Dutch-born artist finds her groove at Port Stephens

Mix n match: Port Stephens-based artist Chris Wigmans in front of one of her illustrations. Picture: Muse Photography
Mix n match: Port Stephens-based artist Chris Wigmans in front of one of her illustrations. Picture: Muse Photography

Twenty-nine-year-old Chris Wigmans doesn’t expect to make art for a living, but making art gives her something to live for.  

“I do it for fun and because I need it,” Wigmans says. “Growing up I realised it’s really hard to get money out of art. Graphic art is more something you can do for money”.

When she’s not in her studio or at her desk, the Holland-born woman finds fun in the Port Stephens surf, which is also where she first met her husband. Her love of fun coincides well with her creative needs.

Wigmans first arrived as a backpacker to Australia in 2014. She bought a van and went exploring, heading to head to Woy Woy because she liked the sound of the name. She took a photo of a map at a petrol station, got lost and ended up in Port Stephens, and the rest, more or less, is history.  

Journey of life: Dutch-born artist Chris Wigmans, who lives at Port Stephens.

Journey of life: Dutch-born artist Chris Wigmans, who lives at Port Stephens.

Her adventurous spirit hasn’t stopped her from working hard. She did four years of graphic design at a Netherlands’ university and briefly studied 3D design.

One thing she remembers from her time studying was a side subject she took called “Autonoom”, which means autonomous in Dutch. The class was all about free creativity.

"The teacher would give us a poem and then we would have to make something and he didn’t say what medium to use; it’s really free. I did photos of my grandma and her 10 friends and that got in the Rotterdam Gallery, and now my grandma, who is 93, is the only one left,” Wigmans says.

She also attended film school and worked for a production company in Amsterdam.

At work: Artist Chris Wigmans. 
Picture: Muse Photography

At work: Artist Chris Wigmans. Picture: Muse Photography

“I was just working, making money and I thought ‘I want to learn to surf’. Someone said if you want to learn to surf you have to go Australia. The girl from catering said to me, ‘save your money, and the first salary you get, you buy your ticket,’ ” Wigmans says.

And now here she is. Living near the beach in Port Stephens gives her inspiration, as lots of her work has pirate and ocean themes.  

“I think I really like sailors. Pippi Longstocking’s dad was like a pirate, and I draw inspiration from her,” Wigmans says. “Sometimes you just draw because you feel like it; you want to use that colour because it looks good. I like drawing sailors because you can make them look really funny. I enjoy it; people react to it.”

Her studio in Port Stephens has a variety of illustrations. Many of the works have interesting faces, and often there’s quirky lettering of English words within the pieces. The space she works in came together bit by bit. A lifeguard friend of hers gave her an easel and heaps of paint. Another friend found big canvases and gave them to her. Her father-in-law brought her heaps of wood - sometimes she paints on wood instead of canvas.

Keen fan: Chris Wigmans' grandmother coming to a Dutch gallery to see her work.

Keen fan: Chris Wigmans' grandmother coming to a Dutch gallery to see her work.

To help pay the bills she packs shelves at Woolies along with taking whatever creative gig she can get, from designing logos to shooting weddings.

She talked about her process for creating a logo for a recent client:“As soon as someone asks ‘can you do this’, you get ideas, you draw quick sketches and then you put it in the computer. As soon as you get an assignment you get the ideas and you make it. If no one gives me an assignment, I just draw crazy faces.” Wigmans says.

 On Friday, February 23, The Edwards will host her first exhibition in Newcastle, featuring her drawings, artwork, paintings and animations. Local rock band Family Dog will also perform.