Travelling with a paintbox in Western Portugal

It’s not often I want to visit a place twice, but we were so enamoured with the south west coastline of Portugal last year that we made a return trip this October to see the beaches we missed and get a better feel for the area.

At the last minute decided to slip in the watercolours and sketchbook just in case, although having so busy for the past few months thought a break might be a good idea, but as it turned out I had lots of opportunity to do a quick sketch in paint and reacquaint myself with the immediacy and simplicity of working with watercolour.

On the west coast, the roads are lined with pine and eucalyptus with deep valleys and rivers leading down to the sea.  The valleys are incredibly fertile with orange, lime and olive groves and an abundance of sweet potatoes this time of the year. The southwest peninsular around Sagres and Cabo St Vincente is very barren, exposed and rocky in complete contrast. You can almost draw a line dividing the two.

We arrived in Aljezur and stayed at a farm boutique B & B , Herdade Quinta Natura which was stunning. With just four rooms, a private terrace, chefs breakfast, it was the so peaceful and relaxing. You also had the use of the all the living spaces and kitchen so could move around. There was a couple from France and a couple from Luxembourg, who were great company too. Outside our room there was a large cork oak tree which was the first thing I painted while Don recovered from tonsilitis he came on holiday with.

Over the next couple of days, we travelled up and down the coast to Odeceixe , Rogil , Monte Clerigo, Amoreira, Arrifana, and then down towards Bordeira and Carrapateira where our favourite beach lies, Praia Do Amado and further south to Casteljo and Cordoama before you hit the most southwesterly point and turn the corner back along the Algarve coastline. Here are a few of those beaches.

And here are the watercolours I captured in around ten to fifteen minutes in my indian handmade paper sketchbook A5 size.  Has reconnected me with watercolour and I will definately be carrying it around with me in the future.



Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Art diary


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Cruel and Curious Sea II, fitting end to a perfect Summer

The warmth of September has faded into October and it seems a good time to reflect on a full on summer filled with family love, Tom home, lots of beach, social and friends time as well as a few days away. Italy, Port Eliot Festival, Minack Theatre, an art trip to Bristol and painting at Newlyn Art School and representation in a new gallery in Plymouth as well as building up my own space at the Barn studio.

The veg patch also gave us the best crop of tomatoes ever along with grapes, pumpkin, courgette, salad  cucuamelons and tomatillos and endless herbs.  Now I know why it felt like we were never just doing nothing and the tv was turned on a handful of times….. we were incredibly busy!

The last big event of the year for me was ‘The cruel and curious sea II”, and it didn’t disappoint.  Fair weather meant people turned out to Stowe Barton in their hoards and with a bar and food this year, there was a real party atmosphere. It was also larger with more artists and more space to be shown in.

I had the same pitch as last year so knew what I was working with and on the day it all came together and had amazing comments from people having doubted it  all at some times, mainly because it was so far removed from how I have painted over the past few years.  But as always, pushing myself in a new direction led to new discoveries and practices that I can put to use in  future work.

Part of the build up including being filmed at the barn studio with Rhodri from the National Trust, but suspect that the two hours filming might result in 10 secs of film in the final edit, but it was a lot of fun and as often happens, through talking about my art, it also gave me great insight into the what and why of my day to day  painting head.

Cai from Hickory Nines, and Jeff from the National Trust work so hard to make this happen, and with other help from some crew, Stowe is transformed and transported into a timeless warp of cruel and curious sea and everything else and I can’t wait to see what happens next year.





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‘Somewhere Out There’, a painting on found wood and others

Riding on the success of Cruel and Curious I, ideas had been coming and going throughout the year as to what to do for this years event. The winter storms provided me with the materials.  I picked up some lovely pieces of driftwood which had been rough and tumbled in the sea and also some pieces of the beach huts that got battered and broken.

After leaving it in the rain to wash out the salt and then priming, I started a few seascapes, but they just looked too ordinary.  The texture of the wood demanded more texture in the paint and also colour.  By chance, the changes in the beaches locally meant that the seabed was exposed as the sand had been dragged away and it provided me with a rich dark clay like pigment.


Sue Read Art

Collecting pigment from the beach

Mixed with acrylic gel medium it spread as a gritty rough texture in an unpredictable way.  During the process, I added colour with orange, burnt sienna and  yellow ochre which just added more life and depth.

‘Somewhere Out There’  was the first piece to be completed. The shape of the wood was so easy to work with. Differing colours of blue and mauve with some silver were spattered across it, sitting on top and slipping down the sides of the textured areas. I was so pleased with it, this led me to working on the following pieces too.

I worked on all the pieces at various times, the wood and mood dictating the painting.  Collision and Crash were very inspired by Maggi Hamblings wave paintings, full of texture and colour with layer after layer adding more blues and then warmer colours , corals and yellows to bring it forward and give form.


