Soraya with her entry for the 2019 Prize

Unlikely friends

Since 2017, I have organised the Sovereign Foundation Art Prize for secondary schools in the Algarve that invites young artists to enter a competition and have their work exhibited across the region. Last year was no exception, although it was not possible to have all the planned exhibitions.

At the end of the Prize, the art is auctioned with proceeds being divided between the artists themselves and Sovereign’s chosen charity.

Each year, I confess to have had a favourite picture and I have been lucky that my husband has bought me three of them at the auctions.

There is always one student who I get friendly with and end up writing about!

This year it was Soraya Wakenell. As soon as I saw her painting, I fell in love with it, and I hoped that yet again my husband would treat me – and he did! Her incredibly detailed and remarkable picture of a jaguar with a blue butterfly on his nose is entitled ‘Unlikely Friends’.

My wedding theme was blue butterflies. They symbolize life and rebirth and are known as wish granters that represent love, joy and happiness. Soraya’s painting now hangs in our bedroom and it makes me happy, having a calming effect on me last thing at night and first thing in the morning.

Soraya did not know that it was us who bought her painting, but I confessed, and we started chatting.

Like myself, Soraya is half English, half Portuguese, and has lived in both countries having moved to Portugal in 2016. With little knowledge of the Portuguese language, she was ‘thrown in the deep end’ attending a local Portuguese school. “I wasn’t very scared on the first day, although, before moving to Portugal, I had never really spoken Portuguese. When my brother and I were little, our mum tried to teach us some words such as ‘eu te amo’, ‘até amanhã’ and ‘boa noite’, but whenever she asked us what she said, we would always say the wrong answer!”

I have always believed that foreign children moving to Portugal should attend the local Portuguese schools, even if just initially, as in a few short months they will pick up the language and be fully integrated in the local society. Luckily for Soraya and her brother, their new friends were happy to help and guide them.
Soraya has always loved drawing and painting and told me that “in nursery, I remember spending quite a long time painting various pieces of paper and getting more paint on the table and on my apron than on the paper itself. I’d like to think that my artistic skills have improved a bit since then!”

She loves nature, which can clearly be seen in the subject matters of her paintings, preferring to work with acrylic and oil paints. Her venture into experimenting with watercolours has, in my opinion, certainly paid off if ‘my’ jaguar is anything to go by, and Soraya explained that she “loves the loose effects you can achieve with this medium”.

Artists must work hard to become established and make a name for themselves. I see so many gifted students enter the Sovereign Prizes, and it breaks my heart that only three can win a prize, but these students are already all winners because they have such an amazing talent. I have often wished I could draw but I am hopeless. To be able to sit and lose oneself in creating a piece of art, bit by bit using lines and strokes on a piece of paper to turn these into an amazing piece of art, is wonderful and yet at the same time can be so frustrating.

I have seen my son, who has a degree in fine art painting, start working on a huge canvas only for it to be discarded hours later in dissatisfaction. I have many talented artists in my family and our home is full of paintings created by my mother, my grandmother, my children, their father and his mother!

Art can be a way for someone to escape their worries and lose themselves in a make-believe world. It can reflect their thoughts, dreams, imagination and even life itself. Putting their feelings into a painting can be very therapeutic, and art therapy is successfully used with both the young and the old to help them overcome traumas, for rehabilitation, for memory loss, for building confidence, etc. There are so many benefits.

Soraya has taken her artistic talents further by making YouTube videos where she teaches people painting techniques. She clearly and professionally explains the processes to help viewers and I am impressed by the way Soraya confidently shares her talent and is encouraging others to pursue her passion.

Soraya told me that “I still feel as though I am yet to find my artistic style, but I really enjoy painting portraits and combining these with various elements from nature, such as flowers, and creating a somewhat ‘fading’ effect, and leaving an element of mystery so that the onlooker can invent their own story for the painting.”

Despite now being at university and having a lot of assignments to do, Soraya is working on making prints of her artwork, which she hopes to be able to sell on her own website and to turn her art into a career. She finds it difficult to completely relax with all the ideas she has floating around in her head.

Soraya is just 19 years old but explained: “I’ve been painting more seriously for a few years now, but the road to reach my artistic dreams is a long one. In the meantime, I wish to reach as many people as I can with my art, spreading calm vibes through my paintings and just enjoying the whole process.”

I, for one, am a very happy inspired customer and being ‘unlikely friends’, I hope to follow her artistic career for years to come!

So now you know!

Visit to see more of Soraya’s work.

By Isobel Costa
|| [email protected]

Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

‘Unlikely Friends’ – “As soon as I saw her painting, I fell in love with it”
Some of Soraya’s latest work
Soraya with her entry for the 2019 Prize