This week I’d like to finally get around to telling you about a dear friend of mine, a wonderfully talented ceramics artist called Annette. We first met a year or so ago at the ‘Mercadinho’ art fair in Loulé. I was stumbling through the old cobbled streets when I came around the corner and was completely enchanted by the colour and joy that was shining out of her stall.

Her artwork is full of traditional Portuguese themes but with a twist and it can’t help but make you happy. There’s a lot going on but allow me to try and set the scene...

The scene

There was a huge school of colourful and funky fish swimming around amongst a sea of beautiful soap dishes, patterned plates and leaf-shaped coasters. Sprinkled around them were little bits and bobs like necklaces, buttons, cute little hearts and other magnets with quirky messages written on them like: ‘Relax! Nothing is under control’ (something I’m now eternally reminded to keep in mind every time I open the fridge).

And this is before I even mention her main talent, her beautiful ‘azulejos’ (ceramic tiles). On them she paints, well.. all kinds of things. There’s wonderful traditional patterns of course, but also all sorts of other Portuguese and especially Algarve inspired themes. The more time you spend looking, the more things start to jump out at you.

But just for starters, perched above (and scoping out the fish) are lovely pictures of many of the different species of Algarvian avifauna (with their names written in Portuguese underneath). Ships are sailing away into the sunset and into the clutches of giant colourful octopuses and, capturing the Algarve at the best time of year, the almond tree tiles are all in full bloom. If you look very closely, you might even spot Portuguese poets like Fernando Pessoa peering wisely out over their spectacles at you and, it just wouldn’t be the same without her collection of cheerful golden suns beaming brightly out over everything.

I always wondered where and how she made all these really quite magical things and last week I finally got around to visiting her workshop near Tavira.

Where the magic happens

Her workshop, as it turns out, is also her house and I got a glimpse into how she truly lives and breathes her art. The trouble with this, of course, is that all her imaginative creatures inevitably escape out of the workshop room and find places to live on nearly all the surfaces in the house. But as I told her, as we carved out a little space to sit and have tea, there are certainly worse things to be surrounded by.

She showed me her latest works still waiting to be fired in the kiln (a process that takes about a day) and I started to really appreciate just how much skill and work goes into bringing these things to life. The trouble is, no matter how hard you’ve worked on something, you never quite know what it’ll be like after it comes out. She told me 30 percent of the time something goes wrong and she can’t sell them.

Annette is German but has been in Portugal for nearly 40 years and so considers it home. She loves being out in the countryside and takes a huge amount of inspiration from the flora and fauna she finds in the natural world around her. Indeed, she even showed me that the beautiful realistic patterns of leaves and flowers that decorate lots of her plates and soap dishes are actually imprints from various local flowers, grasses and herbs that she finds out on her walks. It's for that reason, she explained, that quite a lot of her work can only be produced when that particular plant is ‘in season’.

She’s always on the lookout for something that might leave a good print. She even confided in me (perhaps she shouldn’t have) that the beautiful bowl she had hanging up on the wall was made using an imprint from a huge cabbage leaf that her neighbour gave her.

She told me that she likes working more with clay these days, as it’s more physical work and makes a change from the tile painting which requires intense concentration for the fine details. It’s also particularly tricky, she explained, as you don’t see the colours while you are painting them, and so it’s always completely different once fired.

Where to find her?

Annette attends various different local art fairs, mainly in her hometown of Tavira where she is part of a handicraft association Asta (located in front of the Palácio da Galeria). She told me she’s going to be at an art market in Cacela Velha on Sunday the 5th of December. This is one of her favourite fairs and I really hope I can make it as it sounds like fun and there's going to be all kinds of different and interesting artists there.

To get in touch with Annette, or keep updated on when and where she might be, follow her on Facebook at: Azulejoannette.

With Christmas just around the corner, I think her original, quirky, yet traditional works of art would make the perfect presents for anybody who loves Portugal.