conservation, Illustration, Interviews

Interview with Australian Wildlife Artist, Ronelle Reid

I am so excited to interview fellow wildlife artist, Ronelle Reid, who hales from Australia. Ronelle’s work touches a cord in my heart, as she often paints wildlife living a precarious existence, and she is not afraid to paint some of the rarer and more unusual species. Ronelle has even painted some of our own iconic New Zealand native species. I was delighted when Ronelle took time away from her amazing paintings to talk to us.

© Ronelle Reid

What is your background?

I wanted to be an artist from a very young age, I was determined and very focused all the way through university. But I found my passion wasn’t paying the bills and I didn’t have any experience running a business so I got a job working in animal welfare, I worked for RSPCA for 20 years, quietly continuing to make art in the background. In 2020 I made the jump to focus on my art full time again. 

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I can’t really remember what made me decide to be an artist. I was 6 and my dad bought me a little oil painting kit and I painted the tree in the backyard. I remember being very competitive with my older sister at drawing horses as well. It was just always what I was going to be. I never went through a fireman, doctor, princess stage.

What inspired your wildlife artwork?

I have always been fascinated by nature in all of its majesties. When I was in university I was focused on the museum environment and how natural history is portrayed in museums. It was very scientific and cold. Then I worked in animal welfare and saw first-hand the impacts on animals from habitat loss and human impact. My work soon followed that path trying to draw attention to the balance of ecosystems in a quirky way. 

© Ronelle Reid

What media/techniques do you use and what is your art process?

I am a pretty traditional artist. I prefer a solid surface so use birch wood panels. I use oil paint, watercolour pencils and ink in various combinations to get my work on the boards. I paint with tiny brushes and take way too long to make every piece. 

© Ronelle Reid

Do you work from photos or life?

I like to go out and do sketches from life, take lots of photos and then when I am back in the studio I work from a combination of those parts. Often my animals need to move around other animals that they are not normally living with so I need to use a bit of ingenuity to make the magic happen. 

© Ronelle Reid

What was your most challenging artwork and which is your favourite and why?

That is a hard question. The most challenging and hardest is usually the one I am working on at the time. I like to challenge myself so learning new anatomy can be a challenge for me. I recently painted my first pangolin, I had to use reference images as I haven’t met one personally and the bottoms of their feet are totally flat!

What advice or tips can you give to other artists?

Believe in yourself. No one can do what you do and if you stick at it you will become an expert doing your art. If you believe in what you do, it is easy for other people to believe in you as well and buy your magic. 

© Ronelle Reid

What creative project are you working on at the moment?

I always have a few things going at the same time, I am working on a watercolour work of bilbies for the Save the Bilby Fund, a few postcards for an exhibition in New Zealand and a large scale oil painting of a nautilus. 

What is your favourite animal and plant and why?

My spirit animal is the octopus. I love how alien they are, so different to everything else, adaptable and intelligent. As for plants, I love to surround myself with ferns. I think they take me back to a more primitive time when dinosaurs walked the earth. 

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only take your most necessary art materials, what would they be?

A sketchbook and I could make charcoal, so I would be set. 

What is your greatest challenge as an artist?

The same as everyone else – making the ends meet. Coming from a nice fortnightly paycheck to sporadic income is difficult but I am making it work. 

© Ronelle Reid

How do you stay motivated, productive and disciplined?

I have always had a really good work ethic with all things I do. I treat it like a job, start at 5 am and going to work. The part I have a problem with is switching off. I find stopping making art and taking a day off the hardest thing to do. I always am making art – everywhere I go, even when I go away. 

What is the biggest challenge in selling your work and where do you sell it?

My work always has a complicated story behind it – a conversation I have with the animals I depict. Sometimes I find I get too immersed in that story and forget to tell people they are actually for sale. I have found that a mixture of online galleries and physical gallery spaces is working for me. 

What are your thoughts about using social media to expose your work?

I like social media as a platform to create a portfolio of your work and to give a look into the background work that goes into making it; but it is a time sucker if you let it. I try to have an idea of what posts I am doing a month ahead ( it doesn’t always work that way)!

Do you have any social media links you would like to share with our readers?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ronellereidart

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RonelleReidART

Do you have any hobbies when you are not making artwork?

