Melbourne-based illustrator and lawyer, Natasha Sim, was 2017’s #CreateArtHistory winner. Her winning design Explore encapsulated the hearts of the State Library Victoria and viewers all over the world.
We recently had the chance to chat with Natasha about what inspired her design, her experiences as an artist, and how she finds work/life balance between her career as a lawyer and her art.
Read on to find out more about Natasha and get some great advice on finding success in challenges like #CreateArtHistory.
“Look to your own experiences for inspiration. Don’t try to draw something that you dislike or communicate a message that you disagree with.”
When did you first become interested in art?
I first became interested in art when I was very small. My grandparents lived in Malaysia at the time and my grandfather would send me letters full of drawings of birds, fish, and other animals to teach me their names and what they looked like. I loved getting these letters and would enthusiastically send back my own drawings of animals, which often didn’t resemble any living creature (my mum had to annotate them so you could tell what they were).
Please share what inspired your winning design Explore.
My parents migrated to Australia before I was born. My dad would often take me to the local library and encourage me to read so that I’d learn English well. I was drawn to stories about explorers and adventurers who travelled to distant lands, documenting the strange creatures that they found here. Reading allowed me to walk in their shoes and travel to those lands in my head.
Some of the selected State Library of Victoria’s images were illustrations of peculiar animals and fish encountered by explorers from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I was inspired by the story behind these illustrations and wanted to create an artwork that conveyed the power of books to take readers on a similar journey of discovery.
Did you envision your artwork before you began the design for the State Library Victoria challenge or did you focus on developing the character and narrative first?
I developed the idea and the overall design of the artwork first, rather than focusing on the character/narrative. When I illustrate, I want the whole artwork – the character, composition, and colour – to convey the emotion and the story. For me, this is the best way to achieve that effect.
What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in your artwork?
That other people identify so strongly with the stories and the emotions that I put into it. It’s incredible to have people respond to your artwork and say, “This captures how I felt at X moment in my life”. I’ve received a lot of messages from friends and strangers about “Explore” saying how it reminds them of their own experiences with libraries when they were children. I like making images that create magic in people’s lives.
Would you share with us how you balance your work as a lawyer and that of an artist?
When I first started practising law, it was difficult to balance work and illustration. To cope, I streamlined my illustration process. Nowadays I sketch and colour on the computer because it’s easier to make adjustments to the piece. I usually draw on weekends and I’ve changed my style so that I can complete illustrations faster. I also have an awesome husband who is an expert Maker of Emergency Dinners and Doer of Emergency Laundry.
I’ve also been blessed with an extremely supportive employer. My supervisor has always encouraged me to keep up my art and been flexible when I’ve occasionally had to attend to things during work hours. I do work late sometimes! However, my workplace doesn’t have a culture where people stay back just “for show”.
“These experiences taught me that creativity is about looking at things from a different perspective so that flaws and limitations can be used to your advantage.”
Please share with our readers some experiences you’ve had as an artist.
One of my earliest memories is of bringing a drawing to my mum, upset that I had made a mistake. I felt that I had ruined the whole drawing and I would have to throw it away and start again. My mum took a pencil and turned the mistake into a drawing of a flower, so it became part of the picture.
My primary school art teacher was a quirky man called Mr. Hall who used to repurpose junk from who-knows-where to make stuff. The school art room smelt like paint and Clag (children’s glue) and there was a large crocodile cut entirely out of foam suspended from the ceiling, with a person’s arm sewn out of fabric offcuts dangling from its mouth. He was very encouraging to all his students, provided we made an effort and didn’t try to stick hot glue guns into each other’s ears.
These experiences taught me that creativity is about looking at things from a different perspective so that flaws and limitations can be used to your advantage. I try and do this with my art and legal practice.
“Seek out constructive criticism from people whose taste you trust and who will tell you if something isn’t working. I often ask my sister for feedback on my work-in-progress because I can rely on her taste and brutal honesty, and my artworks are better because of her input.”
What advice would you give to other artists that are interested in joining a competition like the State Library Victoria’s #CreateArtHistory?
Think about what the winning artwork will be used for. Try to make something that is suitable for that use and for the target audience. Search for information about the organisation that is running the competition and what they’re about and try to make your artwork line up with the goals of the organisation.
> Seek out constructive criticism from people whose taste you trust and who will tell you if something isn’t working. I often ask my sister for feedback on my work-in-progress because I can rely on her taste and brutal honesty, and my artworks are better because of her input.
> Look to your own experiences for inspiration. Don’t try to draw something that you dislike or communicate a message that you disagree with.
> Finally, don’t get discouraged if you don’t win – think of every competition as a chance to do something you enjoy, improve your skills, and add new things to your folio.
Check out Natasha Sim’s Redbubble profile and keep up to date with all her new art.