Artist Robyn Jackson

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Crescent Head based artist Robyn Jackson is inspired by the ocean and the beach, and says where she lives must be very close to heaven! Robyn’s fascination with textiles, including silk, lends itself to some extraordinarily beautiful artwork that can appear similar to watercolours, but are much more vibrant in colour …

Where are you originally from, and what’s your association with the Crescent Head area? 

My husband, Scott and I originally came from Narrabeen Beaches in Sydney. We wanted to move to the beautiful North Coast of NSW and both applied for work. We were so lucky to end up here in Crescent Head. 

I remember my first exploration to Big Hill (south of Crescent); there was no one on the beach and the dolphins were jumping over the pristine, turquoise water, and I thought we were in heaven! We now live on a bush block ten minutes from the Crescent Head beach.

Where did your love for colour and textiles begin?

My fascination with dye and fabric first started at school in Year 10, when we made batik wall hangings. I loved the arty side of textiles and became a Textiles and Design teacher at high school, after doing art at Wagga for a term.

I was buying new batik dyes, when the supplier said: “Why don’t you try painting on silk; it’s much easier”. So, I was like a duck to water! The colour palette of intermixable dyes inspired me to explore and have fun with colour.

I have always loved how silk absorbs the dye to reveal brilliant colour. The sometimes unexpected results from dyeing always excite me too.

Back in the day (the ‘70s), my other artworks included weaving and macramé, which has also come back into fashion.

I am also addicted to creating fibre artworks with fabric and thread, where you use the sewing machine as your paintbrush, layering different threads and fabrics to create a design. Sometimes I use machining, silk painting and applique in the one artwork.

You completed a Textile and Design degree; I understand … What are some of the most valuable skills you learned through formal study?

How to use a sewing machine for creative pursuits was the most valuable lesson I learnt. Even the naughty kids at school loved fabric painting and were quiet when making their masterpieces! Year 11 and 12 Textiles have a very creative component, where students choose their favourite techniques to create their major works. 

The other valuable skill I learned was how to teach, and now I am lucky enough to share my passion with others and watch their skills blossom.

The range of materials you use to create your art is quite broad – oils, watercolours, dyes, fabrics … Working with silk sounds fascinating! What are the unique challenges this beautiful fabric presents you with?

My artworks take me on a journey. First I start with photos I have taken, or Old Masters’ paintings that inspire me. I look for a photo that has a strong composition. I often change the lines to create a stronger, more interesting design, and then the colours flow with a story of their own. 

My work is not photo realistic. It’s more about design and colour in the landscape. I love curvy, flowing lines, which are also suited to the use of gutta (a coloured rubber resist that follows the pencil drawing and holds the colour in that area) when painting on silk.

The unique challenges silk painting presents is mostly in the steaming process that fixes the dyes. (Your artwork is rolled up in fine cotton like a sausag, and then around the inside of a bamboo steamer and cooked for two and a half hours hours.) I always keep my fingers crossed when unrolling the silk after steaming, hoping no bleeding of dye has occurred. If this happens, you have to ad-lib and create a new cloud or petal to disguise this!

You’ve been involved with quite a few exhibitions now. How do you come up with ideas to create whole new bodies of work?

Good question! I always carry my phone, so I can take photos of beautiful scenery, flowers etc. and then trawl through my photos for inspiration.

The beach and walking on the beach is my creative place. I look with an artist’s eyes and see beautiful lines in the sand or funny pelicans and cloud patterns. It is when I am walking that my mind stumbles over a new theme for the next exhibition, and then ideas snowball from there.

If we were to have a look through your paint supplies, which colours would most likely be almost empty? 

Turquoise and jade are my favourites, because I am a water person. I often use purple, oranges and greens and tonal variations on these colours too. I am not usually into subtle greys and blacks. 

Painting on silk is like watercolour painting, once you have drawn your gutta outline; however, the colours can be more brilliant, because they are contained within the gutta outlines. Painting water over dyes on the silk creates the flow and feel of water, which I love.

What’s something you’ve learned as a full-time artist that you wish you’d known years ago?

Marketing and setting up an exhibition takes up so much time. People just think you wack a painting on the wall, and it sells the next day! I think marketing is becoming so much more important and does take up so much time. I stop painting about six weeks before a big solo exhibition, which includes about 40 paintings, and start doing the advertising and making prints and cards!

You offer workshops too. What are some of the classes you offer – and what skill level is required to participate? 

I do weekend workshops, where individuals come away with two masterpieces, one A4 size and the other a little bigger. All skill levels are catered for. So many participants say, “I can’t draw”, but by the end of the weekend they are really proud of their achievements. (The cost is $130 for two days plus $45 for materials.)

I also work with individual students in my studio, and we paint alongside each other for three – four hours ($80 plus materials). I paint alongside my students, so they can see the techniques, feel like “I’m not breathing down their necks”, and because I love it!

What upcoming exhibitions are on the agenda?

We have an upcoming shared exhibition titled 4ART at Macleay Valley Community Art Gallery, Gladstone, running from 9th August to 2nd September 2018.

Howard Piggott, Louise Keough, Scott Jackson and Robyn Jackson (me) explore our stories in the landscape through our different mediums – acrylic, digital photography, oils and silk. I then have a solo exhibition the following Easter 2019 planned.

Where can we see more examples of your work? 

My website is the best place to see my artworks. It shows the artwork, price and size. Many of these paintings can be viewed at my home gallery, 122 Wortley Drive, Crescent Head. You need to phone for appointment. Ph: 6566 0182.

On Facebook: robyn jackson art bites page includes new and old works. 

The Old Lodge Gallery at Gladstone has a great display of my original paintings. Pandanus Boutique at Crescent Head and Freddo Pie Shop and Café at Frederickton sell prints and paintings.

I am also happy to do commissions.

Thanks Robyn. Interview: Jo Robinson.

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