It's actually I don't know, maybe there is, but I haven't found it. Yeah, brilliant. Okay, last one, then how can people contact and connect with you? I have my website Facebook page. So the two easiest ways or Instagram, so Instagram and Facebook is Robert Ballantine, art, and just hit those up and you can get in contact with me that way or my website is just Rob Ballantine, calm. Brilliant. Perfect. Thank you very much, Rob. Hey, welcome. Well, thank you very much for inviting me doing this. This is been wonderful to share the story. And yeah, thank you. Creativity found isn't openstage Arts production. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please feel free to subscribe, rate and review. If you would like to help fund future episodes, you can buy us a coffee. That's k o hyphen f AI. The online platform that helps creators receive financial support from fans of their work. Visit k o hyphen f fi.com. Slash creativity found podcast. If you have found your creativity as an adult, and would like to talk to me for future podcasts. drop me a line at Claire CL a ir e at openstage arts.co.uk on Instagram or Facebook follow at creativity found podcast where you'll find photos of our contributors, artworks and be kept abreast of what we're up to