Chatting together that sunny morning, catching glimpses of the sun-washed landscape through the window, I was struck by Whitney’s modesty. When we caught up again a year later - after I’d seen her career bloom from afar - she remained measured and kind, thrilled that others found joy in her work. And a year alter still, I’ve watched from my home in London as she’s opened a store and studio in Manildra - a town she always wanted to help transform.
Whitney paints for love and struggles to call herself an ‘artist’, yet this simply speaks to the fact that the art world is changing. Rather than being guided by tastemakers, we can now connect with artists ourselves (social media has its perks) and know that something is ‘good’ simply because we like it.
Talking to Whitney once more, ahead of the release of her Black Blaze gift wrap, I’m reminded that art should be fun, collaboration is vital and that following your passions can take you on unexpected journeys.
I’ve always painted. Art was my favourite subject at school, but when I left I was too scared to do an art course because I wanted to do something that would guarantee me a future. So I did accounting, but I enjoyed painting for fun. When I moved to the country and had kids I had more time to paint, although my husband suggested I couldn’t keep using our hallway as a gallery because I had art coming out left, right and centre.
I used to paint landscapes, but during Covid when I was home-schooling I started painting little still-lifes I set up in the kitchen while the kids were working. I then heard that The Corner Store Gallery [an independent Orange galley curated by Madi Young] was planning an exhibition called ‘HOME’ and thought I’d give it a go, so entered three of my pieces. I was really nervous because I’d never done anything like it before, but they all sold. It was awesome knowing that someone wanted to hang my art in their house, and it just steamrolled from there.
I set up small compositions on my kitchen bench with bits-and-pieces from around my house and fresh produce from the surrounding farms. I know it sounds silly, but I just love making things that look pretty. I remember when one of my school friends did an artwork and I said in front of the teacher, “Oh my God, that would look so nice in my house.” He got really cranky because he said the point of art wasn’t to make homewares. But that’s what I love, and what I want my art to bring home. I want it to sit in people’s houses and look beautiful.
I actually swore I’d never live in Manildra. Tim [my husband] brought me to Orange from the Gold Coast and that was a big enough leap. We went for what I thought was an innocent Sunday drive, and ended up inspecting a Manildra property that was for sale. As soon as I walked down the back and explored the amazing shearing shed and the trees around the dam, I was sold.
I felt a bit of an outsider when I first moved to Orange, but once the kids started at the little public school in Manildra I felt like I became part of the community. It’s such a nice little town. I love it all - the families, the staff at the school, the butcher - everybody’s just so lovely. They look out for you and support what you do. I feel like I’m part of something.
Since getting a bigger following on Instagram I have had other rural artists contact me who are so supportive. A couple of them say, “Let’s catch up, let’s do lunch, let’s have an art retreat,” which is nice because I’ve never had those relationships before.
But out here, even if it’s not art, people are interested. One of my friends is a baker and calls herself the Flour Miller’s Wife, because her husband works at the mill, and she says, “Whatever you do out here, you have a go, and people will support you.”
I hope that people can relate to my work, they can find something that resonates with them, and it reminds them of people they love, places they’ve visited or special moments they have shared. Above all, I hope my art brings joy to people, and happiness to their homes. I love knowing where my paintings end up because it’s truly heart-warming to see them in someone’s home. It’s so special that they’ve invested in something I have created.
This space at Manildra was initially meant to be solely a studio space. I wanted somewhere I could go to work that removed me from my home environment. Whilst there are so many great things about working from home, as a mum, I think it’s also very distracting. It felt a bit special to be able to “go to work”.
As the space was being renovated I thought about creating a place where I could display my art as I'm building towards an exhibition, some shelving to present my print selection, some products from collaborative endeavours. The idea of opening to the public to share my art then developed into adding homewares pieces I loved and I felt complimented my work. Now I have a shop full of lovely pieces and from beautiful brands that I’m so proud to represent.
We have introduced french doors to open the studio onto the shop floor - and I haven’t closed them yet. I am happy to paint with the doors open most days, even when I have visitors in the shop. I have been burning 'Folks Gathering' in my studio, it’s one of my favourite Black Blaze scents. I always get comments on how beautiful my space smells.
Art is so subjective. I paint what I love knowing that someone else will feel that too, and hopefully find a special place for my piece in their home. I think it is as simple as that - buy art because you love it.
Interview by Liz Schaffer & Portrait by Lean Timms