THIRTY years ago former international cricketer Jack Russell MBE sold one of his drawings.

It was a life changing moment for the then England wicket keeper, who had only taken up drawing to keep himself busy during quiet periods on long cricket tours.

In that moment, the question of what to do with his life, post- cricket, was answered.

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of that first ever sale, and the Gazette met up with Jack at his Chipping Sodbury gallery for a catch up.

On entering the high street-based gallery, you are confronted with a wall of views of cricket greens, peopled by tiny players in white. A huge, omniscient Dickie Bird presides over the room, Eric Clapton is there too, plus a varied selection landscapes and military history images.

“Basically the art has kept me sane. When I was playing it was like a release,” said Jack, who grew up in Stroud.

“On my first tour I only played two days cricket in eight weeks.

“Everyone else would be playing golf, or sitting by the pool, and I was drawing.

“It was a form of therapy and enabled me to switch off.

“That’s how my first exhibition came about, because I did loads of drawings on tour and a gallery in Bristol suggested putting on a show of them. It ended up selling out in two days.

“The drawing all started when I was playing for Gloucester. It was a wet summer, 1987, and I'd been sitting in the pavilion, wasting my time.

“I’d lost all my money at cards, I was fed up with drinking tea, and so I thought ‘I’ll teach myself to paint’.

“It fascinated me how Turner and Constable and those guys did it. 

“I thought 'if Rembrandt can do it, why can’t I?'”

And so, by trial and error, Jack did indeed teach himself to draw and then to paint.

“Everyone said you’ve got to learn to draw first, and I did that for a couple of years, and then I wanted to get to the colour,” he said.

“And a couple of years later the same gallery said, they’d put on an exhibition of the paintings and they sold out as well.”

Jack says that at the start, all his pictures went in the bin, but gradually his ability, and his confidence grew.

“The first drawing I did, I did from about 100 yards away, because I was so shy.

“It was outside the grounds in Worcester, by the river. If anyone walked passed me I covered it up.

“I was going to pack it in loads of times. But I kept telling myself’ ‘you can’t give up’.

“I drew Gloucester Cathedral, stone by stone and then I threw the pencil down and I thought I’ve got to get into some colour now.

“It just sort of grew from there, by trial and error. Just basically being stubborn, which is me, really.”

Jack says that there are some similarities in the skills needed as a professional cricketer and an artist, with both requiring an ability to focus on one thing intensely, and knowing how to keep things simple.

“I’m quite good at simplifying things, like keeping wicket is a simple thing.

“The complicated bit is doing it well all the time. And people complicate cricket in general too much.

“It’s all simple stuff really. You stick to a certain two or three things and generally everything falls into place.

“It’s the same with paintings. Like the one of clouds at Trowbridge over there, you do the clouds, and then you don’t touch it. Don’t over complicate it.

“One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is to know what to leave out.

“And keeping wicket, it’s just me and the ball, really, I’ve simplified it to just that. I’m totally focused.

“A nuclear war could go off and I wouldn’t know anything about it, it’s just me and the ball. That’s the only thing on the planet.

“It’s funny because my wife never came to the cricket much, she came about three times in 20 odd years, and of those times, twice was because I forgot kit.

“But she came one day and I was so focused on my cricket match, I totally forgot about everything else, and I walked straight past her. She’s never forgiven me.”

Now aged 54, Jack still paints everyday and has a long list of ‘to do’ paintings he’d like to fit in over the coming years.

“I’m nearly 55 and I’ve got maybe 20 years left,” he said.

“I could do with being 150, so I could guarantee that I can get all the paintings done that I want to.

“When I’m gone, they’ll still be here.

“And I get such a big kick out of that. It’s nothing to do with money, it’s to do with people wanting to put them on their wall at home.

“Although, having said that, if nobody bought my pictures, I’d still paint.

"Because I’ve got to do it. It’s like an addiction now.

"It replaces catching cricket balls.”