The likenesses Tony Cronin captures with paper and pencil are simply stunning and appear so life-like, you’d almost expect them to move. Tony explains that his interest and talent in drawing and portraiture is a rediscovered one …
Most of us would know you as an English teacher from Port Macquarie High School, but what’s generally keeping you busy these days, Tony?
Hi Jo. It’s not that long ago since you were in my English class yourself! Even though I’m officially retired, I’m still there part-time and loving it. I feel I still have plenty to offer in public education and working with students is very rewarding and continues to give me that sense of achievement I need.
I’m also dabbling in pencil sketching and finding it very relaxing.
What made you decide to give portraiture a try – have you always had an artistic streak?
My sister revived my interest when she asked me to draw her late husband from a photograph the night before his funeral a few years ago. She remembered me sketching as a teenager, but I hadn’t kept it up. I tried to put her off but when she showed me the pencil sketches her husband, Len, did while in hospital, I was amazed and felt I had to give it a go for her sake.
She cried when she saw my sketch, but I realised it wasn’t because it was so bad. She loved it! She was quite emotional anyway, as you can imagine. I’ve sketched other relatives since then, as I was encouraged by that experience and wanted to improve and use the sketches as presents.
What tools of the trade do you use to create your portraits? What is it about these mediums that particularly like?
I work with pencils mostly, even though I’ve tried pen and ink and charcoal. I’m experimenting with colour pencils too, but I’d really like to try oils eventually. Pencils can be very forgiving and versatile.
You were very inspired to capture well-known local Steve Stevanovic’s image. What is it about Steve that you admire?
I meet Steve regularly on the road, and his wave and smile always make my day.
Steve is one of Port Macquarie’s great characters. I’m in awe of what he achieves. Even at 75 years of age, he walks 35 km every day, and most people in town would have got a friendly smile and wave from him over the years.
I admire his self-discipline, his athleticism, and his commitment to his chosen activity. Not only is he an inspiration, he is a real gentleman.
How long did it take you to complete Steve’s portrait, and what processes were involved?
I decided I would like to try to immortalise Steve, so I stopped one day and asked if I could take his photo. I had some drawings in the car and told him my plans. When he realised I wasn’t trying to sell him something, he relaxed.
We stayed in touch over the next few weeks. I sketched from one of the photos I took, and I probably spent around 12 hours on it over a few days. My wife, Chris, and I went out to dinner with Steve after I completed the drawing, and I was so relieved that he liked it.
You presented Steve’s finished portrait to him as a gift. Who was actually at the presentation, and what was Steve’s reaction?
Steve is always home after 4pm, and my wife, Chris, and I rang him before dropping by to give him his completed portrait. I told him I thought he was the fittest man in Port Macquarie. Chris took a photo to mark the occasion, and Steve invited us in for a drink and a chat.
He shared some of his fascinating life story with us and spoke about what motivates him to walk starting at 4.30am every day. One of his favourite walks is over and back to Wauchope. We certainly got to know him a lot more. He was interested in learning about us also. He is a fascinating person, and I feel very privileged to know him. It was then that he invited us out to dinner as a ‘thank you’ the following week.
Who are some of the other individuals you’ve captured with your artwork?
President Obama, Nelson Mandela, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Sean Connery, Leonardo Di Caprio and other famous people like Steve Irwin and Hugh Jackman. Recently I finished one on the Federal Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, after he visited the school.
I also like drawing ageing faces, as they are more interesting. What time does to the human face fascinates me. I’ve sketched many of my relatives, but derelicts and homeless characters also have a special appeal when I find images on the internet.
What plans do you have for your artwork – is a future exhibition likely?
I see myself as a hobbyist rather than an artist. I plan on learning more about art, and portraiture in particular, in my retirement. I was surprised when my son, Keegan, sold one of my landscapes for $300. As a uni student, he’s obviously more enterprising than his dad.
I was flattered when Alan and Denise Davis from Masterpiece Framing in the Colonial Arcade invited me to hang some drawings in their studio next May with a view to selling them. I’m hesitant about taking on requests for portraits, though. Like my sister-in-law in Ireland, a person may not always be flattered by the results. (She thought I put too many wrinkles in).
More recently, I’ve had requests to draw a dog, a vintage car and even a pelican!
At present it’s fun. I’d hate for it to become just another chore I had to do. Chris would tell you that I don’t do those very well now as it is!
Interview by Jo Atkins.