A tribute to Kiwiana without verging into tacky or kitsch, Justine Hawksworth's work focuses on typical New Zealand elements: native birds, the New Zealand coastline and waterways, Captain Cook and a sense of adventure.
Working mainly in acrylic, and venturing out into copper occasionally, Justine works with vintage oars and old maps to stunning effect. We spoke to Justine about her process, finding inspiration while on holiday and what her studio looks like...
A blank canvas suddenly materialises in front of you. Where do you start? What’s your process start to finish?
Often for me, the shape or texture of the canvas becomes the starting point. I generally will do a little planning sketch – mostly in biro on paper and then rough sketches onto the canvas.
I think I do a little bit of ordering in my mind first as to what layers/colours I will need to put on in the background and then the order I will paint things from there.
What were your first inclinations toward being creative? Was it something that was always a part of you or was there a pivotal moment?
I’ve always created… I made books and dolls clothes endlessly when I was little and I can remember loving art when I was at kindy and primary.
My Mum was a real crafter – and I got drawn into all of that as a kid – we had a go at nearly every fad! (Justine and her Mum still make amazing Christmas decorations).
The painting started when I was little – I would stay with my grandmother a lot and she always put paint out on a saucer for me and I loved mixing the colours and watching the water turn to colour when you washed your brush.
Before becoming a full-time artist you taught high school art and you still do regular talks at various schools. How do you juggle fuelling and directing the creativity of others while still pursuing your own creative endeavours?
It's nice to be able to give help to others beginning in an art career – I suppose that’s why I started teaching really.
At times it can be quite sapping of your ideas when it's 30 kids constantly asking for help with a design idea, but at the same time, the kids often fuelled a lot of my ideas for painting. And drawing every day to explain ideas really improves your drawing skills!
I’ve always worked my art around the kids and home so it's just what I do. Some days I don’t do any painting – other days I’m painting all day and after dinner!
I imagine that happens more often when you have an exhibition approaching. Does having a deadline make you more focused or does the pressure hamper your creativity?
Deadlines are good I think – the pressure just forces you not to get distracted or have that extra glass of wine!!
Your work often features on wooden surfaces such as vintage oars or wooden rounds and ovals. What drew you towards these surfaces over a traditional canvas?
I think the beauty of the grain of the wood – there's something really nice about a weathered old oar – like it's got a story to tell. Board also has more of solidity that I don’t find in canvas. The rounds and ovals often relate to the nautical thing I'm on and the ovals do tend to fit to a map better!
How do you select your maps? Do you have an ideal map in mind when you go looking or do you find the maps determine the size, shape and context of your work?
Often the area within the map is the reason why I use it – an area people relate to. The maps definitely determine the shape and context of the work – its often quite tricky working out a composition so that I don’t cover up areas that are relevant or specific and the layout of the land and sea add to the shape of the substrate.
Another common element of your work is nautical references or historical references such as Cook’s Journals. What influenced your incorporation of these elements?
My husband telling me I had to ‘dig deeper’ and the reading of the 'History of NZ' while at the bach one holiday!
Speaking of your husband. Jonathan also works in a creative field, as an architect rather than an artist. Does it help to have someone else creative in the house to bounce your ideas off? Have you been tempted to collaborate on something?
Yes (it) definitely helps. He constantly corrects my use of perspective! He is a great sounding board – totally sick of my work now but still really supportive. We have collaborated a couple of times in the past – the window on the stairwell in our house is one place we worked together on a design. I’m trying to get him painting – he has beautiful drawing skills and draws a lot with his work.
Based on conversations we’ve had in the past you have a set studio space in your home but your work often migrates its way to different surfaces and rooms. Is it important to maintain some degree of cleanliness, or does getting a little messy help stir your creativity?
No, I have to stop and clear the decks every so often or my mind can't cope! I long for a studio that is away from the house that people can visit that actually looks like a studio!
At the moment if anyone comes to stay – I have to pack up and fold the bed down from the wall! (Justine's studio also acts as their guest bedroom). Arty stuff always migrates around our house – kids projects, architectural drawings and packaging gear are cluttering the dining room table right now!
Finally, what does art mean to you? Is it therapeutic? An outlet? A compulsion? A career?
I think it is all of those things really. It’s a difficult thing to make into a career but it’s a great one when you do; awesome in that it is often a career that can work around your growing family and other life experiences.
It's definitely therapeutic – getting absorbed in a drawing is something so cool. I find myself really needing to create art if I’ve been away from it for a bit. Almost desperate to smell the paints and get into the studio!
I used to say to my students when I was teaching – sometimes the only way to explain something is to draw it… even now I have to draw things to suss them out for my own mind – an outlet for when you can't find the words.