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Interview with creative women: Renae Handy, Wallflower Floral Design

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by Kate Shannon

Based in the seaside suburb of Sandgate in north Brisbane, Wallflower Floral Design is the brainchild of Renae Handy, florist and all-round creative lady. Wallflower has had a steady rise since it started in 2015, and Renae and her four staff are kept on their toes arranging and delivering flower orders, creating floral bouquets and installations for weddings, and being part of events and photo shoots.

How did you come to being a florist?

My parents own a wholesale nursery and I grew up surrounded by plants. My first job was putting things in pots when I was six years old, working in the nursery. So it’s in my blood, the horticultural thing.

It all really started when I did the flowers for a friend’s wedding. I cut a whole lot of sunflowers from my dad’s neighbour’s farm and just arranged them. People loved it and I really liked doing it. So I started doing flowers for friends’ weddings for free and for fun… using Woolworths flowers!

Then I thought, maybe I could make this into a business. I registered the name and created an Instagram page. I did a cert II and cert III at a flower school after I opened the business. I didn’t write a business plan; I’ve just been following the tumbleweed!

I was that person who was always chopping and changing jobs. I went to see a career counsellor and said, “Look, I don’t know what to do with my life. I want to start a café, be a real estate agent, or be a florist.”

And she said, “If you want to start a café, you need money and a business degree. You’re too nice to be a real estate agent; that whole industry will destroy you. And florists, they don’t make money so don’t be a florist.”

For so many years I tried many different things, which has meant that this business has a really solid grounding.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I go to the market on Mondays and Thursdays and pick up whatever we need for our week’s orders and for the shop. On market days, I get up at four am—so if someone wants to be a florist and she’s not a morning person, it’s not the job for her!Bunch colourful

While I’m at the market, I’m thinking on my feet, making decisions about what is going to work. If I’m buying for a wedding, I try to imagine the bride, which colours she looks good in, and what her vision is. When I’m buying for the shop, I have to think about what’s going to look good, what’s going to sell, and what’s going to last.

If you don’t make quick decisions, the florist behind you will probably snatch up the flowers. It’s a bit of a scramble in the mornings! It can be stressful, but also fun.

At around seven am., I bring back the boxes of flowers. Then the girls and I spend time preparing them. We use tools to take the foliage off the stems, then cut the stems and put them in water. That takes a long time. We do a lot of work to ensure the flowers last as long as possible. We then do all the orders, talk to customers, and make up arrangements. We get a lot of walk-in enquiries. I also do bride consultations, so I’ll talk with brides and do up quotes. We often get stylists and photographers coming in, too.

Then we might do some deliveries and close up around four or five pm. It’s a pretty busy day.

Describe your floral philosophy. What does a Wallflower arrangement look like?

Our arrangements are whimsical, textural, eclectic, and natural. We pride ourselves on not being predictable.

Traditionally, florists are trained to have a hero flower, like a big rose or lily, then a complementary flower, a filler flower, and some greenery. That’s the basic recipe; florists have used it for so long, over and over again. I think that’s one reason I was so passionate about starting this shop—because of that recipe and tradition. Flowers are so beautiful, but because they were being presented in such a bland structure, people lost appreciation for their natural beauty. I’m passionate about showcasing flowers in their natural form.

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What are the challenges of being a creative and an owner of a small business?

Some people think being a florist is a fairytale job, which sometimes it is because we do get to play with flowers. But sometimes it can be high pressure; it’s stressful to come up with something creative when you don’t have enough time.

Renae and flowers.cropIt’s hard to be a creative and a businessperson at the same time. I’m split down the middle. There’s the voice saying, “You’ve got to protect your brand. You’ve got to make money.” But then there’s the other side saying, “Stick to your true self, do what you love.” As an artist, you’re emotionally attached, and you take time to make something beautiful, but as a businessperson, time is money… It’s such a battle.

