Mindful Recreations

Tea with the Artists- An Afternoon with Robyn Burne

Robyn and I met at the Alcove Art Shop. She and I regularly have shifts on the same day so it seemed natural to arrange for our interview to take place there. Robyn brought some supplies and something to work on while we chatted and drank our tea. There is something very relaxing about chatting to someone, tea in hand, while they create.

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Our beverage was called “Harmony”. It is a herbal tea blend of organic cinnamon, lemon balm, rosehip, apples, cloves, ginger, and cardamom- manufactured by a company called “HUSK”. When I closed my eyes and took a deep breath it brought to mind the Middle East- fabulous aromas, tastes to make your mouth water, and the sound of a busy market. A few more deep breathes and I could understand why it was called “Harmony”. Robyn’s daughter keeps her ‘in tea’. It all started when Robyn’s son had open heart surgery and her daughter turned up with a packet of “Harmony” to help Robyn relax. Indeed it did help, and still does. Robyn told me that she loves this tea as it makes her feel relaxed and cared for.

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At about 9 years of age several things happened to Robyn. She remembers seeing a picture that someone had drawn and thinking “I want to do that”; she had a new art teacher (Mr. Wilson at Camberwell South Primary School)l who gave his students lots of freedom; and she won an award in an art exhibition. We ponder the significance of Mr Wilson, and wonder what it would be like for him to know his part in Robyn’s journey. We also talked about how important it is for children to be exposed to different ways of doing things, and how sometimes it is a simple, inadvertent comment or way of being that can make a big impact. Just by hearing or seeing something different creates the possibility of an alternative, and without that difference we would be at risk of becoming a homogenous society. We both shiver at the thought. I have an inkling that Robyn might be a little like Mr. Wilson to some of her students. She makes statements like “Paint is not dirty” and “there is no such thing as mistakes” and there’s ‘freedom in them thar words’. Indeed as we talk it becomes clear that Robyn very much enjoys working with children. She told me the story of a “Noah’s Ark” mural that she was asked to do for her local church. Robyn set out a rough plan but let the children’s thoughts and ideas flow into the work. We had a chuckle at the idea of Jesus with dreadlocks, and spots appearing where they really didn’t belong. Robyn then told me that to finish it off they tipped paint all over the concrete floor. Mr. Wilson might have a lot to answer for, and so will Robyn.

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This process of “seeing where things go” is a strong theme in Robyn’s work. She likes to crochet as she is able to ‘build’ anything she likes, and then she enjoys putting it into the washing machine and seeing what comes out. She developed this process when she had little children. Occasionally one of the woolen things would end up “a little smaller than it was when it went it”. Robyn kept these items and has turned them into various different bags, hats, broaches etc. Now she deliberately puts her woolens into the washing machine in order to make them into something else. For Robyn, the process really only just begins when she takes things out of the washing machine. What she does with it after the felting process is intriguing.

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This process of ‘ornamenting’ things developed as a response to one of her children. I love how children have such a huge impact on their parents- often in strange and unexpected ways. They were out shopping when her daughter saw a hat she liked. Robyn decided it was overpriced and not very well made. So, she told her daughter that she would make her hat that was far better than anything they could buy. And she did. A rainbow hat covered in sequins, beads, and textures. As she tells me this story I can see an impish little face with a grin as big and colourful as the rainbow hat on her head.

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Textile work is not Robyn’s first, or only, passion. Painting is. In particular, oil painting. Indeed Robyn tells me that she “paints with a smile on her face”. It’s a pity we are not in her studio so I could get a photo of that smile. I’m sure it would tell a thousand words. Robyn is drawn to the “buttery texture” of oil paints, and the smell of the linseed. Several images pop into my head simultaneously. A used palette of oil paints, thick and ‘buttery’, full of mixed colours, almost an artwork in themselves- telling the story of the artist’s journey; my close encounter with a Van Gogh painting- I was captivated by the texture- almost as if the sky was real; and my first set of oil paints- having coveted them for what felt like an eternity, getting them home, the smell as I opened them up, and then a sense of the ‘seriousness’ of oil paints. Oil paints demand that we slow down; demand that we give them time to do their thing, which in turn gives us time to go on a different journey. In a world full of rush and bustle, they are a lovely reminder to “take your time”.

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As I drove off in a hurry after the interview the ‘oil paint reminder’ resonated in my head. I took deep breathes. I pondered our discussion. And I promised myself that I would “take my time” more often.


You can find Robyn online at

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