ARTIST and illustrator Stuart Roper made up his mind to earn his living through painting and drawing at an early age.

But by the time he reached 17, he made a conscious decision to train as a commercial artist.

Now, the 59-year-old’s work as an illustrator ranges from children's books to illustrated maps, leaflets and concept drawings.

He also paints, often to commission and teaches art to adults, including at the Women’s Institute's Denman College in Marcham, near Abingdon.

Mr Roper, who is also chairman of the Oxfordshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, has been self-employed for 25 years.

During that time, he has learned to take a practical approach to art.

He said: “It seems very cold and hard thing to say but you have to look at what your margins are.”

Milagro Design is the business he launched in 1988 with his wife Fiona, a writer, and they run it from their home in Wantage.

The pair, who met in Edinburgh while he was working as an illustrator and she was at university, have two children James, 27 and Alice, 25. After studying art at college in Aberdeen in the 1970s, he landed a job as an illustrator with an agency in Edinburgh.

One of his clients was the Atomic Energy Authority and he was later offered a job at its Harwell base, which prompted his move to Oxfordshire in 1980.

“It was a very exciting time because atomic energy was new and we were creating exhibition stands to explain the technology.

“One of the wonderful things about being an illustrator is you take information and put it into a form that people understand.”

Other jobs have included working for an automotive company in Thame as a creative director.

He said: “I have been self-employed for 25 years and before that worked for a government department, an agency and a big corporate, so have experienced all the different angles of business.”

Big statement pieces are something he enjoys, including painting a community mural on a derelict building in Walton Street four years ago.

He added: “Things have gone full circle in that people seem to appreciate hand-drawn, rather than computer drawings.

“I become totally absorbed when I am working and that’s how it has to be because if you don’t do it with energy and excitement it shows.”