Painting Sardines for Cardume

It was with trepidation and delight that I undertook the task of painting a sardine for António’s Galeria XXI ‘Shoal’ project.

I am visiting my mother and sister who live in the Algarve and was invited to an exhibition of the first 100 ‘sardinha’ paintings for the ‘Cardume’ project.
Having seen the lively interpretations of this simple subject I wondered what I could do, but soon realised that I must just let it flow.

The Paints

I had brought only a small emergency set of watercolour and that would not do for the canvas supplied. My sister bj came to the rescue with a few unused tubes of acrylic paint.
We didn’t think of brushes and, not wanting to wait ’til I saw her again, I dived in applying the paint using bits of torn off cereal packet that very evening.
It turned out to be a good way of not allowing myself to become too precious about it!

Painting Outdoors in Portugal

Now, the following day was the longest day, June 21st. It was not to be spent indoors so I found a shady spot in my mother’s garden to continue the painting.

I knew I wanted somehow to reference Portugal and the Red and Green of the Portuguese flag together with the glorious Blue of the sea seemed a simple solution – especially as I had not much else in the way of colours.

I thought of the shoal of little red fish but the clumsy bits of cardboard were unwieldy. Perhaps some stencils would work…

I snipped away at the jelly packet making little sardine outlines. It had a smooth shiny surface that I thought might resist the paint a bit.
The honey was sitting on the kitchen table – just the thing as a temporary glue. It’s a yummy honey from the mountains here gathered from lavender and cistus fields. Any excuse to have a spoonful would do!
It worked well enough, although I had to be quick about cleaning it off. The ants thought Christmas had come.

Sticky Honey Movie


It was utter bliss in my mother’s garden – about 23 degrees centigrade. The warm air and light breeze meant the paint was drying very fast so I had to take the stencils off more or less as I dabbed the paint to prevent them from sticking to the canvas permanently. The little Red sardines came out a bit ragged, but I liked the effect and left them that way.

The deep sea below was quickly executed with my cardboard pallet knives. A little too smooth at first but some dabs and dashes later on did the trick.
A touch of lighter paint smeared with my finger highlights the surface of the green sardine and I tweaked the shape a little using the edge of the cardboard dipped in paint.

A quick overview of the process

Movie: let’s paint a sardine

Joining the Cardume Project

For those who don’t know, Cardume means Shoal. If you have a love of Portugal, or live there, or have a connection with the Algarve, however tenuous, you may want to swell the Shoal with your own ‘Sardinha’. Mine is number 132. Let’s help it reach #200 and beyond!
I feel honored to be part of the project even though my little effort is a simple one. Many have been funny, beautiful and clever, but I hope this will inspire you to join in.

You can read more about the project in the next article ‘Sardines of Portimao – Cardume Project’.

You can contact António and Gallery XXI via the facebook page. Just search for Galeria21 in pages. Yes, it is only one ‘L’ in Portuguese!

Do you have an experience story or memory of the Portimao Sardine?

Do please, comment and share below:)