From her bright clothes and sunny nature to vivid paintings inspired by Sussex and a shop named after a magical land, everything about Sue Mulholland exudes colour and joy. Even her car is a travelling canvas with one of her poppy meadow works splashed across the back.

‘I love to paint freely with vibrant, dancing and often clashing pigments, creating colour-drenched images,’ says Sue, as she takes a break in her studio and cuddles her dog Phoebe. ‘The shifting faces of nature in our lovely county offer endless opportunities for paintings, from crashing waves in a storm to heat-sizzled mid-summer riverside strolls or a fiery sunset.

‘Walking along the coastline, downland, woods and meadows that abound in Sussex, I find inspiration every day for my paintings.’

Sue, 66, who mainly paints with acrylic on canvas and pen and ink on paper, starts each work by closing her eyes and remembering how she felt when she first saw the scene in question.

‘I conjure up the memories, open my eyes and then choose and start mixing my colours,’ she explains. ‘With my first daub my adventure begins. That is the most exciting and most daunting moment. Then I work with my paints and watch the image taking shape. When painting with acrylics I will often leave my painting for a day or two, return to it and leave again, building up layers until I’m happy with the finished picture which can take weeks or months to reach. My paintings express emotion as I try to capture the essence of moments in time.

‘I also paint with ink Again I close my eyes for a few minutes, choose my colours and drop them across the paper. Bold, bright colours are all-important to me so I paint with top quality pure pigment paints and inks which are extremely fade resistant.’

Sue’s infectious enthusiasm and striking paintings belie the fact that at one time she had work torn up her art teacher, faced scepticism from her parents about becoming a professional artist and was snubbed by a gallery.

‘My early childhood was spent in the New Forest, Bournemouth and, from the age of 11 to 17, in Billingshurst in West Sussex,’ she says. ‘Countryside and seaside walks were abundant and my love of nature and art evolved together. I was drawing and painting before I went to school.’

Sue, who now runs Worthing’s Gigglewick Gallery in The Royal Arcade with her husband Steve, went to Oxford Brookes University and Lady Spencer-Churchill College where she completed a four-year degree in French and Art followed by a postgraduate certificate in education in Expressive Arts.

‘Even though it was a joint degree and I did lots of art no one ever said to me “you should do art,”’ she recalls. ‘My parents were “oh no, you can’t make a living from art”. I lacked confidence and was quite shy.’

When Sue returned to Sussex to visit her parents, a chance meeting with a former art teacher turned out to be a complete eye-opener.

‘I bumped into her and she asked what I was up to and then asked why I wasn’t at art college,’ Sue says. ‘She then said I was the best person she’d ever taught and to encourage me she used to tell me things were awful and rip up my work. Because I was the only person she did this to I thought I was the worst. She had this thing in her head that it would make me fight back. When I told her I thought I wasn’t any good she was absolutely horrified.’

Fortunately, other tutors had a more positive approach when they realised they had a star pupil on their hands.

‘I married my first husband while I was doing my degree and we couldn’t afford to live in Oxford so bought a house in Swindon,’ says Sue. ‘He had to start work at 7.30am so we used to drive to Oxford in our little old Mini and I would be there really early and arrive while the cleaners were still there.

‘When the head of the art department found out she gave me the keys to her art room and lent me her personal art equipment. She said she didn’t want me to sit in the car or wander around until everything opened. So I worked on my art and at 9am the others would turn up and the day would start.’

Nevertheless, Sue originally embarked on a career teaching English and French while continuing to draw and paint as a hobby. In the early 1980s she moved back to Sussex and, after a bout of ill health and caring for her late mother, took some time out to travel. Her first trip was to India and this was the springboard for returning to her life-long passion.

‘The enchanting colours and energy in India captivated me and inspired me to paint more seriously,’ she continues. ‘I equipped myself with high quality painting materials and set up an easel in the room that is now my studio.’

Sue began selling her works to friends and family on a commission basis and in 2017 a relative in Wales invited her to stay and bring some of paintings with her.

‘By the end of my stay I had unexpectedly sold several large canvases,’ says Sue. ‘This motivated me to hold an exhibition. In 2022 I held my first, a solo one for six days at Colonnade House, Worthing. It was nerve wracking, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was very successful. On the heels of this I held a three-month exhibition on Worthing seafront and I also installed a permanent exhibition at Marine Gardens.’

What happened next was totally unplanned and followed Sue’s disappointing experience trying to find somewhere to sell her work.

‘I thought I would approach some art galleries,’ she says. ‘I didn’t really know what to do and just walked into the first one and explained I was an artist. I was shocked at how unwelcoming they were. They asked if I was nationally or internationally renowned and when I said no they said they weren’t interested.’

A solution came about completely by chance when Sue was early for a hair appointment in Brighton and went into the former Kennedy Cashmere shop in The Lanes.

‘I got chatting to the owner Patrick and joked that he could do with some art on the walls,’ she says. ‘We hit it off and kept in touch and he then opened a shop and said he would like to have some of my art. He then decided he couldn’t have two shops and was going to let the Worthing one go and asked me if I’d like it. It certainly wasn’t on our radar but I told Steve and his reaction was, why not?’

The couple opened the shop in August 2022, named after an imaginary magical land they created in a story for one of their grandchildren.

As well as showcasing Sue’s eye-catching paintings, the shop features the work of other Sussex artists, fashion accessories, creative toys and Steve’s woodwork.

‘Steve is an accountant and has always loved wood, as indeed I do, and wanted to take up wood turning,’ says Sue. ‘We put some of his pieces in the gallery and people really love them.’

Unlike Sue’s experience with the snooty gallery, she has always gone out of her way to make Gigglewick inclusive and welcoming.

‘We’re not at all stuffy,’ she says. ‘Once someone said they hoped I didn’t mind that they were buying some of my greetings cards to frame them. So, of course, I said I didn’t mind. They are putting my art on their walls.

‘At first I just sold my original art but realised I had to have different price points. So now I also do limited edition prints. I did a lot of research before choosing a printer as I wanted to make sure they would be archival. People buy my art because they love the colours so 15 years down the line I don’t want them to be looking at a grey picture.’

From the £2.50 greetings cards, Sue’s work starts at £25 for small limited edition prints and £300 for an original. As well as Sussex, her paintings now reside on walls throughout the UK and overseas cities including Paris, Berlin, Chicago and Miami.

‘Our customers often send us lovely emails about the art and I am so happy when they talk about the joy, energy and colour it brings to their homes,’ concludes Sue.

‘One of the loveliest aspects is hearing the word wow as people look into our shop window and hearing them tell us the gallery makes them feel joyful. When I said yes to the gallery, I never dreamt it would be such a diverse and people-filled way to spend our time.’