 I don’t have much time for hobbies these days, but I love spending time with my two dogs. Grace and Elwood are Basset Hounds. I often bake cookies for them. 

If we return to being stranded on a desert island, please share your favourite book, movie, food and music, if you could take these with you.

  • Book – would be a reference book like ‘The Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin.
  • Movie – ‘Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are dead’.
  • Food – corn – in all of its many and varied options.
  • Music – that is a hard one. I listen to so many different types of music, but if I had to choose one to take with me, maybe Blondie or the Pixies. 

Thank you for spending this time with us, Ronelle. It has been fascinating getting to know you and learn about your passion for wildlife and painting.

Please head over to Ronelle’s website to see more of her incredible artwork and read more of her story.

Website: https://www.ronellereid.com/

conservation, Illustration

My Enviro-friendly Packaging Ethos

We all experience disillusionment.

I did about a fortnight ago when I discovered that my supposedly biodegradable cellophane packaging is not actually biodegradable, nor is it real cellophane – it is biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP). I was horrified, as I thought I was using environmentally friendly packaging for my artwork and other merchandise.

I am angry that manufacturers and retailers are selling ‘cellophane’ that is NOT cellophane. True cellophane is made from plants containing cellulose, hence its name. Cellulose is the structural component of plants. It was popular for gift and food wrapping until the 1960’s but demand for it has declined due to the increased production of petrochemical-based plastics like single-use plastic. Cellophane is biodegradable – breaking down in less than 6 months. Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult to find true cellophane, and even harder to find it made in the sizes needed for artwork packaging.

In my search to find eco-friendly packaging, I realised there is little geared specifically for artists. There is some packaging available for clothing and food retailers, but not much for artworks. Since my original paintings, drawings, giclee prints, embroideries and other merchandise need to be waterproof and acid-free, my options have been small. I am constantly researching to find better alternatives so when I need to re-order packaging supplies, I am ordering the best eco-friendly packaging available at the time.

My aim is to raise awareness of endangered species and plastic pollution is a threat to many species around the world. Like many other nations, soft plastics are not currently being recycled in New Zealand and I believe that each country should be responsible for recycling their own waste, not shipping it to another country!  I am determined not to add to single-use plastic pollution (which adversely affects our environment), so am using recyclable or reusable paper packaging wherever possible.

Once it arrives, my new packaging will include:

My current packaging, from left to right: The Better Packaging Co. ‘comZIP bag’, Jiffy Rigi mailer, EcoEnclose glassine bag, and in the front: r3pack compostable mailer
  1. Glassine Bags: these are 100% re-usable and recyclable, since they are 100% biodegradable paper. Glassine does not contain silicone or poly additives or coatings, and is acid-free, archival (long-lasting) and humidity resistant, making it perfect packing for our giclee prints and greeting cards.
  2. Jiffy Rigi Mailers: made from recycled paper and can be recycled.
  3. Compostable Bags and Mailers: the compostable zip-lock bags are perfect for re-use and home composting. They are not fully transparent but are clear enough to see your order. I have less control over mailers, as some of my merchandise is sent to the customer, directly from the manufacturer. This reduces unnecessary transportation, postage and interim packaging and I have elected manufacturers based on their willingness to use compostable mailers, rather than other plastic mailers.
  4. As original artworks are expensive and irreplaceable, most of them will be packaged in waterproof polypropylene (PP) bags, which I would like to replace with an enviro-friendly option when a suitable type is found. I would like to encourage my customers to re-use any protective plastic packaging in their parcels. In addition, I will be re-using any plastic I receive, so you may receive merchandise wrapped in re-used plastic.

In stores, polypropylene (PP) bags or biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP) bags are necessary to protect art products. All my products are accompanied by a friendly reminder to re-use these bags, so they do not contribute to single-use plastic pollution.

To help my customers identify the future disposal of the packaging, I will stamp each piece of packaging with the following symbols:

All paper packing (incl. glassine bags & cardboard mailers) is recyclable.

The zip-lock bags can be composted in your home compost. Please check the directions for the compostable mailers.

All packing is re-useable.

Please join me re-using all plastic and paper packaging.

In the future, I hope to be able to package my artwork and merchandise in 100% environmentally friendly packaging, but until such a time, please compost, re-use and recycle your packaging. If you know of any packaging suppliers, who offer environmentally friendly packaging suitable for artwork, giclee prints and other merchandise, please comment. I would love to be able to offer guilt-free packaging.

