Interview with Nadine Schmoll - Eco Artist and Change-Maker
Nadine Schmoll is a Brisbane based artist creating vibrant and thought-provoking eco conscious work that incorporates re-used and salvaged materials into her designs and advocates for sustainable practices in the creation of artwork and living.
I spoke with her recently during Plastic Free July at the local Davies Park Markets in West End which has a thriving scene of eco friendly and conscious-minded people, entrepreneurs, artists and businesses making a real impact and difference in the community.
Here’s how the conversation went down …
Lilly| What does being ‘Eco Conscious’ or ‘Eco Friendly’ mean to you?
Nadine| I guess it would mean different things to different people…But for me, it’s having an awareness of the environment and the impact that my actions have on that environment. Particularly in the use of plastic because that’s something that I use a lot in my artwork. So knowing that the plastic that we consume as humans, can have an impact on the environment if it ends up in the wrong place. Yeah, I guess that’s what being eco conscious means to me..
And it’s really a lifestyle choice as well – so seeing it in a holistic way – that the everyday choices that we make as consumers… so whether it’s the products that I buy…you know – the packaging that they come in…or the food, where I choose to buy my food. But also the relationship that I have with the environment around me as well, showing respect for the earth and the resources that it provides.
Lilly | Yeah absolutely… and I think one thing for me when I talk about being Eco Conscious… it also means being aware of how we impact and influence the other people in our lives as well through our choices and actions…and being really conscious of this too…
Nadine| Yeah… I don’t try to influence people deliberately with my own agenda and I hope that can come to their own conclusions based on what they see in my artwork. Because I feel like – especially when it comes to the environment – I like to do it in a way that’s fun and engaging so that people will take a genuine interest in it. Because if you try to, you know – force feed people information their not necessarily going to embrace it… so, yeah – If people can get something out of it, and be inspired – then so much the better.
Lilly | That’s a really nice way of putting it…I like that. So you’ve mentioned some of this already when you spoke about reducing plastic consumption and being aware of how we buy and consume food; but how might this ‘Eco Conscious’ mindset manifest for you? Perhaps you could talk to us a little more bout some specific practices you have…
Nadine | With my artwork, what I do is collect plastic discards mainly…and it depends on what kind of project it is as to what material I’ll collect - so If I’m working with a school for example…I really like to get the whole school community involved in that collection process. Because it’s more inclusive, it’s really about including the community and making them feel empowered in this process. So for example, I worked with a school at Sandgate and we collected just plastic bottle caps, and we collected over 10,000 bottle caps over about 3 months – and we used those to make a mural.
…and I guess with that process, there’s some work involved in terms of collecting the plastic – and then it needs to be cleaned and then it needs to be sorted as well. But if you have lots of people working together then it’s really not much work.
Lilly | Awesome – What a great project. What was the mural?
Nadine | It was about family, and we were working with prep-grade 2. So we came up with a whole bunch of imagery around family and then we used the plastic bottle caps to create a ‘Pointillism’ inspired mural.
Lilly | That’s great! And could you talk a little bit about your own life and practices as well?
Nadine | I mean, of course I recycle – which, hopefully everybody does now days… I started collecting soft plastic a few months back and I give that to ‘RedCycle’ so they can turn it into park benches and things like that – and that’s a really easy thing that you can do. I always carry my drink bottle with me and reuse and refill that…what else do I do… I ride my bike…I walk to work…I take a bus…yeah, my car doesn’t really get much use unless we go to the Sunnie Coast or something. Also things like Eco Friendly cleaning products, you know – bi carb soda & vinegar for example. Or shopping locally, and shopping at places like Source or Marcias (Montague Rd) the bulk/whole food stores – and using brown paper bags rather than plastic. Things like that…
So they’re all small actions but they make a big difference if everybody gets on board!
Lilly | Yeah definitely…and have you found that it was relatively easy for you to incorporate these practices into your lifestyle or did you find that it was like a step-by-step process?
Nadine | Oh look, let’s be honest…I think that caring for the environment can take work! And I think that it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed if people try and do everything all at once. But if you just sort of take it in small steps and it becomes part of your daily ritual, then you don’t notice it. Like especially when I started collecting the soft plastics – I was like…
”Oh my god.. I have to wash the plastic…and then hang it out to dry on the washing line”
…but now I just do that when I do my dishes and now I’m like…
”yeah that’s fine, I can do that, it’s no big deal.”
…Oh…and composting, of course! …so easy!
