Close Up with Artist & Designer Gabby Malpas

Art Sydney 2010

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I’m Chinese in origin. I grew up in NZ. I was adopted at 4 weeks into an Anglo family. My parents found out that my mother had been an artist so from that day onwards I was always going to art school. This was just as well. I was terrible at maths. I majored in ceramics but switched to paints after finishing as they were transportable and had less chance of breaking.

I lived for 14 years in the UK and now call Sydney home. In between times I would travel to broaden my horizons and to harangue the locals in various market places, buying materials and stuff.

Today I have two lives: a web project manager for corporate clients and an exhibiting artist of watercolours on paper, and maker of jewellery and accessories.

Gabby & Brian

Who (or what) inspires you to do what you love in your own creative business?

The fact that I am able to make and create stuff that people seem to like gives me enough of a kick to get going every day.

Where do you get your inspiration from when you design/paint?

Inspiration comes from all sorts of sources for me. Getting stuck in a traffic jam can make me want to go home and paint though I’ve learnt not to try and make anything after a night out. I’m constantly on the look out for new ideas that I can incorporate into my work: could be a museum piece, an arrangement at a market or something on a whiteboard. One thing is for sure – I have to be in a happy place.

Double magnolia grandiflora and carpet

What are the five words that people who know you would use to describe you?

Many of the words can’t be printed here but most people I know would probably use the following:

Organised, Passionate, Irreverent, Scary & Mad

Tell us about your very first job and what path have you taken since then?

My very first job was working as a shop assistant in the bra department at Smith and Caugheys, Auckland when I was 15, during the school holidays. The stuff I saw that summer is etched in my mind but the experience taught me valuable lessons about customer service.

During and after Art school I waited on tables, tended bars and did anything to earn money. It was when I got to London and watched my professional friends getting well paid jobs that I started thinking about my ultimate goals in life which were:

1)Make art

2)Do some sort of job that will pay me enough to make art

So I learnt to type at night classes and started temping in the commuter towns of Reading and Slough in the UK. As you can imagine this was pretty grim: grey and dull as a 1997 Proton. Somehow I was always in employment even though to this day I still type with 4 fingers. In between times I’d paint, paint and paint and keep trying to get shows at galleries in between cleaning up the paint from crockery or the dining table before the flatmates came home.

More tea and peaches

I was lucky in that I seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I ‘fell’ into publishing then into the digital arena. By the time the ‘interweb’ arrived I was already working in agencies so was able to start managing web projects.

I came to Australia in 2003 after the dot bomb in 2001 and the freelance work dried up in London. These days I work from home. I would say I have a corporate job these days but I am able to spend a considerable proportion on my own work.

I sometimes get nicely surprised by my corporate clients asking about shows or my work because generally I keep it quiet. It’s fantastic to be in a position these days of balance.

The Office

Describe a typical day in your studio space?

There isn’t really a typical day and my output is largely dependant on what else I have on or how my creative ‘kung fu’ is that day. Generally I somehow manage to get all I have to do done.
As part of my art practice I make time to visit galleries and also keep up my drawing skills by doing life drawing on a regular basis. For me it’s important to keep it fresh.

Tell us about how you prioritise your work.

I have an organised approach to my art. Any commission work or work I am finishing for a show comes first. However, you can’t push it. I work with what I call, my ‘art mojo’. If the mojo isn’t strong, then the work won’t flow. You just have to wait until it comes back.

AlI I can do is make sure I’m ready to go when it does. Organise my workspace, clear away those niggling little jobs and get into that ’happy place’

As an Artist, what is your biggest frustration?

As a practicing artist, your life can be a lonely one. The reality for many of us is that you need to be motivated enough to produce good work with little or no reward.

But the frustration? Those days when the mojo is strong and I have to put it on the back burner because something else takes priority.

Or the day when you have the whole day free and it’s all set up and, err… nup…. It ain’t happening. Mojo gone.

Working in progress

Can you please tell us about how do you connect with other artists,and your customers (i.e. how do you network)?

I find it very easy to approach artists and craftspeople if I take a liking to their work. Sometimes I know it confuses them so I have to put a bit of effort in to build the relationship. With customers I find it incredibly hard to push my work and myself which is something I need to overcome. I’m still learning on that front.

I value any relationships I build with customers, galleries or other artists I work with or would like to collaborate with in the future because without them I wouldn’t have had the shows or sales that I have had.

One enduring relationship I have had is with Annette Faigan from the Print Shop Gallery, in Remuera, Auckland. Annette has shown and sold my work since 1987 after a chance introduction. She has nurtured and supported me throughout many uncertain times and we are now good friends.

Theresa, Gabby, Marie & Lou

I respect that people have a choice – if they spent money on buying something I have made then that is a huge compliment. If other artists like what I do then I take that as a compliment because they understand the process.