Please join me in March, when I interview Kiwi artist, Anna Mollekin.

Until next time…

Illustration

Interview with Kiwi artist, Bella Mary O’Mahony

One serendipitous aspect of the business rebranding process was the realisation that I cannot just rely on others to grow my business. Though support is essential and always grateful received, it is up to me to leave my cosy ‘hobbit hole’ and promote my own work. However, I realised that we are a community, and I can also support others, and promote their work, which is why my blog will now include a new feature: interviews!

I am excited and delighted to interview Kiwi artist, Bella, of Bella Mary O’Mahony Illustration.

Bella Mary O’Mahony

Hi Bella. Thank you for your willingness to share your art journey with our readers.

I was very taken with your realistic depictions of nature in your artwork and have so enjoyed following you on Instagram. I love your delicate botanical watercolour paintings.

What is your background?

I’ve lived in Dunedin most of my life. My mother and older sister are artists, so I grew up surrounded by art, colour, pattern and endless inspiration.

After I left school, I went to art school for a while, dabbled in university and ended up training and working as a hairdresser until the end of 2019.

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I was on maternity leave from hairdressing when my brother asked me to do some drawings for him. I hadn’t done any drawing for a while after dropping out of art school but enjoyed it so much I kept doing it in my spare time once I went back to work at the salon. I started doing more commissions and eventually got to the point where I was getting burnout from keeping up with them all alongside hairdressing and parenting, so made the exciting/scary decision to leave the salon and put all my energy into art.

What inspires your work?

There are specific colours and combinations of those colours that give me no end of inspiration. I love gardening and choosing paint colours for the house and furnishings, I get so much satisfaction in surrounding myself in colours that I adore. I think my paintings are an extension of that. I just want to look at them and have the simple pleasure of admiring a beautiful portrayal of nature in an incredible palette.

What is your greatest challenge as an artist?

My greatest challenge is having so much motivation and excitement to work but being unable to find as much time as I would like whilst also being a busy mum to a 3-year-old!

I really identify with you there. I am not a mum, but I tutor children and I know that two or three lifetimes would not be enough to paint or embroider all my inspirations.

How do you stay motivated, productive and disciplined?

I don’t have too much struggle with that, as I mentioned above. If I had all the time in the world I might but because I have to schedule my time around my busy life I really cherish and look forward to any time I get to paint.

What are your thoughts about using social media to expose your work?

I’m a massive fan! As an awkward introvert, I absolutely embrace sharing my work from the comfort of my home. I’m constantly blown away with the support and real connections you can make on there.

Same here!

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only take your most necessary art materials, what would they be?

A notebook and travel watercolour palette.

What advice or tips can you give to other artists?

Enjoy yourself. Don’t let the business side of things take away from the joy of making art. Just follow your enthusiasm and you’ll attract likeminded people.

So true. Good artwork is its own best advertisement.

What creative project are you working on at the moment?

I’m painting some incredible parrot tulips.

I can’t wait to see this painting. It is so beautiful.

If we return to being stranded on a desert island, please share your favourite book, movie, food and music, if you could take these with you.

Book – ‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

Not a movie but the BBC ‘Pride and Prejudice’ miniseries.

Food – macaroni cheese – I’m a simple girl.

Music – probably something classical like Debussy that wouldn’t get on my nerves too much if I’m going to be stuck there a while.

I have put ‘The Shipping News on my ‘must read’ list (although it will probably be via audiobook while I am painting or sketching).

What is your favourite animal and plant?

Animal – all the birds (is that cheating?)

Nope! Every bird is an amazing inspiration for an artist.

Plant- Hellebore (at this particular moment)

We noticed some really unusual hellebore colours this season. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens has an amazing display of hellebores.

Thank you for sharing a bit about yourself and your work. It has been fantastic chatting to you. Where can we see more of your work, Bella?

https://www.instagram.com/bellamaryomahony

https://www.etsy.com/shop/bellamaryomahony

Please check out Bella’s Instagram profile and follow her.

Check out next month’s blog. I will be interviewing Carey Knox, a herpetologist.

