Kiwi artist Alice Berry shares the inspiration behind her award-winning designs

Childhood road trips inspire an award-winning design for artist Alice BerryAlice Berry

Auckland-based artist Alice Berry’s popular paintings have been spotted in numerous houses featured in Your Home and Garden.

From abstract florals to texture-rich terrains, her work is a lively depiction of alfresco life. So when she entered the 2023 Bolt of Cloth Textile Design Award, for which she had to design a series of cushions, she looked to her beautiful verdant green hillscapes.

“The texture of the canvas is quite similar to the texture of the Panama cotton used for the cushion covers, and I often paint on a square canvas, so the hills transfer really well,” she says of her designs, which went on to win the competition. She did, however, have to tweak the placement of the art on the cushion to take into account the curved shape and movement once the filling is inside.

Can you tell us about the inspo and design process for your cushions?

I grew up in Tauranga and travelled a lot around Waikato and the Coromandel for sports and to visit family. On those drives there are so many rolling, green hillscapes. Now in Auckland, I am surrounded by green volcanic cones (to the delight of the aspiring volcanologist in me). When I create my hill paintings, I don’t have any specific landscape in mind, more the general feeling of the undulating hillsides that are pretty iconic to New Zealand. They’re abstract enough that you have a feeling of recognition without having to know a particular location, which I like. No matter where you go, you’ll feel at home when you see the hills.

As for the process, in the past I didn’t even sketch out placements. These days I do a quick pencil sketch to plot the shapes and figure out colour placement from there. It’s a fairly free-flow process. Once they’re applied to cushions, you can take a little slice of New Zealand with you anywhere. It’s a fun way to brighten up your couch or bed while still having a relaxed vibe that will fit with a range of aesthetics.

Alice’s cushion series, Grounded, is an extension of her popular paintings, which often feature the New Zealand “hillscapes” that made a strong impression on her during childhood road trips

What did you do before being a full-time artist?

As a teen I wanted to be a town planner or a volcanologist. I actually went to Otago University and started a degree to work towards becoming a planner before I realised it wasn’t for me. So I switched over to Otago Polytechnic and did a Bachelor of Design (Communication). As a kid, I’d always painted for fun, but I kind of stopped when I went to study. From there, I worked as a graphic designer for a good few years, in the travel and events industries. Around 2016, I started painting again – by this point I was working part-time, as well as freelancing. As time has gone on I’ve been able to make it work so that I still freelance a little bit in graphic design and have the rest of the time for painting or pottery or whatever creative outlet suits my fancy, which is really lovely.

Congrats on your win. What was your reaction to winning the Bolt of Cloth Textile Design Award?

Thank you! It was very exciting. I’ve wanted to enter the award for a few years but I was waiting until I felt I had something strong enough, so it was super exciting to be a finalist, and then to win. I’ve always dreamed of designing for textiles as well, so it felt awesome.

“No matter where you go, you’ll feel at home when you see the hills,” says Alice

What’s it like seeing your finished cushions in Bolt of Cloth?

I love it. Certainly a proud moment for me. People have told me over time they really connect with my hill paintings, so it’s super fun that they can now have them as part of their home in a different context. Bolt of Cloth has done such a great job on them as well – the colours and quality are really lovely.

What’s the Alice Berry signature look?

Colour and texture. I love colour and mixing and matching it. Throughout my paintings there is often a soft pink, so I guess that is probably a signature colour for me. Colour is also a big part of how I express feelings and/or vibes. Funnily enough, the hills are actually pretty chilled out on the texture side. Usually there are lots of layers and textures going on.

Once a full-time graphic designer, Alice has rearranged her life to make more time for painting, pottery “or whatever creative outlet suits my fancy”

Where do the ideas come from?

Nature and experiences are my biggest inspirations. I’ve been lucky to have been able to do a lot of travel in my time so far and that brings about a lot of inspiration. I also love being in and around the water. Tropical holidays have been super inspiring – walking the lush gardens or snorkelling among coral and fish – but also just the calming and refreshing qualities the ocean has. My personal experiences also come through in my work. Often, I can see a colour palette in my mind and I get a feeling that goes with it, and then I work from there. Sometimes I can see a more formed idea, but usually it’s quite vague, and then it takes shape as I start painting.

Browse through Alice’s beautiful work here.

How long does a painting typically take you?

It’s super varied. Sometimes only a few hours and sometimes it takes months of going back and forth on an artwork. I generally find that if I’m in a flow state I work quite quickly, but at the same time it might feel like an hour but it’s actually been three. I really don’t keep track of time, to be honest, especially as lots of my work is very layered and you have to come and go from it to allow for drying.

Nature is a regular muse for Alice, who is currently exploring artworks of extreme sizes, both large and small. These little paintings were inspired by holidays in Tropical North Queensland and Rarotonga

You’re a successful self-taught artist. Any advice to someone getting started?

Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I would say just go for it. Create what feels right to you and put yourself out there. I used to turn up to galleries or stores and ask to have a chat with whoever was in charge, to see if they were interested in my work. It can feel a bit scary, but it’s worth it. I couldn’t find any galleries with availability to host my first solo show but I had the body of work and knew I wanted to show it, so I did it myself – hired a space and set it all up, got sponsors for food and drinks for opening night and just made it happen. It was only for three days and I only sold one painting, but it was so worth it.

You also hand-build ceramics and do graphic design – can you talk us through what you do here? Also, how do you find the time?

I really enjoy making ceramics. It’s a very grounding and humbling experience – a lot of trial and error in the beginning. Having the time to work with clay comes and goes; it’s certainly not as regular as I’d like it to be. It’s also pretty messy work, so I try to go to drop-in sessions at Studio One Toi Tū in Ponsonby for making. My ceramic pretzels are a crowd fave and pretty fun to make and decorate. Graphic design is a bit more regular. I usually have one or two clients and try to keep it to three days a week max so that I have space and time for painting and general creating. It’s a balancing act and ebbs and flows as to what is a priority.

What are your design aspirations?

I have a few things in mind, which will hopefully take shape in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise, I’d love to do some really large-scale works, maybe collab on textiles for clothing, and make some giant ceramic pretzels. Having an artist feature in this mag was always an aspiration of mine, and here we are. So let’s see what happens next.

Text: Caroline Moratti  Photography: Babiche Martens

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