You know how sometimes when you look at something, you get this warm feeling all over? That's how I feel about Tamara Armstrong's work.
Her use of bold, bright colours is both refreshing and exciting; a total visual feast... (hello, flash back to art theory.) Tamara is a local Tamborine Mountain artist, with possibly one of the best studios I've seen. A wonderfully light-filled space overlooking the mountains.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Tamara Armstrong and I am a tall lady that just can't stop painting! I've painted and been a maker for as long as I can remember and I'm now incredibly proud to call myself a professional practicing artist, working and teaching from my purpose built home studio at Tamborine Mountain in the Gold Coast hinterland of Queensland.
What inspires you / what has influenced you most?
Since moving to Tamborine Mountain in 2009, I have found the perfect environment that allows my creativity to just flow, non-stop. I literally am inspired everyday by the natural beauty of this mountain and its kind, calm and uniquely feminine energy. I've always largely been inspired by vibrant colour and bold patterns found both in the design world as well as nature. For the past two years my greatest influence has come from both external influences and internal influences, almost in complete balanced harmony. I've found myself being drawn back to botanicals, but also most recently to painting portraits of fellow women of substance, character and colour.
What is your intention behind your work?
As a woman of colour and proud feminist, I've found my voice with the help of my art practice. Painting allows me to spotlight passionate Australian women that I admire for staying true to their purpose and using their own unique voices, talents and style to inspire and lift up other women. The connections I've been able to make with my sitters has been so special and so nourishing for me, that I can't quite believe how lucky I am to have found a creative pursuit that allows me to reach out with genuine admiration and respect. These connections have turned into friendships that I believe will be long lasting and even better I then get to share my artwork with those around me, via the platforms I've created for myself. My intention is to share the inspiration and perhaps help others to find their purpose and own voice as well. I also feel that there is a very real need to represent more women of colour here in Australia, be it through art, or in the media - so that more young girls and women of colour can see themselves in a more diverse display and positive light. I've finally found my tribe by doing what I love.
Whats your favourite thing about your art?
Painting has allowed me to communicate my perspective and experience of the world in a way that I never possibly could with words. Every new painting comes as a complete surprise, even to me and as much as I can try to control where it will go and what it will ultimately look like - it will always inevitably take back the reigns and lead the way. I've learnt the most about myself and what's going on in my head and heart during the process of painting. It is almost like meditation, because it calms me down and allows me to switch off my mind. My art makes me feel good about myself and even better it allows me to connect with others in a unique way.
How did you take the plunge to leave your day job and focus on your art?
I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, but I really wasn't sure how to make a living from my art alone when I finished high school back in 1999. So I completed a double degree in Visual Art and Secondary Education and taught full time as an art teacher for 9 years before slowly slowly dropping back to part time in 2013. I always saw my art as a hobby and spent the school holidays painting like a mad woman. Teaching is such a demanding career and I gave all of my energy to my students during the term. I loved my job, but it was burning me out physically and mentally.
I painted prolifically when we moved to the mountain, while still teaching full time and my just body couldn't keep up with me. I developed an autoimmune disease and decided to take all of my long service leave to focus on my health and to also see what my art was really capable of from a business stance. At the end of my leave I fell pregnant with our daughter, which was wonderful because we had been trying for many years prior without success. My art went from strength to strength and more and more opportunities for murals, exhibitions and commissions came my way.
I attempted to return to part time teaching at the start of 2015 when my daughter was old enough to start day care, but on returning I just felt a huge shift had occurred. I couldn't muster the same amount of energy for my students, as so much of me was now going to my daughter and to my own practice. I ended up getting consistently sick and kept losing my voice on the days I was at school and so I decided to listen to my body and officially leave teaching to solely focus on my practice, my family and commit to a slower pace of life. It wasn't a hard decision in the end, but in retrospect I can see how naive I was for thinking I could do it all. I also didn't have enough faith in my art alone to have left 3 years earlier when my art really did take off.
What’s one of the greatest challenges you face as a small business owner?
As a creative my greatest challenge in owning a small business is that it all depends solely on me. My product is my art and my art is an extension of me, and if I'm not actually making then I have no product to sell. While I wish I could spend everyday blissfully painting away in my studio, the reality is there's so much else to tend to in order for people to even know what I am doing and to see my artwork, make a sale and find exhibiting and commission opportunities. Social media is fantastic for self-represented artists, but it all comes back to the individual and how much energy we put into promoting our work.
I've also now started teaching adults to help fund my practice, hosting the occassional full day painting workshops here at my studio or at other Gold Coast studios such as Left Bank Gallery in Southport and The Craft Parlour in Palm Beach. This has been so wonderful because it gives me people contact with incredible women from all walks of life, that are wanting to reconnect with their inner creative or simply just wanting to try something new and treat themselves to a day of self love. The down side is that this requires more time marketing, following up with bookings, travelling and changing my studio over from a working studio space to an orderly teaching space. Ideally I'd love to get to a point where I could afford to hire some help with admin, marketing and promotion and taking over my social media but I'm not quite at that stage yet. I do believe I will get there though, and I'm determined and passionate enough to continue this life long pursuit.