What I Want, When I Want!

by Laura Storey

Self-taught artist Jack Holmes, originally from Keighley, captures the town and countryside of his beloved Yorkshire in cartoons and illustrations, but how did he get started?

Self-taught artist Jack Holmes has been a regular cartoonist and illustrator in Northern Life for the last 15 years. Despite living in Birmingham, our Jack is Keighley born and bred and manages to continue to capture the town and countryside of his beloved Yorkshire, but how did he get started?

“I’d always been interested in art, I had a teacher at school, Ruth, who was very good and she used to put my pictures up on the wall.”

Jack’s father John was a keen sketcher but didn’t do many paintings as he was a very busy man. “He managed Gallons, a grocery store on Church Street in Keighley and was an air raid warden during the war.” Jack explained. “When I was nine he gave me an oil painting set because he didn’t have time to paint himself.”

The oil painting set was perfect, with a palette, brushes and even a bottle of linseed oil, but, despite Jack coming top of the class in art, he didn’t take up painting properly until a chance meeting with one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

“I knew a guy called Peter Thorne. He was a great painter and modelmaker and a student at Bradford College of Art. One evening, when I was around 12 years old, I visited him, and he had another bloke with him. They were busy sketching some work that had to be handed in. The other bloke gave me a picture of a church and showed me how to create perspective and shading.”

The bloke ended up being none other than David Hockney. “He was 18, he wasn’t famous, no one knew about him then,” Jack said. “After that, when I got home, I couldn’t wait to get painting.”

Inspired by this chance encounter, Jack carried on with painting and even sold one to a gallery in Keighley, but decided not to pursue it as a career.

“Within three months of my 21st birthday, I received my long-awaited call up papers including a train ticket to RAF Bridgnorth.” It was time for him to serve his National Service.

 Jack loved the RAF and signed up for an extra couple of years being posted to Kenya, where the Mau Mau Uprising was coming to an end. His wife Ann was able to join him in a peace-keeping role while Jack delivered food drops during the famine.

After leaving the RAF he returned home to overalls on the kitchen table – his parents had bought him a pair and had obtained him a job in an engineering shop, the only work available in his hometown of Keighley. “I didn’t fancy standing at a machine all day, I wanted to get out and experience life and all that it had to offer,” grins Jack.


“Finally, Jack had job where he could use his skills in painting.”

So, off he went to Birmingham… “Ann’s mother was already living there. I started by driving a laundry truck, a tipper lorry and a work’s bus, then I began long-distance driving and was later a bus driver, but my heart was always in painting and I kept up with it, selling my pictures to different people I met on my travels, then I started a business as a signwriter from my home.”

Finally, Jack had job where he could use his skills in painting. Even if it meant his wife Ann had to hold the ladders.

Jack retired in 2000 and was elated that he could concentrate on painting, without having to force Ann into holding the ladders at unsociable hours.

Jack’s inspiration is Jack Vettrino, a Scottish painter who was himself self-taught, having been rejected from art school. Vettrino’s Singing Butler painting is Britain’s best-selling print and shows a glamorous couple dancing as servants shield them from the wind. Known as the People’s Painter, Vettrino’s influence comes across in Jack’s nostalgic paintings, capturing hidden narratives in recognisable scenes from his beloved Keighley.

Church Green, Keighley

For aspiring painters, Jack has one piece of advice, “you get a lot of criticism as a painter, but you’ve just got to keep going. I am completely self-taught. Anyone could do what I have done, and now: I can paint what I want and when I want.”