Chloë Waddell ✿ Make a dream home

Chloë Waddell

26 February 2024

Inspired by New York cityscapes, Chloë Waddell has developed a practice of memorialising domestic havens.

Chloe Wardell has developed a unique combination of collage, illustration and jewellery to depict the buildings around her. We ask about the origins of the work and the kinds of commissions that she attracts.

✿ What prompted the work?

These artworks are part of an evolving series that was born out of travelling, moving cities and exploring new places. I was raised by two voracious travellers. During my childhood, every spare dollar they had was put into travelling and when they travelled, very little was planned in advance. We would show up in a new town or city, wander about, find a place to stay and then explore whatever was on offer. This version of exploring new places has stuck with me to this day. On my own travels and when moving cities, which I’ve done several times over the last 20 years, I always start learning about a new place by walking through it. I have spent many hours wandering around cities and towns with a camera, capturing little sections, which for me, when put together, tell a story of how it feels to be there.

The first works in this series were based on photos taken during a trip to New York. As I travelled to more places over the following years and moved from Sydney to Melbourne and then up to Brisbane, this initial series then morphed into many more works focusing on where I had recently been and where I was currently living. Although personally, I enjoyed depicting the places I had travelled to and bringing them back to where I now lived, I found people wanted to see their own cities and local areas depicted in the works. I started making a limited series of works and then exhibited them in that area. Soon I began receiving commission requests to make works of people’s favourite café, street, their own house or that of their friend who had recently moved overseas.

It is interesting to me that it has become the architecture of a city that has defined the city for me, rather than the geographical features. Having lived in three of Australia’s capital cities, I have experienced first-hand how the architecture of our cities is reflective of our lifestyles and cultures. Moreover, I find it fascinating how I can make a work of a single house with a few trees beside it and it’s often immediately obvious what area of the country it is from. As I am currently based in Brisbane, most of my recent works have featured Queenslanders. I didn’t realise that had subconsciously become the “normal house” for me until a recent trip to Geelong. I was struck by how flat everything was, until I realised it wasn’t the geography that gave it this feel but the houses which were sitting so much lower to the ground than I had become used to.

✿ What is your creative process? How do you develop your ideas?

My process has always been grounded in play. I start with a scrap of an idea or a feel of something and then begin drawing or playing with materials until the idea begins to evolve. It normally begins with some word association scribbles in my notebook or basic sketches on scraps of paper before I start working with the material. I have never been able to picture the complete end piece I want to create before I begin making, it is the process of making itself that informs my work.

I trained as a three-dimensional artist, studying Jewellery and Object Design at Sydney College of the Arts. It was through this foundation that I learnt to let my ideas and concepts dictate the form and materials of the work I was making. At SCA we were taught technical jewellery skills alongside our conceptual art projects but, through the process of concept development, often our pieces didn’t end up as jewellery at all. Although I still love making jewellery and think of myself as a jewellery artist, it has ended up that much of my work isn’t jewellery any more.

Around the time my cityscape series of work was born, I had been experimenting with collage and discovered that when coated in resin, the flour and water glue I was using created a beautiful white mottled effect, almost like snow. The first incarnation of these experiments was a series of abstract brooches. Then, when I was invited by Zara Collins to take part in an exhibition titled Places & Spaces, I started playing around with using more representational images in the collage, combined with the abstract colours and shapes I had been using. I was printing black and white images from my recent trip to New York, cutting them up and combining them with interesting colours and shapes taken from the street press magazines I would collect at the time. With the addition of the cityscape imagery, I could no longer quite fit all the ideas I was having into brooches anymore, so these works turned into small wall pieces which were, of course, two-dimensional but still with a three-dimensional feel.

✿ What tools and materials do you use to make the work?

These works all begin as photos. Normally I take them myself but sometimes I’ve been asked to make works for someone who lives a long way away, so I direct them in taking the photos for me from as many different viewpoints as possible and then crop, combine and edit the photos on the computer to get the composition I’m after. Once I’ve chosen the composition, I no longer print the photos in black and white, but wash them out as much as I can, so when printed I am left with a light wash of an image that I can work over. I trace over buildings and add texture to trees and gardens with black ink. Once I have the base image in black ink, I use watercolours and acrylic paint to add colour. Collage is still a large part of my work, but unfortunately, there are no longer many street press magazines to collect so I keep a look out for interesting printed images. I have used city council leaflets, market advertising, exhibition programs and old, damaged children’s books to create my collage.

✿ Did you learn anything new in the making of the work?

One particular work offered an important lesson for me in the life an artwork has both before I begin it and after it leaves me. This piece was commissioned by the sons, daughters and partners of Kim and Noel who had lived in the house for 47 years at that time. The house itself was a work of art in its own right. Kim and Noel had moved here as a young couple, raised their kids there and now were entertaining their grandkids in these same walls. All the special touches reflecting the lives of the inhabitants, and all the little details added bit by bit over time made me feel a great sense of responsibility in being trusted to capture it all.

I came to take photos for the artwork during a particularly busy period for me and arrived with the intention of quickly getting in, taking the photos and getting out. Kim greeted me at the front door with her daughter, daughter in law and granddaughter and proceeded to give the grand tour of the house and garden pointing out all the special features and things I may have missed, telling me what they’d like included in the artwork and their favourite parts of the house. After the tour and taking the photos, Kim invited me to sit for morning tea with them and I realised what a significant event it was for her to commission this artwork from me to commemorate such an important place to her.

Although, of course, I always take great care in my work and ensure I am delivering on my client’s wishes and fulfilling my own artistic expectations, the work lives with me for such a short time. It comes in and out of my life but lives on for many years in the walls of the houses and places it ends up in, becoming part of the daily life of its owners.

✿ Has anything happened to the work over time? Have there been interesting responses?

Three years after doing this work, Kim and Noel have since retired to a beachside town a short drive away from Brisbane. They were in their house for 48 years. One of their children is now the owner of the house and is currently in the midst of a large renovation. The artwork has captured this moment in time and lives on in their new house as a reminder of the house that lovingly held them and their family for so long.

Kim told me she loves showing the work to her new friends who had never seen her old house and feels it gives them an understanding of her and Noel and where they have come from.

✿ How can people commission future work from you?

The easiest way is to visit my website, click on the ‘commissions’ tab and fill out the form on that page with a bit more info on what they are after.

About Chloë Waddell

Chloë Waddell is a maker of jewellery, objects and art. She is currently based in Meanjin/Brisbane, but has lived and worked throughout Australia and overseas. Chloë’s recent work is heavily rooted in place, capturing and documenting local areas through her artworks. Her upcoming exhibition will be on display at Art Gallery on Darling in Balmain, Sydney from 29th April to 5th May 2024. Visit and follow @chloewaddell,

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