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Taranaki artist’s creations are both pretty and practical

15 May 2019

While Shirley Vickery may not have originally planned to start a hobby-business creating hand-built and ornately painted cupboards and mirrors, her skilful hands have helped her carve out a niche making functional art that’s both unique and useful. The idea first sprouted from a place of farm-raised practicality, but it’s Shirley’s fondness of decorative design and colourful palette of Resene testpots that sets her work apart.

“Like lots of people,” she says, “I want to have furnishings that are interesting and beautiful in my house, and the things I might like to buy are generally out of my price range, so I make my own instead.”

“I love to cook and I asked my husband, who is a writer and a builder, to make me a cupboard to keep my multitudinous spice collection in. I said, 'don’t make boring rectangular doors - make them more interesting’, so he made the doors curved. After I painted it up, lots of people admired the spice cupboard, which inspired me to try making them to sell.”

Shirley’s first spice cupboard, which set her business into motion.

“Later, we had a sleep-out built for family to stay in and I wanted a decorated mirror for the ensuite, so I made one. I decorated it with a native clematis flower design because at the time I was walking to work daily past one that was in full flower against the dark background of a ponga trunk retaining wall. I loved the look of the luminous white flowers shining our against the black ponga trunks. I really enjoyed the result and decided to make more to see if they might sell.”

Shirley says that she comes from a long line of rabid gardeners, and having grown up on a farm in Taranaki, she’s always felt strongly connected to the natural world.

“I have fine arts training and like to relax from more intellectually serious work by doing things that are simple and decorative where I can express my delight in aspects of nature that catch my eye.”

 “I find decorative design really difficult. It doesn't come naturally to me.  So when I started with the cupboards, I decided to just play around with some very basic elements – spots and stripes – to see where that could go.

“Then, inevitably, I wanted to put flower and leaf shapes in and the challenge was to simplify the shapes of plants and flowers so that they would work in a decorative pattern but still retain the aspects that I am most drawn to. I have developed a practice of creating stencils to make it easier to paint multiples of shapes, which I can then detail individually.

“It’s a satisfying challenge to work out how to organise visual elements around a shape like a circular mirror frame rather than on the squares and rectangles of a sheet of paper or canvas.”

Shirley’s ‘Camila Mirror’, which she designed, built and painted for her guest suite.

When asked about her favourite colour, Shirley chose Resene Karaka.

“It’s a kind of green-black that I use as a background. I like to paint a lighter colour underneath, let it dry and then paint over it with the darker colour and wipe the paint back when it’s still wet to let the underneath colour show through. Because of the green pigments, it makes it a very rich black which is not dull or flat as blacks often are.”

Shirley’s ‘Milkweed’ mirror.

When Shirley is selecting her colours, she looks to the latest Resene the Range fashion colour fandeck. “It’s great being able to look at ranges of colour that are already in combinations that work well together. I also love the cards in the front that are a neutral grey with a little window in them so that you can view colours in isolation.”

Detail from Shirley’s ‘Belladonna’ mirror.

Shirley’s ‘Clematis’ cupboard.

Shirley and her husband collaborated on this one-of-a-kind ‘Spikey’ cupboard design

Shirley cut and painted this life-size plywood pooch in memory of her dearly departed dog, April.

To see more of Shirley’s work, check out her Facebook page.

images Shirley Vickery