Another challenge is to ensure my staff are happy. I want to encourage them personally and to help them find their place in Wallflowe. If my staff isn’t happy, nothing works.

In my family, my dad’s the businessman and my mum’s the creative. My dad is my business mentor. Every Thursday, we have a family dinner and I talk to him about my business challenges. He gives me great advice.

What does the future hold for you and Wallflower?

It’s important to keep learning, so I’ve got my eye on some courses I’d like to do to challenge myself.

For Wallflower, I’d like to increase the scale of the work we do, and do more installations, events, and weddings. More connections and collaborations. I want us to stretch ourselves and what we can do. It’s an exciting time.

Renae’s floral creations can be viewed on the Wallflower Floral Design websiteFacebook page, and on Instagram (@wallflower.floral.design).

Kate Shannon is a freelance writer based in Brisbane after many years living in Darwin. She spends a lot of her time in the garden with her two little girls, and loves writing and learning about creative people, flowers, and plants.    

Photos by Renae Handy (top, middle) and Kate Shannon (bottom).

Australian Women in Art: Outsider Artist Jasmine Mansbridge

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by Annette Wagner

Jasmine Mansbridge is an ongoing contributor and supporter of CWC, and an artist with an upcoming show at Koskela in Sydney this year. In the often intimidating art world, Jasmine would be considered an “outsider artist,” a term used for people who are untrained, without a formal art school education. However, as you’ll read from Jasmine’s contribution below, her training has been gained through mentors and life. And, like many other “outsider artists,” she is generating a swirl of supporters and attention through sheer drive, visibility, and consistent, passionate determination.

With no formal fine art education, you are very much an “outsider artist,” as the industry likes to say. How has your journey as an artist transpired? Tell us about finding confidence and courage in your style, and why painting has become your passion.

My overall naivety about the art business reveals itself to me more and more as time goes on. It was around this time last year that I was referred to by a gallery as an outsider artist. This was the first time I became aware of the term. I think if years ago—when I started painting—I had known what I know now about the complexity of the art world, I would have been too overwhelmed to feel I could ever experience success as an artist.

My desire to be an artist has been built by the practical application of creativity. I became pregnant at age seventeen, and at the time I was living in Katherine in the Northern Territory. There was no internet, no phone, and often no transport. I lived away from my parents while all my friends had typical teenage lifestyles. I was determined to be the best mother I could, so I began painting as a way to channel my frustration and loneliness into something positive. I would be home painting while everyone else I knew was out. My painting sustained me and gave me a way to express myself.

In those early years, I was encouraged by older, established creative people within the Katherine community. This is one reason I love to share with people, because I am proof that creativity can bring so many good things to one’s life.

My growth as an artist has been largely organic. I am big on taking opportunities presented to me. I have so much to learn, but I have always figured I will only learn by doing. I think that the hard thing about being on outside, is getting on the inside!

How did you arrive at your medium? Has painting always been your creative outlet? Expand on finding painting and the specifics of the medium (such as acrylic on board).

When I first started painting, it was with those tiny tubes of acrylic you could buy from a newsagent, and watercolour paper. I still have some of those early works.

I was encouraged to paint by my in-laws at the time. They run an Aboriginal art gallery in Katherine and began giving me linen off-cuts and basic paint colours. This is where my obsession with quality art materials began, because it makes all the difference to a piece.

It wasn’t until I started to sell work and buy it myself that I realised how much it all cost. If you know someone who likes to paint, why not buy her some good stuff? It makes such a difference. I have always painted with acrylics because I’ve always worked within the home environment. They dry very quickly and don’t have the smell that oils do. They also work well with my style and allow me a lot of control. I love to paint on linen as it is such a beautiful product, but I also work on board, and on paper for smaller works. In saying that, this year I plan to experiment with oils to see what they do visually to my style.

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With a growing number of solo exhibitions, a book, public murals, and a pending exhibition at Koskela later this year, how do you divide your time while still being present to your family of five? 

