Belinda Evans is a multidisciplinary Australian artist and maker of beautiful handmade products under her label, Alchemy. Alchemy is a reflection of Belinda's choice to live a slow, simple and thoughtful life, surrounded by high quality, natural and sustainable materials. Her products are designed to bring joy and beauty to everyday life.
Obsessed with discovering and experiencing the beauty and imperfection of the natural world, Belinda spends a great deal of time searching and foraging treasures from the earth and ocean. Inspired by the natural world, she captures their perfect beauty by using her collection of foraged items as elements in all parts of her process including as the source of dyes, material and mediums for the products she makes.
Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I was born by the beach in Melbourne, Australia and spent my early childhood living there. My family moved north to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland (also in Australia) when I was a teenager and I lived there until I left school to attend university (when I moved back to Melbourne, and I have lived there ever since). Both of these places are very beautiful and I had lots of opportunities to explore the natural environment while growing up. I have been very blessed in that regard.
Two years ago you gave up your permanent home to detach yourself from material possessions and to focus on your work outside of a studio and in nature. How did you come to that decision and how has it affected your life and your work?
Yes! I gave up my home in late 2012 and moved in with family. I gave up my studio around the same time. At the time I had in mind that it would probably be temporary and that I would find another home to live in and studio to live and work from soon, but circumstances meant that I have continued to base myself with my family since then, selling or giving away most of my material possessions (storing a few sentimental favourites and family heirlooms) and doing a lot of temporary house sitting for friends and friends of friends and living out of my tent or my partner's kombi van in the bush. I also continue to work without a studio, and both of these things have had a significant effect on the way that I view the world and work creatively.
I am much less attached to the physical things that I own and rely on them much less to achieve contentment and happiness. Instead I focus on the connections I have with friends and family, my experiences and creative practice, and what I carry inside me and have to offer the world. I'm also easily able to find beauty wherever I am. Sometimes I am living in an inner city apartment with not so much as a tree in sight or a suburban home with an ordered English cottage style garden, and other times I am waking up on the beach or in the middle of a wild forest where there is not a person to be seen. Each of these places holds its own unique appeal and now it doesn't take me long to find that appeal and my own contentment in each place.
I already knew it on an intellectual level, but now I really know that I can never achieve personal fulfilment by filling my life with as many material possessions as possible. No matter how beautiful these objects are, they don't fill me with beauty. It's where these objects come from, who made them and why that makes them special. So now, every time I purchase something new I find out these things about them and make sure that they have been made thoughtfully and with love.
Living so freely has also freed my creative process. I can no longer rely on having all of my tools, equipment and materials with me all of the time, and I am no longer looking at the same four walls of my studio every day. Instead I am relying on the natural materials around me and my own two hands (and small tools and equipment that I can carry with me) to make with, and I'm waking to a new landscape all the time. All of these things mean that I am constantly creating new things using new mediums and never repeating the same thing twice.
When living with less the, the items you keep much hold much more meaning to you. Can you share with us some of your favorite possessions that you keep close?
I have a few favourite things that I carry close to me all the time. Because I like to do something creative every day I like to carry my handmade weaving loom, equipment and naturally dyed yarns with me, as well as some of my essential natural dyeing equipment. I feel lost if I don't do something creative daily and I like to be prepared to use whatever natural inspiration and materials come my way wherever I am.
Clothing is something that I can't live without and because of the kind of life that I live I can't own a lot. So I want the clothing that I have to be beautiful, high quality, long lasting and transeasonal. A few makers have become my favourites over the years because their pieces are all of these things and I have a personal connection with them. Two are US-based (Lisa Dorr of le bouton and Julia Okun of rennes) and one is Australian-based (Pamela Tang). I keep coming back to these three women because I know that can always rely on them to source their materials thoughtfully and make their wares with love and care.
I also like to have my Japanese shears, Ambatalia apron and Ghanaian basket with me for foraging flora. I forage daily for dyeing, weaving, gifting and beautifying my space so these are essentials.
Finally, I am a big herbal tea drinker and I like to enjoy my tea from a beautiful cup. One of my favourite Australian ceramicists is Sophie Harle (shiko) and a couple of her recycled clay cups always accompany me wherever I go. It gives me such pleasure to serve tea to my friends in them and they're something that I know will always be staples in my kitchen.
