Carla Hananiah for

River Bennett (Photgraphy River Bennett)

She began to cry. 

I didn't realise until after I had stopped raving on. 

We were at a local cafe in the heart of Sydney. I slowly put my coffee down on the antique-looking coffee table and looked at her, completely moved. 

Why is it that artists cry when you talk about the things they love?

A deep red sunset I had seen in the dry open fields of the country, only days before, was the reason I was handing her tissues. 

We had been talking about the atmosphere of the land, and the extravagance of colour, and how crazy it was that no two sunsets are ever the same. I had pulled out my phone to show her an image I had taken, and that's when the tears had welled up. 

Something magical happens when you talk to an artist who is truly connected to her work.

I sat back in awe of this woman. A woman whom I had only recently had come to know. A woman who has had her first child only a few short months ago. A woman who when recently asked by her mentor, "Why are you at the studio so late at night? Why are you painting when you have just had a baby? Don't you want maternity leave and some rest?" answered simply, "I just want be to here." 

Her determination had won her The Blake Prize’s 'John Coburn Emerging Artist Award' in 2011.  She was also named in 2014 by SMH's Daily Life as one of the “Seven artists you should invest in now” – Sydney Morning Herald, The Age. She is represtented by Arthouse Gallery in Sydney and Edwina Corlette Gallery in Brisbane. She has been in countless finalist exhibitions across Australia and had her work adorning the pages of Vogue Living, Belle Magazine and the Sydney Morning Herald. And the art investors and galleries are begging for more.

I started painting when…

I was in Kindergarten. We walked in and I was immediately drawn to all the pots of paint, brushes sticking up in the air, as the paper on the easel fluttered in the breeze from the courtyard. My very first painting was of a dream I had the night before. 

It was always my happy place to sketch and paint, to make and do, and to be creative to any capacity. Yet I remember having insecurities about my artwork throughout my high school years. We tend to disqualify our expressions if they don’t match up with what we think is the ‘right’ way. When the time came to decide what I wanted to study in University, I really knew that it couldn’t just be something in the field of Arts because that just wasn't going to cut it. I had to focus on Fine Art. 

Painting and drawing for me is so much more than just describing a form I see in 2D. It’s about the vibrancy of colour, layering colours and marks. It’s about the feel of a brush scrubbing, dabbling or smoothly gliding over a support. It means placing focus on the beauty of line and texture, the physicality of paint and intensity of pigments. It’s about the process. The slowing down of my mind and letting my hand make decisions which I had only half-consciously thought about.

My teacher/mentor always said... 

I distinctly remember sitting in one of my first BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) classes and a lecturer quoting some very dismal statistics about our likelihood of making a living from Art, mentioning that very few of us would still be painting 5 years after graduating. I was shocked, yet feeling quite audacious that I wanted to be one of them. 

But on the up side, another lecturer said, “Your CV will be built line by line. Each line representing hours making the work, filling in applications, picking up and dropping off work everywhere and lots of ‘no’s’ to get that ‘yes’ opportunity.” Never was a truer word spoken! It made me realize that sheer hard work and determination were required to get there.

My mum every now and again would say, “Don’t despise the days of small beginnings”. And I would remember that either poignantly or sarcastically, depending on how my day or year was going!

It’s so true though … I always wanted to be three steps ahead of where I was (with no idea how to get there) but I’ve come to understand the reality is that the small beginnings are the training ground for when you do start making track work on your aspirations. It became something I used to mumble to myself when I was feeling discouraged during my years of postgraduate study and working in hospitality.

Lastly, my biggest supporter – my husband – would say to me, "Your dream job is something you’ll never find advertised on – you have to create your job, make it happen – no one is waiting to hand the opportunities to you – you have to get out there and chase them. So write your goals down and then start working out what you need to be doing to get there."

Which made me...

Think and realize that although I hated hearing it, he was right! Haha. 

I sat down and wrote a long list of goals that I wanted to achieve. They felt so daring and so private to put on paper. They looked stark in black and white. It made me decide to get over my insecurities, work hard and be tenacious. Years later, I found that piece of paper and read through my list. Amazingly, so many of them had become my living reality. 

When I had my daughter Juliet, I thought...  

