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    Creative women at work: Rachel Devine, visual storyteller

    Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 7.19.58 pm by Julie Mazur Tribe

    Rachel Devine is an award-winning photoblogger and professional children’s and lifestyle photographer. Her blog, SesameEllis.com, and Instagram feed attract fans from around the world with candid, compelling images of family life. She has authored and co-authored three books on photography, and last year, her project Within the Keep, featuring portraits of tween girls paired with words each girl chose to define herself, won both an Olympus Vision grant and a 2016 Bupa Blog Award. A native of Los Angeles, Rachel moved to Melbourne nine years ago and calls Australia home.

    image 2 Can you tell us about your background and how you fell in love with photography?

    I started when I was a teenager—self-taught, on film. I couldn’t draw well, so photography was my creative outlet. In 1995, I opened my business in Los Angeles, photographing kid modeling portfolios and headshots. My claim to fame was photographing Miley Cyrus! After moving to Melbourne, I met a woman named Simone Ryan, who represents kids’ clothing brands. That was my entry into the kids’ clothing world in Melbourne.

    How would you describe your work and creative inspiration?

    I take pride in the fact that you can look back at images I shot twenty years ago, even on film, and it’s hard to date them. With the clean lighting, true colours, and classic style, you would think I shot them yesterday. I love that.

    Light inspires me. I am such a fan of light—and dark. When the light comes into my bedroom in the afternoon—especially fall light, the stripes of light through the blinds on the white wall—it’s just so pretty. I can see a photo just by looking at the light. That’s how I’m constantly looking at the world.

    Do you have any simple advice about taking better photos, whether for social media or to sell products?

    Learn how to photograph in balanced, flat light without it being dull, and also avoid “hot spots,” which are overly bright areas (as opposed to dark areas). You can find flat, filtered light in a doorway, just underneath a porch, or by placing your items next to a window with a sheer white curtain. Or, coat your windows with yogurt! If you use a roller to paint your windows with sugar-free low-fat yogurt (not no-fat, which is too milky), it becomes sort of a frosted window. You get light through it but you can’t see out. It’s amazing. When you don’t want the yogurt on there anymore, spray the window with water and wipe it down.

    If you want to show something simply and beautifully on Instagram, there’s that slightly unsaturated look with lots of white—white backgrounds with one simple object in the photo—that works well. Just keep everything simple and have a clean, consistent look, whether it’s slightly unsaturated or neon coloured.

    image 4Which social media channel has been the most effective for you, and why?

    Instagram. For me, it has been about interacting with people. It’s not just putting my stuff up there and hoping they’ll show up. I find hashtags that I like and then click on them and “like” pictures that appeal to me. I just like what I like and engage as if nobody was looking. If you think of it as a community and not an audience, you build respect by actually interacting as a human being with other people in the community.

    Do you have help running your business?

    I don’t have physical assistants, but I have upgraded to systems. I pay for a program called Studio Ninja that I highly recommend. It’s a Melbourne-based customer management back-end service that does quotes and invoices, job tracking, all that. It makes my life so much easier. I also use CoSchedule for my blogging stuff.

    Like many of us, you are juggling a creative business and a family. What is your favourite tip for “making it work”?

    The best decision I made was saying that I work from 10–2, drawing the line at school hours. I’m lucky in that I can do the school run and be here in the evenings. I don’t feel that I’m working all the time when the kids are around.

    Have you ever taken a risk or tried a strategy that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

    There are tons. Everything has a learning curve. What I try to remember is that every bad thing will pass—and the good stuff will as well. When something goes wrong, I take those moments in just as I do when something’s going awesome; I know it won’t last and I want to get everything I can from it. As painful as some of it might be, I can still learn from it and absorb life lessons.

    headshotYou’re American but have lived in Australia for nine years. Has being an ex-pat shaped your art?

    Being an ex-pat has had a huge impact on my art. While everyone here speaks English, it’s a different world. It’s similar to home but it’s not home. I’m always looking at things slightly left of center. Also, I have a slight sense of longing all the time, being far from friends. There’s a Japanese word for that bittersweet appreciation of time passing, and I’m constantly aware of that. It seeps into my images.

    Probably the biggest issue I struggle with is that I’m not considered an Australian blogger photographer, but I’m not an American one, either. I consider myself more Australian than American—at least politically. I enjoy and celebrate the opportunities people have here.

    What are you looking forward to doing in your business this year?

    I’d like to take my Within the Keep project to a larger audience. I’m also working on a visual storytelling journal for kids to help them tell their own stories. I love how photography crosses nationalities, language barriers, intellectual barriers—all those things. It’s universal.

    Rachel’s Quick Picks:

    • Favorite read: the Brain Pickings e-newsletter and the book A Man Called Ove
    • Favorite podcast: I have yet to find a podcast I can listen to!
    • Favorite Instagram feeds: Recent finds are @EstherHollywood and @Adele_Miranda
    • Designers, creatives, or brands: the kids’ clothing brand Minti; illustrator Bianca Cash; the landscapes of photographer Bill Henson
    • Favorite place to go for inspiration: the beach
    • Most inspiring friend or family member: My father, who passed away in 1999. He was the one who said, “Photograph. I’ll pay for the lab bills”—and look what he’s done. I think about him all the time, every time I pick up a camera.

