Is surface design a sell out?


This blog focuses on my studio practice. How I go about my art, what I use and the challenges I encounter. My initial aim is that it offers some insight into the life of a practicing artist and some useful tips for other creatives. In hindsight I think it may help me more that others. The self reflection about what you do can uncover some sloppy habits and manic moments. Maybe it’s my self therapy? As an artist we spend a lot of time in our heads. This blog will expose my thoughts, focus points and revelations. I can’t guarantee it will all be pretty or insightful, but I’m inviting you to join the ride anyway … strap yourself in for a seat on THE GINGERNUT EXPRESS!


Is surface design a sell out?

When I was at University doing my design degree I had a life drawing teacher that would just keep walking out of the class because he said that as graphic designers we were the prostitutes of art. I could never understand how having a job that allowed you to create and get paid for it, was a bad thing. Many decades after being an art hooker as a designer I am faced with the very same situation when talking about the merging of visual arts and surface design.

Surface design is the application of design to a variety of surfaces. Look at what Ken Done did with his art on jumpers, bags and bikinis and you get the idea. As the education system is slowly combining the arts and design into its own genre it doesn’t seem such a remote concept that art and design step off the cereal pack and out of the gallery.

As with all art, you get good and bad. There will always be the critics that feel the need to highlight the negative. It feels like they always outweigh your supporters in number. Artists are always being told they ‘shouldn’t do things’. Even the masters in art ran into their fair share of negativity from others with opinions about what and how they should reach the masses.

My motto is to try every avenue once and then decide if it is your thing or not. Even if it is a complete failure then you have racked up a little experience and learnt a whole lot about what ‘not to do’.

We are lucky enough to live in a time where technology provides us with access to an international world. We can blog, post and like, in a worldwide arena. The lines in business and art are blurred. Fashion consults street artists, singers sell their own fragrance.

Having access to another’s creations now comes in multiple choice. In the art world there has been this misconception that being ‘commercial’ is a sell out. Ask any gallery owner and they will agree that a ‘sell out show’ is definitely a good thing. I am still a little confused as to why creatives should apologise for doing well from their creations. Our fantasies about cash flow relief are not really focussed on buying that Ferrari or million dollar home …. it’s usually so we can buy more paint, use better equipment and get a bigger studio. We all aspire to making a living from our creations, and hopefully leave those 9-5 jobs behind.

Licensing your artwork just might help do that. The trick is to establish a way to create a division between the original art and that which may end up in an application. As I look around my studio I realise that I am living proof that licensing art by other artists has given me access to these artists in a way I would never have if I lived in a time before the printing press. Of course, if my money tree had grown I would always prefer to buy an original work…. who wouldn’t want a Picasso or Margaret Olley on their wall? Alas my budget doesn’t allow that. It does allow me to cover my wall with postcards of amazing artists work that inspire and teach me to see in different ways. If art is intended to inspire others then I am pretty sure a calendar, favourite cup or bag can provide the same joy as an original work. And who has the authority to say that it shouldn’t?

As an artist the greatest challenge is how to manage the transition of original to reproduction in a way that shows an extension of the creative process and not just a tacky rip off version. Here lies my mission with surface design. As I contemplate how to recreate my artworks into functional pieces in preparation for the International Surface Design show in New York, Surtex, I am faced with inventing new agendas of what I will and won’t apply my work to, and, how the surface design might compliment the original rather than override it. Watch this space…. Surface design is now the latest way to get your work out there through a range of mediums. You’ll see a bevy if options paraded in the gift shops that meet you at the end of any international art exhibit these days.

When I was deciding on a career, my first choice was as a fashion designer. That course took a lot of money that I didn’t have and so graphic design was my next option. Twenty five plus years on I might have the chance of combining the two. We shall see. I am enjoying the process of application and learning so much working with those who bring your artwork to life on products. I can’t wait to get to New York and see what others are doing in May. I am embracing this opportunity within verve. Does this make me less of an artist though? If the funds from this venture allow me the means to create more art then I say that surface design is a way to pay for your creative life and a way to reach more people with your work.

