JAYNE MILLER & STEPHANIE ELIZABETH COWLEY
A local artist genuinely captured by the wonder of the sea, Stephanie Elizabeth shares a little of her mermaid tale with us today. Recently returning to Port Douglas, Stephanie is setting up home and studio in the destination that most inspires her creativity.
Stephanie was always passionate about art, spending all her time in the art room at school, “I would lose track of time, and school security accidentally locked me in there once or twice! “
Her childhood was spent in Geelong, Victoria, and teenage years back in in the UK. Stephanie returned to Australia in her early twenties when her partner Dave was offered a job in Port Douglas. It didn’t take much convincing to move to tropical paradise.
“I continued to draw and paint throughout travelling…but it wasn’t until we moved to Port Douglas that I found myself falling back in love with painting. The inspiration and nature up here was a huge influence in that. “
I worked in event management in resorts here for a while but my heart was always with my art. With canvases and frames everywhere, our apartments became trip hazards. Dave held an ultimatum,
‘just get out there and try selling it, people will love it!’
We didn’t have a car at the time. I was apprehensive, but loaded my suitcase up and walked from 4 Mile to my first market in Port Douglas. I set up my picnic blanket and a handful of art on the ground. That was the beginning.
We moved south a few years ago when Dave was poached for a job back in Sydney. I felt like I had unfinished business in FNQ but threw everything into building my art practice and business down south.
Two years ago, I was struggling to keep up with exhibitions, online sales, book illustrations and markets. Dave was able to jump on board full time, running the operations for my business. He runs our website, prints our limited-edition prints in house and has trained as a photographer.
With most sales online, we realised we could live anywhere, so we started planning our move back to paradise.
We took a month in our van and hit the road heading north. We had always raced up and down the coast. This time we wanted to take it all in more slowly. We visited such beautiful places along the coast and had really no idea just how lucky we were to call this coastline home.
We arrived back in Port early this year, and I started painting what we had seen straight away.
How are you inspired by the ocean and its life?
Well, I can’t get enough of the ocean. I love that experience when you dip below the surface, and there is an entirely different world down there. I dive and snorkel whenever I can and also take an underwater camera rig down with me to take photos for reference.
How do you feel about the state of our oceans, especially the Great Barrier Reef?
While a lot has changed in recent years, a lot hasn’t. Movements like Take 3 for the Sea and War on Waste have brought marine waste to the attention of people at a grassroots level and changed consumer behaviour about plastic.
To protect the health of our oceans, especially for such a vital ecosystem like the Barrier Reef, I, like many, believe more needs to be done at a government level. When you see increased bleaching and declining sea life in places, it breaks your heart. But you also see how it can adapt and recover if given a chance. I was amazed by the reef around the Low Isles after Cyclone Ita. It has bounced back, and I have never seen so much biodiversity there as on recent trips.
Tell us about your favourite local beach?
You can’t beat Four Mile. Even during lockdown, that place was pure magic to walk or run down!
And your favourite sea creature?
It has to be sea turtles. I had only experienced green sea turtles until recently when I encountered a couple of hawksbills on a snorkel. Now I am totally obsessed with them just as much! They are very intuitive creatures and feed off the energy you put out. If you are calm and relaxed, they will swim right up to you, and I have been led on many a reef tour by a willing guide.
Is your need to create completely insatiable? Or are you a methodical and mindful artist?
It comes in waves, as I’m sure many artists can relate. Some days I wake up, and I have to paint a particular creature or commission. Other days it is a struggle to get the ideas out. I’ve learned to go with it and not push myself. My best work always comes when creativity reigns free (or I’m working with a deadline!).
How do you transcribe from nature to paper? Photos, memories, scribbles?
A mix of all three. I always have my camera with me, but sketching is the bridge between experiencing nature and seeing how it will transpire onto canvas or paper.
Have you got a studio set up at home?
Yes, I have always had a home studio even if it’s just a corner of a room. Now my studio is basically our entire living room (and the balcony on beautiful days). I always have a pot of coffee on in the morning and play tunes in the background. If I really need to concentrate my laptop gets put away, my phone goes on aeroplane mode, and I pop the record player on.
Who is your preferred music artist or style?
I believe that music influences workflow. I find I paint best with chilled acoustic or indie music, but if I am under the pump with a deadline, something with a good beat makes me work more productively.
In your own genre, which fine artists inspire you?
Gosh, there are so many! I love the colours of Lara Scolari’s abstracts. As far as other animal artists Aidan Weichard and Anya Brock have amazing compositions and personality in their work.
How do you spend your relaxation time?
Underwater when I can, or a long walk on the beach.
What other secret talents do you have?
Does coffee drinking count?
Sticking to the creative realm, I’m a trained graphic designer too and love a bit of interior design.
Now that COVID restrictions are lifting, what’s next for your creative venture SEA?
Getting out and sharing my work locally! We have been focussing so much on sharing online it will be nice to get into the market and chat to people face to face.
I have a new range of cards, wrapping paper and prints in the works too.
Given the easing of restrictions, what aspect of the Douglas Shire will you never take for granted again?
The amazing places to eat! And having picnics down by the water. We also took a trip to Cape Tribulation last week, which was breathtaking.
What are you doing this weekend?
There are a couple of pet portraits I am working on currently, so I will get stuck into those. I will go for a walk into town to grab a coffee.
Where is your favourite destination for a caffeine fix?
Sparrow, or Grant St Kitchen for their iced coffee.
How you can find Stephanie’s art
Markets: Stephanie hopes to be back at Port Douglas Markets when they re-open.
Studio: Contact directly for studio viewings.
When restrictions ease further SEA will be launching workshops for kids and adults, locals and tourists.
Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers today Stephanie?
“A big hello to the local Port Douglas community! It’s been hard to get to know anyone moving just before the pandemic, but I hope to meet lots more people in time. And if you have an art, commission or workshop question do get in touch.”
Thank you for sharing your time with us Stephanie, we look forward to seeing you out and about with your art again soon.
Do you have a story about your neighbour that you would like to share with us? Email us with your local tales.
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