A Tamworth mum who gave up a career in hairdressing to follow her dream of becoming a professional artist has seen her latest tributes to her footballing heroes given the official seal of approval.
Aston Villa fan Sue Verity has painted stunning portraits of John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Jack Grealish celebrating winning the 2019 play-off final with manager Dean Smith. The players have now all signed the portraits, giving them their full backing.
Sue said: “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.”
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. She hopes to exhibit the full collection next year.
Sue 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 will still be on show when it reopens on Wednesday, December 2. It includes her latest painting – a striking image of Batman.
Meanwhile, her online gallery – a who’s who of famous faces from TV, film, music and sport – is still open for business.
Sue, 55, had always enjoyed art, but pursued it only as a hobby 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 and follow her dream.
She earned money while studying by producing murals, but her first celebrity portrait was 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 said 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 series 5.
“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 said.
It hasn’t 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,” she said.
“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 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,” she said.
“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.”
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 said.
Sue’s work can be viewed in her online gallery at https://www.verityart.co.uk/.