Until next time…

Illustration

The Inspiration Behind My Wildlife Art

‘Rough Gecko’, watercolour painting based on reference photo by Grant Macredie. © Auntie Betty Illustration, 2020

The Background

I have always loved animals. I was blessed growing up with many pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, a tortoise,  African grey parrot, rosellas, pigeons, budgies, canaries, love birds, various finches, chickens, geese, quail, pheasant and more. I always wanted a horse and nearly got one but was advised that he was a vicious brute and my parents backed out at the last minute. My dream pet was a Komodo dragon and I would still very much like having a lizard and some fish, however, I have three large greyhounds and live in a very small house and there is simply no space for a menagerie.

When I was eleven or twelve, I had to do a school project on endangered species. Mum suggested that I research the rarer endangered species in South Africa (where we lived at that time). I learned about the Riverine rabbit and insectivores like the aardvark, aardwolf, pangolin, etc.

The Turning Point

It was then that I realised how fascinating the animal world was and hoped to write and illustrate children’s books about animals. Ten years of effort did not give me a foothold in the picture book industry. Experience taught me that publishers and writers generally regard illustrators as far less important than authors – illustrators are often paid very little for work that takes weeks and months of effort and employs very expensive materials, and they receive little or no credit in comparison to the author. Publishers determine which art style they will promote at any particular time and will not even consider work that does not fit the prescribed fashion. It is extraordinarily difficult to break in as a new artist and I decided to focus on wildlife drawing and painting, my other love, where I can deal directly with clients rather than through an agent.

The Goal

There are so many endangered and rare species. We are aware of the plight of orangutans, gorillas, rhino, elephants, pandas, turtles, etc. I have painted some of these, and plan to paint more; however, I also have a deep concern for those species which are so rare that we never hear about them, even when they live on our doorstep. For example, there are twenty-one species or subspecies of endangered GECKOS in New Zealand, and most people here know nothing about them. https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/reptiles-and-frogs/lizards/geckos/#:~:text=Twenty%2Done%20species%20or%20subspecies,as%20Nationally%20Critical%20by%20DOC.

I would love to raise awareness for these species through my art. They deserve exposure and are just as fascinating as koalas and pandas.

I am extremely excited to be embarking on two projects:

  1. Painting New Zealand mudfish species, which are all threatened. I am grateful for the help I am receiving from Angus McIntosh, Professor of Freshwater Ecology, University of Canterbury, who is kindly allowing me to paint from his beautiful photographs.
  2. Creating embroidered artworks and developing embroidery kits, using the gorgeous Strand embroidery yarns, manufactured in New Zealand by Mary at http://nancys.co.nz/store/

You will be able to follow the ‘works in progress’ on my Facebook page or Instagram account. I am painting another pink katydid and then some mudfish.

In my next blog, I am looking forward to interviewing Kiwi artist, Bella O’Mahony. I hope to interview more Kiwi artists in the future too.

Until next time…

Illustration

Why I am rebranding my illustration business

After months of blogging silence, I wanted to reassure my fellow bloggers and readers that all is well. Like many of you, my family has lost loved ones during this pandemic, and our hearts go out to those of you who too have lost family or friends. I hope you are well and safe and continue to be so.

The COVID lockdown has been a time of reflection and given me a much needed opportunity to evaluate my life and decide what I should focus on for the future.

As many of you know, I love illustrating picture books and have worked extremely hard to break into this very competitive industry. Unfortunately, I have been fighting a losing battle and have been no closer to gaining picture book illustration jobs than I was five years ago. In fact, I believe that the better my drawing and painting skills got, the less interest publishers have shown in my work. Go figure!

I realised, during the lockdown, if I cannot make it in the picture book world, why not try to make headway on a different path.

Many of you will also know that I love wildlife art, and for a long time, toyed with focusing on fine art instead of picture book illustration.

Wildlife art, particularly New Zealand flora and fauna, and endangered flora and fauna from around the world, is now my all consuming passion.

With this in mind, I have finally finished redesigning my logo to reflect my business redirection. The bee is also a pun, as my surname is Busby; but more importantly, it represents the growing vulnerability of so many species in our world.

I am now available for commissions, and can be contacted through my website: http://www.auntiebettyillustration.com/

Over the next few weeks and months, I am going to develop my brand with several new ventures. I am so excited to be sharing these with you soon, so please watch this space.

If you are interested in keeping up to date with my work, please follow me on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/auntiebettyillustration/ and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuntieBettyIllustration/