You probably know the name, and you will certainly recognise the style. Alyson Sheldrake’s works hang in private homes across the world. Adventurous in her approach, dazzling in her use of colour, the highly-talented painter is also dedicating time to encourage others keen to improve their artistic skills
Birmingham-born Alyson Sheldrake, 13 years a Police Officer in the south-west of England, later a Director of Education and always an artist with a dream, moved to the Algarve, to Ferragudo, six years ago with her professional photographer husband, Dave.
“My dream was always to have my own studio space and to be able to spend all day painting and creating. With a full time career taking up most of my time, I would spend an occasional week on an art course or holiday and become inspired, only to have to go back to work again and pack my paints away. We finally managed to move here permanently six years ago, having bought a house here five years before that.”
We fell in love with the fishing village of Ferragudo almost 15 years ago, when we came here by chance on a last-minute holiday. Our holiday motto back then was ‘never go back to the same place twice’ .. but we returned to Ferragudo seven times in the subsequent two years… and we have never wanted to go anywhere else since!
When did you first start painting – was it your passion as far back as school days?
Even as a child my favourite present for birthdays and Christmas was always a new set of paints or pens. My next-door neighbour was an artist and I spent hours there as a child watching him paint in oils and helping him clean his brushes! At school my art teacher told me that I couldn’t paint; I think I have spent the next 30 years trying to prove her wrong!
You have a very distinct style – how did it develop? Can you describe?
My art will always contain a representational focal point – a boat, nesting storks, a church or a path to the beach – which is then enhanced by an almost abstract series of ‘waves’ of colour and shape – allowing the viewer to bring their own imagination to the picture. I like to create harmonious – yet vibrant – paintings which are full of detail and bright colours.
As soon as I see a scene or view, or one of Dave’s photographs, I can instantly envisage the finished painting in my mind.
I also complete pet and house portraits upon request, and also enjoy painting big bold flowers, and the old doors and windows of the Algarve. I like to experiment with new ideas, like including sand in my paintings, but my favourite work is always in my ‘New Wave’ style.
And your favourite medium?
I love the rich buttery texture of acrylic paint; and prepare all my own art boards as I dislike painting on canvas. I only use professional quality Liquitex paints, but even with a special ‘stay-wet’ palette, they do dry out quickly which is why I don’t paint in July and August out here – it’s just too hot!
What are your favourite subjects today?
I have always got a folder on my computer full of new ideas for paintings, and I am lucky that I always have access to a wide range of images of Dave’s to inspire me! He did a great photo shoot of a troop of Arabian-inspired dancers before Christmas and I can’t wait to get going painting some new works from those photos.
I also love painting pet portraits; I offered two free portraits as secret vouchers in this year’s Goldra Charity calendar, and I am looking forward to working on those.
How did you get involved in animals as subject matter?
At the first ever ‘pop-up’ exhibition we organised – at the Holiday Inn Algarve hotel – a lovely couple asked me if I could paint pets. I was honest and told them that I had no idea, as I had never painted one before, but that I was willing to have a go! That was Winston, about five years ago, and since then I have painted over 60 pet portraits – dogs, cats, donkeys, horses, and even five chickens!
Do you have any pets yourself?
Yes, we have the most beautiful dog in the world! Kat is a rescued Spanish Water Dog. I walk her on the beach in Ferragudo every morning, and everyone knows and loves her. She gets invited to more parties and events that we do… and even has her own Facebook Page!
What inspires you?
Living here in the Algarve, I am inspired every day by the light, the fabulous views and scenery that we have, and also sometimes by the tiniest detail like a single feather lying on the sand. I also love working on commissions and talking with a client about what they love and incorporating that into a painting for them.
Most interesting/challenging commission ever?
I completed a large (2.4m x 1m) triptych for clients who wanted me to portray their favourite places in Armação de Pêra… the beach, their favourite sun loungers, and the local café bar with two small beers waiting for them at their usual table. It was great fun and the resulting painting, ‘Beach Life’ takes pride of place in their lounge now.
Do you work odd hours – like the middle of the night?
I don’t paint at night – but I often find that my best ideas for paintings and work come at 4am! I keep a notebook by the bed ready for inspiration to visit!
Do you have art shows, and where?
Dave and I run our own ‘pop-up’ gallery exhibitions. We are hoping to organise one for 2018 but I have been so busy with commissions that I have not been able to create enough of my own original works for an exhibition lately. People seem to really like being able to say that they met the artist when they show off a painting in their own home. With a background that included producing conferences for over 100 headteachers, the thought of setting up a gallery event of our own hardly seemed daunting, although I fast realised that not having a PA and admin team to support me was something I missed! Over the past six years we have run more than ten events, all of which have been great fun to set up and run; they have also been highly successful for us, too.´
A bit of advice of the best types of framing please –and hanging in this climate of ours?
I prepare my own art boards individually, and they all come ready to hang. The boards are designed to ‘float’ on the wall, and they have a concealed frame securely fixed to the reverse of the board with a simple hook ready to hang. They do not need to be framed separately. My only advice is always to hang them by drilling and using a rawl plug and a screw to put up your hanging hook as the walls out here tend to crumble if you hammer a nail in!
Do you have a dream you want to paint one day?
I’d love to add a celebrity or two to my client list! I had a client who invited me round to their brand new apartment and asked me to paint something to hang in every room for them. I ended up completing nine works for them and then helping them to hang them all too .. that was a fabulous opportunity I would love to have again!
Where would you advise keen amateurs to go for lessons?
Last Autumn I launched the Algarve Society of Artists. I had no idea how it would be received, although when testing it out with some trusted art friends I knew I had a good idea in the making. Well, it has been a crazy four months! We already have 100 members, a website algarve-art.com and a quarterly online Algarve Art! magazine that had over 57,000 page views in the first three weeks of publishing the first edition in October.
The website also has a section promoting our members’ exhibitions, as well as details of art and drawing classes for all abilities across the Algarve: