From combs to canvas for artist Sue

After 20 years working as a hairdresser Sue Verity swapped her scissors and comb for paintbrushes and canvas to follow her dream of becoming a professional artist.

Since then she has been taking the art world by storm by creating striking portraits of famous faces from TV, film, music and sport and her creations have been sold to customers around the globe.

And now the 55-year-old has seen her latest tributes to her footballing heroes – paintings of John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish celebrating winning the 2019 play-off final with manager Dean Smith – given the official seal of approval.

“I’m a huge Villa fan and it has been an honour to paint the players. It was a pleasure to meet them too, they have all signed the portraits. I’m over the moon that they like them so much,” says Sue, who studied fine art in Lichfield.

She had always enjoyed art, but pursued it only as a hobby in her spare time while she followed a career as a hairdresser.

At the age of 35, she had an operation on her back to remove a disc and, re-evaluating her life and career, decided to go back to art college. It was here where she developed her style of painting, creating images using shapes with strong influences from the likes of Andy Warhol and David Hockney.

She earned money while studying by producing murals for the walls of schools, hospitals and bedrooms before painting her first celebrity portrait of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. When a gallery showed interest in a painting of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and asked if she had any more portraits, she knew that was the direction to follow.

Her galaxy of star portraits now includes Tyson Fury, Brian May, Gareth Bale, Andrew Flintoff, Wayne Rooney, Bryan Ferry, Danny Dyer, Johnny Rotten and Jose Mourinho among many others.

Sue is currently working on a new Peaky Blinders collection, to add to portraits she has already produced of some of the main characters, including Arthur and Aunt Polly and hopes to exhibit the full collection next year.

She has already gained a big celebrity following thanks to her portraits of stars. Fans include the late Roger Moore, who was so impressed with his portrait he made her an honorary Bond Girl; Liam Gallagher, who loved his picture and invited her to a concert and Mike Tyson, who bought 35 prints from her to sell on tour.

Before lockdown Sue had just celebrated the launch of a new exhibition at The Courtyard Fine Art Lounge in Lichfield. The gallery has had to close during lockdown but her work, which includes her latest painting, a striking image of Batman, will still be on show when it reopens on December 2.

Meanwhile, her online gallery of original paintings, many of which are available as limited edition prints, is still open for business and she also undertakes commissions of any subject.

Sue says her proudest moment so far was when her portrait of Arthur from Peaky Blinders was chosen as a BBC Peaky Fan Art competition winner and used as part of the advertising campaign for the fifth series of the popular drama.

“Official Peaky Blinders merchandise is now available with my image on. As a huge Peaky Blinders fan this was a very proud moment for me,” she adds. But following her dream of becoming a full-time artist hasn’t always been an easy journey for Sue, whose studio is in Lichfield Street, Tamworth. During the first weeks of college it was difficult to manage financially, especially looking after her young son Ryan.

“I knew how to paint but I had to learn how to sell, market my work and deal with customers and galleries,” she said. “I worked by myself a lot so you begin to doubt yourself that you can do it.

“Financially it has been very difficult at times especially early in my career. I had to work part time while I was at art college, run a house, look after my young son, rent a studio and buy art supplies with no guaranteed income. But when it’s something you are so passionate about and so determined to make work you find a way.”

During the first coronavirus lockdown, Sue managed to find time to build her business behind the scenes.

“It was difficult at first as I had to leave my studio and work from home during that period also all the galleries my work was in were closed.

“But I managed to keep painting setting up a makeshift studio in my conservatory, this worked ok and allowed me to continue painting, other than being scorching hot during the warm weather we had.

“It did give me time to concentrate on other areas of my business, pushing my social media presence and looking at potential future art projects,” she explains.

She has also found time to help with charitable causes, donating prints for auction and exhibitions where a percentage of sales went to good causes, raising over £23,000.

She said: “I also wrote and illustrated a children’s book ‘The Lost Rabbit’ with all the proceeds going to the Birmingham Children’s hospital Kidneys Kids appeal. I am currently working with a team of young people from Birmingham on a project using my Birmingham cityscapes.”

Although the shift in career was a challenge, Sue said she would encourage others in her position to do the same.

“Running a business by myself has proved to be a real challenge as I am not at all business-minded and just want to paint.

“But I have learned that you need to know about marketing, sales, PR, dealing with customers and suppliers, managing accounts and everything else that come with it to run a successful business.

“I was finding that I was painting during the day and doing the rest in the evening and becoming stressed with it so now I have learnt an important lesson that you need to allocate time during working hours to that side of the business.

“There are also plenty of courses available to help you learn and plenty of tools at your disposal these days, social media has been brilliant for my business,” she explains.

Sue hopes to do more work with Aston Villa in the future. “I would love to work with the club to produce a collection of Aston Villa legends from past years,” she says.

Sue’s work can be viewed in her online gallery at www.verityart.co.uk

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