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Sue Side is a talented portrait artist who lives in the village of Cumnor (14th-22nd May, venue 265)

Capturing a likeness: meet four very different portrait artists

What is it the eye of the photographer to take note of things and pull amazing shots from the world we see around us? Esther Lafferty, Festival Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks explores…
Oxfordshire Artweeks 7th-30th May

"Of course, it isn’t only people who have their likeness captured for posterity."

There are many talented photographers in the county capturing a view, a person a or moment in a special light, pulling out the unusual from the everyday, or highlighting something we might otherwise walk past.

Other artists capture what they see, not using a lens, but with a sketchpad and palette, their own personality captured in the end piece of art, just as surely as the character of the content they have depicted, whether they are a still-life or landscape; and surely committing people to paper in portraiture is one of the hardest tasks as the subject matter has the capacity to be vocal!

Sue Side is a talented portrait artist who lives in the village of Cumnor (14th-22nd May, venue 265) and captures her subjects in graphite with acute attention to detail, showing them at their relaxed best, often laughing. With insight and clarity she translates a person’s temperament to the nib of her pencil creating portraits that capture fleeting moments and are full of life and emotion.

Becky Paton: 'I particularly love to include fossils in my work and have included real ammonites into the hair of Queen Elizabeth I. She’s actually based partly on Tilda Swinton.'


‘When I’m involved in portraiture,’ she enthuses, ‘inspiration is there in front of me, as people are endlessly fascinating! I absorb their story, facial expressions and reactions for when I’m drawing. I try not to be photographic and hope instead to draw attention to elements of character a camera may not always see. It’s the subtle ways in which we look, speak and gesture, individual mannerisms and the way someone sits or interacts with their environment that tell a person’s story.”

Wolvercote’s classically-trained Tom Croft (Wolvercote 7th-15th May; venue 172) is a distinguished portrait artist with a very different style, generally using oils, and his recent commissions include paintings of David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.

‘I’ve also recently painted Bishop Libby Lane, the Bishop of Stockport, and the first woman to become a Church of England bishop in the UK. She was painted to hang as the only woman, for now, among dons and judges and other clerics, on the wall in St Peter’s College Oxford,. When she was consecrated as bishop in 2015, the Master of the college, the former BBC Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer, suggested that it was time the distinguished former fellows and students honoured in the college hall included women, and passed me the brush!’

In contrast, and creating a very different type of portrait, meet Becky Paton (Oxford 7th-30th May; venue 84), a mosaic artist who grew up just outside Burford and now lives in Beckley. ‘I always wanted to be an artist since the moment I could pick up a pencil. My mother, Rosemary Wise, is a botanical artist and illustrator and my father was a keen photographer, so there was always something creative happening at home.’ she explains. ’My passion for mosaics stems from my love of ‘sticking things down’. I used to do a lot of collage which morphed beautifully into mosaic during my degree course in Public art and design at Chelsea School of Art. The collage element definitely features in all my work as I tend to embellish most of my mosaics after I’ve grouted them. This is often in the form of Swarovski crystals but plumber’s washers also feature highly and I do use a lot of recycled materials. My favourite is broken car window. It’s not sharp, it breaks into interesting shapes, it’s reflective and it’s free. I’ve also used pebbles, shells, glitter, broken jewellery - anything that looks interesting and will enhance the mosaic. I particularly love to include fossils in my work and have included real ammonites into the hair of Queen Elizabeth I. She’s actually based partly on Tilda Swinton.’

Becky explains that she enjoys experimenting with her portraits so while there are clues as to whom she’s used as a muse, no portrait is a direct copy. A recent piece for example, she explains is of a flamboyant boundary-pushing London man called Daniel Lismore who will be very Bowie orientated.

Like the Mona Lisa, these mosaic portraits gaze back at the viewer and, with a dynamism as you shift your view or the light alters it’s almost as if they wink at you: different daylights create different images and moods with the iridescent and mirror glass, so the picture you see is never quite the same each time you look.

Of course, it isn’t only people who have their likeness captured for posterity. Artweeks is home to several portrait artists who capture animals – horses and dogs being the favourite. Faringdon’s Kathy Webster (14th-22ndMay; venue 294) set out into adulthood as a veterinary nurse and went on to work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. However when that role ended in redundancy, she took the plunge and began painting dogs, creating appealing and popular pictures for prints and mugs, as well as painting people’s pets with her signature abstract ‘dotty dog’ twist as commissions.

‘Not only do I have a creative job that I love,’ she smiles, 'I also get to meet and photograph some amazing dogs. The dog’s owner and I choose together the perfect photo that depicts their character and will work as a portrait and then I can’t wait to get started.

‘I initially draw out the portrait in pencil, concentrating on the eyes and nose details, and then create shapes and lines that curve around the muscle and skull shape to build up the face with different shapes, and incorporating at least one hidden heart. And that’s when the painting can begin, building layers of colours and shading into the shapes, adding dots along the way, the reason I became known as Dotty Dog Art!’

To find out more about these artists and the many others opening their studios and hosting exhibitions during the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival which runs from 7th-30th May, visit www.artweeks.org.


- Esther Lafferty


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