Nestled between two big gray and brown industrial buildings, Gemma Flack’s house stands out. The red fence and mint painted exterior looks like a beacon of creative energy. Her crate furnished courtyard is littered with potted succulents, a colourful and stimulating sight from Gemma’s studio. Her desk is neatly organised, with pens and pencils ordered by colour, waiting to be used in some wild fit of imagination. This is where Gemma draws her vivid heroines and writes her zines.
Inspiration & Influences
Gemma is a Melbourne-based artist, illustrator and zine creator. She draws inspiration from women, whether they be fellow visual artists, or music artists. “Girls that make art are my main inspiration. Just girls who are making what they feel and putting it into the universe, that is my favourite thing.” As her cat meows to be let out, Gemma lists her inspirations: Hellen Jo, Grimes, Bjork, Natali Koromoto, Wishcandy, Ghostpatrol, Tara Mcpherson, and Yoko Ono. “I also get a lot of inspiration from typography books and that kind of thing. I really like looking at hand-drawn type.”
She spends a lot of time on Tumblr looking at fashion photos, but explains she can draw inspiration from everything in life. “Going out and seeing people; I guess I get inspired by my own feelings; from being outside on a nice sunny day, just being relaxed and in nature – I find that that’s the most inspiring place for me.”
But even though inspiration is plentiful, she says she still gets creative block. “I find creativity goes in waves.” Gemma motions with her hand a wave. Winter is a time when she likes to hibernate and finds it harder to motivate herself. “That’s when I’ll do the kind of manual stuff that doesn’t really involve that much thinking and creativity. ”
Obstacles & Success
Gemma explains that her biggest obstacle is self-doubt. “I have an inability to kind of sell myself and to really feel super confident going out and being like this is my work you should totally put me in your magazine, I can’t do that.” But she says it’s getting easier to manage as her work receives recognition on Tumblr. “It definitely helps me to feel like, I’m okay, I’m doing alright.”
Megan from Michigan in the United States found Gemma’s work on Tumblr. She saved a couple photos of Gemma’s prints and took one into a tattoo parlour to get it permanently inked on to her arm. She says she fell in love with Gemma’s work and decided to get it tattooed because the art work is “adorable” and suited her perfectly. “ I myself am not that creative, I try to be at times – But Gemma is truly a great artist.” Gemma remarks “I really don’t think there’s a much higher compliment than someone wanting to get something you have drawn permanently put onto their skin.”
When asked if she would consider herself successful, Gemma thinks for a moment and says “No, not really.” She explains “To me, I don’t want to say ‘I’m a success’ right now because that leaves no room for the future.” Gemma says she believes success is an ongoing process of “working hard and being happy and [being] fulfilled in what you’re doing”.
Gemma quit her part-time job two months ago, and now she’s working as an artist full-time. “Working for myself is scary and I’m getting used to not getting a regular paycheck but I’m really happy with how it’s been going so far!” Gemma says she hasn’t defined her goals yet, “Mostly I just want to keep doing it and keep improving and growing myself… I’m still kind of figuring it out as I go along.
Moving to Australia
Gemma grew up on the south coast of England. Her father worked as a teacher and her mother as a civil servant. Her parents were supportive of her studying art, even if they couldn’t really understand her motivations. “They were a little bit strange about me wanting to study art at uni, they were like ‘Oh there’s no future in that you must study something that will give you real skills’, EXCUSE ME!” she laughs.
She moved to Melbourne when she was 21. “I met a boy online so I moved to Australia just to kind of see what it was like.” She had just finished studying illustration at university and made plans to travel around the world. “But I just ended up staying in Melbourne, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to enrol at RMIT.” She studied animation and interactive media for a year and a half before deciding to move back home. “It was so expensive being an international student.”
In the UK, she attempted to get work as a freelance illustrator but had difficulty marketing herself, a product of her self-doubt. So she took a job in an art store and a year later returned to Melbourne.
Gemma lays out her work on the desk, gathered neatly at the side are a few little booklets with illustrations and stories. These are her zines. She explains that zines are “usually done on a very low budget and is not for profit but for love.” She says she feels like zines are easy to get involve with, “You can do anything, you don’t have to feel like you’re a talented person to write a zine and draw something. People will appreciate it either way.”
Gemma goes on to say that in the past it has taken her over a year to finish a zine, “I tend to be a bit too much [of a] perfectionist but I think zines can help you [to] be less [of a] perfectionist.” Gemma volunteers at the Sticky Institute in Melbourne, an artist-run shopfront, gallery and open-source workshop that houses local and international zines.
They run workshops and hold zine launches all in a concerted effort to promote and foster Zine culture. Gemma has made about ten zines, “plus a few little one of a kind zines for friends which I only ever make 1 of, I think they make very special gifts.”
Her zine, “You Don’t Know Me”, sells for four dollars with a dollar from every zine sold going to the International Women’s Development Agency. Her latest is called “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to exist”, Gemma says it’s about “being kind to yourself, enjoying simple things, and nurturing your creativity.”
Feminism & Advice
Gemma is a feminist and it’s apparent in her artwork. “I feel like I do my best to portray a feminist message in my work – Mostly dealing with body image and confidence being a female.” She admits that in the beginning most of her work were self-portraits, but has since tried to draw people from all backgrounds and of all abilities.
Her upcoming exhibition in February next year will focus on “the experience of growing up a girl, finding your identity, and the messages that society sends girls and the pressures they face” She explains that the exhibition will be set up like a girl’s bedroom, “like a sanctuary of self-love away from all the messages that tell us not to love ourselves. The work is a reaction to that, and a subversion of those messages.”
The message that she tries to convey in her work is one of positivity and confidence. “Mostly I want my work to say to girls “You are cute, and strong and powerful – you can be anything you want to be – and you shouldn’t let society’s ideas influence what you want to do.”
She says she wonders if her work should be more political, “I want to do good and I want to inspire people to think [in] different ways.” She wants to create more comics, so she can engage her audience about feminism. Gemma mostly uses pencils and pens and markers for her artwork, keeping her illustrations “small, and cute” she laughs.
“I do really like to experiment with paints, and do larger pieces but they don’t come as naturally to me.” She’s also making a line of plastic jewellery, and working on screen printing bags and t-shirts. She and her partner make electronic music, under the name Horrible Humans. They are currently compiling tracks for their first EP.
Gemma began experimenting with stick and poke tattoos on herself, and has since expanded to her partner, her friends, and now she’s taking appointments. A tattoo artist friend plans to teach her to use a machine, but she admits she will keep doing stick and pokes, as she loves the look of them.
The most important piece of advice Gemma can offer young artists is “Practice. Practice makes you better.” She says drawing inspiration from other artists is also important, “Copy bits of their style and try it out and see what fits you and what works with you. Your work is basically just an amalgamation of all your interests and influences coming through yourself and then back out again.”