All The Shitty Jobs I've Had.... June 05 2017

......and What They Taught Me About Art.


I read in National Australian Visual Art's blog the other morning that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Australian female artists on average earn a measly 24k per year. After the initial pessimism, this statistic made me realized how incredibly lucky I’ve been in my career. It also got me thinking about all the years of being broke and whether all those shitty casual jobs actually taught me anything about art, fortitude and work ethic.

Before my career started on an upward spiral in London, I worked at all sorts of crappy part-time jobs to pay the rent. Over the next week I’ll share with you 3 of the worst and what they taught me about my art practice:


The year was 1996 and I wound up working as a receptionist for a family GP practice in a suburb of Sydney that holds the dubious moniker of “God’s Waiting Room” due to the high proportion of elderly residents. Chatty and laughing with the patients was great, but sometimes innocent small talk about art and being an artist could turn into pulling teeth.

It always started with “Oh my grand-daughter is an artist!” – meaning the grand-daughter did one water colour class once. Sometimes a polite small talk ended with a sweet old lady turning feral and shouting “that’s not art!” about anything Abstract.

In hindsight, I was straight out of art school and was a total wanker when it came to talking about my own art practice. I felt like I had to complicate my language to sound intellectual and worthy at University. Through chatting to a lot of different people who usually thought their 3 year old great-niece could do a Picasso, I learnt how to explain what I do in layman’s terms which clarified and solidified my ideas. I’m now a big fan of “plain English”. I now have no hesitation admitting I don’t know why I choose a certain colour or did that weird bit of collage or that I don’t “get” another artwork…not everything has to mean something to you or me and it’s sometimes just instinctual.

This shitty job taught me the beauty of listening and understanding that art is different things to all sorts of different people and everyone has a valid opinion.

Degas quote art

The Life Cycle of a Silk Scarf August 12 2015

I get asked a lot about how my silk scarves are actually made; it’s seems like magic when an artwork is transferred to such a beautiful fabric and it baffles many people.


I’ve spent many years researching and sourcing the globe for the perfect digital printer, one who has the skill, passion and enthusiasm for creating the perfect crisp print of my work. I’ve had many samples back from Australia, India, China, Bangladesh and Indonesia and although most are beautiful (but wow there have been some disasters!) they fall short of my vision for the ultimate digital silk print.


Some were perfectly printed but the hems were crappy, many were on very average quality silk, some were just too expensive to wholesale. Some laughed at me when I asked for editions of only 20 (“What do you mean 20 thousand?”…ummm, no, like 20 scarves.) Sadly, some were from mills where the boss couldn’t give me any proof of the safety and welfare of their staff. All these failed samples were lessons that made me more determined to find an ethical textile mill that cared about quality over quantity.


Finally, when all hope was lost in a sea of expensive smudged silk, along came my amazing Mill in China and we have been working together ever since! After a fun but somewhat awkward lost in translation lunch of delicious unidentifiable animal in Hong Kong, much present swapping and business card admiring, we solidified a relationship which for my small brand is worth it’s weight in gold. You see, for me, the most important criteria is that the mill is ethical, pays their employees properly, has rigorous health and safety standards, not to mention awesome skills.


So, the magic bit: I start with a random vague idea of what I might like to wear on a scarf myself. I occasionally look at trend forecasts but my scarves don’t adhere to fashion, as I’d like them to be considered timeless. I wouldn’t stop looking at an artwork because it’s not the “in” colour, which is how I see my scarves.


Much photoshopping and drawing and scanning later, I sit with the artwork for a few weeks to make sure I’m still happy with it and it’s not a strange late night aberration. I then print it out twice on paper (one for the Mill, one for my own reference) and send it and the flat digital file to Hong Kong. Two weeks later, the Mill then sends me a sample scarf (a silk print they think is perfect copy of the original printout.) I once asked why I had to supply this colour printout and was told that colours are so changeable on different screens, in different light; it cuts out the guesswork.


And it’s all plain sailing from there! The mill gets to work on my very small order once I’ve approved the sample. They print and hem all the scarves, check and re check for any mistakes or dodgy printing so all I have to do when they arrive at my studio in Sydney is hand number them, box them and write and sign the Certificates of Authenticity.


Hangin' Five. February 25 2014

You may have noticed that the scarves on my website aren't quite ready! I wanted to say sorry to anyone waiting with baited breath for cashmere and explain the hold up.

After a year working on our company Eager & Vane with my sisters and now going out on my own, I've finally realised that the silk trade is a crazy bitch!  I liken it to being in a tiny boat bobbing on the ocean, you just have to see which way the current takes you. It can be amazingly fun and challenging working with companies and mills  overseas and sometimes it can be a full-on "hands up in the air" storm out frustration. More of the former thankfully!

I have a few beautiful people helping me across India, who with love and kindness treat my product like their own and with finger crossed, the high standard of silk, cashmere and digital textile printing will be here before winter to keep you cosy and looking seriously stylist.



Mash-up! January 21 2014

I was asked a very interesting question the other day on my Tumblr page. Sitting in my studio I contemplated Maddy's take on my art….

"I was wondering if you used all your own images or just altered ones you find. I always feel guilty using someone's images to create a print but is this something that many designers do? It would be great to hear from you :)"

Good question. As a collage artist I'm always thinking about this, conceptually and literally. At what point does a 17th century etching of a flower become mine when I juxtapose it into my work? At what point is it plagiarism or copywrite infringement? I've heard the cliche "It's not where you take it from but where you take it to" But that's not quite true either. I'm very careful and deeply respectful of where I source my collage reference because I know it would be weird for someone to use my drawing in their work without permission.

I live by these golden rules; if I've altered an image 70% then it's okay, I never use practising artists work, if I've paid or asked for it, then it's okay, if it's out of copywriter then it's okay. Anything else I draw or paint and scan into my collages.

Ultimately, collage art is about surrealism, juxtaposition and mash-up which is just not achievable without a combination of found images. I wonder what Max Ernst or Peter Blake would to say about it?


"Venice Suite" by Peter Blake 2009

Sarah Howell Limited Edition says "Welcome!" October 22 2013

Firstly, thank you so much for visiting my new site. Here I'll be ranting on about art and all things that interest me, and hopefully you too!

What's this all about?

This new label is all about art. A little bit of fashion thrown in but mainly its visual. Oscar Wilde once said "One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art" and that seems to be my moto.

My artwork is about having some visual fun. To the chagrin of my university lecturers, it's not conceptual or political, it's purely ornamental. Aestheticism describes my work perfectly and I use ornament as a language to portray different emotions and feelings. To me birds, flowers and pattern are like a visual alphabet which I collage and combine to make some eye poetry.

Like certain smells, art can take you somewhere without actually being pictorial. Sometimes, like in poetry, two incongruous images can create a whole different feeling. Subtle pinks and nudes create a certain visual story but combined with a jolt of acid yellow out of the blue, or you stick a purple pineapple in there and bang! the whole picture changes. We get confused or delighted! It makes us confounded or excited and keeps us returning to the image.

I strive to make my scarves and prints visually precious to keep the viewer amused and amazed.





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