Born in Tynemouth, Northumberland, the son of a scientist, Ernest was educated at Bootham Friends’ School in York and then came to Newlyn in 1907 to study with Stanhope Forbes. He quickly become recognized as the best student of the School. He acted as Assistant to Stanhope Forbes and Elizabeth Forbes and contributing significantly to the publication produced by Elizabeth Forbes and Tennyson Jesse, The Paper Chase (1908,1909). Ernest was well loved by all who knew him, and respected for his excellent teaching. He spent 1910-11 studying at Atelier Colarossi, Paris, marrying his fellow pupil and artist, Dod Shaw in 1912. He also loyally served on the Committee of the Newlyn Society of Artists for many years. During WWI, a committed Quaker, he worked for the Friends Ambulance Service in France.
The couple returned to Newlyn in 1918, and with Harold Harvey he founded a School of Painting called the Harvey-Procter School (1920) which ran throughout most of the 1920s. Meantime he also designed an altar screen for St Mary’s Church, Chapel Street, Penzance (destroyed by fire 1985), and paintings for his friend Father Bernard Walke (called ‘Ber’) at St Hilary Church nearby, Visitation (1933) and Deposition (1935). In 1920 he and Dod were commissioned to decorate the Kokine Palace in Rangoon; the experience of working with Burmese, Indian and Chinese plasterers, gilders and carvers, and eastern art and design, had an influence on some of Ernest’s later works.
In 1931, spurred on by receiving various commissions for industrial designs, he invented a new art form that he called Diaphenicons. These were painted and glazed decorations that provided their own light source, and he exhibited them at the Leicester Galleries.
In 1934 he was appointed Director of Studies in Design and Craft at Glasgow School of Art.