Valerie Tobin, with the artist’s name Bel Oui, was born in Munich, Germany, and has lived in the Algarve coming up to 10 years now. Valerie is a painter, photographer, ex-surf instructor, and tattoo artist and also makes her own hand-drawn custom clothing. Valerie has also more recently started an ethereal clothing brand called Vice Versa with co-founder and friend Katharina Godbersen (@kagodesign), which I urge everyone to check out because they are really beautiful pieces.
The brand is inspired by the artists' daily lives in the Algarve and is a mix between hand-drawn designs and graphic elements. “I have always wanted to start my own brand so it has been really fun making original clothing and custom pieces. It would be really cool for us to collaborate with different artists in the future.”
For those curious, the name Bel Oui has a pretty funny story behind it, Valerie recounted “I made a reservation at a restaurant over the phone and the waiter could not understand my name, I kept repeating it and hoping he finally got my name but when we later arrived at the restaurant, the name he had written was Bel Oui. I thought it was a pretty cool name so it just stuck as my artistic name.”
Valerie was raised in an artistic environment as both of her parents are artists and expressed to The Portugal News that her parents were definitely an influence, especially in her younger years. Breathing art and creativity, it only seemed natural that Valerie would pursue art school in Germany, however, her artistic journey has not always been plain sailing, she confided that it was not quite what she thought it would be and that she would not recommend art school to anyone because she came out with a huge sense of imposter syndrome. “They said my art was too vague and that I was not good enough”.
This actually led Valerie to take a break from art for a couple of years as her confidence was impacted, “Once I graduated, I wanted to travel for a month which is why I originally came to the Algarve and I was meant to only stay for a month but I met someone. Portugal took my breath away and I just fell in love with the nature, the people and also with surfing, so I ended up staying and I worked in bars to begin with.” Valerie called herself the snowball effect as her parents also ended up moving to the Algarve a few years after she arrived, “it worked out pretty well for everyone.”
Although Valerie took a break from art, she shared that “I really missed expressing myself so I later went on to study Photography in Lisbon. “I was living in Costa da Caparica for a year and a half and then I was working for a lot of surf camps and travelling around a lot. I have a really big passion for photography but it is not comparable to painting and they are the biggest opposites.”
When it comes to her paintings, Valerie shared that she really takes the time to put her emotions onto the canvas, “With every painting I do, it is hard work and sucks a lot of energy, and I am happy and then I’m not, it is a lot of emotions coming together and you try to put all of that on a canvas.”
Adding that, “I was experimenting a lot to find my own artistic style so I did everything once to try it out but right now I am mostly painting with charcoal and oil. I really like the two opposites and how charcoal is so basic and almost dirty and then you combine that with oil colour, which is something that old masters use and is so fragile so it is a combination I really like.”
Valerie affirmed that she does a lot of portraits and that she loves capturing people’s emotions on canvas, especially through their eyes, where she added that last year, she even did a live portrait at a wedding and that the couple were very happy with the result.
For those wanting to see Valerie’s paintings in person, they can be spotted in multiple restaurants around Lagos and Sagres including the Three Little Birds restaurant but the best way to keep up to date with Bel Oui and for enquiries about commissions you can follow her on Instagram @bel.oui.art. Additionally, it would mean the world if you could support Vice Versa in some way, you can find them on Instagram @vice.versa.project.
Following undertaking her university degree in English with American Literature in the UK, Cristina da Costa Brookes moved back to Portugal to pursue a career in Journalism, where she has worked at The Portugal News for 3 years. Cristina’s passion lies with Arts & Culture as well as sharing all important community-related news.