Where it all started
My journey as an artist started in 2005, at age 14 when I decided to enter an art competition at school. I did a little oil painting of two birds in a nest. This was my first oil painting, and my first “competition”.
I decided to make the painting available for sale and sold it for $120. I used that money to buy two tops and a pair of jeans which I thought was cool 😂 I remember a man telling me to change my price to $400 at the exhibit opening in the school gymnasium, and I figured he was being ridiculous, that was far too much to ask for the painting. In hindsight sight, he was probably right. I ended up winning for not only my age group but for the overall prize, taking first place above the senior students too. The win and the quick sale was my first lesson in believing in myself. I was amazed by this, and here began the crazy idea that maybe one day I could make a living from it. My life would soon change, however, and in the summer of 2006, shortly after the art competition, we moved back to Africa, onto a farm in the middle of nowhere in Zambia - without power, neighbors, or art supplies.
Zambia - its limitations and commissions
Moving to Zambia, onto a farm in the middle of nowhere did one major thing for my artistic ability; it gave me silence. Silence gave me focus, focus gave me time and time gave me the chance to dig really deep and practice. That first year in Zambia allowed me to test whether or not I was actually good at art, or if I was just average. Since I didn’t have anything else, I copied birds out of a bird book I found on the farm. I showed my parents after a few weeks and I remember my dad looking at the drawings,
and then me, say “oh wow, my girl, you are actually really good. I think you’ve got something here.”
I think there comes a time where silencing the craziness of our lives gives rise to the ability to really focus on something with depth and intent. I went from having a vibrant social life in New Zealand, with a busy sports and music schedule to absolutely nothing.
I used that first year in Zambia to experiment with my ability to draw in ways that I don’t think I would have had time to if we had stayed in New Zealand. Being good at art is something I’ve always had, but I’d never really scratched deeper than the surface until then. Once I knew what I was capable of, I became confident in my skills and dedicated to growing them. This is a pencil drawing of a lioness I did in 2007 for my grandma's 70th birthday. Age 15 (almost 16).
Living in Zambia meant that I was very limited in terms of what mediums I had access to. After that first year on a farm in the middle of nowhere, we moved closer to a town, where my brothers and I went to high school. During my last 4 years of high school - and time in Zambia - I experimented with simple and easy-to-access drawing mediums like pen, charcoal, pencil, coloring pencil, and a tiny bit of watercolor. I wasn’t confident with color though and leaned more towards pencil drawings. It was during my last two years at high school that I started doing commissions for pocket money.
Pencil became my favorite medium to use, and as I showed our friends my drawings, they started asking me to draw their kids. Being the total legends they were, everyone wanted to pay me for my time... so I was faced with the common issue of figuring out what to charge. As I was only 16/17 years old, living at home and at school, my expenses weren’t very high. So I started off with $50 drawings, which as I got better went up to $75, then $100, and by the time I was in my last year of school I was charging $150 per portrait. Formalizing how I figured the pricing of a commission came later, but at this stage, my pricing was based on my limited knowledge of business (literally no business knowledge) and feel for what the drawings were worth to me in terms of how long they took to make.
Realism was always the style of art I was drawn to. I tried other genres but always came back to it. Often I see artists creating art in so many diverse themes, styles, and subject matter that their work is often confusing and hard to follow. I’m asked regularly if I think an artist should just do one thing, and my honest opinion is that it’s totally fine to be drawn to creating a variety of art. However, if your work is “pretty good” in all the areas of your interest, wouldn’t you rather spend the time on one of those avenues and become “incredible” at it? Then once you have reached a level of mastery in that area of discipline, start diversifying and adding to it? I decided very early on that realism and wildlife was my key focus, and I spent hours and hours pushing myself in that area so that I was not just “good”, but that I was or could be the very best at it. After I left school I dabbled with different art styles and genres at uni, but always hated it.