“Sketching connects you to what you’re drawing,” says charcoal artist Rob Parsons as he picks up his mug to sip a flat white coffee at Equator in Almonte.
Parsons has been running his own business called Portraits by Rob since 2012. He specializes in charcoal sketches, his most popular being portraits of pets and movie characters.
Parsons remembers one of the first charcoals he ever did. It was of his late grandfather for his grandmother when she was sick with cancer. “I just thought it would be a nice gesture to give it to her, but she cried and was absolutely emotional about it,” he says.
When his grandmother died, a copy of the charcoal portrait went with her when her body was cremated. “I never even met my grandpa, but I started noticing things like how similar my smile looks to his in my prom photos,” Parsons says. “It’s a strangely similar smile.”
Turns out, Parsons grandfather also had an artistic touch. He painted planes for the military and was ambidextrous, a trait Parsons says he inherited just a little bit.
“Some people cry because they’ve lost their pet and they feel like they’re seeing it again when I give them the drawing,” Parsons says. “Over Christmas break, a grown man cried when I gave him a charcoal of his pet that passed away.”
Parsons, who calls himself a perfectionist, especially likes drawing his girlfriend Ivy. “I’m familiar with her, with her eyes, with her look, so I draw her just as bubbly and beautifully as she is in real life.”
He explains that if the eyes are done well and capture the real look of the person, the rest of the picture can be messy. “Some people are too caught up in the details — but look closely at my charcoals; it’s messy but it comes together well,” Parsons says. “I also have really awful handwriting,” he laughs.
Parsons and his friends spent a lot of time drawing together as kids. “I doodled a lot in the margins of my notebooks in elementary school,” he admits.
Inspired by his grade five and six art teacher, Parsons’ interest in sketching grew.
“I’m an art nerd,” Parsons laughs. “Sarah Jaynes taught me everything I know about what I’m doing now.”
Parsons says Jaynes, his art teacher at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Carleton Place, would offer 10 different techniques to try on his charcoal portraits.
“Everyone has a different style of drawing or painting, or whatever it is you do,” Parsons says. “She taught me that the best part is that the creative process doesn’t have to be realistic.”
Parsons often turns to sketching to relax when he’s feeling anxious. “I usually put headphones in and zone out,” he says.
This is similar to how his mind works when he’s doing school-related work. Parsons received a bachelor of science in chemical engineering from the University of Ottawa in the spring of 2016.
“Getting from this to that, whether it’s art or science, there’s still a process that I work through — so I really enjoy both,” Parsons says. “I have a problem to solve and the process of coming up with a solution is chaotic, but in the end, it works.”
Parsons is now studying energy management at Algonquin College. He wants to use his education to protect the environment and create reusable energy projects. While school is a priority right now, he says he still accepts requests for sketches.
Main Photo Caption: Almonte charcoal artist Rob Parsons sketched Sherlock Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (left), and Dr. John Watson, played by Martin Freeman, in the television series Sherlock. Parsons owns his own company called Portraits by Rob. Photo submitted by Rob Parsons.
First published in the February Edition of Hometown News.