All posts by joanne.d.sullivan@gmail.com

The story of Mei Ling and how it came about

I was sitting in a very tiny cinema in the heart of the Gum San Museum with my young son. A short film was running through for the second time. In black and white, a boy was saying goodbye to his sister on the shore of a lake next to their village in Canton. He was about 17 and had to leave his family to find gold—so that they could be saved from devastating poverty. It was 1857 and the clouds around their hearts were almost visible.

I related to that girl. Being left behind. Watching a beloved person walk away with the strong sense that he may never come back. Although my mind shied away from it, I could not help imagining how I would feel if that was my beautiful little son? It left a very strong impression.

Wind forward 15 years.

My mother was recovering from surgery and needed to get away from Melbourne. I suggested we go for a Paint Out holiday. That is what we call our plein air painting expeditions. We have clocked up many hours chasing the light around southern Victoria. Mum was excited and we spent a few days deliberating on where to go. It was May 2016 and it was cold.

I proposed that we follow the route taken by the Chinese miners in 1857. I wanted to see where that brother walked. We would start in Robe and work our way to the gold fields. There must be lots of beautiful scenery along there and it would take about a week. Mum had lived in China, so she was interested in the story.

We headed off. I was not thinking of Mei Ling at that stage. I just wanted to see the landscapes and feel what it would be like to trek through, carrying all you owned on bamboo poles. Knowing Australia, I thought it would be epic. And it really was.

We saw seascapes that literally blow your skin off. Scrub of the most tangled and vicious kind. Weird grass trees that spring up after a bushfire. Endless miles of natural, undulating meadows. Sharp mountain edges backlit by winter storm clouds. Lots of winter storm clouds. Sunsets of pure, molten gold.

Our canvases got rained on, blown away and fried in the sun. I discovered that oil paint really stings if you get it in your eyes. I think it was the oil paint, anyway.

We made it to Dunkeld, having just left Casterton where a Kelpie Muster was in progress. (Every red dog in Australia, and their owner, was in town. But that’s another story.) We walked around town and found a remnant of a Chinese market garden. Mount Sturgeon was towering over us and a storm was just about to break. I read that some of the walkers never got to the goldfields. Instead they worked in these gardens, cooked and helped to build walls, cellars and buildings in the region for their community and for the local settlers. One of these could be the lone woman.

I’d been hearing about this lone woman all along the route. There are countless references to her in the official records. But no one knows her name or her age. I started to feel that people were fascinated by the mystery of her invisible trek and were starting to weave her into their ‘historic records’.

Then I remembered my feeling at the Gum San cinema and knew why. We can all relate to those that were left behind. But we can REALLY relate to the one that wasn’t.

Clive Sinclair with his portrait interpretation of Mei Ling.

I went on a flight of imagination. What if that boy’s sister actually had to follow him? What circumstances would have led to such a break from tradition?

I was in our cabin painting a scene overlooking Casteron town and I imagined this girl arriving there. Would she venture in? Or would she go straight to the Chinese commune in nearby Sandford? How would she be received. Then I realized why she became invisible—at least officially. She and her family honour had to be protected.

Then I had this really strong sense of a great big conspiracy carrying her across the country. Hiding her from the authorities, making sure she was safe. A bit like Frodo “the ringbearer” heading for Mordor, in the Lord of the Rings.

By the time I finished that painting I knew I wanted to create a story about her. I called her Mei Ling (like Mulan) and she has been keeping me awake at night ever since.

Video of Mei Ling’s arrival at the Chinese Commune in Sandford, Victoria.

The birth of PaintStories

I was having lunch with my friend Sally when I asked her what she thought I should call my timelapse painting movies. Sally said “So, they are like stories in paint. Or paint stories.” Well that seemed immediately perfect. So I asked if she would mind me using that term (PaintStories) to describe my time lapse movies from now on. She said yes. That was Wednesday 7 December 2016. The birth of the idea. Thank you Sally.

What is a PaintStory?

The concept is evolving, but in it’s most basic form a PaintStory is a little video of me filming myself painting and telling a story of significance to the people in my community.

Here are two examples.

Alone or as part of a series—PaintStories are a purposeful way for artists to take part in the new economy. A PaintStory can illuminate issues of communal concern. And the level of engagement they inspire is amazing.

