Fear can be debilitating. Fear causes self-doubt, making you question your choices, your ability and your intuition. Fear is all consuming and disabling, it has the power to stop you from reaching your full potential, from success. Some people live their lives in fear, missing out on opportunities that don’t come around a second time.
Tracey-Maree Smith is a Newcastle based creative, a mother of two and a wife, pursuing a career as a full-time artist. With a background of more than 12 years as a graphic designer, she is all too familiar with the fear of beginning, of taking the plunge, of making a switch, taking a risk, and not letting that fear get to her.
Tracey is inspired by the Australian landscape, the hot, dry landscape and the beach. Landscapes that are very expansive, wild, arid and quite isolated. There is a connection to this land that she feels, a soul connection that she says has manifested itself spiritually.
‘I don’t consciously set out to paint the landscape and what it looks like. It is more that I try to capture the feeling that I get when I am in that landscape,’ Tracey said.
‘That is something that comes through on its own accord. My paintings have their own soul and have their own way of coming out and I am just a conduit of that. I paint from the heart. I listen to my intuition.’
Tracey has always been creative, it is not something that is conscious, it is a feeling that she gets and a need to create. She started off studying fine arts at university but fear stopped her and she switched over to design. This fulfilled her creative spirit for about 12 years.
Working in an industry where she felt like everything was dictated for her, she was no longer satisfying her creative urges. Having no control over the finished product after putting in a lot of hours and effort, as most creatives know, can be stifling and de-motivating.
‘I felt really squashed and not creative at all. It affected my well-being and my mental health. For me to be joyful and happy and satisfied, I need to create. That could be painting, design, what I wear, and even how I decorate my house. It is in everything’
Tracey was designing in the corporate world. Designs that had a concept, and were very controlled. When she bought a canvas, she used her frustration to free herself from the creatively stifling world that she was in.
‘I just started throwing the paint onto the canvas and being messy and moving it around. I got so much joy and freedom out of that,’ Tracey said.
‘I didn’t have to answer to anybody. I didn’t have to change my work, I could paint how I felt and so for me, big colourful abstracts of mess, excitement, energy and strokes.’
Tracey’s creative process begins with travel. She immerses herself in a landscape, trying to understand and feel every nuance, every undulation, being mindful of the way she emotionally and spiritually connects to that landscape.
Another inspiration for Tracey is the farm her family owns, out in Tamworth. Her inspiration comes not just because it is a unique landscape but because there is a personal history there, memories that come out during her creative process.
‘I also like to think about colour. I approach my work like a designer. I look at other people’s work that isn’t painting. Things like interior design, architecture and editorial designs inspires my use of colour. I like how other creatives put colours together that doesn’t usually come out in my work,’ Tracey said.
‘My inspiration for colour mostly comes from the landscape. I will start painting, throwing work onto the canvas, I leave that to dry and layer it, layer it, layer it and sand back layers and then I would paint more on, until it is at a point where it feels completely comfortable and I love it.’
Tracey will have two or three paintings going on at the same time. Due to the number of layers of paint, each canvas requires time to dry. Adding to this, the thickness of the paint and what the weather is like, a painting could take months to complete.
‘It’s an instinctive thing, you feel it in your heart. If I think it is complete, I will bring it inside, I will live with it for about a week. I will walk past it every day, sometimes I will sit in front of it and stare at it for half an hour and see how it makes me feel,’
‘I will close one eye and look at one spot and then I will close the other eye. But it’s really instinctive and all about how it makes me feel.’
Tracey feels a spiritual connection to the process of removing the layers, as a way of revealing truths and authenticity, and something beyond the self, beyond socially constructed ideologies.
‘I feel it’s like taking away layers of a personality that you have constructed to reveal who you really are. I guess that is a metaphor for my work, it isn’t obvious to see when you look at my work, I think it is more personal,’ Tracey said.
Tracey believes through the creative process, a sort of transformation takes place between the canvas and the creator. For the last 10 to 12 years, she has been on a journey that has involved a transformation. After the birth of her first child she ended up with post-natal depression. Since then, she has been working on herself to not be in that place, a process that has involved a lot of work. Through her art, Tracey finds joy and that’s a beautiful thing to hang onto and to give back to the world when it feels full of darkness.
‘It’s involved a lot of reading, seeing various people that are more alternative than the mainstream, and I feel l have transformed a lot. I have moved through to the other side. I meditate, I do yoga, I work on myself, I work on my mental health and for me it comes through in my work,’ Tracey said.
‘I haven’t at this stage been pursuing anything deep and dark. I really want to bring more joy and light into my work because I have come from a place of darkness at times.’
When making the move from design into the art world, Tracey had to face a big sense of fear. There was a fear of not making it, fear of doing something wrong, of making mistakes and ruining a painting that cost so much money.
Many creatives can relate to the fears that Tracey had experienced but she did not let that fear stop her from doing what she loves. She has realised that the mistakes that she has made have always worked out and ended up being wonderful and exhilarating. She came to understand that all she needed to do was change them, but not necessarily fix them.
‘I have stopped thinking about where the painting will end up going and feel it. The process is what stops the fear because the process is amazing, I love it. I try working on keeping any negativity out, and confronting any self-doubt and negative talk. I want that away from my work,’ Tracey said.
‘Learning to really like yourself, trust yourself, and to love yourself is important. It is not just about the work but how I feel about myself.’
Her journey of creating and the process has been a continual transformation. What she has learnt is that letting go, having no control isn’t a bad thing. As a mother, learning not to control things isn’t as easy as it sounds. From throwing the paint down onto the canvas, she removes the control over how it mixes, what happens when it’s sanded back, and gives in to the work.
Tracey has been with Cooks Hill Galleries, in Newcastle for about three years. That’s been the first gallery that she has had a long relationship with. Mark Widdup has been supportive of her work, taking a chance on her and now her work can be seen hanging on the walls of the gallery.
Tracey has also been on the Saatchi Online Gallery for about 4 years. This year she was a finalist in the Wynn Prize and that has inspired her to enter other prizes. She was a finalist at the Gosford Art Prize and her work can be seen hanging on the walls of the Gosford Art Gallery.
‘I was part of the Other Art Fair. It was the first time I got to really meet collectors face-to-face. Being in the Other Art Fair was amazing, it really gave me confidence to have hundreds of people come past and talk about my work, it was really beautiful,’ Tracey said.
‘There were 100 other artists and everyone was different, there was something for everybody and everyone was selling. Everything was so unique, it didn’t feel competitive.’
Tracey believes it is the people who connect to her work that would ultimately buy her work. She wants the viewer to get a feeling, and to make them feel good. She wants to trigger an emotion or memory. If a painting is going to go into someone’s home it needs to give them something that they connect with. To trigger a growth in some way that moves beyond the conscious thought but to a spiritual one.
‘Next for me, I have an exhibition in April at the Cooks Hill Galleries so I really want to travel and immerse myself in the landscape. Whether that is in Katherine, Tamworth, maybe Broome,’ Tracey said.
‘I just want to be in the landscape alone for a while, feel it and come back and paint my heart out. My ultimate goal is to be able to work constantly and have people engaging and buying my work.’