Focusing on the important things

Sophie Melville loses herself in her work when in the studio. Photos: Supplied
Sophie Melville loses herself in her work when in the studio. Photos: Supplied
Going for a walk in the mountains not only inspires Wanaka artist Sophie Melville,  it also centres her. The busy mother of three tells Rebecca Fox about getting things done.

Sophie Melville is feeling fulfilled and hugely productive, but it has not always been that way.

After the birth of her third baby, she felt totally unproductive.

She attributes the change to a shift in focus. Like many working mums, Melville spent her days rushing around after her children and working late at night.

''I'd get loads done, but had no purpose or focus.''

Then she discovered meditation, which taught her to focus on the important things.

''I've slowed things down a lot.''

Now she prioritises an early morning walk and incorporates ''white space'' into her week so she can look after herself.

''I'm not working at night anymore.''

Instead she is more focused when in her home studio and as a result is producing more.

''When I come into the studio, I feel good; the energy is flowing.''

At work, she cranks up the stereo - it could be spiritual water or forestry sounds or a female powerhouse singer such as Adele or Sia.

''It helps unleash the creativity; whatever is inside my head.''

Melville usually paints mountains and is known for her abstract black-and-white watercolours but, in her latest exhibition at Gallery De Novo, has chosen to paint coastal scenes.

''It's a release. This time I've used blues, greens, greys.''

She describes herself as a ''unconventional'' watercolourist, often using dried grasses as a brush, as well as wide brushes.

Melville studied at Elam School of Art in Auckland, specialising in oil painting and only discovered water colours by accident.

In This Moment
In This Moment
That ''happy accident'' unleashed what has become her signature style.

Using water colours means she needs to be mindful about how she executes the artwork .

''I pause a lot. The paper is lying flat on a table and I move my body to the music. It's creative and intuitive.''

While she is painting all other thoughts - her children, husband, housework and other tasks - disappear.

''It's just me channelling what's in front of me.''

She uses photographs as inspiration for her work.

''A beautiful beach scene, something I've seen that has inspired me.''

Manifest Your Power (detail)
Manifest Your Power (detail)
When creating her works she leaves out parts of the landscape as she tries to capture the essence, the feeling of energy from the mountains or the sea.

''The areas of white space are what I leave out and also where I see my life force or creativity seep in. The space leaves a stillness.''

Melville enjoys it when someone viewing her work says how calm it makes them feel.

''That's brilliant because that is how I felt creating it.''

There are 11 new works in her beach series although she created 13.

''Two didn't make the grade, which is a good success rate.''

From Auckland originally, Melville moved to Wanaka after years living overseas working in the ski industry and working on boats in the Caribbean.

She met her future husband in Colorado and when they moved to New Zealand they settled in Wanaka.

''We love the mountains. I really enjoy going hiking, being in nature. It's a key to my inspiration.''

Melville became a mother and continued to work as a graphic designer.

''It was stifling me, but I didn't know it. I had stopped drawing and painting. I'd take one week a year off to paint.''

Then he started thinking about a 100-days project where you do one creative thing every day for 100 days.

''But then I decided I couldn't do another project. I had two children, two businesses and a husband. I needed to say no.''

The next day while out walking the dog, she thought how she had stopped drawing her children and decided that she needed to start again as they were growing up too fast.

''I'd do it at night in front of the television. I showed my husband and he said they're really good. He's been a pillar of support.''

It was just the boost she needed and she began painting again, taking her initial works to a local market in the park.

''They were really popular and its just snowballed from there.''

These days when she thinks about new projects it involves walking - a plan to do one of New Zealand's Great Walks each year is bubbling.

''I'll take my camera and take photographs and I'll be able to paint different mountains of New Zealand.''

In the meantime, she is taking inspiration from short trips to Dunedin beaches or to Kakanui, where she gets inspiration from the beach and the horizon.

''I thoroughly enjoyed it. You never know how they will turn out.'

To see
‘‘Beneath the Stillness’’, by Sophie Melville, Gallery De Novo, May 17-30

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