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May 11, 2020 —

Meet the Maker: Alina Tang of giant pansy

Globe-trotting artist and illustrator Alina Tang creates joyful, colour-infused and often floral-inspired works that make people smile. Currently settled in Amsterdam, she shares her story…
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Hi Alina! Tell us a little about you and your work…

I’m a visual artist and illustrator originally from sunny Perth, Western Australia. For the past two years, I’ve been travelling and working abroad and have now settled in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

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How did you discover your passion for what you do?

I feel the happiest and most content while I am making things with my hands. I was lucky enough to realise this early on while I was still in high school and struggling through the traditional academic curriculum, so I quickly became very sure about pursuing the arts. That led me to I study fine art and design at Curtin University, Perth, and then I managed creative business a printmaking studio Beau Est Mien Prints and Designs in Northbridge.

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What first inspired your business?

It began when I used to manage a printmaking studio and shop back when I lived in Perth. It was a tight-knit team of kick-ass creative women, and we really had the best job teaching print workshops, selling our work, and sharing it with the world. I think there is always space and a desire for small, artist-run or independent businesses that are able to share genuine and meaningful products and services. It was great experience and it’s always been a dream of mine to have my own creative space in a new city – so this little dream will be happening after the lockdown, once the dust settles.

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What does your working day entail?

At the moment, during lockdown, it’s a bit all over the place. I have a small bricks and mortar space, named pansy, that I had plans for opening in April 2020, but unfortunately everything is on hold at the moment! The space is part shop, part studio and workshop space, and from time-to-time is also used for hosting exhibitions and events.

In the meantime, I’m taking this extra time to make the space as beautiful, comfortable, and welcoming as possible so that when I’m able to open it’ll be so nice! I’m spending a lot of days making ceramics at home (and then doing a wobbly journey on my bike to get it back to the studio!). It’s something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time now and I’m so happy and grateful to be able to do it here in the Netherlands.

pansy is a 20-minute cycle from our apartment, so I’ve learnt to really enjoy that time, absorb fresh air, and marvel at the city. It’s a strange time for all of us and I’ve finally embraced not feeling guilty about not doing anything all day and trying to take the time to rest as well.

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 Which values are important for your business?

I want pansy to be a welcoming, generous, and cheerful place where I hope people will fall in love with the space and the objects inside of it (I’ve picked products and handmade things from my favourite artists, designers, and makers from Australia and all over). In a way, pansy is a very personal expression of myself and what I believe is important, cute, and interesting to share with the world.

I also think it’s really important that people can understand the process of making, so having my studio space integrated and connected with the shop is a way for me to be able to share ‘behind the scenes’ with people coming into the space.

I hope that I can make people feel loved, cared for, and inspired – especially through the workshops that pansy will be able to offer, and that everyone can have a sense of agency and creativity within themselves. To be proud of what they can create with their hands.

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What does your day-to-day work process look like?

I tend to work on projects, or by collections with my illustration work. In the past few months I’ve grown a lot more comfortable working with clay. It’s something I’ve always been fond of, but I didn’t have the resources to explore it. Since re-settling in Amsterdam, I work in a community ceramic studio where I learn so much about operating a functional ceramics space, handling and recycling clay, firing, and glazing.

Now that I’m able to open my own little space with a studio we have recently got a kiln, which means we’ll be able to fire all the clay objects, and teach workshops. In terms of practicality – I think there’s a lot to consider when working with process-based techniques such as printmaking and ceramics, as they often involve really heavy, complex, and often expensive equipment. It is a really big investment (financially, and in terms of time) but I think it’s well worthwhile in the end.

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Describe your workspace…

For the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to do a handful of artist in residence programmes, which has allowed me to travel to interesting new cities for work, but I haven’t had a base for a really long time! So having this new space is great – a new studio and base to work from – it’s a chance to put down roots and be part of a grounded community again. The space is split up into two levels – upstairs is a spacious and bright little shop filled with ceramics, artworks, prints, handmade objects from independent designers, and downstairs is a working studio that also transforms into a cosy workshop space facilitating all kinds of creative activities and events.

