Sublimezine Magazine Article ~ Issue 4
Heidi Willis ~ The Earthen Artist
Australian born, Heidi Willis is an entirely self-taught Natural History watercolour artist. Her work intricately illustrates our native and exotic plants, flowers, fruits and seed capsules, whilst her powerful & distinctive portraits of our spectacular bird life offers viewers an insight into the world as she experiences it. Heidi quickly established herself as one of Australia’s emerging artistic talents and has continued to make her mark in the world of Natural History Art for the past 2 decades. Her reputation as a leading natural history, wildlife and botanical artist is well established and her meticulous and intricate studies of botany and birds can be found in significant public and private collections around the world.
Heidi’s work has featured in prominent national and international exhibitions over her career. Highlights include The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize five times over to date, winning a Highly Commended award in the Works on Paper section in 2014 which resulted in her work going on tour with the prize winning entries. The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize is one of Australia’s most prestigious and richest art competitions in Australia and is held by the South Australian Natural History Museum. Several of her works have been showcased as a finalist at the Focus On Nature exhibitions, a leading international Natural History Art Prize held in the and her work has also featured in and won awards in Botanica and The Margaret Flockton Award, hosted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Her work is held in the permanent collection at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation PA, USA and her ‘Lotus’ has also been included in the highly regarded Shirley Sherwood Collection. Her work has been featured in several publications; most significantly International Artist Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Craft Arts, Colophon, SA Life and twice in Artist’s Palette Magazine with her work featured on the front cover of issue 123.
‘I was born on a large property in Queensland but I moved to the big smoke of Sydney at the age of 5, so the rural lifestyle may have only been brief, but I am sure that those early formative years spent so connected to Earth has played a significant role in how I perceive and value my environment in my life, and there is little doubt that this directly inspires the work that I produce now. My mother, who has always had a deep connection with nature has definitely been a powerful and influential element for me too. Wherever we were, her love and attention to our natural environment was apparent, and this has flown over to me, igniting an inevitable, deep love and appreciation for the natural world of my own. We are so fortunate here in Australian to be immersed in such a rich natural setting and abundant wildlife to live amongst. It is hard not to be inspired by this and for me, its impossible! This delightful mixture of exposures in my life has come together in a very unique way, they have influenced me deeply, shaped how I see the world and they have played a significantly role in forming this wonderful intricate visual language that is my work today.
I often describe what I do as being ‘like breathing colour’. My work is so intuitive, clear and all consuming to me that it seems as essential as air and is so much a part of me that my working process is simply a never-ending practice that starts with just living. My paintings reflect the world as I see and value it, each piece exploring the rich, intricate, vibrant and textural tapestry of my environment. This thirst to be immersed amongst and to express my love of nature sees me traipsing high and low, near and far fulfilling my yearning for new inspiration, curiosities, and discoveries constantly, but I am equally as inspired by what is near and dear. This brings much diversity, energy, appreciation and richness to my life, so it’s a wonderful place to start the creative process.
I am always on the hunt. No matter where I am, what Im doing, how old I get… or what shoes I am wearing, I am always gathering reference, observing my surroundings and planning the sources for my next piece. It’s an all consuming and entirely sustaining process that I love and it never switches off. I collect reference, I photograph many things, I watch my subjects keenly to understand the nature of my subjects thoroughly, I draw when I am able with much of the initial stages being processed in my head. Usually inspiration jumps out at me, be it light, colour or subject. Layouts are combined, flipped, chopped and changed a thousand times in my mind and finally this all comes together to a refined idea, an immaculate, finished composition that has been extracted from all that came before it. This stage is a complex mixture of everything that defines you… And just like that, a new painting emerges from all that is within you.
There are many challenges that impact you throughout this process, but you build most of what you need to make the experience easier over time. What I find is you don’t need much! I keep it very simple and try to remember what matters, always returning to the core of myself and to the task at hand, to create. Once I get to the painting stage, there is nothing else for me, only painting, and I barely stop until a piece has been completed. As an artist I simply pursue my path and my work because it is where I need to be, but I do hope that what I create is portrayed with enough clarity on my part that it moves and inspires people on many levels, that it generates attention, interest, appreciation, a dialogue and thought enough to cause others to ask questions about what and how they value all that is around them.
Initially I chose to work with oil paints as my preferred medium, but I quickly discovered that the medium, beautiful as it is, had far too many limitations for me at the time. At the age of 19 I had very little money to spare on materials, I had very little space to work in, my life was very transient back then and I needed to be able to pack my work up and away at short notice. Once the children came along I had other concerns such as toxicity, fumes and extreme limitations on my time, money and resources in general. Watercolours were cost effective, simple, they took up a very small amount of space, they were easy to transport, to pack away and pull out again, I could paint for a minute or a day, I could take a break and return to them with just a splash of water, they are easy to clean up after and there was no waste and they seemed like the obvious and practical choice for my environment. Although I chose them as a temporary medium, I soon discovered that I had completely fallen in love with them. It is a delicate, rich, romantic and beautiful medium to use and it seems that there is nothing that I haven’t been able to do with it! It meets all my needs as an artist and this love affair I have discovered has lasted ever since we met all those years ago.