People and Places

Meet the hyperrealist artist who focuses on the small details

Hyperrealist artist Bella McGoldrick is all about the small details, in life and art

Every month, Bella McGoldrick packs up her life and moves to a new country. From what started off as circumstance while the Kiwi-born artist and her husband waited to get visas for the US and Australia, now the nomadic lifestyle informs her art in a way like no other. “I soak in where I am, eat the food, watch the people, think of ideas and begin to draw whatever I’m wanting to draw,” says Bella. Currently, her latest collection, Black Water is inspired by hot days in Vietnam and the coffee obsession that followed. While Bella pines for the day she has a permanent studio, currently her “600 or something pencils” form a kind of travelling studio, capturing everyday objects from the likes of Mexico, Italy, and the other places left on her bucket list.

How did your artistic journey come about?

I studied fashion design at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) in Melbourne, creating and selling fashion illustration portraits for a long time. They were kind of a hot trend for a second, which paid well and opened my eyes to being able to sell my work for a living. I moved to NYC after I graduated, where I had a few different design jobs until I didn’t and I made a post on Instagram saying that I’d draw whatever anyone wanted for $100 a pop. This was a hit from that moment and it was enough to sustain my living. I’m super fortunate people liked my work enough to support me and now it’s so embedded with my life and the way I live. It makes sense, no other job ever stuck before this.

What’s your creative process?

I’m collecting a lot. Collecting things I might want to draw from places I’ve been, or collecting items that might lead me in a new direction. I’m in my best headspace once I’ve decided and shot what I will draw next, once I’m in the “drawing” phase. Here I can zone out, I listen to audiobooks or podcasts and sit at my desk for eight or so hours a day. It’s not tough, I love to be at my desk. I feel I have purpose and there’s great satisfaction in seeing the work come to realisation – it’s a clear process once I’m drawing.

How long does a single piece take?

A smaller piece, like my current collection Black Water, are 30cm x 30cm and it takes around eight hours per drawing. That is solid drawing time and I have a timer going off every hour. It’s not sitting at the desk time. A larger piece can take upwards of 150 hours, something around 140sqcm in size. It is much slower than one would think. If I ever video my work in real time and watch it back I’m bored to death.

What drew you to the hyperrealism genre?

Honestly, it was just my skill set. With the fashion illustrations, it was the likeness to the faces that was the reason people bought them – they looked like them. When I started to draw other things I would draw what was around me: lighters, lip gloss, whatever. I didn’t go to art school, so maybe if I had, I would’ve progressed past it. I guess you can say I have the eye for it and now I’ve been training for five years or so.

Your Black Water collection is your largest collection to date. How did it feel to embark on something of such magnitude?

I feel like I have been working up to it a bit. It feels far less intimidating working on a collection of small works than on one huge piece. Firstly, I get the satisfaction of finishing (the dopamine hit) 16 times more than finishing one large piece. But more than that, I get to play around with a concept more. It evolves as it continues.

What was it about coffee that proved such an irresistible creative subject for Black Water?

The concept started when I was travelling through the countryside in Vietnam. The coffee there is an entirely different beast, it’s so strong it induced headspins like it would a puff of a cigarette. It’s black as tar and paired with sweetened condensed milk. Where I was, food was not a given but coffee always was. It was the familiarity, yet the totally foreign experience of this new dose. As I’m living in a new place constantly there are a lot of differences and few constants. Coffee is that constant for me. Literally, everywhere you go, there it is. It demonstrates culture and localism. It’s small enough to be casual yet big enough to be on the minds of many.

What’s your go-to coffee order?

A large iced Americano with a dash of oat milk. Or whatever the local order is – just as they have it.

We loved your Take a Seat collection that highlighted iconic designer chairs. What’s your favourite chair?

I had previously bought the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which was my first piece of “investment” furniture and I thought that was it. But after going into a deep dive of some of these pieces, I have to say I think the Terrazza by Ubald Klug will be my next investment – once I have a home.

Any exciting projects coming up?

Always. I have up until November planned in terms of living arrangements in incredible new spots, mostly around Europe this year. So, the work will come from that. Viewing new languages and therefore new products and design from my surroundings that I’m sure you’ll be seeing in my work. It’s gotten to the point now where people will see where I am and start to guess or at least hope for something of correlation to come out in my artwork.

How can people check out more of your work?

I release new work on Instagram and my website is the only place to purchase my work. I also write
quite a lot about my work, you can sign up for my email newsletter on my site. I’m never in a spot
for long but I am moving back to Australia at the end of the year where I hope to settle down and have open studios.

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