The illustrated life of Carmen Hui
By ADELINE TEOH
From Australian botanicals to pet portraits, the Marrickville artist uses her drawings to evoke fond memories.
There’s something oddly moving about seeing a resplendent Australian native bouquet arranged in a Vegemite jar. Whether it’s about finding comfort in the botanical or beauty in the everyday, evoking an emotional connection is what Marrickville-based artist Carmen Hui has carefully cultivated in her work over many years.
“It brings me joy when someone sees my work and tells me how much it reminds them of their grandparents, their family gathering or something nostalgic from their past,” she says.
Hui’s signature drawings feature works such as a waratah in a Tasmanian leatherwood honey tin, succulents in a peanut butter jar and sunflowers in a XXXX beer can. “I like pairing everyday objects that might otherwise be overlooked in an unexpected manner and I guess that's how my Australiana floral series was born,” she says. “I am also very much interested in the idea of home and memories, how everyday objects can play a significant role in the way we recall our past.”
With coloured pencil as her medium – “I love colours, always have, and I love finding ways to combine palettes and make a synergy between my work” – she takes between a week to a month to complete a piece from inspiration to finished work.
“I normally have a huge list of ideas to draw from and I usually start by seeing what grabs me at the time. Once I have an idea in my head, I spend a few days gathering visuals and planning the layout of the drawing to see if it'll work.”
After planning she draws, though only for a couple of hours at a time to save her wrist. The rest of the time is spent on the business side. “There's a romantic idea that all we do is draw all day, but very often there is a lot of admin associated with having a career as an artist. You need to learn how to market yourself, how to run an online business, how to juggle multiple projects, how to keep on top of inventory,” she explains, noting it took “a fair amount of hard work, sweat and tears” to get to this point.
Hui only took the step to become a full-time artist seven years ago, though “I have been drawing ever since I can remember,” she discloses. “Like many creative people with no understanding how art could be a career, I [first] opted for a career in graphic design. Fortunately, with the help of social media, a few opportunities presented themselves that saw me reach a wider audience and I was able to create a website to sell my work.”
Today she gravitates towards the things that interest her most, namely nature – flora and fauna – which includes pet commissions. “I am constantly in awe of animal intelligence and our relationship with them, so drawing pet portraits seems like a natural progression,” Hui notes. “Drawing commissions for other people helped me to hone my style and grow technically as an artist.”
The nature-lover is also a proud Inner Westie, and lives and works in a converted warehouse. If you want the best of Marrickville in a day, Hui says to start with a hearty breakfast – Kurumac is a current favourite – then “wander around the side streets to check out some of the neighbourhood cats, street art and old buildings,” she recommends. End it ”by visiting a few of our local breweries for a cheeky drink and a snack from a visiting food truck that brings a world of flavours to our doorstep.”
The thing she loves most about the suburb? It’s “a diverse community built by many cultures and small businesses,” she says. “It is like a small organism that is constantly changing, you never know what will pop up around the corner, which I find very exciting.”