I email people, use Facebook and blog as well as a have a website (soon to be revised).However, I like to use snail mail as well – I think it gives more meaning to a ‘thankyou’ than an email.

What advice can you offer other creative people who are just starting out and following their passions?

I can’t offer any specific advice because I’m still taking any, anyone will give me.

Here is a rundown of advice people have given me over the years – stuff I have remembered as important:

Jean Loomis (Art teacher, now painting mentor)1984: ‘get down to the fish market and buy some fish heads and take them home and paint them – paint from real life’

Life drawing tutor in my first ever drawing class 1984: “OI !! You got a bloody train to catch? What’s the rush?”

Wally Crossman (Painting tutor), 1984: “don’t freak out, go with the flow”

Neil Grant (Ceramics tutor) 1986: “you’ve got to draw every day”

Annette Faigan (the Print Shop Gallery) 1987: “take care of your work, it’s precious”

Alan Barker (an old boss) 1996: “be careful how you treat people on your way up, you never know who you will meet on your way down”

David Clarke, Silversmith 1998: “what the hell are you doing Malpas? Where’s the work?”

Jasmine Francis 2009: “Don’t give up – it’ll come”Anand Vasan 2009 (client): “Ditch the Ikea frames Malpas”

David from Bedford Framing (I’m still harassing him to be a mentor), Rozelle 2011:“why the hell are you painting that size? Paint BIGGER”

Kellie from Showcase Gallery 2011: “Nice work but where’s the story?”

My husband, weekly: “Shut up and keep painting”

Aussie destinations Bag

What dreams do you still want to achieve or fulfil in your life?

Next year I have promised myself to slow down on shows a little bit and concentrate on a new and personal set of works. I’ve said it now, so now I have to do it!

I’m still working up to oils on canvas. One day I want to be able to wander into a forest or bush and emerge about 6 hours later with a painting. At the rate I’m going I think it’s going to take 15 years for me to do that effectively.

Working onwards abstraction? That’s another 10years….

I’ ma work in progress, me.

Aussie parrot bag

What is your proudest moment so far?

I got commissioned by Liberty in London to produce artwork for their store in October 1996. I thought that was very cool for some one making paintings on the table after a day at work, in a shared flat on Hampstead High St.

Who do you most want to meet and why?

I wish I could meet my dad right now and have the proper chat I never did when he was alive. He passed in 1997. It was only as I got older that I appreciated how much he and my mother gave up to feed another mouth in a household of already 9 children. I’d like to talk to him about the England he left at the start of WWII, and the England I found in 1989. And to get to the bottom of the appeal of George Form by and Ealing comedies… oh and why he wouldn’t let me watch the naughty bits in ‘Brideshead Revisited’.

Choiceland bag

What is the most important lesson in life that you have learned?

A life lesson I learnt from my dad: when I berated him for the lack of sex education when I was in my arrogant 20s he replied: “Didn’t you have bike sheds at your school?”

Said it all for me, really…

What book are you reading right now, and do you have a book youwould like to recommend?

I just got the lonely planet guide for Cambodia . We’re off there in a couple of weeks

And I keep Cressida Campbell’s huge book of her work beside the bed… to pore and drool over her pictures before I go to sleep.

Where do we find you and your products?

My Website:

Current and upcoming shows:

    • I have works at the Botannix yoga studio and café in Botany until the end of August
      (Link to
  • I am currently showing at the Gordon Library with Kerry Thompson until the end of September. We are holding an artists’ talk on our process on September 17 from 2pm. All very welcome.
    (link to:
  • I will be showing work at Kerrie Lowe Gallery In Newtown from 7 October (link to:
  • I will be at the Sydney Art Show in Darling Harbour from 13 October
    (link to:
  • And I will be showing work at the Balmain art and craft fair from 4 November
    (link to:

A selection of works and a bit about me is at:

A creative diary is at

For my bags and accessories, I am selling at Kirribilli Markets, Milsons Point or on (look for MangoFrooty)

I welcome individual enquiries as I can show specific items of interest (which quite often aren’t on show anywhere), or to make something to order according to requirements and budget.

Do you have a Special offer for ArtSHINE community?

If you’d like to receive updates (it’s OK, I don’t sell your details to Telstra, dating sites, scammers or 4-chan), please supply your email address and I will send you updates of upcoming shows/events and sneak previews of new work.
I can be found at:

I like to support good causes, especially hospitals or schools. If you have a fundraiser coming up please get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.

Vinh Van Lam
the authorVinh Van Lam
Vinh Van Lam, co-founder of ArtSHINE, is a visionary art coach and entrepreneur with a passion for fostering creativity. With a diverse background in art and business, he brings a unique perspective to empower emerging artists, enabling them to thrive in the dynamic art industry through the innovative platform of ArtSHINE.


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