It’s a crisp and sunny day when artist and illustrator, Natalie Martin, greets The Mainspring at the door of her studio. Her dog Xavier weaves between her legs, before disappearing in a jumble of fur between the other small studios that make up Ashmore Arts.
“It’s like the worst kept secret,” says Natalie about the commercial hub, which sees around 6000 visitors each year from the annual Surf Coast Arts Trail.
“I never have trouble coming out here, this is where I like to be,” says Natalie, and it’s not hard to see why. Her studio is flooded with natural light, looking out onto the rolling hills and familiar bushland of Torquay.
“I feel like the inside is outside for me here,” she says. “It’s just the most calming, peaceful place – sometimes there’s chainsaws and all kinds of things going on – but everyone’s creating together so you just have a sense of relaxation when you’re here.”
It’s an artists dream to have a place to anchor creativity, and for Natalie, inspiration and creativity is just a window pane away – a landscape view that ties in to her current artwork – watercolours of Australian flora and fauna.
For Natalie, location was a huge factor in influencing her current art direction.
“When I was living in Collingwood, everything was so fast paced that I didn’t feel like I existed… It was quite isolating. When I came down here, I immediately felt like I was part of the community,” says Natalie.
“You want to spend time in nature… And I think it’s slowing down and opening your eyes. Like I am painting literally servo bush style plants, but it’s about taking the ordinary and making it beautiful… It’s right under your nose.”
However, her current art direction wasn’t always the plan, with a younger version of herself studying graphic design with the belief that she would pursue illustration.
“I always struggled with subject,” says Natalie. “I always loved experimenting and playing, but to lock into a subject that really meant something to me – I found that the most challenging. I didn’t study art – so when you study, a huge chunk of it is building up that conceptual base,” she explains.
“And I really thought I would pursue a more illustration path and it’s kind of evolved now more so into an art based path… It’s prints and products and exhibiting. I went through everything. I did charcoal, I did drawing, I did oil painting – I did everything that I could. I couldn’t settle on one thing because I was too excited to try them all…”
Recently completing a ceramics course, Natalie believes all the pieces of knowledge contribute to one big picture – each medium influencing one another.
Practicing art her entire life, (her mum was an art teacher), she spent six years in the surf industry as a graphic designer before focussing on her art full time.
“I had been freelancing and doing art on the side and exhibiting, but I was working out of my house and it was an absolute mess – so I decided to go out on my own properly and give it a proper go… Which I love, it’s the best,” says Natalie.
And she’s never looked back – her art evolving from owls and birds – “I started to get called the owl lady and I was like… no,” she laughs – to the bright flora and fauna shown on her instagram feed.
So how does she do it? Aside from her raw natural talent, Natalie likes to observe her subject for quite some time before she begins her process.
“I get a glancing impression of them,” Natalie explains, “and that [gesturing at charcoal sketches] will be my interpretation of it and how I’m going to get it on the page through my hand,” she says.
“I start thinking about light and shade at that point and then when I go onto the page, I try do to the most minimal sketching possible, so it’s all very organising and uninterrupted flow – I think that’s my best way to work and I’m my loosest,” says Natalie.
“It’s a constant challenge for me to get looser, rather than tighter,” she laughs. “My brain is super literal, my dad is an engineer so I’ve got this balance of left and right brain to the max.”
Whilst that may be the case, you can see the relaxed influence her space has on her work – her art reflecting the beautiful and calm nature of, well, nature – the beauty coming out in its need to not be anything more than what it is.
A fantastic feat for any artist, and one we’re proud to have in our backyard. Natalie’s courage in experimentation has us excited for the future – so watch this space.
Written by Caitlin Haddad