Neil Helyard and His Students

Artist believes in pushing his students to the limits of their creativity.

The Beverley painter has established himself as a popular and respected name on the British art scene for his diverse and mood-inspired portraits.

It’s his very lack of a set style that he hopes to pass on to his students, whom he teaches in the sun-dappled front room of Hodgsons Pub on Flemingate.

His manner and mode of teaching is supremely relaxed. – on the day I visited it was classical – sets the tone and Neil enhances the atmosphere more for what he doesn’t do rather than for what he does.

His hands-off approach allows his students to tap into their creative-muses. It also enables them to focus all their attention on their work and hopefully absorb some of the advice Neil quietly offers when he feels it is required or when it is sought.

“I always ask people what they like. We look through art books and magazines and I get them to tell me what they like

“You might like realism, impressionism, expressionism or even abstract work and it is very important for you to paint how you want to paint.

“Hopefully I can then take the blinkers off and give a few tips on how to achieve it.”

The work of Neil and his students is being given the grandest of stages next month. Much of his own portrait work, along with examples of his students’ work, will be hung throughout the Gothic splendour of , with Neil on hand on occasion to curate.

It’s the perfect chance to view Neil’s work. He has exhibited at eminent London galleries and won prizes to further enhance his reputation in the often wary art world, making him a fine ambassador for his home town.

For a former apprentice boy, he has certainly made a major impression.

“I was an electrician before I became a professional artist,” he told

“I have always been interested in art and I was always quite good at school, but you had to earn a living so my father got us all into a job, maybe quite wisely, from the age of 15.”

“It paid off as it enabled me to go to Australia and earn a bit of money, then come back again.”

“Things really changed when I was  40. I renovate houses – I am on my third house now – and before I did any decorating I would do a big drawing on the wall. On one occasion, a lady came round and asked who had drawn this one particular piece of work.”

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“She contacted her husband, who is a lecturer at the college, and he asked me to bring a portfolio through, because I have no formal qualifications.”

“I started to do a part-time degree and I thought I may as well do a bit of teaching with it for Beverley College, where I used to do all the off-site classes. Then I thought I may as well go private and all the students followed me really.”

“By teaching 12 hours a week that then enables me to paint how I want to paint in private.”

“This then means that when I finish at 3pm on a Wednesday I can paint for myself. Hopefully the general public like what I produce but I am not under so much pressure.”

Neil is known for his variety of portrait styles. Sometimes he paints the traditional portrait style many of us know from the more classical galleries. On other occasions, he lets himself go and paints the way he is feeling. It all depends on his mood.

“I have very wide interests when it comes to painting. Some people want a traditional style of portrait, other want to go beyond the boundaries and be a lot more expressive.”

“But a lot of artists only paint in one style, and for me, it depends really what sort of a mood I am in.”

“I can either go for very classical or Rennaissance, very quiet paintings, or I can be extremely expressive. Being a creative person, I need to satisfy my own creativity. It’s like being a musician and playing three blind mice all day.”

“You may be pleasing the general public, but you may not be pleasing yourself.”

Called Neil Helyard And His Students, the exhibition runs from Sunday, March 20, to Thursday, March 31.

It will be open from noon to 4pm daily.

Neil’s classes run in two sessions on Mondays to Wednesdays at Hodgsons Pub.

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