Ringwood artist Danny Byrne makes a splash with his latest exhibition, focusing on the waterways, ponds and streams of the New Forest

Danny Byrne is clearly a man who relishes a challenge. When his wife Denise told him she'd arranged an exhibition based around the waterways of the New Forest, he didn't let the fact that he actually had no such paintings stand in his way.

"She's always showed my work to people," says Danny. "Denise worked, at that particular time, for Winchester University. Someone said they knew a few people at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst. She showed this lady and she said 'why doesn't he have an exhibition here?'

Great British Life: Artist Danny Byrne. Image: Danny ByrneArtist Danny Byrne. Image: Danny Byrne

"She said 'I've got you an exhibition, it's on water'. I said 'I don't have any water' and she said 'well, you will have by the end of September'. This was March, so it was plenty of time."

Unfazed by the prospect of coming up with an entirely new collection of work, Danny set about doing what he loves best – getting out and about in his beloved local area, immersing himself in the ponds, streams and puddles of the New Forest and spending time with those people who know it best.

The result is Puddles, Ponds and Streams, an exhibition featuring not only the area's waterways, but also portraits of the people that look after this valuable source of beauty. One of those people is The Honourable Mary Montagu-Scott, chairman of the New Forest Heritage Centre Trust, which runs the New Forest Heritage Centre, where Danny's work will be on display from October 7 until November 12.

"I didn't want to do anything political, like a shopping trolley in the stream," explains Danny, who was a finalist of Hampshire Life's Landscape Painter of the Year competition in 2016. "But I was encouraged to do things with people that do things in the forest. I've got five portraits of people that do things in the forest.

"It's completely different – I didn't want to paint pictures of just horses in the forest, I wanted to do things that maybe other people are not doing, like looking down in puddles, just looking at the life that goes on there."

Great British Life: Danny’s new exhibition focuses on water in the Forest Image: Danny ByrneDanny’s new exhibition focuses on water in the Forest Image: Danny Byrne

Even a spell of bad weather, including some local flooding, didn't hamper Danny's efforts. "I try and get out as much as I can to do some painting – I went out to do an oil and came back with a watercolour," he jokes.

With much of Danny's previous work based around portraits, meaning he worked predominantly from the studio attached to the side of his Ringwood home, he welcomed the opportunity to explore the local area in more detail, delighting in what he discovered along the way.

"I met a lady this morning who looks after the fresh water in the New Forest," he tells me during our Zoom call, "and I saw these very rare creatures called Fairy Shrimps, or Tadpole Shrimps. By doing this, I've learned that."

Learning new things and adapting to different ways of working is nothing new for Danny, who started his career as a cartoonist when he left school in 1972.

"Years and years ago, when you could make a living out of it, I did a cartoon every week for the Bournemouth Echo for about five years," he says. "I only missed one week when the Echo was on strike. That got me a job working for the Mirror Group and I used to do cartoons for the Mirror Group and News of the World and magazines like Tit-Bits and Weekender.

Great British Life: High Noon in the Forest Image: Danny ByrneHigh Noon in the Forest Image: Danny Byrne

"In those days, most newspapers had about seven cartoons a day. Then there was nothing. I did a political cartoon for the Sunday People for a few years. That died.

"So all the time, I've had to find different things. I used to sit on Bournemouth Pier and do caricatures then, about 15 years ago, a few friends said 'why don't you try painting?' I thought 'if I can do caricatures, I can do people'."

The change of direction marked a turning point for Danny, who has become a highly successful painter, receiving a number of prestigious awards. He has exhibited with many major art societies and had work in most of London's key galleries, including The Royal Academy, Royal Portrait Society, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Pastel and Royal Society of Watercolour Artists.

He has also exhibited at the Royal Academy Bristol and since 2000, has been a regular exhibitor with the Holburne Art Gallery and Museum, Bath. He has been a member of the Society of Equestrian Artists for more than 20 years and won Best Painting in Exhibition in 2011.

Danny has just had a portrait of a Mudeford fisherman accepted for the Marine Society in London, and his latest accolade saw one of his paintings chosen as one of just 57 of 13,000 entries selected by the Jackson Art Prize.

"I was very pleased with that," he admits.

Great British Life: River Mude. Image: Danny ByrneRiver Mude. Image: Danny Byrne

With a background in cartoons and caricatures, Danny says he is predominantly drawn to portraits – past work includes paintings of politicians Theresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, the latter being sold to a buyer in Canada who spotted it on his Instagram page.

But he says he is always open to trying his hand at something new.

"I think, because I'm an artist, I should be able to paint anything," he explains, "so I will have a go, even if it's still life, a plant or something. Mainly, I use oil, but if someone wanted something in coloured pencils, I believe I could do it.

"I suppose I've been doing this all my life. I spent four or five days cartooning and one day trying to get new work. I've done greetings cards and puzzles and about eight books, but I'm always looking for something new.

"I've got some other paintings I want to try out,which I'm hoping will go to one of the London galleries. I try to come up with something."

Living near the River Avon, within walking distance of the New Forest, Danny admits he's never short of inspiration.

"All the time, every day, 24/7," he nods. "We've got super countryside and we've got the forest and some nice pubs. You don't have to travel further afield to get inspiration – we've got everything down here.

Great British Life: The old Roman bridge. Image: Danny ByrneThe old Roman bridge. Image: Danny Byrne

"I think everybody sees it the same way, I don't think they stop and look. But I don't need to go far for people to paint. It's a bit of a unique place we live in.

"As long as I'm drawing or creating or something, I'm happy. I'm not really that clever, I can't do anything else. I've always done this. I had stuff published when I was 15 and I'm still doing it. And I love it. I wake up in the morning and I can't wait to go into the studio. I'm very lucky."

Puddles, Ponds and Streams, by Danny Byrne, is on display at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst from October 7 to November 12.