Meet Lisa Billing of Hey Maker Studio

Going by the name of Hey Maker Studio, Waihi Beach-based artist Lisa Billing (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui ) is deep in commissions right now. She’s also working on some landscapes and a series of painted fruit bowls and vases inspired by old hand-blocked textiles. She offers limited-edition prints of some of her original paintings, so there’s always editing to be done, and she’s keen to expand on her current canvas sizes in 2024 and challenge herself with new mediums. How did she get here? Let’s start at the beginning.

Lisa, when did you first hold a paintbrush and think, ‘This is it’? I’ve always loved creating, and my exploration of various outlets developed naturally. After college, I wanted to study art, but at the time it seemed unrealistic to have a career as an artist, probably because I didn’t know any personally, and we didn’t have social media then, so I wasn’t ‘surrounded’ by people pursuing art as a career. Instead, I chose to study textile design, thinking it would give me more options, but I didn’t enjoy it — the only class I liked was the live art one.
I pursued businesses in drawing and pottery, then when I saw a gap in the market for creative workshops, I started my own at the end of 2019. I was only able to run a handful because the first lockdown hit a few months later, but the blessing of that was it gave me more time to create for myself.
My first painting was a fruit bowl still life, and when I shared it with my Instagram community, I was overwhelmed by their kind words and encouragement. Covid restrictions made it difficult to run workshops, so with the support I had for my painting, it felt right to give being an artist a good push. Coincidentally, and unbeknown to her, that same week my aunty randomly came into a selection of art supplies and asked if I wanted to use them — so everything aligned and I knew this was what I wanted and was meant to do.

ABOVE What’s the average workday like for Lisa? “Since having my third pēpi [Tali (1), below, whose siblings are Cora (6) and Nelly (2)], I’m very aware of how quickly the time goes. Being conscious that I’m present enough for my tamariki and also pushing myself as an artist and businesswoman has its challenges, but I know I’m one of many, and that makes it feel a little less daunting. Monday to Friday, I have my youngest at home with me, so I paint during her lunchtime nap. ThenI have one full weekend day when I’m able to focus in the studio. I usually do admin at night once the kids are in bed, and if I’m under the pump, I’ll paint at night too.”
We love the way you capture domestic island life but with your own distinct aesthetic. What compels you to explore this topic? I find I’m most content on an island; I’ve never really had to describe it before, but I just feel at home. I’ve done a little travelling and visited Rarotonga, Thailand, Bali and most recently Fiji. I don’t think you can ignore the rich culture, art and people those places offer. I feel connected in a way that probably comes from my own whakapapa, being Māori, and I suspect I might delve into what that means to me through art in the future.

Where else do you find inspiration? I’d say inspiration from the Islands currently forms the base layer of my work, and then photography, interiors, fashion editorials and anything texture-related is where I expand on that. I seem to gravitate towards texture a lot — things like chipped paint off old buildings, textiles, woven rugs and landscapes. I use these references collectively as a loose concept in my mind, then complete paintings intuitively.

The female form appears in your present work and past pieces as well, like your clay sculptures — what’s behind this exploration of femininity? That’s come from having three daughters. For me, being hapū [pregnant] and birthing pēpi [babies] has to be one of the most significant forms of personal growth I’ve experienced. Women in general are such powerhouses, and especially indigenous women, so I do draw a lot of inspiration and celebration from them.

Has becoming a mother informed your work in other ways? It has in terms of my practice and the dedication it requires. It’s important for me to be a role model — for my daughters to see me doing what I love and beginning to make a career out of it. I can’t wait until they’re older and we’re all painting in my studio together.

Tell us about your palettes and mediums… Overall, my colour palette is quite muted, and it’s been like that for as long as I can remember. I gravitate towards hues from the natural world. I use the same small handful of colours, then mix from those to form a cohesive palette. I’m currently painting with acrylics and to get that fun texture, I add plaster into most of my pieces. It brings another element to my work, which I love. Next on my list is adding in pastels and maybe fabric.

ABOVE “Running a business solo can be all-consuming, so I’m trying to create healthy boundaries,” says Lisa of her work-life balance. “Planning dinners or weekends away with friends is helpful. I can’t always be spontaneous, so having those set times away from work and mum commitments is important for me. I have a supportive fiancé and whānau, so we lean on each other to get our own time in and switch off. Living by the beach helps too.”

It’s cool the way you build up layers of paint, leaving some of the underpainting showing through in the finished product… Thank you! This is one of my favourite things about my work. It might seem small to most people, but it does have a significant impact. I always use the same colour as the base, then layer the paint over and over, using loose brushstrokes. Some of my best work has been produced by painting over existing pieces. I love seeing hints of other colours underneath — it gives the viewer a bit of insight into the journey of my work.

How do you know when to stop?! Oh, that’s always hard, but it’s probably when I feel the urge to add my signature. Once I’ve signed a painting, it’s rare for me to add more to it. 

What do you hope people take from your work? I’m learning that people connect with it more than I realise. I often get messages telling me that my paintings remind them of home and places they’ve also travelled to, or that they’ve sparked a forgotten memory. I hope they continue to do just that.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Adrienne Pitts

Filed under:

error: Copyright The Pluto Group Ltd 2022 - contact us for usage licence

Homestyle shares
modern ways
to make a home
in New Zealand

Sign up to receive the latest in your inbox

Thanks for subscribing to Homestyle's newsletter - we'll be in touch soon.