In the Hope: From Robe to Riches PaintStory I have created a number of episodes (including the two above), interviews with artists and videos of the actual paintings in the exhibition. I combine these with posts, instagram imagery and videos of me explaining how things work in the background. All of this content lives in the Hope: From Robe to Riches domain and tells the story of that project.

The Ararat Caretakers

Occasionally people do things for others they don’t know and have no direct or familial association with.

Why?

When I met Henry Gunstone, I understood why he is devoted to creating the Gum San Chinese Heritage Museum in Ararat. He didn’t tell me, I just knew. In my soul. I got it. The moment I met him. He knew I knew. I was introduced to him by Heather and Joy because they knew I would understand.

Later Henry said “it’s a story that just gets under your skin”.

Norma and I had just spent five days on the road–painting scenes along the way from Robe to Ararat. Trying to capture the story of the Chinese Miners. By the time we arrived in Ararat, the story was definitely under my skin, and these people could tell.

Ararat Caretakers (left to right) Heather Lockland, Joy Gunstone, Henry Gunstone. Talking to Norma Sullivan.

Joy and Heather volunteer at the Museum, taking people through the exhibitions and explaining this amazing slice of Victorian History. They and Henry, and others in their community, made this museum happen because they wanted the world to remember how Ararat was founded and the epic journey of the people who found it. That was in the Eighties.

They care. They are The Ararat Caretakers. They are ordinary rural towns people. They are not Chinese. They just grew up in a town that they love and want to make sure important parts of what makes this town what it is are not forgotten.

Lest we forget.

Is it so hard to understand why people might spend the energy to collect money in cake stalls, fundraisers and submissions to the government–to build a monument?

When they didn’t quite have enough money in the beginning they approached the local business community and suddenly found themselves roaming even further afield. Chasing down promising opportunities.

The word got around. The Melbourne Chinese community wanted to support the project. So relationships began to form. Between the people of Ararat and surrounds and the people of Guangdong, China. Henry wound up travelling thousands of miles.

Not searching for money anymore. Enough of that came in to build the most magnificent monument you will see outside a capital city in Australia. The Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre is as epic as the story it records. Now Henry had other promises to fulfill. And he wanted to make sure promises were kept. When people start giving to a cause, they want to see results. So Henry was making sure the promised things were delivered.

A tapestry of promises. “If you do that I will do this.” By the Nineties there were thousands of people involved in Henry’s project. From all around the world.

By the time I wandered into the Museum with my sons as a tourist in the Nineties, the building although new was imbued with all this promise-keeping and care-taking. Most big buildings have a cold, concrete feel about them. This one is a lot warmer. All this history soaked into its stones and tiles. Seeping up from the mine shafts underneath and in from the surrounding community. Filled with objects, artworks, sculptures, books and media. Everything donated by someone who cared.

And at the door, most days you will be greeted by Joy, Heather, Henry and others who are the Ararat Caretakers. They, more than anyone else, inspired me to create the Mei Ling story.

Henry (seven from the left in the top row) welcoming the pilgrims on their walk June 2017.

Painting with a purpose

A perfect storm is forming for artists who have an interest in storytelling.

PAINTING—TECHNOLOGY—ANTHROPOLOGY are colliding to give brilliant new opportunities.

Traditionally people come to painting as a hobby. It gives them a way to deal with the stress of life and is a great pleasure. Over time their skills improve and the subject matter matures.

The first public exhibition is a milestone in an artist’s career and often signifies their intention to become professional.

To sell a painting affirms the value of the artist’s skill, but also of the ideas they are trying to express in their work.

As a professional, an artist is concerned with what people will buy, but like happiness this cannot be aimed for directly. Instead, an artist will seek to build their reputation (what they stand for or are trying to achieve artistically) rather than what they produce.

The “lucky” ones get discovered. Their name is made and they can set their own price. This is the artist’s holy grale.

In the last 10 years artists are using the web and social media to increase their exposure and enhance their chances of being discovered. But with everyone doing the same thing, the artist’s story has to be pretty special to stand out.

Artists want to be discovered specifically by the art industry (investors, critics, galleries, agents). But this involves a lot more than engaging an agent, holding exhibitions or attending gala industry events. People who invest in and promote art want to know it has long term cultural value. Meaning: this artwork will be valued by society in the future.

