From Teacher to Artist: Olive Cheng Credits Subi Farmers Market for Career Change

Local artist Olive Cheng credits the Subi Farmers Market for a tree change in her career – from teacher to artist.

If Olive Cheng were a tree, she would definitely be a Eucalyptus Caesia.

You know the one – the delightful West Australian evergreen, better known as Silver Princess, which stars so beguilingly in May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

So it’s no surprise to find that it is Olive’s favourite flora and features in many of her beautiful, botanical-inspired artworks on show at her regular stall at the Subi Farmers Market.

Olive blends in well as the Silver Princess. Her eyes are the same colour as the long, slender grey-green leaves. The bright pink of the gum blossom is reflected in her clothing and her hair is almost the silvery colour of the gumnuts.

It’s no wonder she has quite the following on the bottom tier of the markets, just in front of the swimming pool.

That’s where her muse and regular companion, McNulty, a cheeky dalmatian who keeps an eye out for doggy treats, holds court while Olive takes customers through her works, which feature gumnuts, blossoms, kangaroo paws, bottlebrush and banksias. They pop up on cheeseboards, coasters, Christmas tree baubles, sun catchers or much bigger paintings, where she uses pyrography (writing with fire) and acrylic paints to bring them to life.

Since giving up primary teaching to concentrate full time on her art, the former landscape architect has never looked back after taking up her stall only in August last year.

“The markets are a lovely and joyful place to be,” she says. “Everyone is happy to be there. The stallholders are like a family and have definitely shaped my life. It was through the markets that my art became a lot more bold and beautiful with a growing band of regular customers admiring my stuff and buying it.”

Olive, who was born in Subiaco, grew up in Ballajura, and spent her childhood visiting Whiteman Park, where she was introduced to an abundance of native flora but wasn’t immediately drawn to it.

“Funnily enough, I wasn’t that keen on it back then,” she says. “It was only when I was studying landscape architecture that I really got into hand-drawing the plants for part of my course and realised how much I loved it.”

Though she has never been formally taught, she was a naturally creative child who watched her grandfather, a carpenter using wood-burning tools, inspiring her to follow his technique which requires a very steady hand and fine motor skills.

Her work has been featured in local community exhibitions and been acquired by private collectors locally and overseas. House of Cards, the south west winery, showcases her works which sell for between $25 and $2,000.

For more info check out her website at olivechengart.com.

By Gail Williams

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