Southern Highlands artist Jacqui Brown, from Colo Vale in the northern villages of the unique NSW food and wine region, has a multi-faceted flair that lends itself to all genres, from Monet style landscapes to cartoon-like Star Wars movie sets.
Shonagh Walker chats to her about her unwavering passion for art.
Photography by Paul Suesse
Southern Highlands Artist
“Painting isn’t something that I have ever classified as my hobby,” reveals Jacqui. “I have always wanted it to be my way of life; to continuously tread a creative path. Whether it had been with the sewing needle at the age of 19, or selling crafts at my local Burrawang Village Store with Mr and Mrs Kirkby. I also find creative peace in Illustrating books like Rainbow by Andrew Chinn and Birds n Words by local author John Bicknell. I never stray too far from my passions.”
“I was 18 when I first picked up a paint brush, “ she recalls with a humble smile. “I worked mostly with pencil prior to that. It wasn’t until I started at TAFE after my HSC that my eyes were opened, and I learnt so much more. I felt the high school art classroom was more of place for Mad Max movie fans, than serious artists, which was what I wanted to be.”
Jackie completed her Diploma in Fine Art at Moss Vale and Goulburn Tafe with esteemed artists Susan May, Robyn Kinsela and Bob Millis, the latter of whom owns and operates MossVale art store, Arthead.
“When I finished the Diploma, colleges had started to shut down,” reveals Jackie from her home studio, which sits seamlessly between her kitchen and family room and makes the entire home feel like den of creativity. “I could no longer practically study in a classroom, unless I travelled to Wollongong. So, I decided to keep practicing by myself at home, fulfilling commissions locally and from around the country, while still working at HarperCollins in Moss Vale.”
Days Spent At The Easel
“I find myself painting almost every day” she beams. “It is my downtime between being a mum to two kids (Sarah, 13, and Ollie, 9) and working as a casual bookkeeper. However, the seasons in the Southern Highlands are quite distinct and beautiful, and I adore gardening. So, I find myself frequently in the garden gathering inspiration from its ever-evolving beauty. I take that back to the easel and lose myself for hours. I work in acrylic paints on canvas and board and coloured and lead soft pencil on paper. I also like to use Pyrography tools now and then on wood.”
Inspired By And Immersed In Nature
“I love painting the natural world I live amongst,” says Jacqui. “Of course, I have been surrounded by it, growing up in the Southern Highlands. I started out painting flowers. I moved on to local scenes of the Highlands, sketched in pencil and then I tried my hand at seascapes. I’m currently finding that I’m drawn to painting native birds and animals with native plants.”
The Painting Process
Like any work, of any kind, painting takes time and effort, and often collaboration.
“On average, a painting will take me a couple of hours to lay down and block out areas,” says Jacqui. “Then I come back to it over the next couple of days. I spend two days with it, and then take two days away from it, and so on, until I am happy that it’s complete. I have paintings in my home that I have been owning on for many years. For instance, I am still working on a piece – Magnolias with 40 spotted Pardalotes, after five years. It is finally coming to fruition,” she laughs.
While Jacqui has some pretty serious art cred under her belt, she also loves a bit of frivolity, which helps keep her kids and husband entertained too. Their media room is an homage to some of the greatest films from the past five or six decades, and is, if you will, an immersive mural.
The walls, almost more intriguing than the movies displayed in the mural themselves, boast hand painted scenes from various Star Wars films, BIG, The World According Garp, Gremlins and many more.
“Our movie room started off with posters, but my husband suggested a mural,” she laughs. “We couldn’t decide on one theme. He is a big Star Trek fan, while I am a Dr Who fan, so it has become a wonderful blend of cinematic classics.
The idea hit Jacqui one day when scrolling online.
“I was going through social media when I came across Sharpie drawings on walls. I wanted to start with one in my bedroom with flowers. We had also just had coffee at Bowral’s Janek’s Cafe and saw they had used the same medium on their walls.
“So, one school holidays, I just suppressed my nerves and picked up the painting! My hubby is also a big movie fan so he was throwing them at me as quickly as I could sketch them. All the movies are films we have watched in our childhood and watched again with the kids. It brings us together as a family and leaves visitors having a blast guessing what they are!
“It has been something I work on throughout school holidays, so the kids can join in. In one day in the recent break, I was able to cover between four to five detailed pictures. The most intense pictures to draw was Uncle Buck and Rocky. The funniest was Flynn Ryder caught up in hair from the movie Tangled,” laughs Jackie.
Artists of All Generations
“My children love to paint,” Jackie smiles broadly. ”Our daughter is very talented with the pencil and Copic Markers and greatly underestimates her talent. I have guided her with painting techniques, but she would rather find her own way. My son loves to paint more abstract objects, which is something I find very hard to do.”
Nevertheless, the family comes together as their own artistic hub!
“There are weekends when all the kids in the neighbourhood come together and paint,” smiles Jacqui. “We get spare easels out and find paint up the curtains and the walls for days on end after each session. “It is so wonderful!”
“About a year ago, I hired an easel to paint alongside other artists at Spud Lane Studios in Robertson. I was struggling with depression and was thinking of putting down the paintbrush. However, I had the pleasure of taking one of Kate Vella’s Botanical painting classes. Her class just sparked something within me. I haven’t stopped painting since then. In fact, it inspired me to learn more, too. I have just finished an online National History Illustration course and I loved it so much.”
Jacqui recalls her most memorable project as being one she was commissioned to paint by Wingecarribie Shire Council, capturing the Highlands on canvas “It was gifted to our sister city in China – Kaifeng,” she says proudly. “Another memorable and very touching project was illustrating the book Rainbow Andrew Chinn. It was about his daughter Eleanor who was battling cancer and sadly passed. I was honoured to be taken on a journey and a battle that the family had faced. I was able to give them something to hold and share around the world. It was incredibly precious.”
As with all artists, Jacqui has moments where her creative process becomes stuck.
“I know all too well what it is like to be frozen,” she admits. “So many times, I have faced the decision to either just give it away or keep doing what makes me happy. If you’re also stuck, I encourage you to watch something inspiring. Take a walk in nature, take a class with like-minded people. Leave it for a while and come back to it. In the meantime, explore new mediums and techniques – even if it is completely the opposite to what you do! I have also found that listening to music helps enormously.”
Jacqui has recently completed a new series – Friends of the Garden, which (thanks to Covid-19) is currently only available to view and buy online. She is also busy working on another series.
“I working with ideas for my next collection. There is always a buzzing of thought. There are places I would love to visit and gather inspiration, but regardless, I keep plugging on. We are in such an unusual time, most of my projects throughout the year with Book Festival workshops and the like have had to be cancelled. Hopefully next year we can have a sense of where we stand.”