Many artists work in isolation, so they can only tell their own personal story. Sometimes solo artists like these may be lucky if—due to their heritage and circumstances—their story is of great interest to many others. But this is rarely the case, so discovery is unlikely and the solo artist feels disheartened and trapped in obscurity. From this perspective, the risk of becoming a professional artist is immense.


Meanwhile, a lot is going on in the world. These are interesting times. By looking out into the world, like an anthropologist, bigger stories than our own are available, that will be of long term interest to the people of the future.

Finding these types of human stories can inspire an artist in their work and give their work cultural relevance. Giving the artist a fast track to reputation building and discovery.

A story expressed in painted pictures is profoundly touching. No other medium has the power to instantly transport the viewer into another world of experience. This is why art is valued above all other cultural artefacts.

Unlike all other media a painting provides the most personal experience. Every time you view a painting it has new meaning, based upon your maturing understanding of life. Hence, the meaning of the painting  changes with the viewer. With every view. And finding meaning in the painting can change the viewer.

There is a fledgling movement of artists taking video cameras with them to film as they paint en plein air. Here we are transported to a place of importance to this artist while they try to capture the meaning in their work. This is anthropology in action.

Thoughts on Painting by Artist Tom Hughes in the UK.

The more sophisticated artists describe their thinking as they work, so that viewers can know what they are trying to capture. The light, the subject, the challenges.

In a world of counterfeits this is an excellent way of claiming ownership and proving authenticity for the artist and for the collector.

But the real value is in the story. Why did the artist go to that place? Why is it significant?

Right now, not many artists are asking this question. They continue to go to places that are spectacular, beautiful, interesting, but they can go so much further.

Beyond the fortunes of the artist this type of artistic production provides real value to the community. Through this medium the community that the artist has entered has a chance to tell it’s story. To raise its issues and record its memories. This is why the artist will be embraced and promoted. But the artist has to be objective and able to hear what is being told.

And then to paint it into history.

Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition

In 2016 a group of Victorian artists did this. They went to places along the route taken by the Chinese miners who walked 440 km from Robe to the goldfields of Victoria in 1857. These artists looked into landscapes that have been painted a thousand times before and found new meaning. Within 6 months an exhibition was created and that collection will travel around the world.


PaintStory: Landing in Robe
Subscribe to our channel: https://goo.gl/CTzcTU

Finally, in terms of financial value: artworks such as these (that communicate such powerful human stories) form part of the cultural world that people will pay to see. Often they will travel to view the work which is enhancing art tourism. And having seen it will want to own it—then the artist may finally reap their reward.

Here is the birth of the PaintStory. A production that incorporates video, showing the painting in progress and telling the associated human story of interest. If released online these offerings may greatly assist the artist of the future to advance their artistic career.

Hope: From Robe to Riches Art Exhibition

A painting exhibition of The Great Walk by Victorian Artists. To be held in the September school holidays.

Launch: Sunday at 11:30am on Sunday 24 September 2017.

The Great Hall, Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, 31-33 Lambert Street, Ararat, Victoria, 3377

For bookings please ring: 03 5353 1078 or email: info@gumsan.com.au

Bought to you by the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, The Ararat Regional Art Gallery and Stellar Ideas.

The story

The paintings, drawings, illustrations and videos in this exhibition tell the story of the journey of Mei Ling–a 19 year old Chinese woman who traveled from Southern China to the goldfields of Victoria in Australia in 1857.

Visit YouTube to see paintings in progress and interviews with the artists: Hope: From Robe to Riches on YouTube.  (https://goo.gl/CTzcTU)

Each piece in the exhibition depicts a scene of significance for Mei Ling and the 14,000 others who walked 440 kilometers across an unforgiving, alien Australian landscape to find a better life.

Visit our YouTube channel to view videos of the story and of the artists at: Youtube/Joanne Sullivan

The Artists

David Chen: Internationally respected, award-winning artist. David’s work has been exhibited in China, France, The National Gallery of Victoria and The United Nations Conference. Based in Melbourne David is an art educator and academic who offers master classes in painting and drawing. Through minimal yet eloquent use of stroke, colour and greytone, David creates a mystical quality whereby viewers feel they are glimpsing the hidden worlds of dreams and memories.

