We’ve arrived by the bush in Strathfieldsaye to find a little bit of the Bahamas. A touch of the Italian seaside. The tropical tones of Noosa palms on the walls of artist and designer Marcia Priestley’s family home.
It’s a welcome sight in the middle of a scorching Bendigo January and firm evidence Marcia has carried the sea air home from recent holidays; the trips being ideal inspiration for her latest body of work.
“I love to capture moments,” she says. “That’s what my art is generally about. It’s about finding that part of yourself you connect with at that time. I just want to capture moments in time.”
The bright abstract paintings are the latest evolution of a creative journey that started when Marcia was a child, got put on the backburner as adult life took hold, then returned with a vengeance ten years ago.
Marcia describes her childhood self as a creative kid, constantly drawing and imagining and wondering if art would always be part of her life.
“I have always sketched or painted something ever since I had a sketch pad and coloured pencils to draw with,” she says. “I get my creative mind from my father who is always found tinkering in his shed making something from wood.
“My sisters and I have good memories of our childhood. We had the space to roam and be creative. We grew up in Macedon, my father had a timber sawmill and we had a fully decked-out train carriage in our backyard. It was our rumpus room. It’s where we would spend all our time. One summer Mum allowed us to paint the windows in abstract art. She was a wonderful, patient mother.”
In early adulthood Marcia qualified as an interior designer as a way to make a living yet stay creative. Then, at the age of 33, she was given a cancer diagnosis which inadvertently brought her back to her creative roots.
Marcia says she tackled her treatment with fierce positivity, and most importantly, by getting creative. “That was the reason I started illustrating again,” she says. “Our two daughters loved what I was doing and it really changed the vibe in our house. They couldn’t wait to come home from school just to see what new character or story I had created that day. And I began to realise it wasn’t just the treatment that made me well again, it was the whole creative process I was experiencing through my art.”
When Marcia began sharing her work outside her family she quickly found that other people loved it too. She began illustrating for greeting cards and prints, which appealed to art and design lovers around the country, nationally from stockists such as David Jones and locally from outlets like Yoga Hara.
Over the years Marcia’s illustrations have evolved to a more free-flowing style of loose line drawings. She found an international market for the art, featured in the likes of the Brazilian blog Casa Vogue and Origin Magazine in America. She’s fulfilled many overseas commissions, the latest being a portrait for a family in Italy. Local celebrities have embraced the work too, sharing their own portraits by Marcia on social media.
Marcia has found a platform and marketplace for her work on Instagram and with the online design site, Greenhouse Interiors. She says the latter has been wonderful for connecting her to other Australian artists.
When we meet Marcia is about to launch her latest collection through Greenhouse Interiors, called Coast. It’s her first public showing of the abstract paintings on canvas. “I think every artist wonders if people will like their work, but I’ve lost that feeling of worrying about what people think,” she says. “If nobody likes what I do I’m more than happy to keep the work for my own walls. They show my style, and zest for life and if people are inspired by that, great, and if not, that’s okay too.
“I’ve heard so many stories about people getting sick and then finding their passion. I always had the creative passion but getting cancer made me see life in a different way. I no longer want to waste time. Every moment I have is precious and I want to spend that with the people I love, doing the things I love.”
A decade after her diagnosis Marcia is cancer-free. The experience has left her with a fierce passion for art, as well as life. She now juggles making art with a full-time career as an interior designer, but she’s finding more and more hours to spend in her studio; a bright and beautiful space carved out of the family garage.
“Other than drinking pina coladas on the beach there is no other place I’d rather be,” she says. “Painting or sketching gives me energy and makes me feel alive. I love the challenge of creating something from nothing but an idea. I love originality. Finding ways to be different is the biggest challenge these days because there is so much good stuff out there but once you develop your style, originality just happens.
“I’m fussy with what I’m producing, I put a lot of thought into it. You just know when you’ve got it, that feeling of finishing a piece is really exciting and it makes me want to pick up a blank canvas and start all over again.”