Fine art painter Shazia Mahmood finds constant inspiration along the West Sussex coastline, conceiving vivid beach scenes and seascapes as she potters on West Wittering beach and Bracklesham Bay. Words: Caroline Wheater
Photograph: Tidbury Photography
I started visiting West Wittering beach as a child, when my family lived in Chiddingfold, Surrey. So when I decided to move to the coast 15 years ago, West Sussex was the natural choice. Now I live in Birdham, just a couple of miles from West Wittering and Bracklesham Bay.
I’ve been painting the coast all my adult life and West Sussex and the west coast of Scotland, which I discovered on a road trip when I was 17, are my main subjects. The coastline is ever changing, a non-stop inspiration no matter what the season, whether it’s dark and dramatic or Caribbean in colour. The two locations feed each other and I’m constantly learning.
The 15-mile stretch of coast from Selsey to Itchenor is spectacular and rich in detail, with sand dunes, wide expanses of beach, pebbles, groins, and huts, plus a tide that goes out for miles. You can walk or cycle the whole section, but I usually park up at West Wittering beach then walk along the shoreline, making little watercolours along the way. These are like a colour map for the paintings I’ll make back at the studio. To represent light on the water is really difficult and my observations enable me to see how it works tonally with other colours.
My painting studio is in the garden and where I go to in between looking after my children who are five and eight years old. I always start a painting with acrylics and use oils for the details at the end. I use a palette knife, tiny brushes and sticks to pour, flick and manoeuvre paint around the canvas, which can be up to four metres wide. I recently did a painting of Billy’s on the Beach café in Bracklesham, which I go to often with the kids. Billy’s printed it up as a postcard to sell at a £1 each, with all the proceeds going to support the RNLI Selsey lifeboat station, one of the busiest on the south coast. It’s a good community down here and we love the coastal life – people are more chilled, it’s the sea effect.
To buy Shazia’s artworks, priced from £40 to £4,000, browse shaziamahmood.com. Galleries that stock Shazia’s work include Cambridge Contemporary Art Gallery (cambridgegallery.co.uk) and The Little Art Gallery in West Wittering (thelittleartgallery.online).