Alex Tebb, aka Alex Louisa, creates the kind of hyper realistic art that literally makes you gasp. Her attention to detail is astounding.
I’ve been a fan of Alex’s art for years now, and I’ve watched her technique and style develop over that time. In fact, I blogged about her work way back in Februrary of 2009 on the red thread.
She focuses on the beautiful details found in nature, like the intricacies of a leaf or flower, an insect’s wing or a feather. Alex describes herself as a collector and she has a huge box of feathers, leaves, seedpods, lichen, shells, insects and bones that’s she’s gathered and is inspired by.
Alex is somehow juggling her art and being mum to twin three year old boys, and is currently “madly trying to complete twelve or so pieces” for an upcoming exhibition in the US (details at the end of the post).
Where do you live?
I live in a semi-rural area south of Brisbane with my husband and our twin three year old boys. Our house is still mostly in the pre-renovation phase, but I love our large, flat block, where there are big skies set against a few tall silky oaks, and plenty of bird-filled native plants and trees to spark my painting ideas. We also have a horse-sized German Shepherd who’s sole goal in life seems to be to coat the place in as much fur as possible, but I at least find some solace in the fact that all the resident birds build themselves some cosy fur-lined nests out of a small percentage of it.
Where do you create?
We’ve turned the back bedroom of our house into my studio. My husband (who is far more comfortable building race cars than working with wood, but still did an amazing job!) built me a curved wall-mounted desk along two walls after I drew him a picture of my idea. The floating desk means I’m not banging my easel and chair into multiple desk legs in the 3.5 x 3.5m room, which already can feel quite cramped since I try to fill it with too many materials! The desk had a lovely white surface for the first couple of hours, but a good five years down the track now, I have long since given up on trying to keep it that way!
The room gets really lovely light to work by for much of the day (I love it when it’s overcast – my favourite painting light) and looks out at one of the gardens, and further out down the long backyard. More recently we’ve built a cubby for our boys, which I can see from my studio window, so the theory is I might be able to get the odd bit of work done on that rare occasion while they’re playing on there. I think the tally is about 20 minutes total so far. Hooray!
When do you create? Is it a full time job?
As a work-from-home mum much of my work time happens at night, right when there isn’t any great light to paint by! On the rare occasion I can sneak past my boys’ room before they wake up and get a tiny bit of work in while the sun rises. Currently they go to daycare twice a week so I can have two blocks of time in the studio. Without that I could never meet my deadlines. Before I had those two days I used to work when they had their day naps. It’s amazing how you lose the ability to procrastinate when you know you only have two hours max per day to paint!
What path led you to this creative place?
I studied a Bachelor of Creative Industries majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing, because I thought it had a stronger career path than art ever could, but by the time I graduated I found myself applying for the one and only Graphic Art job that was advertised instead. I’d barely even used Photoshop and ended up in a job where I was doing digital art all day. I didn’t even know on my first day that the thing sitting in the middle of my desk was a Wacom tablet, let alone how to use it.
It was a workmate who encouraged me to apply for my first group show, when I think I’d been too scared to apply anywhere, and I had no idea where to start. I spent the next 8 years doing digital art for a day job, and my personal traditional art at night and on weekends. When I was three months pregnant with twins, I suddenly found myself made redundant from what I’d thought was a very secure job. It was a huge blow on top of the stress I was already experiencing from facing a high-risk pregnancy. By the time I’d finished up the notice period at my job, I was 21 weeks pregnant, on semi bed rest, and very unlikely to get another job somewhere else at that time, so I took that as a push to focus on my art career. I couldn’t concentrate well on my work initially (too many scans and appointments to worry about) but once my boys were about 12 weeks old, my brain kicked into gear, and I found I could be really productive in the little time I had, and I feel my work really improved at that point.
What’s your elevator pitch? How do you describe what you do?
I think I need a proper elevator pitch, since I usually just vaguely wave my hand and say something like “I paint birds and things” and the person’s eyes glaze over as they likely picture the most boring Australiana work imaginable that you’d find in a souvenir shop. What I actually try to do with my work is focus on all those wonderful things to be found in nature that you might otherwise overlook. I can obsess over the tiny markings on a magpie skull, or the way a dried seedpod twists and catches the light. I’ve become entranced with trying to capture that restrained suspense that hovers in those ‘big cloud’ days, and don’t get me started on the intricacies of feathers.
Plus birds. I really, really like painting birds. (My first word was “bird” – I’ve liked them for a while.)
How would you describe yourself in six words?
List-writer, shy, motivated, paint-flecked, Payne’s Grey, sleepy.
Where do you find inspiration and motivation?
A lot of the inspiration from my work comes from our backyard, especially if I’ve been walking around hunting for interesting leaves or features to paint. I love painting them on a large scale to really focus on their wonderful details. My boys are so used to me collecting things along the way that they now help me do it! We’ve recently found a nearby lake. It’s full of swans and ducks and looks magical at sunset, which gets me thinking about painting landscapes. I visit animal sanctuaries when I’m looking to paint or draw a bird or animal that I can’t find in my backyard, and my studio is filled with all the things I’ve collected along the way, always there to spark an idea.
What are the essential items in your workspace?
My most favourite materials: oil paint, acrylic paint, ink, PanPastels and charcoal (I can’t name one favourite medium because I adore them all for different reasons), plus the brushes, sponge applicators, wooden panels and paper that goes with them. There’s always water close by to throw in with my acrylic paint just to see what happens. I’ve had to train myself to use my easel far more than I used to. If I spend too many hours hunched over a piece on my desk I pay for it with an awful tension headache that night. And I love any storage item that has lots of little drawers, or dividers, or shelves. Spice racks are perfect for lining up little pots of paint on display, and I get far too much enjoyment out of sorting all the miscellaneous studio bits and pieces into their own special compartments inside boxes and drawers, though I tend to forget something even exists if I can’t just lay eyes on it when I walk into the room.
