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Spanish Eyes, English Words

A blended blog - Spanish life and culture meets English freelancer who often gets mistaken for Spanish senora. It's the eyes that do it, rather than the command of the language. Anything can and probably will happen here.

No Ordinary Expat: Graham Strachan's Art Antics in Algorfa
19 November 2014 @ 23:01

After just a few minutes in Graham Strachan’s company, it’s clear that this is no ordinary expat I’m talking to. Graham is an artist and art tutor, and as well as taking commissions for his own art, he’s bringing the gift of creativity to anyone who is receptive to it in Algorfa and Fortuna. I caught up with Graham on the sun-drenched terrace of Bar Restaurante Algorfa, following one of his art classes. It’s a hard life being a writer, but somebody has to do it!

We chatted over coffee and wine – wine for me because for once I wasn’t driving. Graham told me about his background in art, why he came to Spain, and why he’s so enthusiastic about teaching art to expats. It’s an interesting and inspiring story.

Before coming to Spain, Graham developed his craft at Putney Art College and the College of Art and Design at Crawley. Then he worked creating personal art, commissions and art for general sale. It was a long time before he got into tuition, and it was for a deeply personal reason. He was 41 years old, his children were around 2 and 6, and he wanted to pass on his skills and his love of art. There were no realistic options available to him, so he set out to find a suitable teaching programme.

Graham really wanted a structure to teach with, as well as drawing (pardon the pun) upon his own experience. He was surprised to find that the official standpoint of the education authorities was that it was better not to teach art to young children for fear of stifling their creativity.

This reminded Graham of his own schooling, when art tuition had amounted to a ‘free’ lesson when some unlucky teacher had drawn the short straw and was given the Friday afternoon art session. At best, the realm of art was only really available to those that were considered to be already talented.

‘I had hoped we had moved on from this attitude to teaching art – after all, it’s a long time since I left school. Apparently we haven’t, albeit the ‘logic’ might have changed.’

Even where art tuition is offered, Graham’s observation is that many teachers don’t seem to understand how it should be taught in order to reach more people.

So he looked around for a suitable programme, and found Monart – the drawing programme for children devised by Mona Brookes in America. Graham trained with Mona for 6 weeks, learning how to use the Monart techniques, including the basic elements of shape system that allows everyone to draw.

Not only did Graham learn the skills he needed to teach his own children, he built up a successful business teaching children and adults in Sussex. By the time he relocated to Hoya Hermosa, near Fortuna in Murcia, 120 child artists and around 40 of their parents had discovered that Art For Art’s Sake was more than just the title of a 70s hit song by 10cc.

So why did Graham relocate to Spain? Basically, he felt that England was no longer a place he wanted to be. It was becoming a small minded country tied up with red tape and political correctness. So he and his wife devised a 2 year relocation plan – and found themselves in Jacarilla within 4 months.

That was back in February, 2007, and Graham hasn’t looked back since. He started out by teaching art to the children of British expats, but whereas in the UK, art is an extra-curricular activity, in Spain, the parents viewed the art classes as a crèche with benefits where they could leave their kids for a few hours. These days, most of Graham’s pupils come from the other end of the scale of life – retired and early retired expats, mostly. So, I asked him how he managed to teach new tricks to these old dogs.

Graham’s mantra is, ‘Anyone can paint or draw, you just need to know how,’ and this is the philosophy that underpins his unique version of art tuition. Literally anyone can walk into his classes and bring out the artist that’s lurking under the surface.

Okay, I’m a creative, but I’m a writer – I couldn’t draw to save my life, and I told Graham as much. His response was that I was labouring under the common misapprehension that artists are naturally talented people. While a minority of them are, it’s not a requirement. As Graham puts it:

‘It doesn’t matter if you can’t even draw a stick man or a straight line, I can show you how to do that, and we can move on from there.’

So, we could have something going here then. Graham is going to teach me to draw, right? Wrong, apparently. Just when I think I know where the guy is going, he changes direction – or so it seems, because what he says is perfectly logical.

‘I’m not here to teach you to draw and paint. First and foremost I’m here to teach you to see the world, and help you to take the blinkers off. There are no rules in art, but you do need to be able to observe and understand what you really see. My other motto is “Draw what you see, not what you think you know.”’

Graham’s system works – I’ve seen the proof. When my friend and neighbour Charan is over from England, she heads straight to Graham’s class and she’s producing some great art, and is improving all the time. And Charan is just one of Graham’s success stories.

Graham runs 5 classes each week in the Algorfa area, and one at Fortuna. He also manages to find time to create personal art and fill commissions for clients. Most commissions are for pet portraits from photographs which Graham takes himself. As he explains:

‘I know what will work on a portrait – it’s not necessarily the cutest photo that produces the best painting or drawing.’
So now I know what I want for Christmas, and since people are always stopping me and asking to take Paddy’s photo, I know he’ll make a beautiful subject for a painting. Graham – get your camera out!

If you want to join one of Graham’s Artantics classes, (or would just like to know a bit more) please contact him to arrange a convenient first meeting. Below are his class schedules. Ask about the free introductory offer.

Mon @ "Picoyes Art Shop", Benijofar.
Two classes: 10 & 12 O'clock

Wed @ "Vistabella Bar" on the CV95
One class beginning 3.30 / 4.00

Fri @ "Algeria Bar" Entre Naranjos
One class beginning 10.30

Sat @ Vistabella Bar" on the CV95
Two classes: 10.30 & 12.30

Contact details:

Email: artantics@hotmail.com

Phone: 966 187 742

Mobile: 620 670 514

Facebook: The ArtAnticsGroup

Graham also takes commissions for any type of painting or drawing. And he’ll come and talk to your group for free, presenting one of what he calls his ‘Arty Political Broadcasts.’ What’s the idea behind that then? Let Graham have the last word here.

‘If I could teach art for free, I would, but I have bills to pay, so I have to charge. However, I do these presentations to get people involved in art, with my help or without it. After all, any involvement in art is going to improve your own art.’

Photo credits: Art class photos courtesy of Graham Strachan.

If you enjoyed reading this, check out my website Sandra In Spain for more on real life in Spain



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2 Comments


Mcewans3 said:
10 December 2014 @ 07:51

A very inspiring article. I will certainly pass this on to some of my arty friends and even consider to have a go myself. A good excuse to keep popping over to Algorfa. Well done Sandra


oliander said:
22 February 2015 @ 11:23

Hi Sandra I am a yo yo Exeter to Benimar looking forward to returning to Spain after pet sitting in Newton Abbot , that is my little job put the word out for me for dog sitting in Spain !!! Cheers Sheila


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