Eleonora Medwell has come a very long way, in every sense, since she was transfixed by her uncle mixing paints and began honing her own artistic skills in the northern Ukrainian region of Polissya when it was part of the USSR.

‘I was born in a small town and there was not an art school,’ she recounts at her Worthing home where she has lived for 18 years. ‘There was only a drawing group in a house of pioneers and schoolchildren, which was a type of youth club popular in the Soviet era where children and teenagers could do activities such as drama, sport, dance or drawing.’

A prevailing memory from an early age was sitting quietly while watching her uncle, who painted film posters, mix oil paints on his palette.

‘I saw the bright worms of paint squeezed out of the tubes and turn into bright pancake shapes,’ says Eleonora, 60. ‘The smell of the oil paints, the images gradually appearing on the canvas - that was magic for me as a little girl. My love for drawing began in my childhood. I drew princesses, brides and dresses for them.’

Great British Life: Pears are the personification of feminity, she believes (c) Mila ZburzhynskaPears are the personification of feminity, she believes (c) Mila Zburzhynska

Even though her parents dissuaded her from a career in art, Eleonora continued drawing and even illustrated her essays when she went to college and then university in Kyiv to pursue her other love, literature. She became a librarian in Kyiv, where she lived for 24 years, married and raised her daughter Yaroslava. In 2005 Eleonora remarried and relocated to East Sussex with her husband Ken. More recently she has been reunited with her 83-year-old mother Valentyna, who lives with them, and Yaroslava, who is being hosted by a local family, after they were both forced to flee from war-torn Ukraine.

‘I would like to mention my deep gratitude to the UK Government and to the British public for all the support they gave to Ukraine and Ukrainian people that came to the UK as refugees,’ she says.

A mixed media artist working with acrylics, oil pastels and collage, her colourful and creative images of women, pears and the occasional landscape belie the fact that she is self-taught and, after graduating, didn’t touch a brush or pencil for 35 years.

Great British Life: She uses mixed media to create her art (c) Mila ZburzhynskaShe uses mixed media to create her art (c) Mila Zburzhynska

‘Art left my life for a long time,’ reflects Eleonora, whose first display was in 2017 at Littlehampton’s Pier Road Coffee & Art gallery. ‘Art has come back into my life again. I’m not going to let it go. My passion for art is what helps me to get through difficult times. When life gets complicated sometimes it’s enough for me to sort out brushes and paints or flip through my sketchbooks. These simple actions make me feel better. Happier in fact.’

In February her work was featured in Ukrainian Renaissance. Unbowed, a two-week exhibition by Ukrainians, the majority of them refugees now living in Worthing. The display at Colonnade House also included documentaries about Ukrainian culture and classes in traditional crafts such as making motanka rag dolls, which symbolically protect homes and families. The exhibition included the work of Yaryna Zakalizhna, a talented 10-year-old who won a global competition for an illustration to decorate the nose of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket which launched to Jupiter in April.

Great British Life: The Ukrainian artist loves painting strong women (c) Mila ZburzhynskaThe Ukrainian artist loves painting strong women (c) Mila Zburzhynska

Artworks were sold to raise funds for Ukrainian humanitarian causes including Children of the War and the UAnimals welfare organisation for animals.

‘I feel lucky and proud I took part in such a project and belong to a community of talented Ukrainian artists,’ says Eleonora who is a member of Adur Art Collective and has been involved in shows at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery and Worthing Quaker Meeting House. She staged her first solo exhibition Callipygian at Colonnade House last year which focused on her eye-catching interpretation of pears. The word comes from the name of the ancient Roman statue Callipygian Venus, famous for her shapely bottom.

The female form has always been at the core of Eleonora’s work. ‘My favourite subject matter is women,’ she says. ‘The women in my family were strong and the times they lived in were challenging and hard. My grandmother survived the Second World War and my mother was born just before the Second World War. Who knew that she would have to go through a war again in her old age? The women in my family were also beautiful. I think, in my art, I am looking for beauty both external and internal.’

Great British Life: 'Art is within me' Eleonara says (c) Mila Zburzhynska'Art is within me' Eleonara says (c) Mila Zburzhynska

Eleonora describes pears as a very feminine, resembling a woman’s body with a thin waist, wide hips and beautiful buttocks.

‘Pears are one of the favourite fruits in the world of folklore and associated with medicine and magic,’ she continues. ‘The more I’ve been learning about the pear as a fruit and as a symbol the more I’m convinced that this sweet, juicy fruit is a real personification of female nature - love, fertility, eroticism, beauty and longevity.’

As she describes how she learned her skills to reach this point, Eleonora is proof that would-be painters should not be deterred from pursuing an artistic career due to a lack of formal art education.

‘I had a friend on Facebook and once she posted a photo of a painting she did,’ she says. ‘Although she did not know how to do it, she really wanted to paint the picture. “If she can do it I can do it,” I thought. I watched tons of YouTube videos and looked through loads of Pinterest photos. Then I came across an online school called Spontaneous Painting founded by art therapist Elena Zhuravleva. I started to paint again and along the way solved psychological blocks in relation to my creativity. Elena and I became friends for life.

‘I understood one important thing: if I don’t consider myself an artist no one will. I’ve learnt with time I do not need a diploma in art to become an artist. Art is inside me.’

While developing most of her skills from online learning, Eleonora also embarked on short courses at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation near Chichester and attended life drawing classes with Worthing artist Wendy Barratt.

Last year she applied to study for an art diploma at Brighton MET and although she was offered a place Eleonora didn’t get the financial support she needed and was unable to go.

‘I was upset,’ she says, ‘but I found a way to improve my skills and went for adult courses as a hobby. The course in collage and mixed media with Maggie Tredwell was very inspiring and fun. I’ve enrolled in a painting and acrylics course and I’m planning to take a drawing and painting intermediate course, both with Maggie.’

Great British Life: Her art is accomplished even though she didn't pick up a brush for 35 years (c) Mila ZburzhynskaHer art is accomplished even though she didn't pick up a brush for 35 years (c) Mila Zburzhynska

Eleonora, who sells her work from around £75 for a small canvas, says she enjoys working in mixed media because it provides many opportunities for self-expression and creativity.

‘One of my favourite techniques is making an abstract acrylic background and then looking for an image,’ she continues. ‘It might only be a spot that looks like an eye, or a profile, a bird or a human figure. When I find something like this I start to develop it into a character step by step. Another fun technique I love is blind contour. Once your pencil is placed on the surface you don’t lift it and you don’t look at the paper. I once challenged myself to make one blind contour painting every day for three months. It was fun and unique.’

Eleonora’s previous studio in her spare room is now used by her mother, so she works from her kitchen or her own bedroom. Outside the house, she sometimes rents a room, where she paints, at the nearby Quaker Meeting House or can be found on a small bridge on Worthing promenade which is her ‘special place’.

‘I took a photo once and painted a small painting named Bridge to Miracles Everyone Chooses for Himself. The lady who bought it told me as soon as the painting was in her home, good things started to happen in her life. She was amazed and very grateful, but not as much as me. The feedback she gave me for my work was priceless.’