Artist Natalie Ryan grew up in country Victoria, and while she has lived in some of the busiest cities, designing for large textile corporations, her return to Colbinabbin has seen her reconnect with her love of nature and inspired her to establish Meander Art.

By Sue Turpie – Photography by David Field

A childhood spent surrounded by native bush and wildlife influenced this local artist even before she created her first drawing at only a few years old. While there were years dedicated to studying and working in metropolitan areas as well as living overseas, Natalie Ryan never forgot her roots. Some five years ago she returned to Colbinabbin, reconnecting with her love of the local flora and fauna to establish Meander Designs.
Natalie studied textile design at RMIT in Melbourne and spent time working with two major linen companies, however nature still called and she started attending weekly classes studying botanical painting at the Melbourne gardens. That call would never leave her, and it is here in central Victoria that she continues to foster her true love. Natalie’s work is delicate, intricate and quite beautiful. The finish and attention to detail comes from a true appreciation for her subject matter.
“I learned a lot studying painting at the Botanical Gardens and realised that was where my passion was,” Natalie says. “I moved back to my grandparents’ house five years ago, doing freelance textile design. I still pop into the Rushworth Forest every now and then because there’s some great wildflowers in there. I always loved doing that with my nana, learning all the names of the local flowers and animals.”
There was a lot of time spent in the city, studying in Melbourne, working in Sydney, then London for the backpacker experience, then back to Melbourne, before country Victoria. Natalie admits she missed the country.
“I lived in Elwood so I guess being close to the beach was my version of country,” she says, “but I love living back here now. It’s really inspiring for my own work, and doing work for clients.”
Creating her own artwork was a way of filling in the quiet times of the year, when freelance textile design work was at a lull, and it turned out to be a perfect fit.
“In the down time, which is usually January and February, I thought I needed to start doing something for myself,” Natalie says. “I’ve always loved painting nature and the local wildflowers and plants that grow around this area and I thought I’d set up Meander Designs. From Meander Designs I’m getting a lot more work along a similar vein, people are asking for that style of design for their own.”
Natalie laughs when she says her style of drawing hasn’t changed since primary school. So, it begs the question, why study? Of course, it’s about honing techniques and finetuning your craft. For this artist, watercolour is her favourite medium.
“When designing textiles, the design had to be printable and water colour would lend itself to that,” she explains having worked for both Sheridan, where everything had to be hand painted, and then for Linen House, which also involved hand painting.
“They had other designers who just did computer work. Hand-painting things is an easier way to get your own style, I think just using illustrator your own personal touch can get a little bit lost in the design.”
Natalie spent 10 years at Linen House where her main job was designing the children’s linen; the Hiccup range.
“I much prefer the grown-up stuff,” she jokes. “The styles change so quickly in the kids’ fashion that one year it might be rainbows and unicorns and simple designs and the next year they want really complicated designs that are completely different. It’s very fast fashion compared to the botanical stuff, which is slower. That I prefer. And the way that collaborations are happening now means it’s a great time to be designing. There’s always something new and exciting happening. It’s an evolving industry to be in.”
The excited artist is currently designing wallpaper for a Sydney company, while enjoying life in a thriving country community. As she explains, “You never know what’s around the corner.”
For information and examples of Natalie’s work visit www.meanderdesigns.com.au or www.bendigomade.com.au if you would like to purchase some of her artwork.