Long before I was pregnant with Juliet, I used to have romantic notions of babies who slept all the time, who could conveniently be tucked away in the studio whilst I painted. And when they awoke, I’d just 'wear' them and continue to paint. How naïve and totally unrealistic!

Once I was pregnant, I started reading up on approximate sleep times for babies and I clocked up in my head the hours each day I could potentially paint in-between awake times…it had begun to look more challenging that my hazy dreams.

I began trying to work in the studio again when she was around 8 weeks old - with various levels of success. Some days she slept and other days I didn’t even get to pick up a brush – the day was consumed with trying to settle her and then driving home feeling discouraged that it didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. 

The biggest thing I learnt then was that babies are unpredictable. I needed a Plan B to continue working. My Plan B involved changing the way I worked. I switched painting supports from board to linen to lessen the preparation time and began to work mostly at night. While I tried to work as she slept during the day, it actually was better for both Juliet and myself to save the studio commute and work time for the night hours. 

This allows me to keep Juliet as my sole focus during the day. I really want to treasure and enjoy my days with her – there is so much to explore, so much to introduce her to. And if I can work at home on sketches and drawings while she sleeps, that is just a bonus on what I can get done at night. 

My greatest challenge on being a mum and professional artist is…

The balance between the two.

One very real fear was whether I could do both, and do them both well.

I would also say, making sure I look after myself. It’s hard to balance that and not get too tired. Particularly when working to a show deadline. 

But I realize that… 

It is worth it. I wouldn’t have it any other way – I absolutely LOVE being her mummy and I love being creative too. In fact I can’t – I know I am most myself when I have taken time to paint and draw, so I need to make time for that. It isn’t a selfish indulgence - it’s sanity and energizes me.

The beautiful thing about stepping into the realm of motherhood is that you begin to measure time in a new way. It is now so blatantly obvious – each month my baby grows more and marks new milestones. My value of time is changing – and I am much more determined and focused to pursue my craft in the time I do have free. When I’m in the studio, I am 110% there. There is a renewed sense of urgency to make the most of the time I have. 

I have learned that I still have so much to learn! I’ve learnt what a massive responsibility and intense joy it is to have a child. I’m still very new to mummy-hood but I’ve already learnt that it isn’t possible to do everything all at once. I have had to ditch some of my self-imposed ideals and keep the main thing as the focus. 

When I have deadlines, I let some things slide and realize we can live in a slightly less tidy house - it will all be waiting on the other side of that crazy week anyway. Most of all – Juliet doesn’t care about whether I have home-baked goods or a clean floor – she wants my hugs, my company and for me to be present in each moment with her. 

And if one day is completely crazy, it’s just one crazy, maybe tough, day. Tomorrow is always a new one!

Paint on location or in the studio…

Both - but mostly in the studio. The on-location works are mostly field notes, and a way to quietly introduce myself to the land’s shapes and lines. 

I dream about… 

The adventures we could go on whilst I pursue furthering my artistic endeavors. Things like overseas art residencies, research trips to new landscapes, seeing works I’ve only seen in books in their home galleries, and having overseas exhibitions.

My happy place is….

Catching the sunrise at the beach, a swim in the ocean, sipping coffee in the sunshine, and the studio.

Any more kids…

Definitely at least one more – I’ve always wanted more than one. I grew up with two sisters and my childhood was (and my adulthood is) richer for having them as family and friends. I want to give Juliet that experience of having siblings to adventure and bond with. 

Any advice for other WolfpackMrs. mamas who are brand new mums with a desire to keep pursuing the artist dream…

Do what you need to do to be happy. Enjoy your new life, your new baby, without feeling guilty. If that’s to work – then work. If that’s to take a break and figure out the new life changes and feelings – then take a break. 

Remember that one day it won’t be the way it is now. I needed to hear that during the challenging times, when I couldn’t see the end of the road. It’s shocking how much sleep deprivation can cloud your thinking.

Most of all, don’t wish away time – waiting for your baby to be old enough to sleep through, or to go to school, or whatever it is that you see as the solution for getting work done. These moments in their life are so precious. So embrace the bits of time you do have, make them count and think outside of your usual ways of working – it all adds up. 




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