A FORMER professional cyclist who has turned his hand to painting has overcome competition from thousands of artists to secure a place painting celebrity portraits in the finals of a national art contest.

Robin Puplett said he had been delighted to be asked to compete against 70 others for the Portrait Artist Of The Year title, only months after taking up portrait painting.

Some of the competition finalists will see their work exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery for a month, while the winner will be awarded a major commission for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The father-of-two, who raced for the Super U team, in France, before becoming a snowboarding instructor, impressed the contests organisers with a self-portrait.

Having had his confidence boosted with a recent sell-out exhibition of North Yorkshire landscape at Spectrum Gallery in Thirsk, he said he would be focussing on developing his portrait skills.

In the competition, he will be challenged to create portraits in just five hours.

Mr Puplett, 41, of Norby, Thirsk, said: “I came out of college and I was spending too much time cycling, but now I want to give art a go as a career.

“This competition is a change of direction for me, particularly as I normally spend days rather than hours on each painting.”

The artist, who is also a retained firefighter and recently spent 19 hours battling a blaze at a recycling firm in Thirsk, said he enjoyed the change of tempo between his jobs."

He said: “It is so quiet in my studio, but the next minute I find myself putting out fires and cutting people out of cars.”