It is answering this question that led me to write my book, There Is a Paintbrush in My CoffeeIn the book, I talk about all the ways I have learnt to work over the years.

You have to be very passionate about something to give it the energy that I give my painting and my family. But the nature of painting—the solitude, the contemplative aspect of it—is quite complimentary to the overall busyness of my life. My family brings its own blessings in that they love me and need me whether I do good work or no work. It is a great balance to the ego having children. I am often reminded of the saying, “Before enlightenment, chop firewood and cart water. After enlightenment, chop firewood and cart water.”

It is school holidays at the moment, so my house is like a bomb site. I have to set very low expectations of what I will get done so I can be happy. I am glad I have the excuse of being a artist so I can ignore the mess and let the kids be “creative.” During school term I use a bit of daycare, do “kid swaps”; I have a couple teenage babysitters, and sometimes I pay my own teenagers as well. It is always a juggle because children’s routines and needs are always changing. Simply put, I am a control freak who has had to learn to let a lot slide. There is a line from the cartoon Madagascar that stays in my head: “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave…. often all you can do.”

This year will see a massive shift with the oldest two (20 and 17) away at university, two in school, and only one (my crazy two-year-old) at home. So I am planning on taking on a bit more this year commitment-wise. Exciting times ahead. My husband has a job that sees him working long hours, especially at this time of year; we are both ambitious in our own way. But me working from home means I am also running the home. It is a challenge, but I have come to accept that it always will be. To be working creatively is a great gift, something I am aware of and grateful for daily.

My greatest asset, I think, is to be able to mentally “turn on a dime” and paint productively in short spaces of time. If I have an hour I use that hour. You have to develop and nurture that skill. My biggest tip would be to get a space to work where you can leave your work—even if it is just a corner in your bedroom (where I worked for many years), or a drawer in a cupboard. Doing this means you are able to maximise your work time and not waste it setting up or packing up.

Being creative is such a wonderful way to relax, to order your thoughts, to challenge yourself, and to express yourself. It is a way to add value to your life.

Your work continues to progress. Who are your influences and inspiration and how important have mentors been to you?

I was a child who grew up without a television and I spent many hours drawing. My grandmother was an artist and she worked in a studio painting portraits, amongst other things. I was always disappointed at how my pictures looked compared to hers, so early on I tried to find my own way of visually representing things. I remember being awestruck the first time I saw mosaics, and I have been obsessed with pattern and repetitive design for as long as I can remember. These elements have always been present in my work in some way.

While still in Katherine (which I left when I was twenty-six), I spent time with established Indigenous artists. Their use of pattern, and their patience and devotion to their work, resonated deeply with me. I learnt a lot about the life of an artist, and how important it is that it be tailored around the work. My life is like that. My life and my painting are not separate but the same. I have always felt greatly moved in nature and had a connection to the physical world, and this—as well as storytelling—are all aspects of my work.

This philosophy has seen me ride the highs and lows of the “career” side of my life well. At the end of the day, I would make work with or without an audience. While commercial success and sales are important because they enable my work—and me—to grow, I often remind myself that to do meaningful, connected work, I have to be meaningful and connected to my work. Otherwise it will become empty, repetitive, and meaningless.

In the last few years, social media has allowed me to connect with a wider audience and has given me some wonderful friends and mentors. I am grateful for this and I definitely do not feel the isolation I once felt as an artist living in a regional area. There are also more creative people living and working in my local area (Hamilton, Victoria). I think we are in exciting times for regional centres as new hubs for creative growth, perhaps due to cheap living costs and the internet making the world a much smaller place.

