When Kristen and Karl Douglas decided they wanted a painting to brighten up the living room of their Urmston home, they had no idea how it would change their son’s life. Or their living room.

That was in 2020 and Dean had worked a number of jobs – from labourer to kitchen porter – before he became a personal trainer.

‘My parents love modern art and were looking at purchasing a piece,’ says Dean. ‘I jokingly said to them “If you buy me a canvas, I’ll paint you a masterpiece”. I don’t really know why I said it, but they were thrilled and loved it and it’s still hanging in the living room.

Great British Life: Dean has turned his parents' living room into his studioDean has turned his parents' living room into his studio (Image: Courtesy of Dean Douglas)

‘I think I did it quite well, but looking at it now, I can see that I have improved. After that first painting, that’s what became my focus.’

Dean had a natural talent for art at school and was encouraged by his teachers, but at that stage he saw no way of making a living from it.

‘It was seen as an interest, rather than something that anyone with talent could base a career around. The business side of art was never discussed, so I felt the need to find alternative work away from my passion. I had lost my way and had been sucked into the rat race, but that need to connect with the world through art never left me.’

Great British Life: The painting for his parents that changed Dean's lifeThe painting for his parents that changed Dean's life (Image: Courtesy of Dean Douglas)

After that first painting, requests for more came from friends and family. ‘I didn’t think too much about it, I just went for it,’ the 24-year-old adds. ‘I did Mickey Mouse, the Hacienda and people asked for other animals. Early on I didn’t hesitate, I just jumped in and I gradually started to realise I might be able to make a living out of it.’

His parents’ living room has become his studio and it’s a transformation that involves lots of protective sheets – by the time he completes a painting, there’s often almost as much paint on him as the canvas.

Dean’s modern, abstract depictions of animals on canvas comprise bold brush strokes and effervescent colours, blending street art-style overtones to create intimate and evocative animal characters.

Great British Life: The 24-year-old often finishes an artwork with as much paint on him as the canvasThe 24-year-old often finishes an artwork with as much paint on him as the canvas (Image: Courtesy of Dean Douglas)

‘There are elements of realism in my work but a lot of abstract colour and energy,’ he says. ‘I start with the background and work from there, I plan it out with chalk and add the colour and pick out the highlights. There are lots of flicks of colour and there’s a lot of energy.’

Dean’s works have found favour with scores of followers, including a number high-profile figures who have sought him out to create commissions for commercial and private collections. He has also raised tens of thousands of pounds for local and national charities – where his live paintings created on the night are then auctioned off.

‘I feel so lucky to be making a living from my passion. The feedback I have received has been phenomenal and I just want to keep building on that momentum, painting beautiful, vibrant pieces for lovers of animals and art.’

Dean credits his positivity and get-up-and-go attitude to his late grandad. ‘He was a grafter and always had a fantastic work ethic. He would tell me I could be anything I wanted to be, if I set my mind and heart on it. I am sad that he never got to see my career as an artist take off, but I keep him close in mind – he really is my inspiration.’

Great British Life: Another completed paintingAnother completed painting (Image: Courtesy of Dean Douglas)

Dean’s role as a personal trainer at David Lloyd gave him a further opportunity to kick-start his career in art. ‘I was working on a piece in the reception area when one of the members approached me and asked if I’d be willing to do a live painting at a charity event for the NSPCC,’ he says.

‘The whole experience not only catapulted me into live painting, but it also allowed people to see what I could do. I quickly built up a client base and was invited to do my live painting at other events too. I loved the fact that I could give back through my creativity.

‘I still do some classes but I’m finished quite early in the morning, so I have plenty of time during the day to paint.

‘I am such a huge advocate for making a plan to move dreams into reality and for young people to pursue their passions. Once I realised that people would pay me to paint, I didn’t rest. I do everything in my power to network, raise the profile of my work and paint as much as I can to hone my craft. Supporting charities through my work is my way of paying my positivity forward.’

Great British Life: Artist Dean Douglas with his painting Hope, which you could ownArtist Dean Douglas with his painting Hope, which you could own (Image: Courtesy of Dean Douglas)

Own an original

Dean’s latest piece for charity is called Hope and it is being auctioned online in aid of St Catherines Hospice at Preston.

The painting was unveiled at the Lancashire Life walk at Mere Sands Wood near Rufford in April – it is a complete one-off with no prints available and comes with a signed certificate of authenticity.

‘It’s based on a peacock butterfly,’ says Dean. ‘The woods are known for their butterflies in the summer and the logo of the hospice is a butterfly.

‘Butterflies are symbols of hope and transformation. Life can be challenging, sad and chaotic, but I believe hope can get you through. I have used a dark grey background to highlight the darkness life may throw at us. The bright blue, vibrant butterfly is an indication of light within the dark.’

To place your bid for the painting, go to app.galabid.com/lancslifefundraiser and to find out more about Dean’s art, visit ddouglasart.com.