A Very Nice Article About Me in The New Straits Times

Article in the New Straits Times Entitled:

On The Road From Devon To Johor Bahru

Cancer survivor and artist Sofia Cole is living her passion today, writes Peggy Loh


Painting produced from photo of her cleaning lady’s mother and mother-in -law that was presented to them as a Hari Raya gift.
BEHIND her sweet smile and twinkling eyes, artist Sofia Cole is a fighter. Only 15 years ago, the 51-year-old English woman who now lives in Johor Baru, was told that she had only three days to live and was advised to bid goodbye to her family.
She was devastated when told she had non-Hodgkin lymphoma because her children, Stefan, Sasha and Sebastian, were only 6, 4 and 18 months old respectively. As she grappled with breaking the news to her family, her first thought was “I can’t die — I have so much to do!”  
But she has gone on to defy all odds and has even held her first art exhibition, My Passion For Portraits, at the recent 9th Johor Baru Arts Festival. Her forte is portrait painting and creating wearable art, which she calls “danglies”, featuring characters from English classics.  
The vintage-looking danglies are designed in themes like Beatrix Potter, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland and Pride and Prejudice.  “It’s someone’s childhood caught in bits of glass,” says Sofia of the tiny paintings of the characters fitted into frames and linked into danglies.  
One of these truly unique creations is the pretty Mary Poppins dangly that even has a tiny teaspoon framed with several crystals for a 3-D effect portrayal of “a spoonful of sugar” that helps the medicine go down!
Sofia is inspired by the people she meets and if a person catches her attention, she will not hesitate to approach him or her to ask if she can draw a portrait. One of her favourites,  a black-and-white pen illustration, is that of a cheeky 5-year-old boy she met in a cafe close to her apartment. Sofia also paints portraits in mixed media and in oil paints besides painting portraits from photos.  
Just before Hari Raya, Sofia’s cleaner approached her with a photo of her mother and mother-in-law and asked  Sofia to paint a portrait of them so that she could present it to them as a festive gift.

The beginning

Sofia’s B-cell lymphoma was the size of a grapefruit and inoperable as it was wrapped around her heart. She underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments and fought the battle with tenacity as the drugs ravaged her. Her family was traumatised by the ordeal. “My life is defined as ‘Before cancer’ and ‘After cancer’,” says Sofia, who went into remission for about five years before she had convulsions and collapsed.
For her own safety,  Sofia, who once worked in London and lived in Devon, England, had to give up her driving licence. One day when she collapsed in the street, the doctor suspected that she had a late onset of epilepsy. In hospital, the medication made her heart race and the doctor discovered that her heart was failing. Since being fitted with a pacemaker, Sofia continues to have regular health checks and now is able to enjoy a better quality of life.


It was a long road to recovery after her illness because she could not draw fine pen illustrations due to numbness in her fingers. She struggled on with sheer determination and it was a year later that she was satisfied with her drawings. The completion of each portrait was a sweet achievement for her.
“If I’m not reading, I’m drawing,” she says as she shows off her collection of classics, mainly by Jane Austen as well as prequels and sequels to Pride And Prejudice. Being dyslexic, she desperately wanted to read but could not until she was 11. But once she started reading, she could not put the books down and is an avid reviewer of Jane Austen classics.  
When her family lived in Dartmoor, Devon, Sofia was involved with the Chagford Filmmaking Group, a non-profit volunteer organisation dedicated to preserving the heritage of English fairytales in films. Her children are her inspiration and while they joined the cast to act in various films on folklore, she focused on helping to design and make costumes and dress up mythical characters like fairies, water nymphs, flowers and giants. These colourful characters were later immortalised in her paintings designed in portraits crowned by a halo filled with interesting icons, often in intricate decoupage.


Devon is one of the wettest parts of England and  Sofia had to depend on all sorts of medication to prevent coughs and colds. As a cancer survivor, she was ready for a radical change, so after a family meeting, it was decided that the time was ripe to go on a round-the-world trip.  After they left, Sofia knew she may not see Venice — her favourite place — again so she took her daughter there for a visit.
In November 2008, armed with one suitcase each, Sofia, her husband and children headed for their first stop, Pattaya, Thailand, to join Stefan who was taking a diving course there. But with demonstrations going on in Bangkok, the airports were closed. So they landed in Singapore and had an adventure travelling by coach via Johor to Penang, en route to Hat Yai and finally arrived in Pattaya for Christmas.
They took a slow return trip through the peninsula with stops in Pangkor, Malacca, Tioman, Kuala Lumpur and Johor to Singapore before leaving for Australia. After three months in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as well as diving in the Great Barrier Reef, the family journeyed on to New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
While her children enjoyed all the extreme sports in New Zealand, the cooler temperature and dampness affected Sofia, making her feel unwell. After celebrating Sasha’s 18th birthday in Las Vegas, the family had to make some decisions as they were on the final leg of their trip.
Sofia told the family: “I don’t want to go back to England.  Let’s go back to Malaysia.”
Her husband was expecting her to say, Malacca, but she decided on Johor because she felt Johor Baru had the best of everything. It is close to Singapore and they can enjoy visiting the islands off Mersing for diving and snorkelling. “I feel better than I have in years,” says the affable Sofia, surrounded by her paintings in her sixth floor apartment that commands a panoramic view of the Johor Straits.
For more info on her work, visit www.artofsofia.blogspot.com and for her book reviews, visit http://www.janeaustenprequelsandsequels.com

