I would like to introduce to you my friend Hannah, we used to work together in Sydney at a design agency. She too made a tree-change, her move was to Blackheath in the beautiful Blue Mountains. So very talented and always a pleasure to talk to especially to find out the latest creative pursuit she is involved in.
Where did you grow up? Whitley Bay, a seaside town in the North East of England.
Were you creative when you were young? I just loved drawing and making things, I had this really great 70’s book called ‘exciting things to do with colour’, things like printing with apples to make napkins, making wrapping paper with potato prints etc and I remember thinking it was really exciting! It made me feel like life was full of endless creative possibilities and things to do. Slightly hilarious now I look at the book but if I’m honest, it does still give me that same goose-pimply feeling ☺. Also, I remember making a bedside table, out of a cardboard box, it even had a drawer! I think the handle was made from a toilet roll from memory. I was dead proud of it at the time.
What job are you doing? Currently, I am a casual academic teacher at UWS on the 1st year Graphic Design course. It is really fulfilling the ‘mentor-in-me’, I love working with the new students to encourage a new way of thinking. I am also doing interesting local graphic design jobs and repeat business with existing clients. And I’m a mum – that’s a job too, right?
What is your creative thing? I’ve always tried to do things on the side with the thought I would make money from it but it was always fraught with self-doubt, trying to think what the fictitious client would want rather than what I wanted to create. Then I had an epiphany after realising I’d prefer to just create stuff that I liked, for myself, just as a hobby. I found that returning to the basics and doodling again was a great way for me to get through my creative block and then I started to play around with the doodles and I created some nice shapes by accident. So, I painted one onto a canvas and I really liked it, it wasn’t until I showed the work to Kelly at Platform Gallery that the idea for a show came about. It has been a serendipitous journey, taking opportunities as they crop up, seeing where the tide takes me so to speak, rather than trying to set the course.
Tell me about your creative process. How do the ideas come about? Well for me, there are no ideas as such, it is all about the process. I like to take the pressure off so I just doodle, in books, on scraps of paper, or large sheets of paper at the dining table when we’re having tea – I create best when I am not thinking about it, just doodling "in the moment". Then I leave it and look back at it with a fresh pair of eyes and then I start the process of getting the drawings into the computer and messing about with them in Illustrator – I make the drawings into a vector and invert them etc until I find something I like and then I might drop one onto a mock-up of a canvas or something. I print out the shape and use an enlarging machine to show it on a canvas and then I can draw it up. I am interested to see what started out as a small doodle become a large painting. Something I would never have done if I had just started with the canvas.
What are you working on at the moment? I have a few irons in the mind-fire – I have a series of numbers and letters that want to do for kids, and then I’d like to get some fabric printed up so I can make some A-line skirts And I have some characters that I’d like to develop for a series of kids books.
Has your creative style changed over time? I have come to realise that I have always produced this kind of work but it has taken many years to realise how I could work with what I produce. I used to spend MANY happy hours lost in drawing the Union Jack, over and over again, when I was about 5 years old – it is a vivid happy memory from school. I think I have always enjoyed the serendipitous nature of being lost in doodling.
What did you know about being creative before you started? Did you have a creative family life? Did school encourage creativity? I‘ve always been drawn to visual art, my fave TV program growing up was Take Hart with Tony Hart, he had a section in the show called The Gallery, it was where music played and the camera panned across a selection of kids drawings – it was my dream to get into The Gallery one day. I always felt in the flow when I was doing art and I felt at home in the art studio at school but I definitely felt that it was a subject at school that was for the kids who were ‘not academic’ – there was a distinct lack of encouragement around art or creativity at school which I feel really held me back. I did go to art college after struggling through school and I finally felt I had found my tribe. My family-life was semi-creative, I think there was perhaps some repressed creativity due to a fear around lack of paid work for creative industries – who makes money as an artist? kind-of-thing. The plus side to my upbringing and schooling is that I am now incredibly passionate about bringing out creativity in others, helping to unblock the creative flow and encouraging people to understand their individual creative process.
How do you promote your work? I do use Instagram but I am not a natural ‘sharer’ of information so I do have to put a hat on for this activity and push through the natural urge to hide under a rock rather than to tell people about my work. Fortunately I have never received negative messages (through social media), if I did I’d like to think I would just laugh at it and ignore it, especially if I didn’t know the person writing it. I definitely wouldn’t get into a sparring war of words with them. As my Mum always used to say, ‘If you can’t say anything nice then it’s best to say nothing at all’.
What has helped you get your name out there into the world? I’m not sure that my name is especially ‘out there in the world’, and certainly not by anything I have done personally. We did get some nice press around winning this years major award at Sculpture at Scenic World and I won the Cultural Centre award back in 2015, and we were part of the first MTNS MADE campaign. I think being part of a small creative community that like to support and promote each other helps, and saying yes to relevant opportunities and being nice to people and doing a good job also possibly helps in spreading positive word-of-mouth feedback too.
What inspires you? Seeing exhibitions, traveling/being on holiday, talking with people and hearing their stories, being in nature, doing exercise.
Who inspires you? James Victore, Bruno Munari, Zoe Foster-Blake, Rachel Castle, My Family.
If you could talk to your 18 year old self when leaving to study or work in the big wide world, what would you say? Trust your gut instincts, there is no such thing as the wrong thing just use failure to learn and keep on experimenting. Make sure you’re happy in what you do and don’t be afraid to move on if something is not working out.
Do you encourage your son to be creative? I think we allow Sam to be himself at home and support the things he’s interested in (war, history and guns, currently). We regularly set-up large areas on the table for drawing and encourage him to get into his flow. He’s at an age where he is uninhibited which is lovely and we’re keen to keep this spirit alive for as long as possible! He loves to be creative in his role-playing games which is great to see.
What do you do when you’re not being creative? I think creativity seeps into all aspects of my family life – I genuinely never see being creative as a 9-5 job, I see it more of a way of thinking. Being Creative to me can be thinking of another way to do a task and I’m luckily married to a creative person that likes to do things differently too from time to time, I think this keeps life fresh and our brains active! To answer your question more broadly, I love taking the dog out off-lead in nature, going for a family bike-ride, watching a cool Netflix series, swim training, karate and pilates.
To find out more about Hannah Surtees:
Visit her latest show at Platform Gallery Katoomba until 23rd July 2018 www.platformgallery.co/