Where is your favorite place to work and is there a place you have repeatedly returned to as a continuous source of inspiration?
My favourite place to work is outdoors, in the Australian bush. Whether I'm on the beach, the desert or in a forest I always find inspiration to create. I do have a soft spot for Wilsons Promontory National Park(affectionaly known here as The Prom) on the far southeast coast of the Australian mainland. I regard it as one of my spiritual homes as I always feel more myself and a great deal of inspiration while I am there. It's a truly magical place.
What is your typical day like?
Wherever I am, I like to begin the day slowly with half an hour of meditation, followed by a cup of herbal tea. Once I get moving I'll make myself a green smoothie and do some yoga to get my body ready for the day. If I'm having an Alchemy day, I'll usually check my emails, shop orders, social media and other administrative work first up, and then I like to spend the rest of the day getting busy with my hands. Foraging, dyeing, weaving, or whatever creative practice I'm doing at the time. I also work in sustainability education and at a local community farm so some days I am in the office or digging in the ground. I love all of the work that I do and that I get to do different things each day. I means that nothing I do is ever boring and I get to spend time with different people each day of the week. No matter what I am doing that day I like to finish it with a walk around wherever I am, which allows me to unwind and discover the sights, sounds and scents of that place (as well as forage for local flora), more herbal tea and another meditation session. And there is always more herbal tea drinking, lots of eating (one of my favourite pastimes) and catching up with friends in between!
What is your process when creating a woven art piece?
My process for creating a woven art piece always begins with time spent immersed in the natural world. I just go about my day walking, cooking, swimming, exploring, collecting and experiencing the place that I am in as I normally would, sometimes taking photographs when I see something I like. I rarely spend time planning my creative process; I allow the materials and inspiration to find me (rather than seeking them out) - and they always do! I collect leaves, flowers, shells, stones, seed pods and other natural objects as inspiration and materials to dye and weave with, and I'll also visit charity and vintage stores and local farms in the region that I am to find vintage and locally hand spun fibres and other textiles to combine with my naturally dyed yarn in the piece. These sources are always bountiful and provide me with what I need to create.
Once I have my inspiration in mind and materials in hand, I start weaving. Similarly to the rest of the process, I never have a concrete plan or specific design that I follow while weaving. I use an intuitive process from start to finish and I find that working this way is both most enjoyable and results in the best outcomes.
What is your favorite material to work with?
I prefer to work almost exclusively with natural materials and supplement with beautiful vintage materials if I find something that I love. It is hard to say which natural materials I love to work with the most because each has their own appeal. Wool and silk are beautiful to dye using plants, readily accept colour, and they're soft and luscious to weave with. Plant-based textiles like cotton, linen and hemp can be more difficult to dye and weave with, but they are strong, long lasting and can have the most beautiful textures. And the challenge of dyeing and weaving with plant textiles makes the results even more satisfying.
What was your inspiration behind the collection you created for us?
The inspiration behind the triptych that I created for your store is the amazing salt lakes that I discovered while camping in northern Victoria, Australia, They were an unexpected (and very welcome) discovery on the way to our desert destination. We spotted them in the distance, parked our car on the side of the road and trampled through the grasslands to reach them. On stepping foot onto the lakes I discovered that they were even more vast and beautiful up close. A breeze lapped over the soft pink opaque water, the shimmering white salt formed textured wave and star shaped patterns on the smooth taupe earth beneath, and thousands of shells of whose origin I couldn't imagine spread across the dried earth and into the grasslands. I've seen much of the Australian landscape, but this was none like I had ever experienced before. This diverse beauty of this country never ceases to surprise and amaze me.
What is one random fact many of us may not know about you?
It might surprise people who know me now that I didn't always regard myself as being a creative person. After I left school I kind of let go of the creative skills that I had been surrounded by and learned as a child. It wasn't until my late 20s that I rediscovered my creativity and I have not looked back since. Now I believe that everyone has the ability to be creative - it's just a matter of finding what form(s) that creativity might take.