You mentioned M.C Escher; he is certainly an artist who I have long admired. I also love the suburban paintings of Jeffrey Smart, the Australian artist. They say something about the artistic quality of the man-made world. Of artists working presently, I think Ghostpatrol (David Booth) does interesting and clever pieces, as does Miranda Skoczek. I have a friend here in Hamilton, Grotti Lotti, who is making beautiful work as well. I love a lot of art, but it is the paintings I remember that impact me. That is my measure of good work: the images that stay with me long after I have seen them.

Patti Smith has influenced my thinking a lot in the last few years. Her thoughts on the culture of celebrity have got me thinking about this within the art world, and her simple advice to just “do your best work” resonates with me time and time again.

You have a big exhibition at Koskela in Sydney later this year. How did you secure your gallery exhibitions? What are your top tips for other artists trying to establish themselves and secure gallery exhibitions? 

I am really looking forward to showing at Koskela. I remember going to a Rachel Castle workshop there in 2012, thinking how much I would like to exhibit there. Like most things I do, the time between the seed of the idea and it actually happening is usually a long time.

I don’t have time or resources to pursue a broad range of ideas, so I generally pursue only a couple important ones. I actually flew to Sydney this time last year to meet with the art director and show her some work in the flesh. This was after some time spent sending emails back and forth and developing connections there. Anything worth doing costs something, and finding places to show your work is no different. For a long time now, all the money I make goes back into the work, so I am able to make bigger and better things happen. Then, of course, you have to do the work. Every door opens another, so to speak. I want to keep making the work better to prove myself worthy of the next project, and so on. I say this all the while aware that I am not yet where I would like to be career-wise, and knowing that I have to take my own advice and be patient and consistent.

My advice to younger creatives is to get out and say “hi” to your heroes. You won’t connect with everyone, but you don’t need to. Be yourself, but the best version of it. If you want to work with someone, reach out and tell him or her. The world is so small now; with social media, you can chat to almost anyone.

My favourite thought of late, which keeps me going when I am clueless, is this: No one has been me before. It’s very simple—scary, almost, but true. No one has been me. I can only make choices about what I want to do. I cannot follow, emulate, or duplicate another person’s career or life. I can’t live off someone else’s advice or example. It is a powerful truth.

You have only failed when you have quit, so keep working. Creativity is a long game. As I said above, it is inextricably linked with your life. Do your best work and get it out in the world.

Lastly, how important are your support networks? And what is some of the best advice you received when you were establishing yourself?

The Creative Women’s Circle came into my life at an important time, when I was feeling like I needed to link into something bigger than myself. Because I live regionally, work from home, and work in my home as a mother, I can feel isolated. Through CWC, I was able to meet people I would not normally meet. Blogging for the CWC helped me clarify my thoughts on many things, and cement my feelings about being a professional creative. I recommend membership to everyone I meet, as it is an invaluable resource and support system.

To see more of Jasmine’s work, visit her at jasminemansbridge.com. She can also be reached at jasminemansbridge@yahoo.com.au.

Annette Wagner is a designer, marketer, creative consultant, artist, and writer. She is also on the board of the Creative Women’s Circle. Obsessively passionate about the arts and the creative process, she is determined to not talk art-speak and instead focus on supporting and sharing concepts and insights most creative types crave to know.

Small town creative: Tara Pearce, wedding photographer

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By Jasmine Mansbridge

Tara Pearce is one half of Erin & Tara, a wedding photography business based in Kyneton, in the Victorian Goldfields. Erin & Tara have only been in the photo business for five years, but are in demand to capture the special days of couples all over Australia. You can find them on Instagram and Facebook.

First up, tell me about where you live. Have you always lived ‘out of town’?

I live in Kyneton with my husband and two children. It is about a one hour drive from Melbourne. We have been here for eight years now. I spent time living in Kyneton when I was a child and my husband grew up here, so we both have a long term relationship with the place. It’s been a great place to raise our two children Yorke and Mak, they are very established and happy here. It is far enough away from the city to be removed from it, but close enough to do business. My husband commutes there for work on a daily basis.

