A CHANCE encounter with a stranger in a Nambour park has proven an unlikely recipe for success for artist Mel Brigg. The Buderim painter has been named as a finalist in the 2012 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize - an honour he says came completely out of the blue. "I'm over the moon but I don't see myself as a portrait artist, so it's come as a shock," the 61-year-old former South African said.
"I'm definitely more of a landscape artist with a figurative content and for the last couple of years I've been concentrating on the movement of people from strife-torn areas of the world.
"I have done portraits before but I've never been commissioned to do one because I can't paint pretty people.
"They have to have some interesting feature - the uglier the better."
Mr Brigg's successful work, entitled Joseph the Stranger, is of a man he met only briefly and has never seen since.
He was returning home from Eumundi with a load of canvases when he stopped in a Nambour park for a coffee.
"I saw this bloke walking towards me, looking weather-beaten and a bit sad and as he got closer I realised he was blind in one eye," the self-taught artist said.
"He was a wild and woolly looking bloke.
"It looked like he'd had his nose broken a few times ... a bit of a sad character.
"I suddenly realised I had to paint this man and I pulled a canvas out of the van and asked him to sit for me.
"He said I'd have to be quick as he had a doctor's appointment, so I put the canvas on the grass and painted him using just my hand and a large brush.
"It was literally done in 10 minutes and he went on his way.
"I still have no idea who he was."
The portrait Mr Brigg describes as "a bit rough and ready" is in the running to win him $150,000 in what is one of the nation's most prestigious portrait competitions.
But he's not expecting too much, admitting it's probably not even one of his best pieces.
"This is certainly a major thing that has happened in my career but it's not my best work," he said.
"I wouldn't be able to say what is my best work because that's up to the people who buy them.
"Everyone who buys one likes to think they have my best piece."
The winner of the 2012 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize will be announced in Sydney next week, before the finalists embark on a national tour.