When I stumbled upon a card of a hand-drawn bouquet of dried flowers, I became lost in the abundance of brown wilted leaves, inklings of red in roses with her heads faced down, and delicately drawn stems protruding in dozen different directions. As my eyes slid across the bottom of the page, there scrawled in black ink was the word GRAY. ‘Who is the one called Gray who created this card? I must find them!’
This was how I discovered Stephanie Gray.
Science and art: two worlds that seem to be on completely different ends of the spectrum. Stephanie Gray, the gal in between it all. With a science degree under her belt and a heck of a talent for watercolour and drawing, Stephanie is more than your cut-copy artist.
After having spent most of her childhood and adolescence in Bristol and the South of France, Stephanie sought a change of scenery. And a change of scenery she got. Now Stephanie is based in Sydney, and being thoroughly adjusted, Stephanie says her heart lies in Australia. “There is so much opportunity here and so much that I want to do! I love to be warm and love lengthy, light-filled days; these are the things I need to get my to-do list done.”
In order to pinpoint the catalyst of her creative career, we decided to take a trip down memory lane. Stephanie’s love for drawing and all things creative started from picture books. “I was a quiet child and I really enjoyed reading, especially books about little girls and gardens and fairies… I used to copy out the words and illustrations from these books and my mum would staple them together for me when I was finished. I suppose this is where it all began!”
As Stephanie’s passion for art continued to grow, she decided to develop her art alongside her science career. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science at UNSW, it’s hard to believe choosing such a completely different pathway enabled her to enrich her love for all things creative. “I think that doing a very specific content heavy degree just highlighted the appeal of composing pictures and not words, so I think it has made it easier for me to find inspiration… it was lovely to have such separation between work time and playtime… After I graduated I was so excited to dedicate myself solely to art!”
And thus, her art label Erlenmeyer Art was born. Now you might be thinking, wait, her name is Stephanie Gray? Sounds nothing like Erlenmeyer. Well this is where Stephanie’s science background really shines through. When I asked her where her art moniker came from, she gave me a mini science lesson in return (or in short highlighted my total ignorance towards all things ‘science’). “Erlenmeyer is a reference to the German chemist Emil Erlenmeyer, who created a special flask and contributed significantly to the development of theories of molecular structure.”
But before the Erlenmeyer label represented her art, it was the title for her and her partner Byron’s jazz duet. “I had to take analytical chemistry for my degree and this is where I met my partner, Byron. He and I are both jazz musicians and when we found each other we formed the Erlenmeyer Duet, using the name because it sounds beautiful and elegant and that’s what we were trying to create with our music. Since then I’ve extended the name to represent my art because I am so attached to it and because I strive to achieve the same principals in my artwork as in our music.”
If there were one word to describe Stephanie’s work it would be ‘detail’. Precision is something that gives her work character. Along with detail, her subject matters can change from meticulously drawn dried flowers to a quirky pet name inspired walrus. From flowers to walruses, when trying to pin down her sources of inspiration, Stephanie showed me that inspiration can be found all around us. “Most of my pieces are created as gifts for friends and family… honouring their hobbies or favourite places. I also feel very inspired to do illustrations portraying the skills or beauty of people or things: wilted bouquets of flowers, a musician mid-performance, a little boy’s face after he’s dropped his ice-cream.”
Along with managing her etsy store, Stephanie’s also working on various other projects. “Currently I am working on a playing card deck that features illustrations of steam punk machinery. (kind of like the one featured in the picture at the top of this page) I find it so interesting to design playing cards because you have to identify competitive hierarchies within a theme and work out cohesive images for the back design and the jokers, as well as the typography work that is involved for lettering and numbering.” Together with this, Stephanie is also looking forward to putting on her first exhibition later on this year. Talk about being busy.
What attracted me the most towards Stephanie’s work was its personalised and homemade quality. Not only do you see this in her work, but also through the way she gets her art out to the public. Stephanie often runs a stall selling her originals, prints, gift cards and custom-illustrated playing cards at the North Sydney Markets on Miller Street, while also selling her stuff weekly at Paddington Markets. She often reminds people of her presence on her instagram posts, and encourages people who know of her art to come and say hello.
Interviewing Stephanie definitely felt like meeting and getting to know one of your closest friends for the first time: warm and cosy. This feeling reflects the way you feel when you stumble upon Stephanie’s work.
Image: Stephanie Gray