I don’t see the creative process being any different in surface design. The ideas and execution still need to be there. You still need to manage what you want your art to provide, and decide how it will nourish your next creation.

I am still painting away in my studio for future shows but I am also trying the surface design. As long as it’s creating I can’t see that as a bad thing!

Concept applications heading to New York in May.

If you are in the big apple in May, I am with the ArtSHINE booth no. 2522 at the Surtex Show 20-22 May 2018.

Here’s a link to surface products that are currently available >



My favourite art products


Over the last two years I have started to integrate some texture into my work.There are many texture mediums for adding to acrylic paint but not so many for oils. This is the best I have found so far.

Here’s the speel…

The soft white paste has little affect on oil colors, making them less opaque and slightly less saturated. Use it to build thick applications of colour. Impasto Medium slightly increases the transparency of colors while maintaining the buttery consistency. It allows you to build impasto or thick paint with ease. When added to oil paint, brushstrokes hold their form without slumping or leveling. In the example above, when added to green earth artist oil (bottom center), the mixture of Impasto Medium (bottom left) extends the color and its consistency, while the mixture with Velázquez Medium (bottom right) gives the paint a long, ropy consistency.

Impasto Medium is an oil painting medium of finely ground calcite, silica and bentonite in bodied linseed oil.

Impasto Medium does not contain stearates, solvents, driers or natural or synthetic resins, so it is safe to add to oil paint without the worry of cracking or delaminating.

Buy some >

Here’s a clip explaining the difference between the impastos > 

Have a go at making your own >


The Masters as my mentors … what Clarice Beckett taught me…

Clarice Beckett painting and Evening Landscape, 1925

Clarice Beckett (21 March 1887 – 7 July 1935) was an Australian Tonalist painter. Never really recognised for her talents during her lifetime her unique style exhibited her originality and innovation in Australian landscape painting. Here are some of the things I have learnt from understanding Clarice and her work.

Stay focussed. Get your concept and style sorted and then make lots of paintings.

Skilled at still life and portraiture Clarice chose to work at landscape painting. She relentlessly painted sea and beachscapes, rural and suburban scenes despite naysayers telling her that a woman should paint pretty things.

Mood matters more than subject.

Clarices work focuses on the atmospheric effects of light. Living in Melbourne where the weather is cooler, misty mornings and rainy days became  some of the favoured subjects of her work. Evoking a mood through tone became her signature that united her to the group of painters later referred to as the Melbourne Tonalists.

Evening, St Kilda Road, 1930 and Toward Evening, 1925.

Don’t let obstacles get in the way.

Driven by a desire to capture mood, Clarice would often paint outside, ‘plein air’. Carting equipment around made the exercise all the more complicated. She was one of the first of her group to use a painting trolley, or mobile easel to make it easier to paint outdoors in different locations. Clarice was so driven by her desire to create that she never married, choosing to avoid the distraction. She lived and cared for her ailing parents all her life.

Mist can add mystery.

Clarice’s style is recognised by its use of soft edges. Blurring the lines between subjects in her paintings helped create a mood that is decided upon by the viewer. Letting the audience locate themselves in the work creates locations that are timeless. Your creation can mean different things to different people. Losing definition can be a good thing.

The tragedy of Clarice Beckett is that she was only with us for 48 short years. While painting the wild sea off Beaumaris in Victoria during a big storm in 1935 she developed pneumonia and died four days later in a hospital. I always wonder what other great paintings could have graced the world with if she had not left it so early. Note to self…..don’t waste any time!



While all this time is being spent in front of a computer it’s nice to know some action is still happening in the Ballard Studio. Here’s

Sketch, the inhouse art critic  >••<  flat out blocking in my new works destined for the Outliers Show in August at the wonderful GalleryONE88 in Katoomba.

Sketch working himself into a coma in the Ballard Studio


To those lovely folks who have heard me bang on about some of these topics before I send my apologies. It is sure to happen again as I bang on a lot.


The Gingernut Express is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on
© Kristine Ballard 2018