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What’s your neighbourhood and community like?

I’m currently based in – and completely in love with – the city of Amsterdam. It’s a really vibrant place with a relaxed pace and lifestyle, with people from all over the world calling it home. I’ve been lucky to meet and make really sweet new friends here. pansy is located on Czaar Peterstraat, which is a leafy street dedicated to small, independent businesses like a handmade peanutbutter shop, waffle restaurant, shell museum, vintage clothing stores, and home to many creative spaces. It’s a tight-knit community where everyone is doing their best to provide beautiful and high-quality services and products to share with the city. I’m so happy to be a part of it and can’t wait until we can all be open soon!

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Is the online community central to your work?

Being able to share my work online is probably one of the most important aspects of my work – it’s where I am able to connect with interesting people, magazines, blogs, for all kinds of collaborations and opportunities. But even more so currently, it’s a place where I’m able to stay in touch with my friends and family and check in, for many, many video calls and building friendships. In a way it makes working much easier, as I’m able to reach people and shops from all around the world too.

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What are the positives and negatives of being an independent maker?

I love working independently and being able to run my own very tiny business. For me, the biggest joy is having the creative freedom to make the decisions and pursue the projects that I want to do (for myself and my own creative indulgence, and to build the community that I want to have around me). And the challenges are in having to be a jack-of-all-trades, and scrambling to manage all the different aspects of the business that aren’t necessarily the most fun (accounting, project management, lots of administration…).

How do you handle marketing and PR?

I call it ‘the pansy approach’ – very tenderly and with a lot of thought! I think it’s a common struggle for a lot of us, I’m very lucky to have a partner who has worked on marketing teams as a graphic designer who always offers me sound advice. I try to share images and content that are meaningful, precious, and also beautiful to me – and hope that other people will like it too!

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Which works do you most love to make?

At the moment I’m really enjoying working with clay, hand-building all kinds of wonky and wobbly vases, vessels, cups, and lumpy doo-dads. It’s really hands-on, so I can switch off my brain, listen to music and podcasts and just enjoy the process of making. I’m in the phase of experimenting with different options for adding colour; with underglazes, oxides, and pigments. I’m really fussy about getting the colours exactly how I imagine them (they often come out much darker, or vitrify and bubble), so it’s an uphill battle for the moment, but a really enjoyable one!

Any creative pastimes or hobbies?

A lot of my creative work can be considered hobbies – so the not-so creative hobbies of mine include being a very good couch potato, consuming a lot of potatoes in the form of chips (I have a good list of best chippies in Amsterdam!), riding my bike, patting dogs, playing a stupid phone game called ‘bee brilliant’, and spending time with my sweetheart, Bobo.

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What does the future hold for you?

Following the pandemic, I guess we’re riding out the next six months all together and seeing where the world takes us. I’ve got my fingers crossed for pansy to be open hopefully by summer, or just afterwards. It’s been a project I’ve been dreaming of and working on for so long that I just want to share it with the world already! If you are in Amsterdam and would like to come by for a visit, I’d love to welcome you and share a cuppa together!

Quickfire questions:

Describe your work in three words?

Colourful, cheerful, and floral

What are your making rituals?

Good sunlight, great playlist of music and podcasts, scented candle.

Tea or coffee?

Both! And a lot of it!

Mountains or sea?

The sea, especially swimming underwater!

Night owl or early bird?

Night owl but it’s my dream to become a productive, chirpy early bird.

I wish someone had told me…

You don’t have to be perfect, your work doesn’t have to be perfect, just put it out there and share it with the world!

pansy is located at Czaar Peterstraat 104A, Amsterdam.

See more from Alina on Instagram, Facebook and on the giant pansy website

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