Local Makers – From Paintings to Fabric with Bowerbird’s Ellie
At Bowerbird we value making with integrity and the work of local makers. So, the majority of our products are made in-house or sourced locally. Each piece therefore has a story worth telling and has inspired us to share them here with you.
Bowerbird Collections is a product of the dynamic duo Peta and Ellie Sweatman. Both are creative souls in their own unique way. Pop into the store and you will see the walls covered with artwork by Ellie, some of which, you might be able to spot as the foundation of our signature fabrics.Today we’ll peek into the life and process of Bowerbird’s own Ellie Sweatman.
Questions with Local Maker Ellie Sweatman
Ellie Sweatman, a Brisbane-based painter, decided to turn her artwork into fabrics one day when she realised the potential of her paintings. Every fabric that has come from Ellie’s artwork tells a unique story in its creation and we thought it was about time we sat down with her to discuss her practice!
Hey Ellie! First off as the co-owner and a key fabric designer at Bowerbird Collections, I’d like to ask you how you describe the aesthetic of the company…
I see our aesthetic as the beautiful marriage of art and design inspired by the ultimate muse, Mother Nature. Bowerbird is a reflection of Peta and my individual strengths and our combined desire to create and collaborate with local makers.
Our philosophy is rooted in a deep respect for makers. It’s very easy to forget or ignore the supply and production line behind the products we use today. However, once you become aware of what goes into making an item you’ve empowered yourself to make informed decisions about what you choose to support. This is being a conscious consumer and it is not about being perfect, it’s about making a start. I can wholeheartedly promise you that I am doing my best to be a conscious creator, supplier and consumer.
Was this always the direction Bowerbird seemed to be heading in?
The direction has stayed true, but we’ve gone from dipping our toes in to diving in with wild abandon. Eventually you just have to trust yourself and honour whatever you’re called to create.
Did you always see yourself joining Bowerbird and your paintings being turned into fabrics?
Definitely not. I wanted to be an artist but I had no idea how I was going to do it. At the very beginning Peta opened Bowerbird, as an interior designer, and I was just helping out. Things gradually shifted as I became more confident in my ability to contribute. My training is in art, Peta’s is in Interior Design, and it took time for us to realise the new possibilities available when we combine our strengths. I became curious about textile design when popular fabrics that we stocked were discontinued and we couldn’t find replacements. When you can’t find what you need – make it yourself.
Earliest memory of painting?
Oh dear, I have so many memories of drawing anything from elephants playing basketball to bush walking tracks to the Easter bunny. I loved art time at Kindy and I definitely remember feeling that paintbrushes were harder to work with than pencils. I was always very proud of my creations which spurred me to pursue art indefinitely.
Did you have formal training or are you self-taught?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Art, majoring in printmaking. Everything else is self-taught.
What surprising thing did you learn from the completion of your Bachelor and has it influenced your practice at all?
Griffiths includes Jewellery Making alongside Painting, Printmaking and Sculpture in their Fine Art Degree. The silver smithing skills I learnt encouraged me to make my own silver hooks for our ceramic earring range.
How did you decide to start utilising your paintings for another use?
I held a small painting over a lampshade and both Peta and I saw the potential – this painting eventually became the fabric design Bauhinia. Once we created fabric designs that we loved, naturally we wanted to use them in any way we could. When we decided the launch into fashion it made sense to incorporate them.
Do you prefer to start out with a clear idea for a new fabric design, or let your practice surprise you?
So far the surprises have been the most delightful. Life seems to be teaching me that getting out of the way and trusting the creative process yields the most fulfilling results.
Your paintings seem to have stories behind them that can really deepen the appreciation of the fabric. Do you have any stories you’d like to mention?
The original painting behind our Bloom fabric marks a pivotal shift in my journey as an artist. A few years ago I took a a short break from commission portraits, and instead, I set aside some time to paint for me as I was curious to try a new technique. The resulting paintings felt more authentic than anything prior. I went on to make a fabric design, Bloom, from one of these paintings and it is now our most popular fabric design in store (even when compared of the international fabrics that we stock). Another of the resulting paintings launched a whole new direction for my practice which has in turn expanded the quality of my current portraiture commissions.
When you first created the Romance print, did you envision it to be turned into a clothing line?
I didn’t paint it with a fabric design in mind. But, as soon as I played with a rough mock-up of the fabric repeat I saw the potential for fashion. Peta suits warm tones and I suit cool tones. Finding fabrics that work for both is rare and Romance does just that!
Bowerbird has a very environmentally conscious approach to making. Why is sustainability important to you?
I live on this beautiful planet that provides me with everything I need. The least I can do is to treat it with respect. Better yet, I want to shower it with love, help the plants to grow and the animals to thrive.
Bowerbird Fabric… Bloom, though, Romance is a close contender.
Thing to do on a sunny day… If its winter – take the horses on a trail ride with Mum. If it’s summer – hike to a waterfall and swim.
Hobby… Dancing! Kizomba, Bachata, Salsa 🙂
Fabric from other Fabric house… Les Cavaliers by Manuel Canovas
Go-to Bowerbird fashion piece… Flutter Top (I have 3 and I wear them constantly)
Go-to Bowerbird jewellery piece… Jade plain half-moon ceramic earrings
Item in the store to make… Bell ceramic earrings
Place to paint… Plein air (painting outside). I really want to paint in a rainforest.
Thing to eat on a rainy day… Something warm and comforting like a curry or pasta followed by very dark vegan chocolate.
What have been your greatest challenges developing as an artist?
Setting up appropriate boundaries for myself and my creativity. Initially I would paint whatever and however the client asked me to. However, I’m not a hyper-realism artist as I love big brushstrokes and leaving some of the story untold. Following my heart opened the door for me to find my ‘style’. Now I honour my style and the challenges that led me to find it.
As my good friend Li-Ann always says – “Girl, you just gotta do you.”
What advice would you give to others who want to start out as a printmaker or painter?
Do it. Make it a priority and set aside time. Opportunities come to those who are active. You find your voice through the process. I painted consistently for 6-7 years before I really found my stride (and I’m still evolving).
Treat your creativity as you would a lover. If it’s neglected, it’s unlikely to play along.
Where do you see Bowerbird heading or what’s your next goal to accomplish?
I don’t have a vision of where I want Bowerbird to go. I’m a recovering control freak, and I’m practicing letting go of the reins and letting life unfold. Couldn’t do it without the loving support of my family and friends xx
Without Ellie’s input, Bowerbird Collections may be a completely different brand. With her work, she brings vibrant and dynamic patterns to our collection, a desire to explore and a thorough knowledge of the product base! But Ellie’s work isn’t just solely limited to turning her paintings into patterns. Ellie also sells her oil paintings and can help you tailor your living or work space to its full potential with her interior expertise and ability to help you find a piece of artwork that’s perfect for you!
This was our first interview in the series we are hoping to continue revisiting: Local Makers. We are so lucky to be surrounded by a treasure chest of makers with their own unique practice. We believe that the story of others and their practice is just as important to explore as our own and helps keep us inspired and driven to make and create. And it’s about recognizing the talent of those around us, and in our local community. Our next Local Makers will be coming soon, but if you’re a local maker who wants to share their practice get in contact with us! It’s always a pleasure to hear your work.
Until next time!