Do you have a favourite tool that’s essential to your work?
I really like Trekell paint brushes. I’ve only been using oils for a few years, and I love that I can get mixed brush packs that can cover all my needs, plus the tiniest liner brushes for when I want to obsess over details. I’d also have to mention the sponges called Sofft Tools that are used to apply PanPastels (chalk pastels in pan form, rather than sticks.) Nothing has even felt so unexpectedly natural to work with for me as these somewhat strange looking sponges! They are often mistaken for makeup sponges, but they are specifically designed for laying down PanPastel colour. I love that I can create marks that look like brushstrokes, and I actually feel like I’m painting when I’m using them.
What do you love the most about your creative space?
I feel inspired the moment I step through the door, even if I’m just sneaking in to grab something quickly and I can’t actually act on the inspiration at that moment! I like being able to look out at the birds and our yard, and I like the natural light. Having a space for all my art supplies at arm’s reach is amazing.
Is there something you don’t like, or would like to change?
Oh, space… How I would love a HUGE studio space. It’s likely a common artist complaint! I’m getting the urge to work larger and larger, when I used to think A3 size felt large years ago, and I would love to be able to line some huge panels up along and a light-drenched wall and just go crazy with paint, without worrying that I’m going to knock over a teetering tower of packaging supplies. It feels like the back third of my room is dedicated to cardboard boxes and bubble wrap right now! I’d love to have a big room with high desks where I could stand and work on a bunch of loose ink or acrylic works on paper, all at once. I can’t sit down when I’m working on these kinds of things. I’m hoping one day if we stay living here, I might build my dream studio out the back!
Do you listen to anything while you work?
I love listening to audiobooks. After I became a mum, I found I didn’t have time to sit and read anymore, so it’s the perfect combination to listen to a great book and work. I don’t play music quite as often as I used to. I think playing it quietly during nap times just wasn’t worth it for me, but I will admit to having it blaring sometimes on daycare days, especially if I’m working on an abstract background. I’d like to find more podcasts to listen to, as it’s something I’ve only recently gotten into.
Favourite work-time snack (or beverage)?
Tea. All day, in the studio and out. I strangely lost the taste for coffee when I was pregnant and never really got it back. My tea often goes cold, as I get completely sucked into my work, but I always get a silly little flash of happiness if I discover the cup actually still has some warmth to it.
What would be your dream job or collaboration?
Not too long ago I started wondering what my work would be like if it was printed on fabric. I’d seen Frankie and Swiss’ Limited Edition Art Fabrics series, and thought I would approach them one day if I could work up the courage (I’m terrible at this sort of thing!). I was so excited when Jacqui contacted me instead! Soon my “Delphinium” artwork will be printed on silk and produced into a dress. I’d always pictured my work on home decorator items, rather than clothing, so this has been a really interesting and unexpected twist for me, and I can’t to share it when it’s ready.
Tell us five online resources or apps you can’t live without.
Audible, Dropbox, Instagram, Squarespace and any of my favourite art supply websites! However, above all I just love writing out my work plan and tasks for the week in my MiGoals diary – it has so much space for all the lists I love to write.
What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
It’s likely something that any artist/maker mum deals with that they’ll find they are really inspired, or they’ve had a great idea that they’d like to act on or experiment with, but you’re on mum time, then by the time the kids’ bedtime rolls around you’re too tired to even try and the feeling’s gone. It’s just how it is. Plus the time I put into my detail work makes meeting deadlines a challenge when I am working with limited time, but luckily I’ve always worked well under pressure. I find deadlines a huge motivator, and I set them for myself even when I don’t have to send an artwork away by a certain date.
How do you work out the financial aspects of your business? What resources, tips and tools would you recommend?
Please recommend some resources, tips and tools to me? Every tax year I tell myself I’ll keep on top of it all FAR better, and then of course July ticks over and I have a whole year’s worth of finances to organise. Luckily I have an accountant who is wonderful! But I do need to find get myself one of those artwork inventory programs to help keep track of my prints and originals, rather than just relying on my online store to do it for me.
What advice do you have for aspiring creatives?
Experiment, research and practice! It’s a pretty simple, and rather boring-sounding idea, but it’s how I have learned how to use every material I use. When I have the time I love to just experiment to see what I might discover and be able to put into practice in future work. When it comes to career advice I think all you can do is keep putting your work out there. Put some time into a social media platform that you like and keep your website updated (Note to self there!). Apply to open calls and research places that could be a great fit for your work. Keep practising your craft so you can present your absolute best work to these places.
Do you have a dream that you’d love to fulfill?
I’d love to paint murals. The idea is utterly terrifying to me, which is why I think I’d like to make it happen even more!
What’s next for you?
Along with the launch of the Frankie and Swiss collab, I’m excited to be having my first US show this November, at Flower Pepper Gallery in Pasadena. I’m madly trying to complete the twelve or so pieces I have planned for it right now, and I’ve been sharing all the work for it on Instagram. I’ve been involved in a number of group shows overseas, but this is the first time I’ll have a lot of my works in the one place. Unfortunately I can’t travel over for it, as I’d have to take my boys with me and I’m admittedly putting travelling solo overseas with twin three year olds in the too-hard basket, but I’m still very excited about it, and honoured to have the opportunity.
Photos courtesy of Alex Tebb.
If you liked this post, you might like to catch up on previous posts in our Space to Create series.