'Artists can capture the essence of their subject not just an image.'
Narelle Zeller is based in Canberra, ACT, Australia. Her work is realist, beautifully rendered and intricately detailed, with human figures as the primary focus. She has enjoyed success exhibiting nationally and internationally.
Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio?
My studio is a room in my house, which is just perfect for me. It allows me to be present for my family but I also have the opportunity to paint any time I feel like it. I find having my studio at home gives me more time to be creative. I am in there most of the day, but my most productive time tends to be at night, so it works well not to have to leave the house. My dream studio would involve an upgrade in lighting and equipment, and it would be bigger. There is a certain wall to an adjoining room that I would like to knock out …
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?
I very rarely work in silence. Although there is a lot of focus and constant decision-making involved in painting, I can happily go down the rabbit hole of Netflix series while I paint. I also like to listen to a range of different art podcasts.
Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/ keep a balance?
Studio life is definitely a solitary gig. I am pretty introverted anyway so for the most part I am comfortable crawling into my cave on a daily basis. I do find some balance by attending a weekly life-painting group so I don’t become a complete hermit. It is always inspiring to get out and talk to other artists and create together. I find it is really important to communicate with other people that understand the process involved. It is not always an easy relaxing process; there can be a lot of frustration and self-doubt. Talking to others and recognising that they struggle too can give you the strength to keep going.
Do you have a personal mantra or quote which serves to motivate you?
Not as such, but my paintings take a really long time to create so I have to remember to be kind to myself. I am continuously encouraging myself to stay positive and keep moving along, that the answers will come and just to enjoy the process. It is easy to start feeling negative and lost when you can’t immediately solve the problem in front of you. I also try to set really achievable goals for each day so I feel like I am making progress in each studio session. This helps me to get through the harder days.
Is there something you regard as essential to your preparation or process?
I really need to have a solid plan for each painting before I delve into it. Before I begin each painting I play around with ideas, composition and colours until I have an understanding of the outcome that I am striving for. Although there will always be changes I make as I go, I find if I have done a lot of the problem solving before beginning the piece I will not feel so lost along the way and the painting will end up being more successful. I have attempted to be looser in my painting process, but planning is what works and feels comfortable to me as an artist.
What is your favourite/ least favourite part of the creative process?
The beginning and the end of each painting are probably my favourite parts of the creative process. Once I have a plan the possibilities are always exciting and I love applying that first layer of paint. In the middle there are many ups and downs, with struggles and victories along the way. There can be a lot of determination and hard work required to make it through to the desired outcome. Once I am there it is something to celebrate and it is very rewarding.
If you could time travel, what advice would you give the younger you, regarding pursuing your artmaking?
It would have been great to have an earlier start in my painting career, but life took me in other directions first. I guess I would go back and encourage myself to find the confidence to pursue a formal education in visual arts when I was considering it in my late teens. Who knows what a difference that would have made to what I am creating today? But it feels right to be doing it now and I am really enjoying it.
Describe a moment you had an epiphany concerning your creative life.
Attending workshops at the Art Academy early last year made a big impact on the development of my art practice. Robin Eley is an artist I really admire and is living proof of the success you can have reinventing your life and choosing painting as a career. Having Robin approach and encourage me to invest more time into my practice was extremely validating and inspiring. I am now working full time as an artist. Whether or not I will be successful who knows, but I certainly will not regret having tried!
Detail a moment, which was the highlight for you, thus far.
The biggest highlight for me so far was having a painting hanging in the National Portrait Gallery! It was made even more special by the fact that my sister, Colleen Stapleton, also had a painting in the same exhibition.
What do you hope to convey through your work?
I just want to be authentic in my work and paint what inspires me. Right now I am happily exploring different themes and techniques and developing my skills as an artist. The underlying motivation to everything I paint is my desire to capture and portray the beauty I see in the human condition and the world around me.