Many artists never make a viable business from their talent and passion. It’s a tough gig. But former school teacher Emma Cleine is bucking that trend with Lumiere Art + Co and her story is inspiring. Today, she shows us inside her charmingly understated Mornington Peninsula home and tells us about making what she loves into her full-time job.
I’ve watched the Lumiere Art + Co brand go OFF in the last year and recently had the pleasure of meeting Emma. Her work is now very recognisable due to it being stocked by some amazing retailers and featured on the recent series of The Block Sky High. She’s now branched into homewares too with her textiles and ceramics.
But Emma, who is based on the Mornington Peninsula, never thought this would be her full-time job. In her early days as a maker, she created paper bunting from vintage books and sold it at markets. “That’s how I started! Oh, and paper covered blocks. They were cute and took me a long time to make. From there I just moved on to other things.”
She met Melbourne stylist Julia Green, who mentors up and coming Australian artists, when Lumiere was a couple of months old. It was good timing! “At the time, she was just starting out with Greenhouse Interiors,” says Emma. “Julia became my sales agent and, as she puts it, head of my fan club! Having someone believe in what you do and talk about you makes the world of difference. I can’t talk about my work to people, let alone sell it. Having Julia do this for me and believe in what I do allowed me to take the plunge from doing this part-time to now full-time and beyond!”
Emma lives in a sixties white rendered beach house, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, with husband Mark and 3 year-old son, Lenny. “I am pretty monochromatic in style and favour vintage pieces over new. I love design and admire many of the Australian and international greats. I have a made in Melbourne Moran couch, my sideboards are Parker and really that’s the extent of my furniture! I love plywood and have a gorgeous ply kitchen and bathrooms. I dream of a home filled with Jardan and many pieces by some of the amazing stores I supply! Always good to admire and dream. I love interiors (who doesn’t?!) and could fill hundreds of scrapbooks with ideas and favourite objects and images.”
She studied sculpture and printmaking at university, completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, then a Graduate Diploma Of Education. She was Head of Art at a private girl’s school and loved it, but at the same time felt unfulfilled as she desperately wanted to make things. “I never really allowed myself the space and time to work on my own practice or business ideas until 3 years ago when I took 6 months off on maternity leave.”
Like many female entrepreneurs, it was that time away from the daily routine that made Emma realise she wanted to create her own job. For her, that would mean living off the proceeds of her art. “I just started making small items for local markets, then a small range for retailers, and now it’s a full textiles and art range for many retailers!” It’s fortunate Emma enjoys working hard and constantly changing what she does. “I listen to feedback and really live and breathe Lumiere,” she says.
When twins Alisa and Lysandra Fraser, who went on to win the series, used her work on The Block Sky High, Emma was “chuffed to pieces,” excited and nervous. “I was petrified to see how the works would be perceived!” Of course, people loved them.
She’s now moved from paper into textiles too, with a range of cushions, throws, lampshades and more, and even plates. “I see the textiles as a washable extension of my artworks! It’s nice to offer a whole range to reflect my interests and skills. It’s all very self indulgent!
“The edition porcelain plates I had manufactured this year were a bit of a childhood dream; I remember drawing in crayon and having a melamine plate produced in primary school and absolutely loved it! I drew a simple floral border and left the middle empty. Very reversed and Wedgwood for a prep student!”
The new ice-dyed textile range (below) was actually introduced by Emma’s studio assistant, Alice McIntosh, a former student of hers. “She googled the technique and, after a few experiments, we had a stunning linen cushion and throw range. I’m lucky I’m surrounded by such sharing and passionate people. They make Lumiere Art + Co. work as it does.”
Despite all the sales and seeing her work on TV, it was finally moving into her studio in February that was the year’s highlight. “Before this, I worked from the back of the car, the kitchen table, my spare room and my parents’ garage. Not cool. Having my own space and routine makes what I do real and is so much easier on everyone around me! I share my studio with 2 fellow gorgeous, inspirational artist/designers and enjoy the quirks of our work day, the chit chat, sharing the moments when everything is overwhelming, the bitching about couriers, the talk about our kids and making each other tea and coffee throughout the day!”
For the future, Emma wants to concentrate on expanding her fine art range and allow enough time in her week to take on commissions and larger works. “I really do love art and what I do and I’m super proud to make a living making commercial artworks and homewares.”