How to become an Algarve artist

With its great light, the Algarve draws in all kinds of aspiring artists, from expats fulfilling their lifelong creative dreams to tourists learning new skills on art-themed holidays. But not all those who splatter some paint on a canvas will become the next Picasso. (Or, to lower the bar a bit, sell a painting or two). How to become a successful artist in the Algarve? We asked self-taught painter Alyson Sheldrake for advice. Alyson always saw painting as a hobby, but after moving to the Algarve she gave it a go professionally and called herself an artist. Just four years later, she has sold over 150 paintings and mostly works on commissions. Not bad for someone whose art teacher at school once said she couldn’t paint. Here are her six top tips:

 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2016

 

1. ‘Look at other artists for inspiration’

Every artist needs inspiration. In the Algarve, this is the easy bit, just look around you. Alyson’s inspiration usually comes from the pictures her husband, photographer Dave Sheldrake, takes. “We go out together, he’s busy taking pics (like this one of the church in Alvor, pictured on the right) and I nudge him to take a close up from this or that. Photographs really help with detail and shape.”

Not lucky enough to have a talented photographer as a husband? No worries. Looking at other people’s work is also a good way to get inspired, and, Alyson adds, to learn. “How did they lay on the paint? How did they make the light sparkle on the water? Don’t copy their paintings, but look and learn about techniques and style.”

 

2. ‘Buy professional quality paint’

Unlike many other artists, Alyson doesn’t use canvas. “I don’t like the way it moves, there’s always a slight spring in the middle, no matter how tight you stretch it.” Instead, she paints on 3mm MDF boards, which she preps herself with Gesso primer and sandpaper. “I buy them at AKI. They’ll cut a board in exactly the shapes and sizes you want. It also keeps the cost down; canvas is quite expensive.”


“I’m really fussy about my paints,” Alyson confesses. “I always tell my students to buy professional quality paint, it makes such a difference. Myself, I only use Liquitex Professional, which I order from the UK, you can’t get it in the Algarve.” At £8-12 a tube, this stuff doesn’t come cheap, but according to Alyson it’s worth every penny.

 

3. ‘Just pick up the brushes and start’

Even before the first brush stroke, Alyson can already see the finished painting in her head. “I work very methodical and organised; I plan out everything before starting and always work top down so I don’t lean on what I’ve painted. Sometimes I think I’m too tidy for an artist!” The process of painting differs for everybody, but Alyson says the most important bit is to start. “You can read up and look at other paintings all you like, but sooner or later you’ve just got to pick up the brushes and dive in there. Start with just a few colours and see how they work together. Some people are afraid of a white board. If that’s the case for you, just paint it in another colour entirely.”

 

 

4. ‘Experiment – a style usually doesn’t come overnight’

Although Alyson’s new wave style did just that (one day, she was trying to make a sky more interesting and came up with the bright blue waves her paintings are best known for), usually an own style is the result of a lot of experimenting. “Try different ways of painting, various brush sizes and palette knifes,” Alyson advises. “We all see things differently, so when looking at something, stop, take in the details and think about how you’d paint them.”

 

5. ‘Treat it as a profession’

If painting is just an enjoyable hobby, then perfect, keep it that way and enjoy. Paint whenever you feel like it and do something else when you don’t. However, if you want to become a successful artist, then this isn’t the right attitude.


Calling yourself an artist can be really scary, admits Alyson, but: “If you want to make it your profession, you’ll have to see it as a profession. Turn up for work every day and get on with it. Don’t sit there and wait for inspiration to happen. The muse will come, but only if you’re there.”

 

6. ‘Create a body of work’

Thinking about exhibiting? First create a series of paintings that fit together. Dave and Alyson spent a year doing just that. Ultimately, though, there comes a moment when you have to take the plunge and show your work to the public. “Our first exhibition was at the Holiday Inn in Armação de Pêra. Vicki Good was amazing and offered us a space.”

A first exhibition can be quite daunting, says Alyson. “Start small, maybe by buying a stand at an art fair together with other artists. Having your own website and identity is also really important.” Over 150 sold paintings later, the exciting feeling when a piece is sold still remains: “After every successful exhibition, Dave and I do a little happy dance to celebrate.”

 

 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2016

Posted in Features.