The small panels already had the shape of rock and cliff but it was challenging to get the rich depth and weight of rock.

‘Somewhere out there’ became the centre piece of my exhibit at the Cruel and Curious Art Event held over the weekend of Sept 26th/27th and sold on the first night. More photos of the night can be seen here

Sue Read, Cruel and Curious Art Event

My Stall at Cruel and Curious II

The other pieces are now part of the October Showcase at the National Trust Cafe and Shop at Boscastle.




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The Shellseekers Art Exhibition in Bude

The brainchild of Debbie Cousins and Lynne and Martin Holehouse of Seventh Wave Gallery, The Shellseekers Art Exhibition grew from a tiny seed of an idea over a  year ago, and has finally come to fruition with a wonderful collection of Cornish Art on show at Bude Castle Gallery and Cafe.  It was no accident that it was to coincide with the 90th Birthday of Rosamunde Pilcher, the author or many cornwall based novels, and although she could not attend due to birthday celebrations, I hope she gets to see some of it online.


shellseekers poster

Rosamunde’s books are all set in Cornwall and loved the world over, but particularly by the people of Germany. A film company serialises the stories for Sunday afternoon viewing, which makes Cornwall a very popular destination to visit spots where the filming and storylines take place and it is hoped that Bude might also be part of this success story.

I haven’t read the book, but knew the story and have watched an TV version on DVD. Based on the life of the the main character Penelope, and her relationship with her family past and present, all linked by a painting called “The Shellseekers”

I chose two paintings to submit.
With each title,  Debbie has cleverly taken extracts from the book and you can feel Rosamunde Pilcher in the room with her lovely poetic writing.

Here are my two entries with my inspiration for the paintings and Debbies chosen excerpts from the book.

Sea Gazing

“….but the breeze was cool & smelt salty. Reaching the main road, they crossed it and stood for a moment gazing”

Sea Gazing, from the Breakwater, Bude, painted for the Shellseekers Art Exhibition
Having always lived in Cornwall, the times Penelope spent on the cliffs overlooking the sea contemplating life struck a chord with me. It’s a place where you feel so at one with the elements and nature, an inunterrupted view to the horizon gives you space to breath, think and contemplate life. This painting is 130 x 110 cm acrylic and oil on a deep unframed canvas.

Return to Cornwall

“….. and all this time she told herself that one day, sometime she would return”

Return to Cornwall, painting by Sue Read of Black Rock Widemouth Bay
This painting is based on one of my favourite views over Widemouth Bay towards Black Rock. In the film with Vanessa Redgrave, Penelope returns to Cornwall, as a young woman to see her father and then again in old age. The drive down to the coast reminded me of the joy it brings when you are greeted with breaktaking views over the sea and coastline.  It is 60 x 90cm acrylic and oil on a deep unframed canvas.

The exhibition runs until the 4th October, so plenty of time to get there. There is a facebook page with lots of detail, links and updates here.


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Painting Interludes

The painting process for me is not always the relaxing idyll that might the be general perception of many people.  It is a constant mind game of what colour to mix and where to put it, and how much and then usually remove half of it. It is through this process that I finally arrive at a the end of a painting I am happy with.  It’s quite mentally tiring and to avoid sitting at the studio twiddling my thumbs, I have unwittingly created what I will now call ‘painting interludes’.

A bit like musical interludes, these are times for relaxation and quieter contemplation.  It’s a time to put down some paint either new or left over and not feel like its time or material wasted.

It wasn’t until yesterday though, that I realised the value of these so called ‘interludes’.  Whilst quietly playing with oilbars, my palette knife and sitting at the makeshift workstation, I was aware that my subconscious is also quietly processing the next steps.  This could be a current painting I’m working on or a project in the pipeline.

I had four projects on the go and they were taking up a lot of head space, projects that generally come to the fore when my body and mind relax, either when I’m asleep and then spend a couple of hours up in the night or during my ‘painting interludes.

Creativity for everyone works at its own pace.  Ideas might suddenly arrive and there is a desperation to hang on to them, but they are often fleeting and fluid. They change and develop.  It’s often a case of then peeling back the layers to get to the basics to grasp the concept of what it is that is driving the idea and work a framework upon which to create it.

So whilst aimlessly putting small amounts of paint onto the knife and then onto the board over the past two months, I have finished two projects, am half way through the third and the fourth although giving me some angst,  I now have a tool in the ‘painting interlude’ to aid and assist this process,  I can move forward and feel more relaxed and know that it will be alright in the end and in the words of author Elizabeth Gilbert; trust in my inner genius!