    Photographs by Rachel Devine

    For more about Rachel, visit her blog, Facebook feed, or follow her on Instagram at @sesameellis. To join Rachel’s Photographing Happiness group, where she helps members document their daily moments of happiness, visit the group’s Facebook page.

    Julie Mazur Tribe is an editor and book publishing consultant who loves working with authors, books, and creative ideas. She can be found at BrooklynBookStudio.com or on Instagram at @brooklynbookstudio.


    Posted by: Emma Clark
    Categories: Growing a Business, Interviews with Creative Women, Regular Columns | Comments Off on Creative women at work: Rachel Devine, visual storyteller
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    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.

    Tags: artist, Interview, painting, regional, Regular Columns
    Posted by: Julie Mazur Tribe
    Categories: Interviews with Creative Women, Regional, Regular Columns | Comments Off on Australian Women in Art: Outsider Artist Jasmine Mansbridge
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    Our top posts for 2016

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    By Emma Clark Gratton

    Can you believe it is nearly the end of 2016? Gah! I feel like I only just recovered from last Christmas. We are getting ready to take a well-deserved blog break over the holidays, so have prepared a round up of our top posts over the last year for your reading pleasure! Bookmark this post to read later on the beach, in a hammock, or on the couch over a glass of eggnog and the shortbread biscuits meant for Santa.

    Small town creative: how to live, work and create in a regional area

    By Jasmine Mansbridge

    I am writing this blog post while also preparing for a trip from my hometown in Hamilton, Victoria, to Sydney. So it really is a good time for me to think about what is means to be a creative person living outside of the city and how I have gone about finding and generating creative work opportunities.

    Read more...

    How to succeed as a multi-passionate creative

    By Bec Mackey

    Do you find yourself pulled in different directions by your work and your creative projects? Are you easily distracted by a new idea or flash of inspiration, only to abandon it again shortly afterwards? Or maybe you’re trying to juggle working and paying the bills with a creative side project, and finding it hard to manage both at the same time. You may beat yourself up for being fickle, unable to commit, or to make a clear decision. But despite what we’re told by society, not everyone is built to have just one linear career path, and being easily distracted isn’t necessarily a bad sign. If any of the above resonates with you, it may just be that you are multi-passionate.

    Read more...

    Branding basics: Define your brand

    By Mirella Marie

    What is a brand? A brand is more than just a logo. A brand is who you are.

    There are five fundamentals that form a brand. One cannot exist without the other, and for a brand to be successful, the fundamentals must work together to communicate everything you think, say and do.

    Read more...

    Project planning 101

    By Jes Egan

    Being organised is a skill. It’s something that you can learn and refine but it doesn’t always come naturally. I have always been an organiser since a very young age. Today in my day job, that is exactly what I do. I plan and manage projects from start to finish and all that stuff in between. You may be lucky enough to have a specialist around you who will do this, or like many small creative businesses have to become a bit of a jack of all trades and apply this skill to what you are doing. Here are a few of my tips to help plan away.

    Read more...

    How to quit your day job

    By Emma Clark Gratton

    You’ve been working on a creative side gig alongside your main job for a while now. You’ve got a few regular clients, are making money and are in demand. Most of all, it’s so fun and rewarding that you spend all your lunch breaks and evenings working on your ‘hobby’. If this sounds like you, it might be time to take a leap and pursue your creative project full time.

    Read more...

    Creative blues: five common fears and how to beat them

    By Emma Clark Gratton

    Working for yourself or passionately following a creative project requires a level of mental toughness and self-confidence that is hard to maintain. Dealing with rejection, financial challenges, working long hours with just yourself as taskmaster… all these things can build up until you are having an existential crisis before your morning coffee.

    Read more...


    Posted by: Emma Clark
    Categories: Regular Columns | Comments Off on Our top posts for 2016
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    Australian Women in Art: Lily Mae Martin

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    by Annette Wagner

    If you know me, you know that I’m passionate about art. All kinds of art. I love being floored by work that conveys an emotive response or inspires me to think beyond my world of possibilities.

    Lily Mae Martin’s work does just that. When viewing her incredible, highly technical drawings, I become both lost in the detail and enamoured by their complex totality. For this last “Australian Women in Art” post of 2016, Lily Mae was kind enough to answer a few burning questions, uncovering that, for her, it’s all about drawing, drawing, and drawing.

    What in your personal life influenced you to pursue a creative career?

    A timely question as this has been on my mind of late. I think there were a few things that led me here. I’ve always drawn, always written, always been interested in the dexterous arts. I think drawing outdid the rest because it allows me to be expressive but also hide a lot within it. There are a lot of things I try to work through with my art, and drawing is very safe for me. It keeps the hands and mind busy.

