Since Alyson and Dave Sheldrake moved to the Algarve, their art has gone from strength to strength. They have both been busy setting up their art business in Portugal and running exhibitions as well as creating fabulous paintings and photography. Last month, Alyson was kind enough to choose my dog, Daisy, as a model for a live pet portrait at the Algarve Dog Show and I’m delighted to have the painting hanging on my wall now.
It’s a pleasure to be able to introduce them both to you (if you don’t already know them) and show you just how talented a couple they are. I’ll let them tell you about their artistic journey and adventures.
How long have you been living in Portugal?
We’ve owned a house here for over six years and spent several years travelling back and forward still working in the UK – but now we have taken the plunge and live here permanently!
What made you decide to move to the Algarve?
We fell in love with the traditional fishing village of Ferragudo about ten years ago – we adore the slow pace of life, the friendly people, the beautiful beaches and coastline and the wonderful weather.
What experience did you have of painting and photography before you moved?
We have both always loved our respective crafts, but they had only ever been a hobby until we moved to Portugal – mainly due to work, time and family constraints.
Alyson: I have trained and painted with some fantastic artists over the years, and been inspired by others, but other than my A level in Art, have no formal training.
Dave: I completed a course at college in Photography in the days of 35mm film and dark rooms, and I am now enjoying the freedom that digital photography brings.
How has your craft developed since you’ve been in the Algarve?
We’ve both been amazed at how far we have both improved in terms of our experience and skills – being able to commit to this full-time has allowed us both time to grow and learn, and also to take it ‘more seriously’ rather than see it just as a hobby. Seeing our business plans start to come to fruition and expand has also been very exciting!
How has living in Portugal helped your art?
It has given us two amazing gifts – time – and wonderful light – both of which are so important for both of us. We have also been so well supported by the Holiday Inn chain of hotels, who have sponsored and supported our exhibitions and events. We have made some amazing contacts and met such lovely people too – both at our shows and locally.
Much of your work features the sea and nature, whether its beaches, flowers, boats or sunsets – did you plan to focus on these themes or is that a natural result of your surroundings?
I think it is a combination of both – we are naturally drawn to such subject matter – and there is a wealth of amazing locations and subjects for us both to focus on.
Alyson: I tend to work from Dave’s photographs, and he is often ‘sent out’ with a list of things to photograph for me – my bright bold flowers with their statement centres came as a result of a photograph Dave took of a local flower – which instantly inspired me.
Dave: I love to walk the cliffs and coastal paths and soak in the amazing views, bright blue seas and skies and stunning landscapes – and I also enjoy wandering around little villages meeting local people and enjoying the simple way of life that the Algarve can provide – it’s not all beaches and sunbathing!
What other factors influence your choice of subject?
Alyson: I am often drawn to the detail in a picture first – I will see a photograph or a view and instantly know that I want to paint it – I will know what I want to convey and will easily ‘see’ it landing on the prepared board ready to paint – then I know I am onto a winner!
I am also enjoying the challenge of Pet Portraits too – I love animals and like the challenge of trying to convey something of the personality of the pet inside the painting.
Dave: I love photographing old people! They have such history and a story often etched into the lines on their face, and the challenge is to try to capture something of that in a single shot! I also gravitate towards sunsets and the ‘golden time’ after the sun has set and before the sky goes dark.
Could you describe your typical day as artists, if there is such a thing?
Ooh there’s no such thing as a typical day –thank goodness! We love the freedom of not having an alarm clock and not having to get up early (neither of us are ‘early birds’!) and then we tend to do our computer based work in the morning with a coffee (often in our pajamas – please don’t call round too early!!) – then for me (Alyson) it’s down into the studio to get to work on whatever is sat on the easel – I always finish a painting before starting the next one – the joy of working with quick-drying acrylics – and if I am working on a piece I tend to work each day until it is finished and then take a day off, which can play havoc with our social life! Once I have started a painting I really get into it and want to keep going with it – I often work until 7 or 8pm in the summer and 4 or 5 pm in the winter – I like to work in natural light as much as possible.
Dave: I will often work on the computer until the afternoon and then it’s off out with my camera and rucksack – often I will only decide when I am getting into the car where to go – and it can depend upon what Alyson needs too!
What about commissions? Do you do them?
Alyson: yes! I love the challenge of trying to interpret someone else’s ideas for a painting and will talk things through before I start to try and best understand the client’s needs. Then I always say ‘it’s over to me’ and I set to work. I am quite unusual as an artist as I prefer not to take any money ‘up-front’ – I always say that you don’t have to pay anything unless you are totally happy with the painting. This has served me well so far and I see no reason to change this!
For Pet Portraits, I work from photographs, and always ask a client to send me the best photographs they have – and not one that has been taken with an iPhone or via Facebook, as the quality just isn’t there for me to work from.
How about workshops?
We have both been thinking about expanding into this area in the future – perhaps this autumn/winter once the busy summer is over.
Alyson, you’ve recently done some live painting. How did you prepare for it? How did it go?
It was quite a strange experience as I really didn’t know what to expect, but it went really well! I do tend to ‘get into’ my painting and had several experiences of suddenly looking round and finding someone literally peering over my shoulder – I had no idea they were there and it gave me quite a shock the first time it happened! Everyone was very interested and I had some lovely comments as I stood painting my Pet Portrait – and hopefully some future customers too!
Would you do it again?
Yes of course! In fact, we’ve been thinking about me setting up my easel at our next Exhibition in July at the Holiday Inn hotel in Armação de Pêra and seeing what people think!
You’ve recently gone through the process of setting up individually in business in Portugal. What advice would you give anyone thinking of setting up a creative enterprise in Portugal?
Get a very good accountant – be prepared for a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy – and take a deep breath when you find out how much tax you will have to pay!
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment we are very happy where we are – we are growing slowly – and we never wanted this to feel like ‘work’ or a ‘chore’ – but who knows what the future will hold for us!
Alyson – I would like to think that I will eventually be able to exhibit and show back in the UK too – as that has always been a dream for me.
And we both just hope that we can keep learning and growing as artists and enjoying a gentle, peaceful and fulfilling way of life. Every day we know how lucky we are to be here, doing what we do, and loving every minute.
How can people see and buy your work?
We run regular exhibitions/sales across the Algarve through the summer – you can find out the dates and venues via Alyson’s website where original art -or Art Prints- can be viewed or purchased.
And you can also view Dave’s work on his photo journal website Dave Sheldrake Photography.
We are also both on Facebook and Alyson is also on Twitter – you can find the links on our websites.