What is your employment background Tara. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Well I initially did a business degree and worked in the public sector. Our photography journey started 5 years ago when Erin & I thought it would be fun to photograph a wedding! This was before we owned a camera let alone knew how to use one. Let’s just say Google is our best friend!

Seriously? How can you have only been in the photo business for five years, that is crazy. You have done so well. How did you go from a city job to self employed creative. What did the transition look like?

Well initially I met a stylist, and I became a styling assistant. That only lasted a few gigs as the whole time I was watching the photographer and realised photography was something I would like to do. I was good friends with Erin and we started talking about it one day saying, this wedding thing, we could do it. We shot our first wedding together 3 months later and it all started from there. The biggest challenge was learning the technical side such as how to use a camera. Each year has had it’s own turning point from personal achievements such as creative growth to learning how to accept rejection gracefully. I believe the key turning point for us was when we started to trust our own judgment and abilities, which lead to more confidence giving us the freedom to express our creative vision.

In our first year we shot 30-40 weddings, the two of us with a camera each, so we could double our chance to achieving our vision and nailing the shot.

So five years on what has changed in how you do business?

After the first year of shooting weddings together we where pretty confident photographers and so we decided to shoot wedding individually. It works really well as that way we can commit to other individual work and family life. For example I generally take destination weddings while Erin prefers local weddings as she has younger children. These days we also have a team of talented assistants and we are about to launch a wedding photographer agency.

Can you tell me what has been your biggest challenge for your business?

Finding a good work/life balance! We are slowing finding a way to switch off from all the emails, but in the first three years of our business, we felt like we had to be ‘on call’ and sometimes I’d find myself emailing clients back at 2am. Crazy times! Not being photographers from the start meant having to learn all the technical stuff which was very daunting but together we worked it out. To be honest we learn something new every day, it’s a pretty exciting industry to be in.

Oh and I nearly forgot…..juggling children and running a full-time business from home has it’s challenges ;)

What about Erin & Tara are you most proud of ?

Looking back and remembering the conversation we had in a local cafe about becoming wedding photographers, that was five years ago and seeing where we are today! This is an achievement one we are very proud of.

What do you think has contributed to your success?

A lot of hard work, persistence and support from our amazing husbands! I’m also a massive believer in the Universe providing what you need when you need it.

Jasmine Mansbridge is a painter and mum to five kids. She regularly blogs about the intersection of creative work and family life, as well as her recent projects and travels. You can also find her on Instagram.

Regional creative: Amanda Cole, designer

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By Mirella Marie

Amanda Cole is a graphic designer from Newcastle, Australia. Alongside her husband Scott, she runs Shorthand, a creative studio that specialises in branding. I wanted to get Amanda’s insights into running a business in a regional area after moving from a capital city, and her thoughts on starting up a design studio.

After living and working in Melbourne for many years, how have you found the transition to Newcastle, both personally and professionally? 

The transition to Newcastle was actually a move home. I completed my degree in Newcastle, living here before heading to Melbourne. Personally it wasn’t too stressful as I was returning to old networks and my husband and business partner Scott has been there every step of the way (including that dreaded 10 1/2 hr drive!) Professionally it was a bit daunting at first. There isn’t the sheer volume of potential clients in Newcastle like there is in Melbourne. Getting your name out there is tricky, as businesses in smaller places put a lot of weight on word of mouth referrals. You need to be patient as it takes time to build up your reputation. We were lucky in that previous Melbourne clients were nothing but supportive of the move and many have stuck with us even now, two years down the track.

How would you describe your work?

We are first and foremost a branding studio and that is at the core of everything we do. Generally our projects begin with a client requiring a new brand, or a rebrand in the case where a business is evolving. We like to work closely with our clients, spending time getting to know their business first before jumping into creative. Once an identity is finalised we roll-out to any number of touchpoints, be it business cards, stationery, web or environmental design. Visually we are big believers in less is more and find that a minimal approach allows for the clearest communication.

