A place of inspiration

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Angela Smyth has used words and pictures to bring colour and meaning to her home near Sowerby Bridge. Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Chris Sands.

WHEN visitors “pay a visit” to the bathroom at Angela Smyth’s house it can be a prolonged affair as they linger, long after the lavatory has flushed.

Angela Smyth's house

Angela Smyth's house

They’re gazing at the walls, which are a gallery of pictures with poignant, funny and thought-proving phrases, all hand-drawn with marker pens on lining paper.

“A lot of them are pep talks to myself. I’m a quiet person and so don’t like to talk things through. ‘Keep your eye on the prize’ was written when I was panicking about a deadline I had to meet,” says Angela, an artist and illustrator whose work attracts rave reviews.

Her home is full of her paintings and the homemade sculptures she makes for fun. The hanging hearts are fashioned out of old tins, while the cute cat sculpture in the kitchen was constructed from an old cake tin and a piece of wood.

Most of them have been created at the old pine table positioned by the window in the sitting room, though she also has a vast studio in a mill complex nearby.

Angela Smyth's house

Angela Smyth's house

The table, from an old sewing factory, is spattered in paint, and marks the beginning of her late-blooming artistic career.

Although her talent was spotted at school, her dyslexia prevented her from taking art at A-level and university. It was only after her son, Alistair, 12, was born that she picked up a paintbrush again.

“I did lots of jobs, including running a bar in Harrogate, but after Alistair was born I took time off to be with him and that’s when I started drawing and painting,” she says.

Her lack of formal education means she has developed her own style and a quirky individuality that buyers love. Her illustrations now feature on everything from prints to notebooks, cards and badges.

Angela Smyth's house

Angela Smyth's house

“I didn’t have any influences from teachers, which I think has helped in a way. I do my own thing and find my own way round problems. When I paint people, I struggle with the mouth, so I use hearts instead, while the eyes are always egg-shaped,” she says.

One of her latest pieces is an illustrated map of the south Pennines that looks set to be a best-seller. A giant version 
is now on the side of the Hebden Bridge tourist information office, and she sells prints and personalised versions of it.

“My spelling is not great and I made lots of mistakes with text so I kept having to correct it, but it was worth it in the end. People seem to like it,” she says.

Although she is dyslexic, she loves words and uses them to great effect around the house. Her pictures often feature speech bubbles and the garland of cardboard letters on the inside of the front door spells ‘Be safe and loved’ to comfort Alistair as he first headed off to school.

“The house was decorated on a budget so you have to be creative,” says Angela, who bought the property 12 years ago.

It is a two-bedroom back-to-back with an attic conversion and great views of fields at the front.

Although it had been renovated, Angela has updated it and redecorated. The kitchen units are from Howdens, the sink is a trough that was found in a skip and an old children’s desk, donated by a friend, and is perfect for piles of letters and correspondence. A metal shelf from Ikea is for pan storage.

She’s a big fan of Orla Kiely’s retro-style designs and has a few pieces of pottery, while Orla’s wrapping paper has been used to decorate the cupboard doors in the sitting room.

A painted wardrobe in the other alcove provides storage and a place to hide the TV. The sofas came out of an old office, the leatherette 1960s chair was a gift from a neighbour and the fireplace was rescued from a skip.

“There’s barely any new furniture except the odd piece from Ikea,” she says.

Her own bedroom is a sanctuary at the top of the house with an old bed she’s had since she was 11 and a chest of drawers that were £10 from her favourite second-hand store, the Sell it Centre in Halifax.

“The house is small but it works well for us and having the separate studio helps with storage. I call it my second home,” says Angela. The studio in the old woollen mill includes a bench full of her favourite Farrow and Ball paints, which she uses in many of her pictures. There’s a sitting area and a growing collection of vintage buys, including an old mangle and a 1950s kitchenette.

“I love it here,” she says. “The light from the mill windows is amazing but I still work at my table at home so I can be around for Alistair. That’s where I am happiest.”

• To see more of Angela’s work and her Etsy shop visit www.angelasmythart.co.uk. Stockists include The Heart Gallery, Hebden Bridge, www.heartgallery.co.uk