A bonus of these ‘painting interludes’ is that I have produced some small pieces of work on board measuring just 8″ x 10″ that aren’t half bad and will be for sale at a special studio price as unframed pieces.



Posted by on August 29, 2014 in Art diary


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It’s Not Rubbish Art Show

Last weekend saw the first Bude Arts and Music Festival happen in Bude. Anna Worthington of BAAM approached Annie and I with the idea to create an arts and craft event.  For the past six months, we have thrashed through several ideas and plans which resulted in ‘The ITS Not Rubbish Art Show’ held over the two days and a contemporary craft market on the Sunday.  It involved a lot of planning, reworking of ideas and weekly meetings to get it all organised, but organise we did and pulled off a very successful event.

It wasn’t all just about us.. There was a huge marquee with kids theatre, entertainment and bands on two stages along with a skate competition and roller disco.  The crooklets beach area was transformed with colour, bunting, banners and over 1000 people. The cliff walk between Crooklets and Summerleaze was host to 50 large flags which could be seen from miles away.

It really was a community event for the people of Bude run by a small band of people and teenage volunteers who were amazing. It made you proud to be a part of it and it really said ‘Bude’ is open, come on down and join in the fun.

The Rubbish Show, came out of an idea of initially making stuff to decorate the festival. Annie and I are both keen beachcombers and this winter the sea threw tons of rubbish up onto our shoreline.  It was a great opportunity to highlight the issues of sea pollution and we got Widemouth Task Force and the #2minutebeachclean involved too to promote it with beachcleans and they judged the final show.

We made a sign that went on a tour of Bude to promote the event and held a swap shop. After a winter of beaches full of rubbish, by May they were incredibly clean, we think from the efforts of the beach cleaners.

Our plan was to make lots of unusual and large objects, but time and other commitments meant we had a couple of afternoons to make a few bits and then worked solidly two days beforehand to get Rosies play shed into an exhibition space whilst throwing everything we could find in the way of beach rubbish on the outside. It evolved over the two days with some helpers and by Saturday morning we were ready to roll.

The whole festival was a huge success, and our little show had 42 entries and we reckon around 700 visitors through the doors over the two days, which in a shed of around 6m x 4m was quite phenomenal. Here are some of the entries.



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Tom’s home. I need a new Art Studio!

When our eldest son asked if he could move back in for the summer, my first thought was ‘where am I going to paint?’.  I’ve been using his room as my studio for five years now and it’s more than a little paint flecked.

But always an opportunist, I came up with a great idea that could really expand my art practice, take it forward and give me focused time and space to paint… to ask my brother if I could use one of the barns at the farm.

He thought it was a great idea.  Currently full of furniture and other stuff in need of storage, I think it was a good opportunity for him to take stock too and have a sort out.  It’s a huge space, one of many barn rooms high in a farm courtyard.  Stone built some two or three hundred years ago, they are incredible. Graeme, my brother had them renovated a few years ago, replacing rotten roof timbers and reslating with original local slate with new windows.

This barns original use was as a mill room with corn storage on one side, more storage further through and underneath animal pens.I hadn’t really bargained on the strength of memory and emotion I would feel when entering the barn again after probably 35 years. I’ve walked past it many a time, but it wasn’t until I actually went over the slate threshold, that the  strong memories came flooding back.

My dad in the farming years used the tractor to drive a belt that worked the millstone to grind the corn for winter animal feed which was collected down below. I can remember sitting in the tractor seat when this was working and helping push the feed out into the hopper, running down the stairs to make sure it was coming out the other end. The smells were warm and musky and the dust golden in the autumn light that filtered through the door. Graeme and I and Helen used to jump off the step into the corn, wade through it and bury ourselves while filling our wellie boots.  It was like our own version of the modern ball pit.

The barn now has velux windows which makes it really light and airy with a lofty ceiling.  There is a great sense of history and place here with a lovely positive soothing peacefulness as it is nestled in the hillside just under the prevailing winds coming off the Atlantic, the coast only a mile away as the crow flies. The walls are still rough and rustic and blend in with the modern blockwork where the new roof had to be tied in.

One surprise was some pencil writing my dad had left on the wall, probably in the seventies or eighties along with some cartoon pencil drawings Graeme had a penchant for drawing over anything and everything. A bit of modern history?

The barn cleared, we swept, washed down the windows and doors and moved my art stuff up.  A whole car load and a bit later, I hardly felt like I was using any space, but one week on, I’ve managed to fill just about every corner with something and have big plans for some printing, collagraphs, painting on found driftwood and some larger canvas’s. I’ve got one new sign to put up, courtesy of friends who made it for me but might need a couple more.  I think the next couple of months will see new directions and challenges, but I’m looking forward to it.





Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Art diary


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