    It’s also very accessible. I’ve been making my way through this world largely on my own since I was just sixteen, so I never had much opportunity in the way of money or support. I work with pen and paper, and although now it’s fancy hot-pressed paper and Micron fine-liner pens, I was also happy with the backs of forms and cheap ballpoint pens.

    Your work is incredibly fine, detailed drawings. How did you arrive at this medium? Have you, or do you, explore other media for your creativity?

    Drawing is (mostly) immediate. I just want to sit down and make work. I have other passions, such as printmaking and oil painting, but these require a lot more build-up and planning and space and time, and I don’t have that space and time. I'll get to those things one day, but for now, drawing is what works for me. I’ve been working for so long creating my style and setting little challenges for myself within this medium. And there is still so much to explore!

    Harkening back to my admiration of printmaking, and especially etching—that’s what I try to replicate within my drawings. Building up shape and tone with tiny little lines is so very captivating for me. Of course, I see this as an ever evolving thing. Once I feel I have mastered drawing and detail, I’ll probably undo it all and get abstract and expressionist. My thinking is, if you know all the rules, you can break them. Being skillful and disciplined has always been very important to me.

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    Seated Nude, by Lily Mae Martin, 2016. Ink on paper, 75 x 105 cm.

    Were you ever discouraged or have you had setbacks that derailed your creative passions? What are five favorite things that keep you focused, optimistic, and motivated?

    Yes, very much so. Five things that keep me focused, in no particular order of preference, are:

    1. I love drawing.
    2. I feel good when I’m drawing.
    3. I want to master drawing.
    4. Drawing makes me happy.
    5. Drawing.

     

    How do you manage your time and creative output with children and all that entails? Do you think having children has contributed to your work?

    Not very well, but I keep trying! I have to prioritise it. If I don’t, I am not a very nice person—and then I start baking too much and it all gets very upsetting! But honestly, I don’t have a social life and I don’t make it out to events much. I just can’t do it all. It took me a few years to accept this, but once I did, I became a much happier and more productive person.

    There is a lot of pressure to do and be everything for everyone, especially as a woman. But stuff that, I say. I love, love, spending time with my kid and my husband, and I love drawing. Beyond that, there isn’t much time for anything or anyone else at the moment. It may change one day, but childhood only happens once for my little one, and I intend on enjoying it and making it as magical as I can. The world can wait.

    Having my child has contributed to my work in that she’s reminded me of the wonder and joy in the world. She stands in my studio and says things like, “Mummy, no one can draw like you,” and it’s the best. She was drawing before she could walk. I wouldn’t wish the art life on her, but I definitely think that the joy and problem-solving that come with creating are powerful things for humans to have in their lives, regardless of whether it becomes a career or hobby.

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    Lily Mae Martin in her studio. Photo by Gene Hammond-Lewis.

    Do you think there is a gender imbalance in Australia’s current contemporary art system? Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female artist? If so, what was the scenario?

    For sure. There’s a gender imbalance across all aspects of life, so of course there is in art as well. I feel it keenly. I think the most obvious thing is that male artists get all the air-time, the wall space, the praise. It just does my head in when men—and women—do not check their unconscious bias. Sometimes I want to jump up and down and yell, “WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN?”

    Do you feel that Australian female artists have fewer resources and lack crucial financial support to go into making and producing art? 

    Most likely. I mean, my experience is that the few residencies I would have considered won’t allow children to go. The reason generally given is that they want the artist to have alone time to create something. That’s all fine and great if said artist has a wife, or family support. But considering that I am the wife with no family support, it isn’t very helpful.

    One time I did apply for a grant—and even paid someone to help me put it all together—but the weekend before we were going to submit it, the grant was cut and no longer existed. So, really, are there any resources for anyone?

    Where do you find inspiration? Do you have advice for other creatives on how to be inspired?

    I find inspiration everywhere. I find it on long, long walks, and while traveling, reading, and learning about history and science. I like to watch animals and birds, and the way kids negotiate their conflicts. People-watching at the supermarket or the gym, or on long train rides and in cafes, also inspires me. Looking at art is inspiring, but I tend to draw from other things in life to bring into my work.

    I think to get inspired you need to find the joy, and you need to want to explore and enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy it, why do it? Fame and glory are the wrong reasons to commit your mind and time to anything.

    Lastly, what is the best advice you have ever been given?

    When I announced that I wouldn’t be drawing again, my grandmother—may she rest in peace—said, “Well, that’s just silly. You have a talent; don’t waste it.”

    She also berated me for getting stuck on what was trendy, and praised my skill, though she noted that some of what I make is “repugnant.” She was a true gem of a woman.

    Lily is represented by Scott Livesey Galleries in Melbourne.

    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.

     

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    Posted by: Julie Mazur Tribe
    Categories: Advice and Tips, Interviews with Creative Women, Regular Columns | Comments Off on Australian Women in Art: Lily Mae Martin