Read more: On the road from Devon to Johor Bahru

Article Written by Peggy Loh: Thank you Peggy Loh – Peggy also has a Johor based blog Peggy Loh ~ My Johor Stories I heartily recommend it.


Inspired by Icons

My Art Inspired by Icons

I wanted to create some art inspired by the Religious Icons that I find very beautiful but not using Religious imagery.

I started with a portrait in soft pastels & mixed media of a very ethereal Red Headed young lady with Teal ribbons threaded in her hair.

Once it was finished, I drew around the out line on Tracing Paper and cut out a mount from gold card.
I used a ball point pen and template to draw stylised swirls on the reverse side of the card, causing an embossed effect on the gold side of the card. The mount fitted right up to the drawing covering all the white paper.
I then made a Garland for her head by making swirls of fine copper wire and ginkgo leaves, which I cut from copper tape having first drawn them in black ball point pen. This left nice strong veins on the leaves. I then used a hole punch to to cut silver circles from aluminium tape.
These were all attached directly to the picture and gave a three dimensional effect.
I think I shall be doing more of this style as I like the way the finished  picture turned out.


Judging A Special Art Competition With Royal Approval

Rotary Club of Johor Centennial Art Competition

On Sunday I was asked to be a judge at Kiwanis CareHeart Centre (Johor Bahru) by the local branch of the Rotary Club.

The people who invited me Fancy Tan and Nelson Loong collected me at 9:00am as arranged, they probably heard that I am good at getting lost and thought it best to make sure I got there on time.

On arrival at the venue they introduced me to Koh Guan Hoe the principle and at 75 years young he has boundless energy.

He showed me around his garden and animal pens, the area where they grow mushrooms and into the care centre.

He explained he explained how he is trying to make the centre financially self sufficient as they get no government funding.

The gardens are worked by the children as part of their therapy, they are also taught skills to help them through life and in some cases enable them to work.

The centre takes down syndrome, autistic and learning disabled youths and does a fantastic job.

After my tour I was taken up to the are where the competition was to be held.

A vast room with lots of tables and chairs already filling up with  youngsters and their helpers from many different centres.

I was introduced to the other two judges and we watched as all the artists got started on their pictures, the theme was ‘Peace with Love’.

There pre-drawn sheets for those unable to do their won drawings, these they could colour in.

Whilst they all worked hard the Princess Y.A.M. Tunku Aminah Maimunah Iskadariah arrived to much excitement from those present.

Every person that entered the competition got a certificate which went down very well.

The finished art works were spread out in two categories based up on age. those below 15 and those above 15.

We had to chose 13 pictures from each category. Then from the 13 we judges had chosen the Princess picked the First, Second and Third prize winners.

The final 13 in each category each received a trophy and the six winners also got cash prizes.

Before the prizes were handed out the Kiwanis CareHeart Centre youngsters put on a show with singing and dancing and a delightful young man played his violin.

As the princess gave out the prizes the smiles on the faces of the recipients were magical.

This really was a special time for them that will I am sure be treasured.

The six winning pictures will be displayed in the National Gallery in Kuala Lumpur and be judged along with the winners from each of the other Malaysian States to choose a National Winner.

I was delighted to be invited to lunch with the Princess and some of the top brass.

She struck me as a very nice, charming, charismatic young women.

This was the very first time the competition has been held and I am certain it gave all involved a great deal of encouragement and joy.

Thank you very much to Fancy Tan for inviting me to be a part of this event.


My Art Exhibition at the 9th JB Arts Festival.

My Art Exhibition at the 9th JB Arts Festival

My Art Exhibition at The JB Arts Festival

The setting for the main Stage of the Festival is Bukit Timbalan.

My Home for the last week in September was a Gallery in the grounds near the main outdoor Stage, where the shows were being held.

The Festival had already been running for three weeks when I joined it. My Husband and I had been lucky enough to get to some of the Shows all of which were of a very good standard.

We saw the bands Moscowfish and Eastside Story at Lazio Restuarant Danga Bay.

My Son Sabastion Joined us for *M.A.C.C. Internal Affairs on the Main stage & laughed so much at these three very talented Comedians.

