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?



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.



Interview with Kiwi artist, Vicky Holloway (of Squibble Design)

I am delighted to interview fellow Kiwi artist, Vicky Holloway.
I am so inspired by your work (the variety and sheer quantity) and enjoy seeing your Instagram posts.

What is your background?

I always start with raw umber, but recently I have added some Payne’s grey and sap green.
But on a serious note, I have been drawing all my life and have always loved drawing and animation. I only really started painting in the last five or six years, after taking some oil painting lessons.

©Vicky Holloway, Squibble Design

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I did not really decide to become an artist. It is just something that I have always done. I do remember painting a really nice ladybird when I was about six and I remember thinking that I enjoyed the process so much that I would like to be an artist when I grew up.
I had been creating art part-time since 2003 and working on designs for my online store since about 2009 but took the opportunity in 2018 to become a full-time artist after losing my day job.

I know you sell on Society6 and Redbubble and have a store on your website.

What inspires your work?

Nature is my biggest inspiration. I love researching and finding out about new and interesting plants and animals. I am also interested in history, and this often plays a part in my research process.

We are a lot alike there, I think. In fact, it was seeing your Victorian Animal WIP (work in progress) photos on Instagram that attracted me to your work.

What is your art process?

My process always starts with research. I gather as much information as I can about the subject and learn as much as possible while also gathering references. Then I do a series of sketches, which helps me work through any unexpected difficulties and helps with nailing down a pose or a setting for the character.

What media/techniques do you use?

I love oil painting, watercolours, alcohol markers, and digital painting. I am also learning a little bit about coloured pencil illustration, and I have been incorporating coloured pencils into my marker and watercolour illustrations for extra texture.

You also make unique jewellery pieces. Please tell us about those.

I love kawaii character design and I enjoy making jewellery designs inspired by Japanese street fashion with a kiwiana twist. This year however, I am focussing on my painting and illustration projects, so I am cutting down on the amount of hand-sculpted jewellery I will be making.

Do you work from photos or life?

I try to do both. I prefer to work from life but unfortunately if you are trying to paint a subject such as Binturong this is not possible here in New Zealand!
I am a member of our local zoo and this means I can go as often as I like! I am looking forward to going more often over the summer so I can practice drawing animals from life.

Animals are not always co-operative when drawing them, and there are so many incredible creatures and plants from other parts of the world too. I feel I need several lifetimes to paint all the species I wish to.

What was your most challenging art-work and which is your favourite and why?

To date I would say that my ‘Mr Weka’ painting has been one of the most challenging because it had the most background detail out of all the Victorian Animal paintings. However, many of the paintings in the series had so much detail, right down to the individual strands of lace in Mrs Greyhound’s collar. I think they were all challenging in their own ways!
I cannot pick an absolute favourite, but I would say my top three are Mr Tuatara, Mr Binturong and Mr Weka. Miss Bunny who was the very first painting in the series, is also very special to me.

How do you stay motivated, productive and disciplined?

I get up every day and treat it like my job – which it is! I feel very lucky to be doing what I do, and I do not ever take it for granted.
In more practical terms, I have a planner for my projects and each project is planned out so I know what I need to do for the week, the month and then I can work out where I would like to be by the end of the year. Some smaller projects that I need to complete monthly can be planned about six months ahead. For weekly tasks and live-stream planning, I have a daily planner which allows me to see the week ahead and plan out my days accordingly.

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

I am in two minds about social media. I love taking photos of my work and sharing behind-the-scenes sneak peeks. I also love seeing everyone else’s work and meeting lovely new artists. It can help you grow and let new people discover your work.
However, at times it seems to be a constant struggle against social media algorithms. It can be very disheartening to know that only a tiny percentage of your followers are seeing your updates.
More recently I have decided to treat social media as a place to direct people, where they can easily see my work and scroll through it as if it were a mini portfolio. This is partly because I feel live streaming works better for me as I can talk to people about my art as I am doing it. They can ask questions and we can learn together. It is a lot of fun!

Many artists find gaining a social media following is difficult. I am so grateful to the people who do follow, like and comment; but for all the work going into posts, the outcome is disproportionate unless you have a large following and if you are in countries like the USA.

Recently you exhibited your Victorian Animal Family series. How did you plan for the exhibition and how did it go? What will you do differently for future exhibitions?

The planning process for the exhibition started about six months into the series. Almost from the very start I was thinking about how I could best exhibit the paintings and what I would have to do to get to the finish line.
The exhibition was at Thistle Hall Gallery here in Wellington, and they were very good about giving me all the information I needed ahead of time. As it is a community gallery, I had to manage the exhibition myself. This meant sitting in the gallery for the whole week with my paintings. I did enjoy this though, and I got to talk lots of people about my work! My husband was there to help, and I have done so many art and craft markets in the past that I am used chatting to lots of people all day!
There was still a little bit of a rush at the end to get everything sorted, but because I had planned so carefully the pack in and pack out process went relatively smoothly.

I do not think I would do anything particularly differently for future exhibitions, but I already have a lot of ideas for exhibiting my Opera Moths series!

I am looking forward to seeing the moth series. What I have seen is most tantalising. I love the idea of moths as the protagonists of the series.

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

I have a pack ready to go! I take a little urban sketching case with me almost everywhere which contains pencils, erasers, fine liners, a small Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, and a tiny paint palette as well as a couple of brushes. Most recently I have been testing the Portable Painter Micro, in which I have just three colours – Sennelier Lemon Yellow, Cinereous blue, and M. Graham Terra Rosa. I am enjoying experimenting with this limited palette!

Using a limited palette is very satisfying – one never needs to worry about colours clashing or having too much colour. Do you recommend Sennelier and M. Graham? I have only used Mijello, Schminke, Winsor Newton and Daniel Smith watercolours.

I do! I am still exploring different brands of artist grade watercolours. So far I have enjoyed using Sennelier and M. Graham, I would like to try Daniel Smith at some point as well.

What advice or tips can you give to other artists?

Never give up!

Excellent advice. 😊

What creative project are you working on at the moment?

Currently I am working on my next oil painting series, featuring moths living and working at the Paris Opera House.
I am also working on my long-term Wizard of Oz book illustration project, and an art book for my Victorian Animal Family paintings.

When looking at your work, it is obvious you are an animal lover. What is your favourite animal and plant?

I love cats, especially big cats!

©Vicky Holloway, Squibble Design

I love going for bush walks and seeing our native birds, and I would love to get a better camera so I can take decent reference photos of them! It is extremely hard to pick a favourite New Zealand native bird, but I would have to say the Takahē is at the top of my list.
I like learning about plants, and I take the opportunity to learn a little about each new plant as I create an artwork. Recently I have been learning about the mega-herbs on the sub-Antarctic islands, and I would love to see those one day.

Until you mentioned mega-herbs (a group of herbaceous perennial wildflowers growing in the New Zealand subantarctic islands. They are characterised by their great size, with huge leaves and large and often unusually coloured flowers and survive in the harsh weather conditions on the islands. Thanks, Wikipedia!), I had never heard of them. They sound amazing and it would be fascinating to see those.

Thank you, Vicky, for sharing your fascinating art journey. Where can our readers find you on social media?

Social Media: @SquibbleDesign


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?

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…