Big Kids We Love: Gracie Chai – Multi-disciplinary Artist and Mum
May 11, 2020
When we first came across local artist and mum Gracie Chai’s work in all its colour, creativity, and childlike curiosity, we fell in love! But beyond what she’s done as an illustrator and designer, what inspires us is how she takes her two kids along on her creative journeys – whether it’s crafting, making food together, or the practice of looking at life and the world with wonder and curiosity – which she documents in part on her Instagram feed.
During this circuit breaker, we took the chance to chat with her about carving out the space for creativity and curiosity, for herself as a parent and for her kids.
Hi Gracie! We love how you document parenting and childhood and make it look like such a joyfully creative process. What’s your favourite part about being a parent?
“Quite simply, it’s watching my kids grow each day, and discovering more of their unique personalities.”
How do you keep your kids curious and grow their sense of wonder?
“Kids naturally are curious, so I try my best to encourage them with what inquisitiveness they innately possess and not quench their fire, by taking delight in what they’re delighted in and expressing an interest in what lights their souls.
As a disclaimer, I don’t get it right all the time… I can’t be enthusiastic all the time about the same made-up toy car story day in day out!
In a more intentional way, I try to show them what it means to observe the natural world around us — because it’s quite honestly the best place to look for inspiration.
Lately, my firstborn has taken on an interest in watching the various birds outside our window. I started prompting him to draw the birds he’s seen. I’m hoping this practice of observing and noting down whatever details his eyes and fingers can capture would be the scaffolding of starting a nature journal together.”
As a parent and artist, how do you stay creative and curious?
“By asking lots of hows and whys! My mind is a sea of questions. When you see me on my phone, you can bet 90% of the time it’s because I’m researching for answers on Google, or reading books about the questions I’ve got.
I personally believe staying creative is about embracing one’s constraints, choosing not to see them as limitations, but as given tools I’ve been bestowed with instead and figuring how to overcome problems through merging and tapping into the knowledge of whatever I have harnessed from different fields.”
What inspires your work as an artist?
“To this date, I still have a hard time grasping and telling people what I do – mostly because I dabble in a large array of craft. The closest description that makes sense is the title multi-disciplinary artist.
Before I had kids, I sold dresses which I would either personally block print or silk screen and sew. I started fusing my love for illustrating with the medium of thread work and opened up commissions for embroidery portraits too. I would also conduct various workshops when opportunities arose.
When the kids came along, all that kind of tapered off and I started venturing more into illustrating. It’s hard to say what inspires it, except that I’ve always found myself drawn to beauty and trying to have a part too in creating it. Since I’ve never had proper training, like going to art or design school, going down this path of being a self-taught artist is somewhat like a manifestation of the curiosity that lives in me, trying to test and experiment with what society has always told me; challenging the concept of an “education” and its paper promised success.
What are your hopes for your kids and for their learning as they grow?
“I hope they see and come to a realisation that learning is not merely reserved for academic pursuits only, but that they would grow up into individuals who would have practice in being introspective.
Knowing how to take a keen assessment of themselves, of their own innate strengths and weaknesses, figuring out how to harness their positives better and to supplement their lack. With that, grasping the boldness of taking initiative to explore the world we live in, hopefully coming to the discovery of the Mind behind all the wonderful design we experience with our senses, and meditate on their own unique purpose in relation to that with humility.
I hope they’re opened to developing tenacity and grit as they face challenges (as with all learning does), always growing, even in setbacks, never quitting.”
That said, how are you managing during this circuit breaker?
“This season has definitely been challenging for a myriad of reasons as we can all attest to. My mantra these days has been “less doing, more being”, and remembering what a sweet blessing it is to spend this much more time with the kids and husband!”
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As a multi-disciplinary artist, Gracie’s recent adventures include illustrating the children’s book ‘Make Animals Great Again‘ and designing ‘Happy Homebodies’, an installation at The Art Ground. You can also see more of her work here on Facebook and follow her everyday adventures in parenting and life here on Instagram.
Photos from Gracie Chai and Irina Nilsson (2nd photo).