So much talent in JB! I don’t want to hear any one say there is no culture or talent here. It is here WHERE WERE YOU ? (I forgive all you international people living in far off lands).


So on Saturday afternoon my trusty friend Claire Hauville-Singh turns up at my door with here big wagon ready to help . With Sabastion doing all the heavy work we got the car loaded to the roof. I had been up until 5 am that morning packing up the pictures, My Home looked empty.

So The Arts Festival has an army of ‘Elves’ These are all the young helpers that get stuff done on a daily basis. I had been told that I could put my work up after 5pm.  We arrived at nearly 6pm and of course all the previous displays was still up.

No problem though the Elves went into action & soon they were emptying the Gallery space ready for me.

We all worked pretty hard getting the pictures Hung and all the signs up. Sabastion had to get off to a party so we used him to hang all the heavy pictures before sending him off, tall children have their uses.

It was fairly late by the time we had finished, But Chief Elf Jasmine, said there was no need for me to be in early as the first show on Sunday was not until 3pm.

Next morning, I got a call from an art collector who wanted to buy 2 pictures, So I grabbed another couple of pictures as there were a couple of gaps & headed in to meet Mr Paul Lim.

He kindly bought two pictures that I had displayed and the two pictures I had just arrived with and five pieces of my wearable art necklaces. This set my week up with a nice positive start & Mr Lim promised to bring some of his Batik collection to show me on Saturday when he was to collect the pictures that were in the exhibition.

Some of the Pictures I exhibited.

The week flew by I watched the shows when ever possible, I loved meeting lots and lots of new people and was  delighted by the reception my Art work received,. I was especially pleased so many youngsters seemed to be inspired, by the crazy old English Aunty (Malays as a sign of respect call older people Uncle or Aunty).

I am so glad I had this chance,  it is just a shame the week passed so fast with so much happening, The Main Show was sold out & an extra performance was added. The free hot air balloon rides will be a talking point for years to come and the Dancers were beautiful.

Suzie Yap and Fancy Tan  and their team did an amazing job organising  this event

My Wearable Art Sold very well, so during the week I made a few more items, so that I would not run out.

I enjoyed making these little pictures,  these two (left) are both pictures of my Daughter, Sasha. A lot of my wearable art was inspired by Literature  especially English children’s books.

The Three necklaces below are Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter all the original illustrations no Disney.

Any one who knows me will not be surprised that Jane Austen was represented too.

I was particularly pleased when my Persuasion Necklace was one of the first to sell.
(check out my Jane Austen sequels website here:)

The Last day came along much too quickly. Mr Lim came to collect his pictures & brought his Batiks to show me as promised, he also bought another picture, A few of my Friends also managed to
get along to visit me, which was very nice.

The packing up was quite an effort all the Elves had to pitch in as the men had arrived to take down the exhibit Stands and lighting.

My friend Pinky a future Artist.

By the end my car was full to the roof and the boot did not actually Shut. Needless to say I drove home very carefully.

This picture gave me a good laugh. One young lad upon seeing it said I was a Zombie,  I could not help but agree with him. I really am hoping to get to do this again soon.

*(MACC = Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians)


Musia’s Mum’s A Picture of Two Ladies Full of Character

Musia’s Mum’s A Picture of Two Ladies Full of Character

I wanted to share this with you, as it meant a lot to me. Once a week I have an Indonesian lady who comes and cleans for me, I pay her well as she is such a hard working girl. I know she has at least 3 other cleaning jobs and helps support her family and Sister in Law plus her Children.

Now firstly I must tell you that Musia dose not speak a word of English and I have very little Malaysian, so communication is difficult.

Using sign language and waving my arms about I asked her about her children.(we did not get very far), but the following week she turned up with 2 little passport photos of her son and daughter.

I took them and scanned them on to my lap top and returned the obviously precious pictures to their mummy.

I did a simple little picture of them both together,Trying to put a smile on the little girls face. I put it in a gold frame, and the next time she came to clean I gave it to her.

She took the picture into her hands, and she stroked her fingers over the face of her little boy and cooed (that’s the bit that makes doing portraits for people worth while).

So months later it is the Muslim Holiday of Hari Raya  which is the nearest thing the Muslims have to Christmas. And Musia brought me another photo. Two mature Mummies one hers and the other her Mother in Law.

Now I freely admit I found this rather daunting and was sure it was going to be difficult, It was the week of My Birthday & Alan’s we had a trip away, so I put it off a little while, but Musia got the point across to me that this was for a Hari Raya gift & I needed to get it done.

Once I got started I found myself rather enjoying these two old ladies full of character (I use the term old loosely especially as Musia’s Mum is only seven years older than me). They seemed to come to life on the page which always seems strange when you have never met the people you are drawing.

