Symondsbury Spotlight: Phil Clayton, Owner of Sou’-Sou’-West Gallery & Shop

We’re delighted to announce the launch of art workshops at Symondsbury Estate this summer, with the first being two half-day courses on Thursday 10th August hosted by Phil Clayton who, as well as owning the Sou’-Sou’-West Gallery in Manor Yard, Symondsbury Estate, is Artistic Director of Lyme Bay Arts.

His Beginners’ Observation & Sketching Art Workshop is a must for anyone who is keen to understand how to translate what you see in real life into marks on a page. You’ll get the chance to fill a sketchbook as he teaches you how to respond to the world around you and record what you see with pencil, pen and charcoal. Ahead of this exciting new event we sat down with Phil and chatted to him about moving from banking to art, teaching art in prison and the importance of making art accessible to all.

How did you first get into art?

My first job was in a bank after leaving school in 1977. It was a ‘proper’ job which I took to please my parents and I lasted for eight years. They never forgave me when I gave it up to go to art school, but t was something I had to do!

I funded it all myself and studied part time, first at the Sir John Cass School of Art (now part of the London Metropolitan University) and then at Central Saint Martins.

I was lucky enough to study and work in Russia on an art exchange, as well as in France, and also did a lot of travelling and painting around the world. It was a great way of developing confidence and skills.

I then got the best job ever which was teaching art at the Young Offenders Institute in Feltham. Working with incarcerated youngsters was inspirational, seeing the difference that art could make in their lives, from giving them something to do with their time and focusing their energies on something enjoyable and relaxing, through to using art to help them better understand the difficulties they’d lived through in their young lives and helping with their mental health.

After that I moved to Amersham and Wycombe College to teach textiles and surface pattern, from foundation up to degree level, and then became Head of Art and Creative Industries at Yeovil College.


What led you to setting up the Sou’-Sou’-West Art Gallery and Shop?

Much as I love teaching, I needed to give myself the time and space to do my own work so I left Yeovil in 2008 and spent a couple of years developing my painting style and exhibiting.

That’s what got me involved in Lyme Arts Festival in 2010 and I spent nine years or so developing the Malthouse Gallery which is part of the Town Mill in Lyme Regis.

From my time here I realised that I really enjoyed supporting people working at all levels of art and bringing people together through art – which is why I decided to set up Lyme Bay Arts CIC, with Sou’-Sou’-West Gallery and Shop here in Symondsbury. It’s a non-profit organisation, so all the profits go back into the community and we can support people on their artistic journey.

What is your ethos?

We exhibit work across a range of different disciplines and make it accessible to all. We give everyone the chance to exhibit, whatever their style and background. You don’t need to have studied art. You just need to be able to show us a body of work that creates an emotional response.

I also love to bring people into Sou’-Sou’-West who wouldn’t usually go to a gallery. A lot of the people who visit us come to Symondsbury Estate for other reasons, from meeting friends in Symondsbury Kitchen to going walking with their dogs – so finding art here can be an unexpected pleasure.

The people we chat to have told us how much they enjoy visiting us as they feel comfortable here; it’s a very welcoming and bright space, there’s a good variety of different types of art to look at (so something for everyone) and it’s affordable to buy.

I’m very keen to help people develop their own creativity, so they can even buy reasonably priced art materials if they feel inspired by what they see to have a go themselves!

Why should people sign up to do your Beginners’ Observation & Sketching Art Course?

One of the hardest things to master when you’re starting out with art is how to translate what you observe into an accurate depiction on paper. It’s just as important to develop your observation skills as it is to learn how to use your desired medium.

On this workshop I’ll take people through a series of fun tasks that will enable them to respond to the environment in different ways, exploring various media. They will end up with a wonderful sketchbook packed with their own images as a record of the day.

Symondsbury Estate is such a beautiful environment to work in, inside and out, so it is a great place to spend a few hours. There will be no shortage of inspirational views and details to draw!

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