INTERVIEW: Gabbi Lancaster

Ahead of the new Drawing Life Course at COMMUNE starting next Friday 26th May, we spoke with amazing artist and teacher Gabbi Lancaster, about her exploration into life drawing, and teaching the fundamentals of art and creativity to kids and adults alike. 

You are about to begin your 6 week course Drawing Life at COMMUNE, what has been your experience experimenting with life drawing, and what should people expect from this course?

Life drawing is exhilarating. It’s a direct exchange of energy and involves an emotional response. The six week program we are launching at COMMUNE shares the fundamental essentials of drawing, learning to see in new ways. Every week we will draw a different model and explore a new exercise designed to develop your visual perception. 

“The subject of focus in this course is the figure. This is because being able to draw means being able to draw the figure. Once you can do this you will be able to draw anything. The reverse does not apply. The human figure is the most complex natural form and it provides us with the ultimate concentration of feeling and form.” Steve Gorton, Paddington Art School.

I believe everyone who wants to learn to draw can. Even people who believe “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” are surprised to discover that they do! Creativity is not a secret that is only available to a special group. This carefully designed program helps unlock the keys to your creativity and gives you the skills to ‘see more’ and to learn to draw. Drawing is a skill that can be learnt, like riding a bicycle.

How did you begin your journey into art and exploring the human form?

Since I can remember, making art was my happiest place. During the late 80’s, I studied figurative art and anatomy at The Paddington Art School. I realised that we were learning about much more than drawing and painting. It was an awakening and deepening of perception, sensitivity, a way of being. I experienced moments, while drawing, of being in an altered state, meditative, it was spiritual and I loved that mysterious feeling. I spent thousands of hours drawing and developing. I wasn’t one of those people who could just draw beautifully straight away, it took time and determination. I worked as a life drawing model for 10 years and was privileged to work for a few great teachers and artists collaborating, learning and creating.

After traveling and living overseas, studying and teaching life-drawing in Barcelona, I returned to Sydney and worked as a life drawing tutor at The Paddington Art School and at Art for Hearts Sake. A deep and lasting interest in the teaching/learning process was sparked in me.

For many years drawing and painting was a very personal and constant source of joy and inner fulfilment for me. During my first pregnancy in 1996 and the shift of focus that brought with it, I began drawing and painting pregnant friends which grew into a project called Pregnant Portraits, specialising in artworks celebrating the miracle and wonder of pregnancy.  

About five years ago the painting obsession really hit me. Experimenting with nature inspired themes and expanding from being a figurative artist to a painter encompassing more elements has been exciting.  Now I am painting most days and have been exhibiting and selling my work in Australia and to collectors in USA.

You are heavily influenced by the nature which flows through your works, what is it about the natural world that inspires your practice?

In nature I find unlimited expressions of connection... I feel at one... embraced and supported by nature's energy. I'm lucky that my home studio in Sydney has a lush green garden with tall trees where I am easily immersed and inspired. Visual stimulation is always being transmitted to me through the shapes, shadows, colours, filtered light, sparkles, lines and energy of the natural world. It offers limitless opportunities to learn from, to play with and to be guided by. It’s like an interaction or communication that keeps me interested, alert and always in awe.

One of your projects, Jade, was born from your devastation about local environment destruction. What prompted your response to this, and what did you want to communicate through these works?

Last year (2016) year after learning about the light rail project and the removal of magnificent hundred year old trees, I felt devastated and compelled to spend time with the endangered trees. During the year I painted a body of work highlighting the magnificence, beauty and vulnerability of trees and the birds that live in them. We couldn’t save the trees, I felt helpless, the only thing I could do was be there drawing and painting them. The heightened emotions I felt while watching their destruction were channeled into the painting process with the intention of communicating awe and wonder.

I witnessed the midnight chainsaw massacres: and as a consequence, my art practice was transformed into an expression of peaceful activism.

One of the Moreton Bay Fig Tree works ‘Sanctuary’ was awarded the Mayors prize at The 'Trees for Life' Exhibition.

You’ve taken your personal art practice into teaching over the last 10 years, developing a number of different programs for children. Why do you think it’s so important to encourage creativity from a young age?

At the moment at most primary schools in Sydney there is a very clear lack of creative arts. Classroom teachers (untrained in visual art) are expected to provide enough artistic opportunities for students.

My work with children began 15 years ago by volunteering to support teachers at my local primary school, offering specialised art making experiences for the children. This grew organically into a very popular after school art program that has been running for over 11 years.

Through art children learn how to solve problems, how to experiment, to trust their intuition and try something new. They gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, an appreciation of each others uniqueness. Time to create with their hands, whether it's drawing carefully from observation or splashing paint everywhere gives children insights into themselves and the world. Learning the basic skills to draw has lifelong benefits.

Many adults who stopped making art when they were 10 years old return to art and quickly pick up from the same developmental stage they were at as kids. I love working with adults who rediscover the playful art of creating.

Your latest project Art in the Garden, explores paint and creativity with adults. How did this begin and what workshops have developed through this project?

Through my delight in the discoveries I was making while painting, particularly the use of layering paint in an intuitive way with no outcome in mind and using inspiration from the garden. I decided to offer a 2 day workshop for adults. There were people around me who were curious and wanting to paint, watching my young students thriving, some of their parents were interested. For three years Art in the Garden has been a safe environment for small groups to join me in my home, a workshop each season, splashing, throwing, dripping paint... delicately drawing, designing, printing and creating exciting canvases full of their personalities. The workshops have taught me so much, watching participants blossom and continue to paint on their own is incredibly rewarding.

Gabbi's 6 week Drawing Life course kicks off Friday 26th May and the limited places are filling fast. Book your ticket now! 

You can see more of Gabbi's work through her website: including her latest JADE collection here:, or keep up to date with her on instagram: @gab_reg_art.