But you know…living in a rental doesn’t make it easy, sometimes that can be tricky to be able to compost – especially when we moved into a smaller apartment… But luckily there’s the Jane St Community Garden here in West End…so now we just have a big bucket where we collect all of our compost for about 2 weeks.
Lilly | I think that’s amazing! That’s one thing that I’ve found that sometimes is the first to go out the window – composting – like you said – if you’re in a rental or if you’re travelling or even businesses. You know it’s so ‘easy’ to just get into the habit of throwing your food scraps in the general waste…But if you’re aware that there are places like community gardens around and community organisations like Redcycle who make it easier and give us access to more eco friendly options. It can become so simple to incorporate into your lifestyle -these little habits and daily actions. Just make it part of the process – the routine.
Nadine | Especially when you consider that 30% of household waste is food scraps – so it’s a really high percentage…and I hate wasting food…like, I will try and eat it…even if I’m not hungry! Haha!
I think that’s my grandmothers influence actually – from Germany. Having lived through the war…you know…there was this mentality that nothing must go to waste and everything must be used up until it’s completely thread-bare and falling apart – It doesn’t matter that we have perfectly new linen in the closet… I’m not touching it until I’ve used the old linen up and it’s falling apart! Ha..
Lilly | So what inspires you? How do you feel you came to this lifestyle and or mentality – where does that come from?
Nadine | Yeah, well I probably wouldn’t pin it down to just one thing…Ok – maybe 2 things: So I was telling you before about when I was a kid… my Mum who was and still is a herbalist and naturopath has naturally had a really strong influence on my life in terms of living sustainably and living a healthy lifestyle…and so when I was about 10years old my mum decided that she wanted to create these ‘Enviro-Bags’…and this was before we had green bags…before any of that became ’vogue’ I suppose…so she bought these calico bags and she gave some to each of us kids and asked us to decorate them and then we printed down the bottom the words ‘the Enviro-Bag’ …She had grand plans to market this to the world as a brand new product…which never happened…
Lilly | What a winning idea! Haha…
Nadine | She did! She was way ahead of her time! Haha..
So yeah…that had a big impact on me…and we were the kids that were sent to school with our salad sandwiches wrapped in reused plastic packaging…like old chip packets or bread bags…which at the time was considered really…strange!…by everybody else… Haha… So I would say definitely my mum has been a big influence and inspiration for me…
But also, about 10 years ago now…I worked on an island called Lady Elliot on the Great Barrier Reef, and I spent about 8 months living and working on that island and there wasn’t much to do except go snorkelling and scuba diving…so I learnt a lot about the reef…about the marine life…and when you see how incredibly beautiful it is…you cant help but be moved by that…So yeah…
There’s this amazing quote… I think it’s something along the lines of …
We only care about what we understand…We understand what we study...anyway…the premise of it is that we have to learn about something in order to care for it.. It’s like…The more you learn about something, the more personally invested you become
Lilly | Are there any people out there, or other channels, or artists that you admire or that inspire you?
Nadine | Yeah. So I’m part of a group called Plastic Free West End and there’s a lot of really great people in that group who are doing great things. So we organise an event for Plastic Free July…and that was just really great to see everybody coming together and discussing these kinds of issues and coming up with solutions together. So yeah, those guys are doing some really great stuff.
Jonathan Sri our local Greens Counsellor came along to that as well – so that was really good to have his support.
Also Tony Rice – He’s a mentor of mine and he came on board for Plastic Free July and he does some incredible sculptures with salvaged materials and beautiful paintings with an eco-activist mind-set particularly advocating for the sustainability of the oceans and marine life. So he’s really inspiring and has been doing his thing for like 20-30 years or so which is amazing.
Lilly | if you could give any advice or encouragement for anyone thinking/ wanting to begin their less waste/eco conscious journey but maybe don't quite know where to begin... What would you say?
Nadine | Start with the 3 Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle - in that order of priority. It's the simplest and most effective way to start minimising waste. Make small changes as an individual, then you can expand this to your entire household, even your workplace, friends and family. Your perception on waste will slowly shift and you'll be surprised at how small changes really do make a big difference.
Lilly | Thank you so much Nadine for sharing a bit of your story with us and inspiring us and motivating us to be more eco conscious with your art, lifestyle and eco-friendly attitude!
Nadine | Thank you so much for having me, I hope that people can get something out of it, and if it inspires people to create change for themselves and the environment – then so much the better!
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