Sue Graham paints en plein air throughout the year along the coastlines of south and east England. Sue Graham took a BA in Fine Art from De Montfort University whilst bringing up four children, after a short career in nursing and an art foundation course at Rugby College of Art and Design. Since qualifying, she lectured at Leicester College of Further Education from 1998 to 2015. She has been teaching art at adult education colleges since 2000, whilst continuing to develop and practise her own work.
I paint primarily en plein air in oils throughout the year on the coast of North Norfolk, Cornwall and Devon and recently in Sussex. I want to capture the fleeting cast of light, texture and colour, and I paint from dawn to dusk until the last of the evening light fades away or tidal conditions make me move to safety.
On the days when I paint in Norfolk, I get up to a very early start in the morning for the drive to the coast. I enjoy driving, and the time prepares me for the day ahead.
To start, I often walk and explore, to get a feel for the area, and I am thinking about the colours that I am seeing and the mixtures that I want to make on my palette. I keep myself well informed about the tides, and I look at what the weather is doing, and the wind direction.
Sue Graham, Holme, Ebbing Tide, Winter, oil on paper
I paint in all weathers throughout the year often battling against rain, bracing winds and on very rare occasions, snow.
It can be freezing cold and quite isolated in the winter months but it is always inspiring.
Winter is my favourite time of year.
Sue Graham, Incoming Storm over the Sea Lavender, oil on paper
Coping with the weather conditions and carrying equipment to the site and also dealing with the quick changes of light are the hardest parts of painting outside.
The most difficult conditions are on days when there are both wind and rain at the same time.
Sue Graham, Crashing Waves over the Groins, oil on paper
The feeling of escape, the solitude of being next to the sea in the open air for the day whatever the weather is essential to my way of working.
There is no other feeling that comes close to being in the open air and painting on the spot.
I prepare well for a full day ahead and take sandwiches, so I can stay in the area and keep focussed. I dress in plenty of layers, starting with thermals and adding more layers as I need them throughout the day. The only two things that will stop me is if the tide is coming in, or the wind blows a lot of sand on my palette; I don’t like the gritty texture in the oils.
I usually work in oils on watercolour paper, and I prefer a smooth paper. I paint mainly using knives and fingers to make interesting marks and surface textures to capture the spirit of the day. I spend some time making up colour mixtures of oil paint on my palette and it’s important to me to start with an absolutely clean palette every day.
Sue Graham painting on the beach
My oil paints and equipment all go into a wooden box which I have had for years and made when I was a student. I rarely use an easel - I can usually find some place to prop my board up where I settle down to paint.
Sue Graham, Thornham in the Mist, oil on paper
I also make drawings and colour notes in my sketchbook, which is part of the process of watching, exploring and describing.
The sea, beach and air continuously changing and transforming acts as a magnetic pull.
I never tire of exploring and capturing the sea and weather conditions.
I have developed as an artist through hard work and sheer determination, completing studies whilst bringing up children and working part time. Family life and work commitments did not enable me to paint as much as I’d have liked to then, but I have had a supportive family and very good friends who have got involved with my artistic pursuits and I made the decision to become an artist at the right time.
Sue Graham, Rough Sea, Trebetherick, North Cornwall, oil on paper
The proudest moment of my artistic career was being made 'Leicestershire Artist of the Year' in 2008-9.
It was also exciting to show my paintings in the Royal West of England Academy Open Exhibition in Bristol in 2014 and see my work hanging on the same wall as Kurt Jackson, Ken Howard and Prince Charles.
I did a series of paintings and drawings and sketchbook studies on a painting trip to the Arctic Circle. This was a very intense painting experience and sometimes I would carry on working until 3 in the morning. I would never sell these works.
Sue Graham, High Tide, North Cornwall, oil on paper
The places that I like to go on holiday are also places where I like to go to paint; the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Norfolk.
If I can stay several days together in one place, I can keep going back and see the same place altered by the weather and tide.
If I could pass on encouragement to someone like myself starting out as an artist, I would say: draw, draw and draw again and follow your dreams to do what you love to do.
Sue Graham, Lundy Bay, oil on paper
The best advice I was ever given to me was by my Dad:
‘Never give up. You can do it’.
ONLY THE TIDE AND ME: Sue Graham Exhibition
Cank Street Gallery
12 September - 29 October 2016
Sue Graham on our Artists section here