When John Andrew was released from prison in 2016, he didn’t know where to turn.

But thank to Ayrshire charity Centrestage, the 52-year-old dad of six turned his life around after discovering a talent for art when he was behind bars.

Now John is forging a professional career as an artist who specialises in lifelike pastel portraits thanks to the guidance of his mentors at Centrestage.

Born in Glasgow, John was sentenced to a year in jail after an assault charge but was relieved only to end up serving six months.

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His first days in HMP KIlmarnock were “terrifying” but he was soon finding solace in his childhood love of sketching.

John said: “I’ve always drawn. I used to draw things from television years ago. In prison I just started off drawing to myself and then I engaged with Catalyst.”

Run by Centrestage, Catalyst is a care service that builds relationships with offenders during their sentence and beyond. Tutors there recognised John’s natural talent and encouraged him to channel his negative emotions into art.

HeraldScotland: John fell in love with pastels. Credit: UGCJohn fell in love with pastels. Credit: UGC

Although John spent some time in custody in his 20s - thanks to getting into scrapes because of his red hair - going to prison was a shock to him and his family, many of whom turned their backs on him.

He said: “It was seriously traumatic. I’d lost everything. My family was away. I don’t know what I would have done without the drawing.”

His twice-weekly art classes taught John new techniques that helped his talent to “blossom”.

He said: “What I could draw was limited in prison so I used photographs - anything I could get a photograph of.”

He started off sketching portraits of his children, who are aged from 10 to 25. He said: “I take a lot of pleasure in portraits because it was the first thing I was introduced to.”

John cites mentor Harry Sutton as inspiration. The former school art teacher and Catalyst tutor introduced John to pastels, now his favourite medium.

He said: “I’ve got a wee tear just thinking about it. He changed my life absolutely. When I finished that first picture, I couldn’t believe it was me [that drew it]. Starting with the pastels was awesome I was going to my bed at night so excited.”

After his release in March 2016, John enrolled in Ayr College to do an Art and Design HNC, thanks to the support of Catalyst, and his enthusiasm and skill have flourished.

He said: “These last few years in college I’ve been introduced to different mediums and techniques and every one has blown my socks off.”

But it was Harry who showed John that he could make a living from the hobby that saw him through his darkest days.

He said: “Now Harry’s retired he’s a full time artist and volunteer and I can see it’s viable. You don’t need to be making thousands of pounds but you can get by.

“I want to take it as far as it can go. Nothing would give me greater pleasure.”

John volunteers with Catalyst when he can fit it around his course requirements.

He said: “I’ve done demonstrations with the homeless and I really enjoyed speaking to people and giving something back - giving people a bit more positivity.”

Thanks to his hard work, John has been able to start building bridges with his estranged family. He said: “Slowly but surely we’re getting closer. They’re so proud, every single one of them.”

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Through art, John has got his confidence back. He said: When I’m walking down the street and I see my reflection, I’ve got my chest out and head up and I’m whistling when I’m walking. Without a doubt it saved my life.

“Catalyst made me realise there was more out there for me. It gave me an option I didn’t know was there.”

“I just can’t believe how far I’ve come that it’s nearly three years down the line and I here I am and I’ve made such massive changes.”