9th April 2002
A former painter and decorator who now works on a gas rig in the North Sea has taken up brushstrokes again … by studying part-time for a degree in Fine Art in Hull.
Father-of-two Mark Smith works as a helicopter landing officer on the Conoco gas rig 85 miles off the North-East Lincolnshire coast.
But he never lost the enthusiasm for art which he first discovered as a schoolboy, and now he finds relaxation by expressing himself as an art student at the Hull School of Art and Design.
“I used to work as a painter and decorator but then I was offered a job doing industrial blasting and spraying offshore,” said Mark (37), who lives in Southfield Road in Scartho.
“I now work on the deck landing the helicopters and working with the supply boats, but I wanted to take up my interest in art which I’d left behind at school.
“I’ve always enjoyed art from when I was a kid, so I took it up again about five years ago as something to do in the evenings. I started with watercolours for a year or so, took a painting and drawing course at Grimsby College and then went on to do a part-time foundation course for two years.
“Once I started again I got my enthusiasm back and as it’s gone on I’ve done more work and it’s become more and more interesting.
“I wanted to take it a stage further so I applied to the Hull School of Art and Design and was really pleased to be accepted on a five-year part-time degree in Fine Art. I appreciate the university taking me on because I’m doing something I really enjoy.”
Since he first took up his hobby again Mark has moved on from watercolours to photography and installations, but he still exhibits his paintings – he even sold one in the Winter Exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull which remains on show until 21st April.
“I was really pleased to have sold it – it’s a watercolour called ‘Nightswimming’ which I painted a while ago while I was on the rig. It was something of an experimental painting and I haven’t got a clue who’s bought it, but they must have liked it!”
gas rig artist continued…
For the moment Mark is happy to continue working on the gas rig, but if he gets the chance to start a career as an artist he’s prepared to give it a go.
“If it became a career I’d be more than happy but at the end of the day it’s something that I’m doing for myself,” he explained. “If something came out of it then that would be great, but if it doesn’t then it’s not the end of the world.”
For every two weeks Mark works on the rig he gets two weeks at home, which makes it easier for him to fit in part-time study. But he insists that it’s not an easy option.
“Studying part-time is quite hard work but if you’re interested enough in the course and you’ve got the passion for it then you’re prepared to do the work. Flexibility is the great thing about the course and I do value the tutors because they’re very easy-going. You’re given a lot of freedom in what you do.
And how do Mark’s fellow gas rig workers react when their colleague takes out his camera or his watercolours?
“Actually my hobby goes down quite well on the rig,” says Mark. “At first I think they were a bit dismissive but but now there are quite a few people who take an interest in what I do.”
Mark is keen to send the message that anyone can return to study if that’s what they really want to do.
“Get in touch with your local college, enrol on an evening class and meet other people with similar interests,” he advises. “Once you find a starting point and meet like-minded people things start to happen.
“There’s nothing to stop you going back to study - I haven’t found it at all difficult to get back into it. If you’ve got the passion to do it it’s a question of having the nous to find out what’s available.
For more information about courses at the University of Lincoln contact the Marketing and Recruitment office on 01522 886097.
For more information about this story, or to arrange a photograph of Mark, contact: Jez Ashberry, Press and Media Relations Manager
University of Lincoln (tel: 01522 886042)