Oh to see ourselves as others see us. Whether it is the fool in Shakespeare, the quick wit of a contemporary comic or the pen of the caricaturist, the truth can be revealing.
Step forward ex-Lancashire fireman Paul Flatley whose new role is to put pencil and pen to paper to create often humorous caricatures which tend to the kind, rather than the cutting.
From his garden shed studio he has drawn himself a different career after 26 years in the county’s Fire and Rescue service.
The 55-year-old from Penwortham can now be found offering a bespoke wedding service caricaturing guests or visiting event such as bigger fairs and music festivals, including the Chipping steam fair and vintage events.
His distinct camper van means visitors know that Flats, as he signs his work, is in residence.
Paul started in the fire service in 1990 .He began in the East Lancashire area working in Blackburn and Rawtenstall, moving to Penwortham when the demand for a manned station arose and spent the final part of his service at Bamber Bridge.
But he had been drawing all his life and admits to still being an inveterate sketcher in cafes.
He said: “It’s something I’ve always enjoyed.
“I always do a brief sketch in blue pencil. That was something favoured by Disney artists. I started off doing portraits. Caricature was just a development really.”
He had been sitting doing gigs as a portrait artist when he realised he could specialise.
He said: “It just gave me an idea. You don’t see many local caricature artists in this country I just started at local fairs. Any money I got I used to give to charity. I realised that people were prepared to pay for my work.”
He had opted for early retirement when a fire service reorganisation meant his shift and location would change, but he still needed to generate an income.
He said: “I thought I’m going to go. I’m just going to chase my dream. I just thought I would give it a go.”
For the previous decade he had been setting up his stall working part-time as a caricaturist and seized the opportunuty to become a full time illustrator.
He has also done illustrations for a forthcoming children’s story book and attends 30 to 50 weddings year.
At these wedding, caricatures are free for guests. He said: “It’s fast and furious, about six minutes per couple. It’s full on!”
He is also building up a portfolio of his commercial work, plus caricatures of many celebrities.
He said: “I like working in different mediums, watercolours are a particular favourite. I mainly do line drawing at events.”
Bespoke watercolour caricature portraits of families take longer but are in demand.
Now it was time for Paul to put pen to paper and take up the Post’s own challenge - a caricature of his interviewer.
Giving me a good stare, he said with a reassuring smile: “I simply looking for shapes, studying a face you look at its shape first and try not to over complicate things.”
It is also key, he said, to look at the eyes - the relative distance between the eyes.
He notes a significant difference between customers: “Some people sit down and say please take it easy with me - and some who just sit down and say go for it.”
It means like all artists throughout the ages he has to be a good judge of character and pitch his caricature accordingly.
Paul traces his influences and inspiration to his childhood: “I was a big fan of newspaper cartoonist Larry when I was growing up.”
Gerald Scarfe’s works and the “Spitting Image” faces from the popular satirical TV show were also a hit.
He added: “That was a big influence on me really.”
He acknowledges he must draw with sensitivity: “It’s that fine line between humour and flattery really. You don’t go in to caricature to flatter anybody. You certainly don’t want to upset anyone. They are mainly based on cartoons and are meant to be funny.
"If you can inject a bit of humour into them that’s the main thing. Caricature is about three things, humour, exaggeration and the likeness you get.”
His new role is he says, “totally different” and admits to missing the banter of the fire station, working now mostly in solitude.
The former pupil of English Martyrs and Corpus Christi schools in Preston admits he wanted a career in art from an early age, but was steered by his dad to become an engineering apprentice.
He said: “I’ve done no training apart from O-level art. I’m just self taught. As soon as I walked into a factory I absolutely hated it.”
He stresses there was nothing wrong with the factory, it was simply wrong for him.
Recently Paul has been studying sign writing and has made novelty signs compete with bottle opener to sell at events. He is also a chainsaw sculptor.
So does he caricature his own family? It is, I note, like asking a painter and decorator do they decorate their own home.
Married for 30 years, with daughters aged 26 and 24, he admits: “I don’t really... I must draw thousands of faces a year. When I come home it’s the last thing I want to do really. I’ve done special occasions and anniversaries.”
He still draws in cafes: “I’ve always got a sketch book with me. I just love drawing. I’m just fascinated by someone’s face who comes into a cafe and I think I’ve got to draw him. I never show it to the person. I just want to create.”
As for my caricature - you can be the judge, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Paul’s website is dub-bletake.moonfruit.com