Pair live, breathe and dream art

02:34, Feb 07 2013
Antonia Prebble
SIMPLE LIFE: Bruce Hamlin and Rosie Little are celebrating a quarter-century with Estuary Arts.

Rosie Little, of Estuary Arts, has noticed that the harder she works, the luckier she gets.

She and her partner, Bruce Hamlin, live, breathe and dream art in their Golden Bay studio and gallery Estuary Arts, which has just reached its 26th year.

The couple's work has evolved over time from pottery to fused glass.

Little and Hamlin now produce paintings, glass, ceramics and tiles for their gallery.

They have always focused on "quality and individuality" in their work, Hamlin says.

With work being shipped all over the world, sales were "ticking along quite nicely".


"The [economic] downturn sort of suits us, because we're not seeing so many people," Little says.

Hamlin adds: "These are tough times, but we've had an exceptionally good year."

The two artists began building Estuary Arts in 1984, and completed it nearly three years later.

Their gallery is nestled in the bush over looking the Para Para estuary and Milnthorpe. It features a two-room gallery alongside a studio space with six kilns.

After 25 years, they have cultivated a strong reputation among art collectors worldwide.

"We kind of feel we're unknown but a lot of people know us and our work," Hamlin says. "You get in a real groove here. The work is very recognisable. It's individual and stands out."

Neither trained in art.

"I knocked around from one job to another," Hamlin says.

"I was always very creative, but my parents didn't have the mentality to nurture that.

"It's probably our greatest strength that we carry on coming from left field."

Little trained as a teacher and taught art at Collingwood School. She stepped wholly into her art practice in her early 40s.

Hamlin says their persistence is proving to be a strength.

"People want followup. There's a chance you'll still be here in five years. It's about longevity, you become an investment," he says.

"To do well in the arts, you have to have a sellers' market, not a buyers' market. It's about your own mana in the work."

"It's about having integrity in your work," Little adds.

"Without any exaggeration, our work is exceptional and it's strong," Hamlin says. "If you feel that your work isn't that good, you probably won't survive. Our prices are realistic."

"Some places make work below cost price," Little says. "If you're paying tax, GST and accountants, you won't get anywhere.

"Your work is your life and your life is your work."

Hamlin focuses on the sea in his work and Little on the land.

"When I'm out fishing, I can be saturated in my surroundings," Hamlin says. "I think fish are beautiful creatures, and [my work] has gone everywhere. Hilary Clinton's political adviser bought a large piece."

Little is influenced by the Tasman and Golden Bay landscapes and their people.

They agree that focus and passion have been a key ingredient for success in their time as artists.

"If you're addicted to something and you love and adore it, the chances you're going to survive are much higher than if you're drifting along," Hamlin says.

"To be successful at what you do, you don't need a whole pile of dollars. You just need discipline and patience."

"In the beginning, we had no money," Little says. "We made a brochure. We put it around the place. We went to a marketing course. We're not very interested in spending money on ourselves. We spent it on Estuary Arts because it's a cosseted child."

The pair say giving high-quality cards and posters away made a difference to their reputation.

"They're a class product. They shifted people's perception of Estuary Arts," Little says.

It took them five to six years to make a living from Estuary Arts. They say local potters were "kind and helpful".

"This isn't just a job and a money-making venture. It's a slight form of madness in a way," Hamlin says.

"I think the unconscious mind is a grossly underrated part of the human brain. You wake up in the morning with all these ideas. With spontaneity you go and do what you must do," he says.

"The simpler the lifestyle, the more creative it is," Little says. "Our lives aren't driven by retail. It's almost a meditative existence. Our lives are not bogged down in 21st-century living."