Lincolnshire dad with a talent for art says ‘I won’t let Parkinson’s beat me’

“I just want to create as much as I can now, before I can no longer use my hands.” These are the words of a local artist and father-of-two who has onset Parkinson’s – but is determined not to let the disease control his life.

Artist Danny Dowding and one of his impressive pieces of art.

Danny Dowding, of Kirton End, has been producing various artistic creations since he was diagnosed with the condition five years ago.

From detailed pencil drawings and decorated cakes, to woodwork and giant sculptures of film characters, Danny can turn his hand to almost any artistic medium.

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“I have my good days and my bad days with art and Parkinson’s,” said Danny. “Some days without medication I can produce a great portrait. Other days I can barely hold a pencil or do simple things like crack an egg. Thankfully, these days are few and far between.”

Danny's painting of ET.

Danny’s creations, many of which he makes in his garage-cum-studio, have included life-like pencil portraits, paintings of comic book characters, large wooden 2D creatures and characters, ‘showstopper’ style decorated cakes and large 3D sculptures.

“I’m a comic book geek so I mainly draw characters from comics and movies, but if it is an interesting subject I will draw anything from a frog to Freddy Krueger,” he said.

Much of Danny’s pieces are crafted from disused items he finds around his home.

“What some people see as a pile of rubbish, I see as a life-size Santa, a robot, or a Jack Skellington,” he explained.

Kirton artist, Danny Dowding, with the giant Jack Skellington figure he created. Photo by David Dawson.

As reported in the Standard earlier this month, Danny created a 9ft-tall figure of Jack Skellington from the animated Tim Burton film Nightmare Before Christmas.

It took him eight months to make using an impressive list of materials including a 6ft fence post, 10 postal tubes, a beach ball, papier mache, wooden dowels, five metres of tent fabric and five litres of PVA glue. He attached this to the front of his house where it has been welcomed by the community and local children who wave at it from their school bus.

Explaining his background and the onset of his illness, Danny said: “I have always been interested in creating stuff when ever I had the chance but I was a butcher for 30 years so those chances weren’t often.

“Then from nowhere about six years ago I started feeling very cramped and uncomfortable and unable to do my job. I was told I was no good for the job, so worried and dejected I went for tests and was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s. I was just approaching 45.

A painting of the Joker.

“I decided to dive into everything arty and with many sleepless nights watching YouTube, I taught myself papermache, painting techniques, portrait techniques, alcohol markers, and so on.

“Creating things helps to keep my mind busy and stops me worrying. In the future, if I can no longer create things I‘d like to have lots of things to look back on so I have no regrets about not creating things while I could.”

Danny said he has been keen on art since age five – with his biggest inspiration being his father.

“My dad was an awesome artist,” said Danny. “I used to sit on his knee when I was little and watch him draw and I was hooked.”

Famous faces: Tom Hardy and Elvis Presley.

As for future projects up his sleeve, he said: “I would love to make a life-sized R2-D2 from Star Wars but am still in the planning stages in my head. I have done a few commissions for friends and family too. It is not enough to do it for a living, but I am happy to take more on.”

Asked about the prognosis for his condition, Danny explained: “Without meds, Parkinson’s produces other problems like painful joints, difficulty walking, talking and even swallowing.

“I am looked after by a great professor in Addenbrooke’s hospital, Professor Roger Barker, who prescribes me with the medication to control the pain and discomfort, a friendly shoulder to cry on and is also heading the referral for Deep Brain Stimulation surgery which I’m on a waiting list for.

“Fortunately, I have an amazing family. A wonderful wife, Nikki, who puts her life on hold to take me on my regular hospital trips and looks after me when I’m at my worst. As well as my amazing daughters, Abi and Libby, who also take care of me when my meds are not working.”

He added: “Well, there are a lot of people in worse situations than me. I now have a great wife supported by two amazing kids who look after me when I need it, and a great part-time job at Tesco.

“I’m not a Parkinson’s sufferer – I’m a Parkinson’s warrior because I have Parkinson’s, but it don’t have me.”

A large figure of 'Steve' the Minecraft character, and Danny and his daughters with the Jack Skellington cake he made.
Two of Danny's detailed pencil drawings of elephants.
Animal from the Muppets and a Beauty and the Beast cake.
A pencil portrait of Mr Bean.