With an appreciation of the Australian bush artist Nicola Woodcock, brings to life her surroundings with bold oil pastels, developing sculptural blooms and silhouette of ancient eucalyptus. Inspired in 2016 at a Writers Festival talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity, Nicola decided 'not to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, show up every day and do the work'. She launched her career in art and hasn't looked back since.
We caught up with Nicola from her home studio in Sydney as we launch our first artist collaboration for Spring Summer 2021, Woodland with Nicola.
How long have you been making art?
I always loved drawing as a kid and studied Art at school for 'A Level’ when I was 18, but I only started trying to build a career as an artist about five years ago, when I turned 40 and began playing with oil pastels.
Tell us a little bit about your life and career before becoming an artist
I grew up in the West Midlands in the UK and completed a degree in French and European Studies at Keele University. I lived in Hong Kong for few years when I was younger and because of this I always had a desire to travel. Straight after uni, I worked for a year or so in an advertising agency in their print production department solely to save enough money to travel around the world.
When I did get away my partner and I spent a year in Australia and I fell in love with the country. We were determined to come back and live here one day.
On return to the UK, I found work at a publisher in book production and eventually worked for Oxford University Press as a production editor on their Higher Education textbooks. I wasn’t happy though; I was working closely with creative types, but I wasn’t personally doing any creative work at all.
When I had my first daughter (now 14) I decided not to return to work. When she was about 9 months old, I signed up for a life drawing class as a way to get out of the house by myself and to keep a bit of sanity. I had no idea of the impact it would have on me and I loved those few hours each week. It was my dream to be an artist, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. We were able to move to Sydney in 2010 and by 2012 I was at home with three small children.
In 2016 two things happened. A couple of friends had a spare ticket to a Sydney Writers Festival talk by Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity and they talked me into going along. I’d never heard of her. The message I got out of that talk was that you have to show up every day and do the work, you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.
Then I got an Instagram account and decided to do a 100-day challenge. I picked oil pastels as my focus because they were so portable and quick and clean to use. Many of the pieces were made while I was out at the park or the beach with the girls. I made myself post-work every day without judgement (which wasn’t easy, to begin with) and learnt a huge amount in the process. At the end of the challenge, I had an exhibition locally and sold many of my 100-day pieces and that’s where my art career began.
What does your workspace look like? What is a usual day in the studio like for you?
I work in a small studio in the back garden of my house. It’s really convenient to have everything set up and ready to go just ten steps from the back door. After I’ve dropped my youngest to primary school I come back to the studio and try to spend as much time in there as I can, at least until I have to leave for school pick up, but it’s always a juggle between the domestic and the creative.
You live and work on the edge of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, how does this flow into your work?
I live in a street adjacent to the National Park and I’m struck by the majesty of it pretty much every day. This vista of a vast expanse of trees reveals itself as you approach our road. It’s awe inspiring. Then when I walk into the National Park from the end of the road, I get to see all of the detail, the close ups of those trees, the rocks and branches, tiny flowers and the colours. My landscape works are all based on my bushwalks in the area.
Can you share your artist process.
I’d love to be able to paint in oils or acrylics but in the last couple of years I have had a horrible reaction to them, so I stick to oil pastels because they are non-toxic to me!
I like to work on timber because the pastel really adheres well to the surface and I can apply a lot of pressure for an opaque finish. I don’t blend colours together, I try to keep the colours clean and fresh.
I don’t create sketches or drafts but launch straight in and let loose! I love that about the oil pastels - they are not particularly easy to remove or go over once they are down, so I just trust in my process and what comes out is what you get. I work directly from observation for my still life pieces but for the landscapes, I rely on memory and photographs. I generally work on one piece at a time. If I stop and leave a piece unfinished and focus on something else, I never seem to be able to go back to it. For the larger pieces which I can’t complete in one session during school hours, I might work over three or four days to finish it and I’m able to pick up the thread each day but if I wait longer than that I find it hard to return.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working towards a solo exhibition with Michael Reid Northern Beaches in August 2021. It’s a really exciting new gallery in Newport curated by Amber Cresswell Bell and I’m thrilled to be showing it there.
Thank you Nicola! It has been an absolute pleasure collaborating with you. Love to know more about Nicola's art, follow her on Instagram.