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After having improved my drawing skills to a level where I felt confident to take commissions, I soon realised I could do so much more with a portrait than just copy a photo. I began to really get to know my clients, and listened intently to their stories about why their portrait meaned so much to them. I began to develop ways of making marks with various media that could be adapted and woven together in ways to suit each unique image and bring each face, and the story behind it, to life.  Like a great story in which you become completely engrossed, my portraits will draw you in, invite you to look closer, to see how all the marks intertwine together to form a cohesively intricate, engaging and thoughtful portrait that captures not only the likeness, but the true spirit of the subject in that moment, and in their life leading up to it.

Picture of Nik's workspace, a corner of the home office containing a drawing desk, chair and shelves of pens and paint

I began to use colour pencils to branch out into the world of colour. I tried different types of paper and realised that it made a huge difference to the overall effect of the portrait. This fascinated me because I could create different textures which added so much more depth and interest to a piece. My Dad suggested I try ballpoint pens so I bought some Bic colour biros and never looked back. I couldn't blend them like pencils so I just scribbled and layered with them. The fact that they can't be erased created a huge challenge but I relished it and kept practicing with different papers and colour combinations. While drawing Russell Tovey for the Portrait Artist of the Week programme during lockdown I made a big biro mark by accident that couldn't be disguised in any way so I rummaged around in my pot of random things and found a white Posca pen which I would have occasionally used for highlights.... it's basically white acrylic paint in a pen and very effective at creating brilliant white marks, and, as I soon discovered..... covering up unsightly ones.

And so began my journey of mixing biros with acrylic pens....I learnt about the properties and pros and cons of biros and acrylic pens, and kept practicing and developing my scribble style by making scribbly marks and layering them up on different paper types. I absolutely loved the different effects and textures I could create, a smooth paper would allow me to make bolder marks and draw more quickly, and a rougher paper would allow me to make more sketchy marks. I guess this way of drawing suits my personality. I love a challenge, and the fact that ballpoint pens can’t be erased makes for quite a substantial one. Also I’m a perfectionist, I have a natural tendency for making my work look photorealistic, yet I also want to be looser and for my work to look like it’s been created by hand, not just an exact replica of a photo. This element of creativity comes from being able to make mistakes, some of which I’ll keep, some of which I’d rather weren’t there. Not being able to erase biros, I found that by drawing over them with posca pens to cover up mistakes, add highlights, blend marks together and create extra layers gives me the freedom to draw without fear of potentially ruining a piece with every pen mark, and allows me to make it up as I go - creating depth and realism without being perfect.
Each piece is created uniquely, with every single mark – whether intentional or not, perfect or imperfect, left in or covered up – being part of the story and history of the portrait. After all, a mistake is an experience from which to learn, and a stepping stone to greater things.  Every day is a school day for me and my inner scientist just loves to experiment with different combinations of tools and surfaces.

I have now developed a style of drawing that is instantly recognisable. There is so much more to my work than simply copying a photograph; I use layers upon layers of tiny scribbles and marks to create depth, texture and realism. My confident mark-making, together with a keen eye for detail, creates a striking image that draws the viewer in, inviting you to observe how all the marks intertwine together to form a cohesively intricate, engaging and considered portrait that captures not only a highly accurate likeness, but character, expression and emotion of the subject, whether it be as a single moment in time, or as a story depicting a part or the whole of their life.

Acrylic pen drawing of Bruce Springsteen by Nik Courntey
Weekend at Nannie and Opa's - by Nik Courtney.jpg



I feel very honoured to have won several competitions, awards and accolades., Most notably I was awarded Runner Up in the SAA's Profressional Artist of the Year competition 2023 for the portrait of my daughter above, I was also Highly Commended in the same competition in 2021 and 2022. I won the Bruce Springsteen Hungry Art competition in 2022, in which the judges described my work to be formidable.

Working with me


The process of commissioning a portrait is a journey that you, as one of my very special clients, and I go on together. We will work together to get the best portrait possible, we will have conversations about who you’d like me to draw and why you’d like me to draw them, I’ll listen intently to your stories and we’ll discuss how best to translate them into the portrait. I want you to feel what I feel every time I bring someone to life on paper ….a feeling of wonder, celebration, nostalgia, and pride…. as well as a sense of all the little things we see in our loved ones that can’t be picked up from a snapshot.

I’m a great communicator, I’m approachable, reliable and friendly, and I’m committed to bringing you a first class, personal and professional service.


Follow me on my journey

I post on my Facebook and Instagram pages about twice a week. Here I reveal more about how I work, give little previews of works in progress and share any news that I have. If you'd like to follow me on these platforms you can do so by clicking on Facebook or Instagram

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