Teaching ‘upcycling’ step by step

Whakatane artist Tracey Lee Cassin has built a strong international following for her art and her crafts through an online blog.

The Millennials or the Gen Ys are those most associated with creating business opportunities online. While Whakatane artist Tracey Lee Cassin may not fit that profile, it hasn’t stopped her building a following of thousands worldwide.

“I jokingly call myself ‘the Nonna of bloggers’ in New Zealand because most of our successful bloggers are much younger than me,” says Tracey Lee, who uses the Italian word for grandmother as a reflection of her Italian heritage.

“However, in the [United] States there are thousands of bloggers of my age or older. In fact, the vast majority of my followers are in the USA.”

The self-taught artist grew up in Nelson and moved to Whakatane at age 18, where she worked as a florist, then a copy writer for local radio station 1XX. By the late-1980s she’d become an established artist.

However, home schooling her three children, Chloe, Jac and April, put that career on the backburner. The children are young adults now and Tracey Lee has returned to art – discovering at the same time, a whole new way of promoting her work through the internet.

Diverse styles

“My style of painting has changed too. Back in the 1980s I would have described myself as a painter of flowers but now my subjects are much more diverse and my artistic style is contemporary with the inclusion of abstract, natural and botanical elements.”

Birds, both exotic and native, feature strongly in her work, as do seascapes, and most recently, feathers. “I’m really enjoying painting feathers and they seem popular with the public too.”

Some paintings are inspired by what she sees around her, but not all. “Sometimes I dream a painting and wake up the next morning to begin working on it.”

Tracey Lee’s use of mediums is also diverse, from water colour, to acrylics to oils.

Apparel collection

Her art doesn’t just hang on walls. She’s an artistic designer for Vida & Co, a US-based company, which incorporates her artwork in an apparel collection that includes scarves and wraps.

Earlier this year she was asked to submit an artwork to the Imago Mundi Benetton ‘Kiwi Consciousness’ New Zealand project, which is based in Treviso, Italy.

In 2012, encouraged by friends and those who enjoyed her day-to-day creativity and art online, Tracey Lee began her Mia Bella Passions Blog. Today it has thousands of followers via Google+, Facebook and email subscription.

“I do two or three blog posts a week and each one takes a lot of time because I want to be sure everything is correct and of high quality.”

It’s not a personal blog as such, but features art, craft, DIY, gardens, baking, Tracey Lee’s photography and inspirational quotes.

Upcycling art

Describing herself as an ‘upcycler’, she also gets pleasure from creating something beautiful or useful from objects that may otherwise be discarded, and showing, online, how others can do the same.

Her step-by-step instructions on how to create a range of simple but effective crafts and DIY projects are illustrated by photographs, initially taken by daughter April.

“However, April has left home so I had to learn how to take my own photographs and have also developed a real passion for macro-photography, especially of plants. I like to focus on the beauty people might miss, which we can find all around us if we look carefully enough.”

Tracey Lee links her images with inspirational quotes and makes both freely available on her blog for anyone to copy and use.

“I’ve been a little surprised at how many followers I have in America but I think the fact I’m in New Zealand, and our seasons are the opposite to the USA, is part of the reason my blog stands out. When other bloggers there are writing about snow in winter, I’m featuring summer projects here. A future goal is to grow my Mia Bella Passions blog within New Zealand.”

Tracey Lee’s art work can also be found hanging on the walls of Poppy’s Café on The Strand in Whakatane or at:http://miabellapassion.blogspot.co.nz


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