THE view outside Harry Sissen's kitchen window was as pretty as a picture: a colourful array of exotic birds flying around in his aviaries.

Yet it wasn't until the renowned breeder of macaws, cockatoos and parrots spent eight months behind bars that he rekindled his old talent of drawing.

Mr Sissen, of Cornhill Farm, East Cowton, North Yorkshire, was convicted almost two years ago for smuggling endangered species into Britain.

While serving time at Wealstun prison, in Wetherby, he took up an old passion that had been brushed aside for more than 40 years.

"I was very depressed in there - time passed so slowly that each day seemed like a week. To get through it you could either hide away or stay busy," he said.

"If it hadn't been for prison, I would never have started drawing again - I am just annoyed that 42 years passed by."

Despite an obvious talent at an early age, Mr Sissen stopped drawing when he began breeding birds in 1958. He dedicated his life to the hundreds of birds that passed through his aviaries and locked his art work away in a bottom draw.

It was the many photographs of women plastered on the prison walls that prompted him to pick up his pencil once again.

"The only women you see in there are those in the pictures. I remember the day my inmate left and he took down two large posters on the wall. Hidden behind was a picture of a model, tacked up with toothpaste, and she was just the inspiration I was looking for," he said.

"I started art classes while inside and began to draw women from pictures. I couldn't believe I hadn't picked up a pencil for so long and yet it came back so naturally.

"Once I was back at home I continued to experiment with paints and colour, and now a lot of the macaws I used to breed feature in my art work."

Mr Sissen has always pleaded his innocence to smuggling the birds and is still locked in an appeal battle with Customs and Excise to have many of the 144 birds taken from him returned.

Tucked away among the recent drawings is a sketch of a parrot he drew as a ten-year-old boy - and he says it is a reminder that he is fighting for a deep-rooted passion developed in his childhood.