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Who is your typical client?

Our studio doesn’t have a typical client and we tend to attract from a variety of sectors, which I have always enjoyed. In saying this, quite often their problems are similar e.g. businesses evolving internally with new technology having a bigger influence on processes. In recent years the studio has attracted a lot of not-for-profit organisations which has been really rewarding.

Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?

Presenting the concept to the client is always stressful – but when they love the work and have a big smile it always makes my day. We have an initial collaborative approach with clients and like to involve them in the strategic process. I find working this way really beneficial, as relationship-wise we form a team. This also means when we unveil the concept, the client already has a general idea of what the identity is going to look like so there is no ‘presentation shock’. By getting clients more involved, they take more ownership over the brand as truly theirs which is great!

What advice would you give to someone starting a design studio?

While some manage to pull it off, I would advise against attempting to start a studio straight off the back of study or abruptly leaving a full-time position. The way I got to where I am now was in small transitional steps. I began freelancing after hours until I could no longer manage both it and my day job. After this I began a part-time position and eventually moved on to doing my own thing full-time. Even then I still occasionally took contract jobs or a bit of freelance before I was in a really secure place to start the studio. This was great for me as it’s low stress, low risk, and gives you opportunities to keep earning some steady cash whilst setting yourself up and gaining regular clients.

Once you’re set up, keep your overheads low by setting up a home office – although if you don’t trust yourself to get things done at home, co-working spaces are a great alternative.

Plan ahead. You need to be constantly thinking about the future and looking for new clients to keep the work flowing. Aim to transition your regular clients to retainers to give your business stability. Make sure your website and social media are regularly updated – leaving these jobs until the work starts to dry up will only give you a headache. 

Lastly, don’t neglect the admin. Xero is great if you’re looking for some easy to use accounting software and helps you keep an eye on those monthly budgets. Also, figure out what those budgets are! There are lots of easy to find calculators out there to help determine how much and how many hours you need to be charging. If you prefer the printed word, the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines is a great resource.

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What is the creative community like in Newcastle?

Really blossoming which is fantastic! There a lot of talented people here doing amazing things. Newcastle has one of the highest retention rates of any place in Australia. This is of great benefit to the area because while people often leave to experience other (bigger) cities, they then bring that experience back home with them when they return. 

What does a typical day involve for you?

I jump on my phone with my morning coffee to check any overnight emails, social media and read the news before heading to the office by nine. As Scott and I have evolved our roles within the business, I now spend the first full half of the day on meetings, scheduling, accounts, proposals and emails. After lunch is when I’ll aim to get into any creative work – this can be helping the guys with any overflow or actioning our latest brand roll-out. 

Each day ends consistently at five. After working in bigger agencies where it seemed competitive as to who could stay the latest, I’m very aware of leaving on time. Occasionally if there are deadlines looming we will work after hours, but I like to avoid that as much as possible.

I enjoy cooking so most nights revolve around making dinner. Being winter, it gets dark earlier so nights are spent in hibernation, but in summer it’s hard to resist a walk along the beach to the Anzac Memorial Walk (if you’re ever visiting Newcastle I recommend it!).

What are your plans for the future?

Currently the biggest priority is moving into a new studio space by the end of the year. When we established the studio in Newcastle, we started in a smaller space while we got ourselves settled but have quickly outgrown it. Currently we have three team members, with the studio networking with quite a few external creatives on a project-by-project basis. We intend to keep this model moving forward as it allows for the greatest flexibility on projects and personally it makes for my ideal studio balance.

To view Amanda’s work visit http://shorthandstudio.com. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Photography by Sophie Tyler
 

Mirella Marie is the owner and creative director of Vertigo, a Melbourne based graphic design studio specialising in brand identity and design. She is also a contributor for Women of Graphic Design, a project examining the work of female designers around the world. Join her on Instagram @studiovertigo.