You would be hard-pressed to find an artist with more creative energy than fellow Melbournian, Tai Snaith. It is a real privilege to introduce this inspiring, multi-talented and award-winning artist, curator, author, and mother of two, whose practice is often described as personal and experimental and spans such an impressive range of fields, materials and themes. From painting and ceramics to illustrating and publishing, Tai has her fingers in a number of artistic pies!
Tai’s ability to combine various techniques and contexts into a unique, interdisciplinary approach is what makes her aesthetic so interesting. It is certainly what attracted us to her beautiful new book, Slow Down World, published by Thames & Hudson. This is the fourth children’s book Tai has had published, following the success of Family Hour in Australia, Sticks and Stones, Animal Homes, and Shine Bright. All four books are lushly illustrated and rich with thoughtful details and sophisticated artistry.
Slow Down World takes you on an engaging journey through a young girl’s wild imagination that includes unicorns, shooting stars, and lots of animal friends.
The use of clay and paper to create the characters and whimsical landscapes makes for a truly special visual experience. The style reminds me of one of my favourite childhood books, Where the Forest Meets the Sea, by Jeannie Baker – one of the few books I kept and now read to my girls. Not surprisingly, Tai mentions in our interview that she too was fascinated by Baker’s work as a child.
I also really love that Tai’s book has a deeper purpose; to serve as a heartfelt reminder to take each day at your own pace, to breathe, to be brave, and to dream. Tai even includes a practical and inventive list of ways to slow down and be more mindful, some of which we have already started trying!
After attending a promotional book reading Tai did at the new Readings Kids bookstore in Carlton, I was even more curious about this contemporary artist’s background and her thoughts on raising children to think creatively. As a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts and as an active member of Australia’s art community, including hosting a visual arts review segment on Triple R fm, she knows a thing or two about the subject! Here is what she had to say…
Can you tell us about your background and pathway to becoming an artist and writer?
I have always been very creative and productive since a very young age. My mum gave me a wall in our house in the playroom (before I was five), which I was free to draw on, and I clearly remember days where she would move everything out of the kitchen and line the floor with huge pieces of paper for me to paint on.
In primary school I have strong memories of illustrating the chalk board for the teacher each day and having a picture book I made from scratch displayed in the Principal’s office cabinet. I also remember my Grade 4 teacher asking me to sign something I made and if she could possibly keep it. That’s when I knew something was going on.
I was actually quite competitive too. There was always a competition to design the cover of the school magazine for the end of the year and I think I won it pretty much every year.
It was always something I wanted to do. There was never really any question about it, except when I do remember asking about whether I could be the Prime Minister, but I remember my mum saying ‘Yes you could, but being an artist would probably be more fun.’ She was right!
I ended up going to the Victorian College for the Arts straight after Year 12 and then getting into street art after that. But for the past 10 or so years I have been working primarily in my studio on my fine art practice. Then the book thing just fell in my lap when my publisher (Thames and Hudson) approached me six years ago to do my first book (The Family Hour in Australia).
What inspired your latest book, Slow Down World, and can you describe the process behind the unique style of imagery throughout the book?
Slow Down World grew from my experience with my own two boys of feeling like we are always in a rush. It seems that privileged upper middle class people are always focused on fast things- cars, internet, food, etc.
My parents are actually part of the Slow Food movement and that has been very important to me and my family and our way of doing things, especially eating and sourcing our food. I thought, ‘why can’t we live ALL of our lives like this’? I also just really wanted to re-visit my childhood experience of spending seemingly endless days on my pony, wandering and going on adventures that allowed my mind to wander and my imagination to grow strong and confident.
The process of using clay and paper basically grew out of how I was already working in my studio on my other artwork. I have been making wall-based relief paintings using porcelain and I guess I had it lying around, so I started using bits and pieces in my trial illustrations. I have always re-visited collage throughout my artistic life and have always felt very confident cutting and arranging paper. I also photograph things a lot these days due to social media, Instagram etc, and so I think the idea of using something three dimensional and then turning it into a two dimensional image with shadows and texture etc. is very appealing to our eyes these days.
I also wanted to encourage kids to make things with their hands themselves, rather than turning to screens all the time to do the job for them.
Which artists or creatives inspire you at the moment?
As a child I was always absolutely fascinated by the work of Jeannie Baker. I still think she is the most important Australian illustrator of our times.
I am also very inspired by a couple of wonderful Melbourne artists who are merging the world of objects with the world of painting, with a foot firmly in each. Alice Wormald, Sean Meilak, Sean Peoples, Antonia Sellbach, Michelle Ussher, Kate Tucker, to name a few. I am also very inspired by a few of the much older generation female painters like Helen Maudsley and Joy Hester.
What advice do you have for emerging young artists?
Believe in your own unique blend of skills, don’t try to fit them into a box or edit yourself to fit a trend or title.
Remember that those who move between worlds wield the most power.
Say yes as much as possible until a point when you are really busy and then learn how to say no.
Travel as much as you can before you start a family.
What are you most proud of and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
I am very proud of my garden! It gives me so much joy and it is ever-changing and so beautiful. But honestly, I think my biggest achievement in my work is still to come.
You can expect to see more clay, more weirdness and perhaps even less words!
Any words of wisdom for creative parents who love art and want to make it a fun part of life for their kids?
Always offer your kids as many different materials as possible. Choice is a very important part of creativity. Also try to have a space set up all the time where they can make things, just like an artist has a studio – this is really important.
If you think your kids are creative try to encourage them in every way, but be careful not to enforce your tastes and ideas onto them, let them be free. The best way to encourage them to get into creative things is to do it yourself.
I am also very careful to say things like, ‘That looks like it was really interesting/challenging/fun to make,’ rather than, ‘That’s beautiful’ or ‘That’s really good.’
Years of therapy have taught me that this is an important distinction! Making art is for yourself rather than external validation.
We adore our print from your new book and I know some people would love one too – will you be making any more prints available?
Yes! I have made a very limited run of only 50 x A4 prints of each of my five favourite illustrations from the book. They are very lovely prints done by a specialist art printer in London on high quality Hahnemühle rag paper. They look even better than the book itself! People interested can email me at tai(at)taisnaith.com if they would like to purchase one.
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