If there is one message that artist Carly le Cerf would like to get across to young people it is that - as opposed to what she was told as a kid - you actually can make a living from art.

“I was told there’s no money in it, so I went teaching, but there are ways to make money from art. These days especially,” she says. “So that is what I want to say to the boys: If you have anything creative about you, you can really make a go of it. If it’s something you love, just do it.”

Carly will have the chance to impart her message when she does a presentation to Hale School’s boarders next Wednesday as part of Fine Art @ Hale 2019. After her talk the boys will be given the opportunity to have an evening ‘sneak-peek’ tour of the Fine Art@Hale exhibition under lights.

Living in Mt Barker, Carly describes how she came from a creative family with a wood-turning father and a painting mother. She always knew she loved painting and as a quite introverted child, spent hours on the floor drawing, colouring or sketching. But when it came to a job she decided she should have a “proper job” and trained as a teacher. So while she has always been painting or drawing, it was not until her twin girls were born 13 years ago, that she finally had the opportunity to step away from the demands of full-time paid employment and devote herself to art.

“I went about it the long way,” she says. These days she teaches two days a week at a nearby primary school. But it is her teaching career that she has to thank for five years spent living and working in remote schools in the Pilbara, where her love of landscape became really evident. Carly says people often ask her why she is not interested in doing portraits or still life.

“I think, ‘I know it’s unusual’, but I just love it,” she says. “I have always been interested in landscape, I drew it all the time, but I think I truly fell in love with it when I was in the Pilbara. I don’t know why, but I just love it.”  

And it has always been rural and bush scenes that have captured her imagination.

“I have never done buildings or that, and I don’t really paint the ocean, it’s a bit like painting a sunset, I just find it impossible to replicate,” she says.

Carly spent her childhood in the city, but after falling in love with the bush, found she could no longer live “in all that concrete”. Mt Barker offers her the peace to work every day. The only downsides are her distance from big-city galleries with whom she needs to build relationships to “network” and the cost and riskiness of freight; she has had several paintings damaged or go missing. Luckily Instagram is an amazing medium for promoting her art, she says.

Originally painting landscapes from a more traditional land-based perspective, in the past few years Carly has become renowned for paintings that depict rural landscapes from a bird’s eye view, capturing the silvery golds and russets of stubble-covered paddocks in an Australian summer. Her studio is situated on five acres surrounded by farmland. Perched on a hill, she can see the Albany wind farm from her studio; the Porongurups from the kitchen; and the Stirling Ranges from the front of the block. It might seem pretty obvious why she is inspired to paint sweeping landscapes from this studio.

Patchwork Australian landscape from above!

“But I didn’t notice that. I do these aerial pieces, and it was not until other people pointed it out that it must be because I live up here… I didn’t realise that it’s maybe because I live up on a hill,” she says.

Describing her art as representational but not truly realist, Carly uses an encaustic technique where she mixes pigment mixed into molten wax and damar resin which, when layered on to board, creates a unique surface which can also be scraped and scratched.  It’s an ancient painting technique with a history dating back thousands of years.

Photographs taken using a drone give her instant access to pictures of a sometimes swiftly changing environment, and the artist often works from these as a reference. Carly says she is also lucky enough to be able to go up on flights over the land with friends who have planes.

“I prefer being up there, I get a real sense of it,” she says. “I need to have a real connection with the landscape and when I paint, I remember how it feels to be up there…I’m like: ‘Oh yeah, that feels like I’m up above it’. “It’s how you feel when you’re in the landscape, rather than just what you see. It’s about that feeling you get when you’re up there. The paintings are like little emotion-scapes for me,” she says.

Carly’s constant companion in the studio at her Mt Barker property

A big painting can take more than 100 hours to finish and she often has several paintings on the go at once, including commissions. In terms of making it pay, Carly laughs that she has no idea how many paintings she’s done, but she does know it’s a $600-a-month wax commitment alone – and then there are framing costs and gallery commissions on every painting. But, in spite of the expense and the hours spent on any work, Carly says its really important that she always feels free to maintain her commitment to the best art possible. 

“I just have to be strict about that. I have to be able to create authentically,” she says. “I have to be able to scrape it off if it is not working.” 

Carly Le Cerf will speak to the boarding students from Hale School Wednesday 30th July, at the Cruickshank Gregg Lecture Theatre. Contact mailto:hale.art@live.com for more details.