Until eight years ago, Chris McSkimming had never picked up a paintbrush. When he did, he was at rock bottom.
The former nurse was grappling with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and depression caused by a serious assault and stress during his nursing work in the drug and alcohol arena in Queensland.
Those were dark days and there were times when Chris felt he just couldn't go on.
So he is thankful for the art therapist at the NSW psychiatric unit where he was being treated who persuaded him to give painting a try.
"A very smart psychiatrist sent me to St John of God [Hospital] Xavier Unit, which is a specialist unit for people with PTSD. As part of the hospital, they had an art room and two staff that were art therapists. The first time I took myself up there, I wasn't communicating very well with people. I was very frightened and afraid and I didn't know what was happening to me.
"When I sat down, I was just mindlessly painting ceramics and one of the therapists asked me 'would you like to do some art?'
The piece that Chris painted that day, featuring a row of vertical black trees, has pride of place in his kitchen. It is a striking artwork in its own right, but it also marked a turning point.
"I felt this extraordinary peace," Chris says of that first experience of using a paintbrush. "It provided me with the distraction I needed and the diversion I needed from the deep, deep dark hole I was in.
"The way that art therapist talked to me about art as therapy made sense to me, to a man from Taumarunui, a shearer, a fisherman, a rugby-playing guy. I was a bit blokey, but I always have been very compassionate and empathetic. I can't draw landscapes and I can't draw portraits, but this made sense to me."
Chris, who now lives in the country near Reporoa, began his working life as a shearer who "didn't have an artistic bone in my body".
But it was while doing an introduction to health services course with the thought of possibly becoming a counsellor that Chris discovered he had an interest in health and decided to train as a nurse. Despite having a young family and having to shear in the summer holidays to help make ends meet, he won a couple of scholarships, studied hard and got his qualification, going on to work at Taumarunui Hospital. He later moved into psychiatric nursing, which he loved, working for a trust in Thames with about 60 people with psychiatric disorders living in supported accommodation.
He and his partner Alice, also a nurse, then moved to Australia where they worked in remote Aboriginal communities, a time that is often reflected in the art and the colours of Chris's work.
'We were in the east Kimberleys, at Oombulgurri. There were no roads, it was a fly-in and fly-out community of 240 to 280 people, no doctors, no police, no nothing, it was just us and a brand-new clinic. We were only eight Europeans in the community and we saw the very best and the very worst."
After three years at Oombulgurri, Alice and Chris moved to Palm Island off the coast of Townsville, to another indigenous community and then Alice took a job at Ingham Hospital, 100km north of Townsville and Chris was seconded to a job as an alcohol, tobacco and other drugs counsellor.
Too often, Chris witnessed or had to try to break up violent incidents and brawls and one, which he had to handle alone despite setting off his duress alarm, was particularly nasty. He thought he was okay until one day, while driving home, he had a panic attack. His heart was racing, he was hyperventilating. He had to stop the car.
For a man who had worked in prisons, treatment centres and wild and remote places, he thought there wasn't much he couldn't handle. But in fact, the last assault was just the latest in a string of stressful events. Things did not improve. The panic attack was the start of a spiral into depression and he became too unwell to work.
"It was an awful time.
"I loved nursing and that had been taken away from me. My identity was robbed."
He and Alice moved to NSW and after two admissions to private psychiatric units that didn't help, the turning point came that day in the art room.
Chris spent six weeks at the Xavier Unit and after he went home he still had suicidal thoughts. Part of his discharge plan, though, was to continue art. He bought himself some cheap canvases and paint, and began painting and doing fluid pour art and exploring abstracts.
"I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but I just did it."
He joined a group of artists with disabilities, both psychiatric and physical. Through that one of the other members, a talented glass artist named Jackie Graham, whose work complemented Chris's paintings, asked him to do an exhibition with her. Chris agreed and to his surprise, one of his works sold.
"It was a piece called Walk Among the Ancients, and done in a big circle in the colours of the Australian outback and with shadow people in it."
Chris was anxious and worried about the exhibition. But it opened his eyes to the fact that other people saw meaning and beauty in what he was producing.
"I was really, really scared and my work sold, not for a lot because I didn't value it very highly and I still don't put a big monetary value on it. Whether I get paid to paint or not, I'd still produce art.
"I don't have a style. When I was researching what sort of artist I am, I'm probably what's known as an outsider artist because I have no formal training, no background in art."
Chris avoids crowds because he is hyper-vigilant all the time. In summer, he can't travel to Taupo because there are just too many people around for him to cope with. The idea of having a solo exhibition - he has been asked - is similarly overwhelmingly fearful.
But a solution presented itself when Taupō House of Travel owner Megan Bishop, who has opened a pop up art gallery in the agency's shop space, invited him to exhibit alongside others. Chris is grateful to have the opportunity to have his art on display without having to interact with the public. One of his recently sold pieces, Blended, is about blending colours but also about blended families of which Chris is a member - he is the eldest of 13 children. Another piece, Horizons, sold in an hour. He says hearing his artworks have sold makes him "very, very grateful and very humble".
Often, the pieces sell because they speak to people. At an exhibition in Australia, one woman burst into tears at the sight of Chris's artwork Look Beyond the Layers. It later sold to a US Army veteran whose wife had just died.
He also sells some of his artwork via his Facebook page Chris McSkimming Artist. It has 17,000 followers, and it's not just people connecting because of his art. Others identify with his mental health struggles and their own experiences. While Chris does not rose-tint his own experience, his page offers a message of hope and his own strategies for managing the dark times.
"That page has been directly responsible for one man and two women not killing themselves and if I never sold another piece of art or put a post up, it wouldn't matter.
"One woman was ready to kill herself and she was doing stuff on Facebook preparing for it and it [his page] came up on her news feed. She read some of my posts and stopped what she was doing and called her husband to come home."
Social media has its own dark side, though, and Chris admits that for a person living with depression and PTSD, that can be tough.
"I'm okay talking to people online and answering questions, but there are some horrible trolls."
Chris paints every day, and when he can't paint, he is anxious. Working on his art means he is living in the moment, an often-welcome relief from his own swirling thoughts.
"Your head just disappears. Negativity and thoughts of self-harm, all of those things, the worry about being assaulted, being hyper-vigilant and being scared, disappear."
He also runs workshops in his barn teaching small groups the fluid pour method of creating art.
"I don't advertise. People come to me and say 'can you show us how to do fluid pour'. This year I have had 27 participants."
Now, although Chris says he's not who he used to be, that's okay.
"I'm not a worse man. I'm a different man."
He has "a wonderful, wonderful relationship" with Alice and good support. And, he has his painting.
"Art brings me peace.
"Living is hard work and you have to work hard at it whether it's fitness or painting or reaching out for help, and so I paint away."
Where to get help
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.