Katherine Nelson is a watercolour artist who started Welcome Studio as a social enterprise to support asylum seekers and refugees in Australia through art. Melissa Cowan chats to her about her creative process and passion.
I’m really passionate about the relationship between humans and the rest of nature, so my work usually focuses somehow on this. It’s also quite whimsical – I love the idea that you can paint things in an artwork that can’t possibly exist in real life, like houses with legs or a girl with whales swimming laps around her head!
I think it’s an incredible thing to be able to create something that will make the world slightly better, or more beautiful, or more interesting, or make people think about something differently.
We need art and creativity around us to survive and grow.
It also makes me really happy to be engrossed in making something, whether it’s a painting or an obscure craft project off the internet.
I try to spend a bit of time after work every day painting, but if there is an exhibition coming up or I am painting something with a deadline this can quickly turn into every spare second in the studio and me forgetting to do things like eating and sleeping. I’m trying to be more organised than that though!
I’m really inspired at the moment by a ceramics artist from the Central Coast of NSW named Juz Kitson. Her work is stunning and I really like the ideas behind it about the natural world. George Gittoes is another Australian artist who is a source of huge inspiration. I’m also inspired by the styles of artists like Henri Rousseau and Gustav Klimt, and by the life and artwork of Frida Khalo.
Being an artist is constantly a process of learning to trust yourself and your abilities and learning to worry less about how something will turn out.
I’ve also found that working alone for long periods of time can be quite isolating and it can be really important to find a creative working space with other artists.
I’ve just recently co-founded an art-based social enterprise named Welcome Studio, and it’s already my favourite project by far! We have five artists on board (including myself) who have each contributed a certain number of their artworks for us to sell as art prints via our website and in shops. All of the profits support the needs of people who have come to Australia as refugees.
There are a lot of barriers that can make it really hard for someone who’s come here as a refugee to settle into life in Australia i.e. many people aren’t legally allowed to work, making it very difficult to survive financially. Even if money is not a problem, things like language barriers, cultural differences and the psychological effects of trauma can seriously affect someone’s ability to settle into a new home country. Welcome Studio is about using art to welcome people who have come to Australia seeking asylum, by showing them that we care and that we want them as part of our community.