You may know Paynesville-based artist Deanne Howlett for her stunning acrylic paintings that depict our local landscapes and flora. These artworks, which are represented in private collections throughout Australia, reduce the scenery to elemental lines and forms, showcasing the sculptural and architectural quality of the native foliage.
Recently, though, the artist has made an exciting departure into a new medium with her series of resin jewellery.
“I’ve never thought of myself as someone who works with anything three-dimensional. It was a real change for me.”
“ I just wanted to get them away from product-based art to more process-led art.”
When asked what prompted the change, Deanne revealed that, like many creatives, she found the Covid lockdowns to be a strain on her creative practice.
“With my graphic design background, I like to plan everything out. I was never the free expression painter who would have a blank canvas in front of me and just go for it. I would have everything mapped out. I was very product-oriented and doing a lot of commission work enforces that as well.
“With all the lockdowns and the state of the world at that time, I couldn’t focus on my paintings. I couldn’t have that final vision and work towards it.”
The artist had been playing around with resin early in the lockdowns, but it was the work she did in 2021 through the Regional Arts Victoria–funded Creative Workers in Schools program that affirmed this creative direction. Deanne worked with the students at Paynesville Primary School for two terms focusing on the concept of ‘flow’.
“I could see the impact that the bushfires and Covid were having on not only the adults of our region, myself included, but the kids as well. I just wanted to get them away from product-based art to more process-led art. I wanted to get them to relax into trying new things and going with the flow.
“We explored the flow of our environment – the flow of the water, the currents, the wind. The flow of thoughts and emotions. The flow of our imagination and ideas.
“I noticed such a difference in them from the start to the end – how much more comfortable and exploratory they were. There was no pressure.”
Deanne encouraged the students to discover how different mediums looked, how they felt in their hands, how they smelled – and this tactile, process-led approach turned out to be just what she was craving in her own practice.
Resin art involves a complex process, which Deanne picked up with the help of fellow creatives, YouTube videos and lots of trial and error. The artist first crafts the shapes she is after from modelling clay.
“I try not to make them too perfect because I want those little undulations and bumps and finger impressions. Once I’ve got the pieces I am happy with, I bake them to set them and create my own moulds from those to pour the resin into.
“The tactility of my pieces is important to me – I’ve had them referred to as ‘sensory jewellery’ by someone who bought a piece. I love that new owners recognise that it is partly a sensory experience to wear, touch and hold my resin pieces. The undulated surface and the matte finish both contribute to that.”
While lots of artists include things like glitter and beads in their resin jewellery, Deanne had something a little more unconventional in mind.
Increasingly disappointed with the rubbish scattering Paynesville’s beautiful waterways, Deanne started doing regular rubbish collections in 2018.
“I’d go out with my garden gloves and a rubbish bag and put my border collie, Willow, on a long lead, so she could explore while I collected rubbish. Then one day I started thinking maybe I could work some of this into my resin. I thought it would give the marine debris a greater purpose to be encased in the jewellery and it would be a great conversation starter to build awareness about the issue.”
Deanne’s connection to the environment has always found its way into her artwork.
“The environment has always been a major part of my life,” Deanne explained, reminiscing on her childhood in Ceduna and later Eagle Point. Her childhood memories are steeped in a love of the environment – whether it be bike rides through the bush, collecting lizards with friends or the time spent in her parents’ impressive three-acre garden with more than 2000 species of native plants.
Having been based in Gippsland for the past 27 years, after returning from Melbourne where she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Communication) at RMIT, Deanne is particularly inspired by our local environment.
“In Gippsland, there is not much that we don’t have. We’ve got lakes, rivers, mountains and the coast. We have everything here.It is hard not to take note of it.”
This is part of the reason she has decided to donate 5% of the sales from her Marine Debris range of resin jewellery to the Marine Mammal Foundation.
The Marine Mammal Foundation is a not-for-profit research, education and conservation organisation. They research marine mammals and environments across Victoria and apply their learnings to educate and inspire communities and advise management authorities to assist with marine environment management decisions.
The foundation began in 2013, after the Founding Director and Head of Research Dr Kate Robb discovered a new species of dolphin – the Burrunan dolphin, which resides in our very own Gippsland Lakes.
“I think it is special that we have dolphins in our lakes. We are often out in the boat, so we get to see them regularly. When I started with my Marine Debris range, I thought that I’d love to give back and help promote an organisation and the Marine Mammal Foundation was a perfect fit.”
When asked to offer a tip for better living to Gippslandia readers, Deanne had this to say: “Walking in nature every day. At the beginning of the day in particular – I was told once that the morning sun increases serotonin levels, which boosts your mood.”
And why not take a note out of Deanne’s book and pick up some rubbish while you are at it.
“Picking up rubbish makes me feel really good too. It makes me feel like I am doing something to make a direct difference.”
You can get your hands on Deanne’s stunning resin jewellery at one of her local Gippsland stockists – Foundry, East Gippsland Art Gallery, Inland Surf Bairnsdale, Gippsland Art Gallery or Latrobe Regional Gallery. The work will also be displayed in Meeniyan Art Gallery’s December exhibition. Remember to keep an eye out for one of her Marine Debris pieces to help give back to a worthy cause.
And if you want to meet Deanne, head into Foundry in Bairnsdale where she volunteers each Friday morning – she loves to chat with fellow creatives and art lovers alike.