I did the background Separately Stenciling soft pastels in warm earthy tones and hot pinks. Then I drew the Ladies in water colour pencils, before cutting them out and putting them over the strong patterned background.This gave them a more defined feel.

I made a little gift for Musia too. A Hari Raya gift for her to keep for herself. My Current passion is little items of wearable art, and I made her a pendant with her children on one side & the Mummies on the other.

We sent her an SMS to tell her it was finished .And she came with her Daughter and Sister in Law to collect it. Bless her she even offered to pay me. They were very happy and I can honestly say this is a good reason to do art.


Outside the Box, Experiments With Decorated Mounts

Outside the Box, Experiments With Decorated Mounts

Another Dimension To My Work – Decorated Mounts

I wanted to add another dimension to my Art work, to give more depth, and because I just like to play with it.

The First mount I did was for my Portrait of my Daughter, Sasha as Alice in Wonderland. This one almost happened automatically as it was just so right for the picture.

I added playing Cards and a few more of the original style illustrations to frame the picture.I was very pleased with the depth and effect.

After that there was no stopping me.

I have a lovely Indian Gentleman who does framing for me and I took him some of my pictures, for which he cut me mounts.

I took them home to get creative with. I enjoy my visits to the framer as he and his assistants are up for trying out all my odd idea’s and in fact get quite full of enthusiasm and encouragement.

I wanted to try something very different for the next one. Inspired by a lovely embossed pewter picture my father had bought for me years ago. I made an Art Nouveau mount using Aluminum foil tape using a ball point pen to press the design into the metal from both sides. I distressed it with stamping ink. I did a vine with grapes to suit the picture Red Wine. It was fairly tricky to do but I liked the bold effect.

With the Portrait of Sasha in black and white and red, I wanted to emphasize the tattoo imagery but with a retro feel. And this is what I came up with. I incorporated some of Sasha’s designs with my style and romanticism.

For my Lady in the Water I did a Lilly pond mount layering up Fish and pastel Lilly pads with Dragon Flies. Filling a large double mount to make a strong Statement. I also die cut small dragon flies from printed paper and had them flying around the Lilly pond.

For Jade’s Butterfly Portrait I added crystals on the face and a Butterfly escaping from her hair with a lock. I then elongated the hair down over the mount, Rapunzel Style. I feel this picture has quite a fairy tale quality about it.

And while on a roll with Jade and Fairy Tales I felt the picture of Jade and her Mother Claire with the Fairies needed a little more adding too. So another Fairy appeared and stars, this changed the picture quite a lot and I felt improved it by giving it a better balance.
On the next three mounts I used fairly simple embellishments, but I felt that each complimented the picture and added to it.

I added a simple stylized rose design to the mount of the Bride to high light all the roses in the artwork.I drew them onto the mount free hand.

On Sasha’s flower fairy picture I decoupaged the wild roses, this gave a nice 3d effect and I added some Aurora Borealis crystals amongst the foliage to give a bit of fairy sparkle.

For the Portrait of my friend Sindy Birden I kept it very simple, but rather sweet with a stamped Design of Victorian  butterfly hand colored with soft pastel.

A similar technique for Civiram’s portrait but with embellishments to look like Amber jewels as the photo shoot for which I did all the make up and Styling that her picture came from was for A Touch of Amber. 

She was liberally draped in Amber jewelry and I used layers and layers of nail polish to try and catch the look.

I have enjoyed doing these extra touches so much I like my art work to spill out from the paper and I am sure there will be more.

Amorels World of Fable

Amorels World of Fable

At the Side of the Page is a Blog roll with other peoples Blogs. One of them is Amorel’s World.

I had the great Pleasure of meeting this talented young lady when she came to help out with the Fairy Films I was working on with the Chagford film makers Group. 

She brought to life the Sketches Alan Lee had done for the Ogres fire Place, In the story Peerie Fool (the figures have a very Golum look to them). She was so pleased to get to meet one of her Favorite artists.

The fire place even contained a baby unicorn roasting on a spit  (just so you would know just how bad the Ogre was), here is a picture with Alan Lee & the Films Director Elizabeth Jane Baldry in front of the fire place.

She brought her friend Kim with her to assist her and before you knew it they were so enthusiastic that they were in fairy costumes and appearing in the film them selves, as well as rolling up their sleeves  and  helping to do the make up for vast numbers of children.

We made the time to have a look at each other art work, and I was very impressed with what she showed me & have tried to follow what she has been doing since.

Her Fables are all created individually as each one emerges with it’s own personality,Please go to her site & have a browse around. Her own words are far better at telling you what she does & how she does it.

She dose exhibit at shows in England ,check her listings & if you can go and meet some fables in person I think you would agree they really are works of Art with heart.

Here she is in Glastonbury at an Exhibition.