A Family Affair: Sally Browne

“Becoming a parent was the catalyst for me becoming a professional artist,” says Bluethumb bestseller Sally Browne on life as a first-time mum, and incidentally, an artist. In part of a new series on the Bluethumb blog, A Family Affair looks into the lives of creative Australian artist families.

Artist family: Sally with her two daughters, Pearl and Honey.

Sally Browne has an unmistakable style that sets her work apart. A painter of still life and the Australian environment, her work depicts native flora and fauna as seen by a British-born migrant who now calls Sydney’s Inner West home.

After the birth of her first child ten years ago, Sally found motherhood a struggle. “My hubby and I both being from overseas meant there were no immediate family to call on for any relief,” Sally recalls. “As anyone who’s been there will attest, you are in survival mode for those first few years. I felt totally lost and isolated by myself with a baby for 12 hours every day. I used to walk around the neighbourhood with Pearl for hours. It was pretty monotonous.

Australia’s native birds and plant life continue to frequently star in Sally’s work. In this watercolour and acrylic piece, a pair of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos share the limelight.

“As I walked the same streets day in, day out for a couple of years, I began to notice and enjoy identifying all the plants growing in people’s front gardens, as well as the native street trees and how they change with each season. I live in Newtown which is densely populated, so there are rows of houses with unkempt-gardens galore.

“The repetition of the walking coupled with the appreciation of the plants became like a daily mantra that helped my mental health enormously. I began studying and drawing the plants and birds from my area, and for the first time I began to feel a deep connection with this country. By the time my second child arrived, I was too busy creating to be depressed. During those long nap times I’d set up my watercolours in the kitchen and paint every spare second I had. The house was a tip with washing spilling out everywhere, but I’d found my purpose and artistic calling.”

Mrs Macquarie’s Gum is one of Sally Browne’s favourite trees of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. “Her twisted serpent-like trunk sits low to the ground. My small children climb her branches and get up close and personal with the resident Kookaburras or bumble bees feeding on the gum blossoms, depending on the season.”

The nature of last year led many lifestyles to morph; there were highs, and a lot of lows. One consistent oasis through 2020’s twists and turns was in creative refuge. “Ask any creative person how they feel about 2020 and most will tell you they grew as a result,” says Sally.

“I feel like my practice has really benefited from a year of less social busyness. My work has evolved so much in the past year in particular my transition from watercolours to oil paintings and the way light and shadow play a major role in my image making. Any event that forces a person to slow down and simplify their existence is going to have positive benefits.

Artist Family

Meet Pearl and Honey in their element! Here, Pearl is aged 5, and Honey aged 2.

“During lock down I was desperate for everyone to be outdoors, so we moved all our indoor activities out into our modest inner city garden. We’d eat outside, play board games, draw and paint. We were walking the streets and going on local bush walks more than ever! Nature is obviously my cure for everything now.”

The practice of painting has now become a clear tradition in Sally’s household. Her two daughters, 6 and 10 years old, have both won first prize for the Young Artist categories in the Little Things Art Prize. “[It’s] a fantastic art prize and a great one to get the kids involved in. The criteria is to create a work on a 24cm x 24cm about something that makes you feel grateful or happy,” Sally explains. “Pearl’s winning artwork in 2019 featured a stunning portrait of Rupert, our Burmese Cat, and Honey’s winning work in 2020 Featured a beautifully-executed kookaburra.”

Artist Family

Honey and Pearl with their award-winning masterpieces!

Both girls sold their works before the opening and had commission requests from collectors who missed out – including collectable artist James Needham. “Honey negotiated an “artist swapsie” for her growing art collection. She really likes his greyhounds, so she painted him a kookaburra in return for a greyhound which hangs pride of place in her bedroom.

Honey living her best life – being a princess and making art!

“I’m super proud of my artistic children. My studio is in a spare room in our home, so they are free to wander in and help themselves to art materials (which they do). I love the fact that we share a common interest but I’m also aware of the dangers of becoming the artist equivalent of a stage mum. I have to practice quite a lot of self control when I spy one of them about to overwork one of their ‘masterpieces’.”

In Sally Browne’s household, a typical rainy Sunday might include a collaborative painting session with her daughters. “I’ll cover the dining area in tarpaulin and tape a giant 3-metre piece of paper to a wall, mix up a load of acrylics and we will all agree on a theme and paint a section. Both daughters are better artists than me. I will often try to channel their energy into my own work, the way they confidently apply the paint and attack a subject, but it’s impossible to fake the genius and honesty in children’s art making.”
Artist Family

What a beautiful way to spend time on a drizzly Sunday arvo? Sally’s artist family call this masterpiece the Jungle Collab!

In times of hardship and ease alike, keeping creativity thriving in the household proved to be an essential part of 2020. Sally Browne’s experience is testament to this; stay tuned for further Australian artist family stories or click here to check out our top ten quotes to give your creativity an instant hit. Shop Sally’s full collection of available artworks on her Bluethumb profile.

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  1. Loved reading about your adventures in art. Beautiful art works.

  2. Love this article Sally, and your approach to raising a creative family. I can completely relate to the isolation after becoming a new parent in Aberdeen(!). Art and creativity is really a gift and I’m grateful daily to have found my way to it.

    I also love the Jungle Collab – I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. Nic 🙂

    • Sally Browne says:

      Oh Nic! Aberdeeeeeeeen with a wee – un would have been tough. Especially in the winter when you’re used to a Queensland “winter”. x

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