By Helen Wallace-Iles
I was recently introduced to the amazing work of a young autistic man called Chris Baker – a self-taught pencil artist from Cardiff, South Wales, UK. I found his art truly inspiring and decided to find out more. What I discovered was the story of an ordinary family whose love, acceptance and determination to support their son no matter what has created a truly extraordinary life for this incredibly talented twenty-two year old.
In the beginning…
I spoke to Chris’s mum Sam, who told me how drawing has helped her son’s development in various different ways, on his journey from an introverted young boy with a fascination for the machines of war (which he would draw miniature pictures of on the corners of newspapers) to the proficient and constantly evolving artist he is today.
Chris struggled at school and was removed from mainstream education at age fourteen, meaning he inevitably spent a lot of time isolated from his peers. It was then that he decided to teach himself to draw in properly, and Sam described this as being the time ‘his drawings went to the next level’. His focus was now on portraiture, and Sam would find scraps of paper around the house with a single nose or an eye drawn on them, as Chris worked to perfect each element. The family found it quite startling at the time, but as you can see, his endless hard work and attention to fine detail definitely paid off…
Originally, like many people on the spectrum, Chris started drawing as a form of therapy – to help him both relax and stay calm – but later when he realised how much joy his drawings were bringing to other people, he was inspired to draw more and more. Although he struggles to talk to people in his everyday life, through his drawings Chris has been able to communicate with them, which means everything to his family as you can imagine.
When Chris turned sixteen, his parents began to share his creations on social media and were amazed by the incredible feedback they received. Chris had a very impressive portfolio by the age of eighteen, with lots of interest being shown in his work, so Sam and her husband Stewart decided to register him as self-employed. This led to them selling prints of his art at comic conventions across the UK, something they still regularly do to this day. Sam describes them as ‘the perfect team’, with Chris providing the drawings and Stewart acting as ‘roadie’, while she (like so many autism mums) does most of the talking.
Chris’s favourite shows include Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and unsurprisingly, his hyper-realistic prints of their stars very often sell out.
Taking things to the next level…
In 2015, Sam saw a story on the ITV News about a young autistic boy whose special interest was his favourite football team. At the end, when the presenter asked the public to get in touch if they knew of any other feel-good stories, she contacted them right away. The interview went so well that they were featured on Good Morning Britain the following week, which did wonders to raise Chris’s profile as a photo realism artist.
Michael Van Gerwen, Chris’s darting hero, then commissioned him to draw his official portrait which was later produced as a limited edition print.
Michael also commissioned Chris to draw for him personally, as did his manager, as well as other professional darts players, and Chris is now working with Winmau, Modus and Red Dragon Darts to draw their players as well.
Since then, Chris has met a whole host of celebrities and shared his portraits with them, including Mark Gatiss and Benedict Cumberbatch who asked him to be an extra in their filming. Sir Ian McKellen was in tears when he saw Chris’s portrait of him as Gandalf; it’s very easy to see why.
A definite highlight for Chris was meeting pop icons The Jacksons, whose music has been a huge inspiration to him over the years. They were so impressed that Marlon stopped the show to tell everyone in the arena about Chris’s art. You can see this heart-warming moment on video on Facebook.
The man behind the art…
So, who is Chris Baker? Well, although he’s definitely not a typical twenty-two year old, many of his struggles will be instantly recognisable to other people on the spectrum. He likes to stay out of the limelight and prefers his parents to speak on his behalf at conventions and during interviews, although he has occasionally been known to chat with his customers when his social anxiety allows, which is always an incredibly proud moment for his parents.
Chris is intensely passionate about his special interests and spends anything up to forty hours working on his pencil portraits. When asked if he has a favourite, he always insists that he loves them all equally. What a gift it must be to be able to express himself in ways that bring such happiness to so many people.
In August this year, Chris was asked to officially open the work experience room at Ty Bronllys School in Wales, which does some remarkable work with autistic people, and was also named ‘Role Model of the Year’, something that’s clearly very well deserved.
Although there will only ever be one Chris Baker, his story highlights just how much autistic people can achieve when they’re accepted, supported and encouraged to follow their passions. Everyone’s journey is different, whether they’re on the spectrum or not, but when it comes to autistic people, Chris and his family have shown without doubt that ‘different’ certainly doesn’t mean ‘less’.
Find out more…
Chris’s art can be seen and purchased via his website here: www.cjbart.com
and you can keep up with his progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by following these links:
Lists of Chris’s attendance at conventions are regularly updated across all of his social media sites.
Helen Wallace-Iles has lived with autism all her life and is now the very proud mother of four remarkable children on the spectrum. She is a fully qualified hypnotherapist and psychotherapist who has supported hundreds of families through the difficulties of living with this complex and intriguing condition.
Helen now works full time running the charity she founded in 2010, Autism All Stars Foundation UK, where she promotes a positive, proactive approach to life and particularly to living with autism, something which shines through in her hugely popular book ‘The Ringmaster’s Tale: Autism, Asperger’s, Anarchy!’ – available here: www.tinyurl.com/TheRingmastersTale
You can catch up with Helen’s thoughts on ‘Autism, the Universe and Everything’ on her blog here: www.autism-all-stars.org/ringmaster