Subsign Spotlight #009

with Michelle Fleur

We at Subsign want to contribute to the global creative community, thus the Subsign Spotlight initiative was born. We will bring you interviews and shine the light on a person (or collective) who has shown creativity and courage via their work.

Subsign: Before we get things rolling, let’s get acquainted. Tell us a few things about yourself.

Michelle: Hi! My name is Michelle Fleur and I’m an artist and illustrator residing in Perth, Australia. I LOVE whales! And sea creatures in general. If I could I would paint them in watercolours all day, every day. I love whales so much that I’m painting 200 of them in 2016 (currently I am up to whale number 125). This effort is called the 200 Whales Project and it’s about shining light on the positive results that global conservation efforts can achieve.

Subsign: What was your childhood like? Do you think your experiences from childhood have influenced your present creative endeavors?

Michelle: I grew up mostly in rural Australia. My father was (and still is) a school principal and my mother a teacher, so we moved around a lot. In fact, I went to 8 different schools in my 12 years of schooling, so I was constantly having to make new friends and leave old ones. I think that because of this I became a bit of a solitary creature, quite happy with my own company and content to sit for a long time with my pencils, paints and paper. I loved drawing and painting from a very young age — I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t do it. I could easily slip into different worlds whilst consumed with my creative ventures.

Subsign: You seem to focus a lot on sealife, can you please give us an insight on this inspiration?

Michelle: Yes, I really do! This focus on sea life is very new. I only started painting sea creatures last year when I moved from the East of Australia to the West coast. At the time I was disillusioned with my art practice and felt like my creative tank was empty. Having no job or plans I bought myself a set of watercolors, some brushes and paper and just started painting. At first I was painting plants, and animals and birds found in the local area and then more and more I started painting sea creatures. I was living closer to the sea than I ever had been and my imagination seemed fueled by my proximity to it. It’s fair to say that I became fairly obsessed with all things salty and wet. My 200 Whales Project evolved out of this as I wanted to combine my urge to create with something that was meaningful to me, ie. conservation.

Subsign: Can you share with us how your creative process works?

Michelle: I sit, and I paint! Watercolor painting is such a joy for me so the whole process is quite fluid. I spend a lot of time looking for reference images and just looking at pictures of whales. Whilst I am not a photo realistic artist, it is important for me to capture the essence of these creatures in my style without trying to charicaturise them. I struggle with that sometimes, but I think that watercolors lend a really nice translucency that speaks of the watery environment that my creatures live in.

Subsign: How does your work station look like?

Michelle: Messy. I try and try to keep it clean and minimal but every day it becomes messy and filled with clutter. I am a messy artist!

Subsign: What is your favorite work you have done so far?

Michelle: I don’t have one favorite piece, but the 200 Whales Project is my favorite work I have ever created. Hands down. It has actually changed my life. It has taken me from being a photographer to an illustrative artist, and I couldn’t be happier with that career change!

Subsign: Who do you admire as a visionary?

Michelle: There are so many people. But I am greatly inspired by Bob Brown — former leader of the Australian Greens party. As an environmental activist and as a politician he stood with great integrity and always stayed true to his cause. Other visionaries I admire are Jim Henson, Frida Kahlo, David Attenborough, Vali Myers, Mirka Mora and Joni Mitchell.

Subsign: What advice could you give to someone starting out in the creative field of work?

Michelle: You must love what you do, yes, but you must also work hard at it. Also, if you don’t share your work or promote it then none will see it or value it. In this day and age it is necessary to be a little bit savvy in self promotion. Hustle, plug, work hard, practice, spread your love for what you do. Don’t hide you and your work away. I did that for a very long time because I thought everyone else was better than me. They weren’t, they were just savvier! Be patient. Nurture your craft. Always make time for your work. Oh, and be kind.

Subsign: If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?

Michelle: One thing? I have a list!!! Haha. Well, right now I want to learn to do ceramics. I just need to be settled in one place long enough to take lessons consistently. I’m hoping that I can start in the latter part of this year.

Subsign: Can you recommend for our readers a book ,a song and a movie?

Michelle: Book: Right now I’m reading Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales can Teach Us, by David Neiwert. I’m about half way through it and it’s really fascinating. Song: King of Trees, Cat Stevens. Movie: Into the Wild.

Subsign: If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like and what would it be for?

Michelle: This is really tough! Maybe I could throw a party for all of the awesome naturalists and conservationists in the world working so hard to protect our planet and its amazing creatures? Everyone could dress up as their favorite endangered species (using recycled clothing of course!)…oh dear, this is sounding morbid! Haha. But let’s just run with this theme and say that it would be a party to honor eco warriors and inspire others to join the crusade to protect the precious creatures of this planet.

Subsign: What did you wanted to be as a grown up?

Michelle: An artist, always. Or a park ranger.

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