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Oak Hill gallery feature artist

Emma and her son with her works displayed at Oak Hill gallery

An interview by Michelle Nixon of Oak Hill Gallery in Mornington, where Emma has volunteered and recently displayed works.

How did you become interested in art?

Well, I’ve always had an artistic bent. In primary school I remember being labelled a ‘slow snail’ because I spent most of my time daydreaming and drawing. In high school I took art, design and photography classes. When I was in maths or science class, I was doodling in my books instead of listening! I went on to study Visual Arts at Monash University and then got back into painting five years ago by doing some classes at Art Est Art in Sydney. That’s when I first tried watercolour and I was hooked.

Are you a full-time artist?  If so, How do you structure your day?

I balance my art practice with research and writing in history (I also studied history at Monash University and have a PhD from there), and my day job as a university research officer. The thing that really helped me to establish my art practice as a career, rather than just a hobby, was leaving my day-job for a year. I spent that year building up a body of works, exhibiting at galleries, entering competitions, doing some art-related volunteering and getting together a website and social media profile. That period allowed me to establish myself as an artist in a concentrated way that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

How do you manage a work-life balance as an artist?

I have a six-month-old, so I’m balancing my art practice with him, as well as my work as a research officer. Whenever bub’s having a nap, I get out my paintbrush! Watercolour is a great medium for that because you can easily take up where you left off by adding a splash of water to your palate. It’s very satisfying to do a little bit every day and see tangible progress. I’m also very lucky to have a supportive husband who’s really an equal partner when it comes to looking after bub and the house and some retired parents, keen to spend time with bub!

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

My tutors in Sydney, Carla Hananiah and Tanya Baily. Carla and other inspirational Australian Landscape Artists are featured in a beautiful book for sale at Farrell’s bookstore on Main Street called ‘A Painted Landscape’. I also love the work of the watercolour printmaker Cressida Campbell. Another inspiration is Canaletto and other vedute artists of the eighteenth century. In my history practice, I researched and wrote on women Grand Tourists of the eighteenth-century and their souvenirs. A popular souvenir back then, before the invention of photography, was a veduta (a highly detailed painting or print of a cityscape). My paintings of local shops and passers-by are similar to these.

Tell us about your favourite medium.

My favourite medium is watercolour. I like it because you can paint in a highly detailed and precise way, but you can also just let go and see where the water takes you. This medium looks light and spontaneous, but it actually takes a lot of thought and planning, as once you paint over something you can’t get it back! 

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m inspired by the world around me every day when I go for a walk (and I do that a lot with the pram!). I take photographs to capture moments of wonder in the everyday. This moment might be as simple as a striking colour contrast between the top someone is wearing and a fence they are walking past. Usually what captures my attention is a moment of particularly nice light and shade, colour, symmetry, or movement of the world around me and then extend my enjoyment of my moment of wonder by painting it. With my history background, I have a keen sense of that and enjoy painting buildings with a history to them. I also get a lot of pleasure out of painting commissioned pieces that capture the wonderful people, pets and places that brighten the lives of others. 

Painting Kirkpatrick's hotel in Mornington

How do you define success as an artist?

I think that everyone is an artist at heart, they just need to find their medium (or set of mediums!) and subject. Success in art is about extending yourself by trying new mediums, techniques and subjects, and then by then by dedicating the time and effort to mastering those you like.  It’s also just about having fun with your practice and finding it relaxing and satisfying.

Does art help you in other areas of your life?

Definitely! Success in art = success in life! For me, I’m one of those people who tends to get way too caught up in the detail. But when you paint, you need to think about the whole composition. Sometimes you also need to see where the medium takes you. Learning these things about my art practice has allowed me to relax and loosen up in other areas of my life and work too.

How do you develop your art skills?

I think no matter how long you have been practicing as an artist, you can still learn from taking art classes. I continue to try new mediums, for example, last year I did a couple of terms of printmaking classes with Cilla Campbell. While I normally spend a long time painting from photos, I have also practiced painting rapidly en plein air with Alvaro Castagnet and have done life drawing classes at Oak Hill.

How has your style changed over time?

I think my style hasn’t necessarily changed insomuch as I have developed a greater range sizes of composition and types of subject matter I am comfortable with. I change my mark-making and colour palettes to suit those different sizes and subjects. I now paint anything from a small A4 to a large A2 sized work, and I feel comfortable with painting landscapes, buildings, portraits and still-life. So I think I have become more versatile over time.

Describe your ideal working environment.

I only paint in natural light, so plenty of natural light, but natural light that can be controlled with blinds. I also love using a large flan dish to mix my paints – literally a flan dish I reinterpreted as a paint palate.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

That’s easy! I just go for a walk or a run. Seeing new things and getting my body moving always helps.

Where do you sell your art?

You can purchase my art directly from my website In Sydney, Tiliqua Tiliqua Gallery in Enmore, stock the majority of my original paintings, while Artisans Nest, in Newtown, stock my prints. Now that I’m based back in Mornington, I’ve exhibited some works in the recent ‘Pay it Forward’ exhibition at Oakhill and I’m going to have a pop up exhibition at Artisans Alley in April. I also sold my art in markets in Sydney and am planning to do the same here.

Who do you follow on Insta & Facebook that we would recognise?

One local artist I have long followed is a friend I studied with at Monash; Sarah Migliaccio @artbysarah_insta. Now that I’ve moved back after seven years in Sydney, I’m also starting to follow local galleries and artists, such as Artisans Alley, Cook Street Collective, Manyung Gallery and MPRG. In NSW, I follow those artists and galleries already mentioned, as well as Saint Cloche, Paper Pear Gallery, Kirsty Mcintyre, Ashley Frost, my friend mengwoo.artist and too many others to mention.

Do you enter the local art shows?

I’m going to start entering some here in Mornington, hopefully starting with the National Works on Paper prize at the MPRG. In NSW and QLD, I was a finalist in the 2021 Milburn Art Prize, 2022 Greenway Art Prize and 2023 Lethbridge Small Scale Art Award.

What advice would you give budding artists?

The best advice I can give is not to be afraid to try new subjects, mediums, sizes or palets. We can only master what we have tried or experienced before, so give it a go! Treat your art like a job that you turn up to everyday, don’t devalue it just because you enjoy it. Make sure you always have your art materials set up somewhere so that it's easy to do a little bit everyday. If you need to unpack it each day, you won't do it!

Do you have a network of other artists, and how do they support you?

Oh yes, I have all the galleries and people mentioned already, mostly in Sydney. Here I seeking to join the local artistic community and Oak Hill has been wonderful for that – I’ve already met so many lovely artists!

Does volunteering at Oak hill help your artistic flow?

Oh yes, I am inspired every time I volunteer by the exhibitions. I also enjoy chatting to all the artists and interested locals who come through the gallery. The building itself is also such an inspiring historic space and the stunning rose garden. I think the current exhibition LIGHT SCULPTURES' by Sonja Kuzilny is fabulous and it would be great to see more exhibitions like this, that are an experience for all the senses, not just a painting on a wall (which, I have to admit, is what my art is!). A variety of mediums is always great to see, from the traditional to the unusual.

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