An artist whose school teachers did not let him draw with pencils is tricking people with his lifelike portraits in his first solo exhibition.

Jordan Dawson, 21, says his experiences of growing up in Borehamwood have made an impact on his work: “The whole project is because I was bullied when I was younger for my appearance, I’m looking at how people perceive others differently based on their first sight of them. 

“There’s a selection of drawings where I have taken male models from magazines and drawn them in the style of a mug shot so you instantly get that perception that they’re bad people. I’ve had the best reception to those drawings, people have asked me what they have done to be in prison. 

“Most of my work is based on appearance. My first year project was based on freckles and how people with freckles don’t actually like them, but I find it quite attractive.”

Jordan, who has just completed his second year at Chelsea School of Art, uses a technique called hyperrealism, which contains so much detail it is difficult to distinguish his work from photographs.

“I can do it off the top of my head, but it’s mainly based from photographs,” he says of the medium. “It is copying as much detail as possible. Hyperrealism is trying to bring a drawing to life and doing it in a way that it looks like a photo and it messes with your mind, like an illusion.”

However, despite drawing cartoons since the age of seven or eight, this level of accuracy is a skill he has only perfected fairly recently due to his trusty pencil being taken off him in school art classes. 

“My GCSE and A-level teachers always knew I liked to use pencils but they want to push you to use other mediums. I always got told at school ‘you’re not using that’ even though my friend Gideon Summerfield who is doing quite well at the moment; he liked to use fine liner pens and he was never told to stop using them and he’s gone on to do incredible things, he is in the National Portrait Gallery. 

“I thought why should I give up doing what I want to do just because my teachers told me to? So on my foundation I started drawing again and after that my drawings got better and better so I went back to speak to the Year 12s who were thinking about doing a foundation course and my teachers apologised and said ‘we never should have told you to stop using pencils’ and it was nice to hear that. 

“I was closer to the art teachers by then and understood that they wanted to challenge me more, which is fair enough but I don’t think you should tell someone to stop, it’s about pushing someone in the right direction and not putting them off what they want to do.”

After leaving school Jordan completed a foundation art course at Camberwell University and began refining his skills.

“On my first day I walked in and they said do what you want and we’ll come back at 2 o’clock and see what you’ve done. It was a breath of fresh air, everyone was looking at each other and we all loved it. We’d never had that freedom before so I got to practise my pencil drawings.

“From my foundation course to my first year at Chelsea I had a very long summer, about six months or so, before that when I tried to draw people I never had the time to practice. I’ve also met different artist along the way and they’ve shown me different techniques.”

While completing his foundation, Jordan also found out he was dyslexic, which was something he was bullied for during his time at school. 

“I wasn’t that interested in reading or writing at all, then it turned out I was dyslexic for that whole time. I had trouble with my English and struggled in the exams, I got a B overall. I always asked my brother to help and he’d say ‘no, do it yourself’ and now he realised that I needed some guidance because of my dyslexia. I think a few of my teachers graded me harshly, but I was always at an average grade, I was never failing but I struggled with concentrating in English. I remember staring at the lines as I just couldn’t concentrate. 

“I haven’t written in a long time, I do my essays and dissertation but I don’t have a strong interest compared to my drawing; it’s a therapeutic way for me to relax. It’s a way of me going into my own world and having time to myself. I can sit there for six or seven hours listening to music while I do my art.”

As well as his drawings Jordan does paintings, but says “they’re not as detailed and they’re more from my memory and more like my earlier drawings when I was younger, but on a much larger scale. I’ve done painting just to stretch myself and challenge myself a bit more, my aim is to get the detail into the painting.”

Reel Cinema, 84 Shenley Road, Borehamwood, WD6 1EH, until Thursday, July 21. Details: 020 8207 2028