Clive Sinclair: Member of the Melbourne Twenty Artist Society, Clive is a world renowned landscape artist. He specializes in atmospheric, impressionistic, open-air painting.

Gwendoline Krumins: Signatory member and teacher at the Victorian Artists Society since 1976. Gwen owns her own art school and travels the world working from life whenever possible. Painting since a very young age, Gwen now has a large student base and social media following.

Hugh Foster: Hugh is building a professional career as a painter. Hugh has a great eye for light and colour and spends much of his time in the Victorian rural region capturing and bringing to life everyday images.

Norma Sullivan: Norma has exhibited her work in art shows around Victoria. Norma is a prolific and passionate painter who captures scenes and translates them into vibrant stories on canvas. A career anthropologist, Norma is interested in people and the tales behind the painting.

Joanne Sullivan: Joanne specializes in digital “Paint Stories”. Joanne is an artist and designer who creates time lapse video of paintings in progress, then overlays these with audio, music and other visual materials to create mini-multimedia offerings for the social-mobile platform. Each one tells a story.

The un-strangers following other people’s stories.

Hope: From Robe to Riches. The beginning of the journey.

I am the child of an anthropologist. I didn’t know it at the time, but I grew up with an anthropological view of the world.

Anthropologists are people who are interested in other people’s stories.

From my childish perspective, my mum (the anthropologist) needed to be out in the world, hearing stories. I remember that whenever we arrived somewhere (and boy did we go to a lot of places) the first thing Mum would do was leave. Literally, throw her bag in the corner of the room and head out. To find people. I’d tag along, even though I really just wanted to be alone, to draw or play my guitar.

The first person we would encounter would begin the story. The story of this outing. Anyone who was open to talking. But not random talking. It might start with “oh, that’s an interesting accent, where are you from?” People seem to love telling their stories. And Mum certainly loved hearing them. I must admit that more often than not, I did too.

Before long Mum would know enough about that person to ask if they knew…so and so… Amazingly, they often did know that person, or someone close to that person. People seem to love working out who they know in common.

Once that link was established Mum would have another friend for life. Their name and details would be filed in her memory for future reference.

Then they would get back to the story. The art of conversation. It was never a diatribe or a monologue. (If it got to be like that, we would slip away politely and find someone else.) Usually it would be about important stuff. People try not to bore you. They try to tell you things you might be interested in. They assume you will be interested in the things they are passionately interested in. And they are usually right—at least if they are talking to an anthropologist.

Being a bit introverted, I was always surprised at how easily people would reveal very personal things.They didn’t see us as strangers. There is a simple dynamic to sharing a story that builds a rapport, very quickly—and you become an un-stranger.

When it comes to stories, anthropologists tend to go with the flow. Each person leads you through their tale and onto the next person. Important stories have followings. The purpose of anthropology is to follow the leads and uncover these stories. And to help to tell them.

In my case, it helps to see the story. I am a visual person. Mum is the same. We are both artists. More than words and names, I tend to remember people’s faces and the places we met. And the bunch of images that flit across my mind (like a movie) during the conversations.

For me a story becomes real and engaging if I can connect it with an image.  For example, one day I visited the Gum San Chinese Heritage Museum in Ararat. We were driving back from a family holiday in the Grampians when I saw this spectacular building on the road leading into Ararat town.

“Wow — let’s go and see what’s in there.” The ladies at the reception were really welcoming. They showed my sons, husband and I through the exhibition. (Mum wasn’t there this time). They told us of the journey of 16,000 Chinese miners who walked from Robe to the Goldfields in 1857 and discovered Ararat along the way.

That was interesting but it wasn’t until I sat down in their little cinema and watched a video of a boy saying goodbye to his sister on the shores of a lake—to make this journey—that it really started to mean something to me.

I began to imagine what it would be like if my sons had to go away like that.

That memory has been with me ever since. 10 years later Mum and I set out to paint this journey. And that is how the Hope: From Robe to Riches story and exhibition eventuated.

There are many parts to this story. These will be told here, post by post. Painting by painting.

Stellar content offerings

For a mobile audience it is critical to think clearly, fill your offering with value and structure it so that it is easy to find, scan and digest. 

content-module-structure-v1-23nov2015

What will people value in my offering?

You are an expert. No doubt you have something of value to offer people online. The trick is to package that offering in a way that helps your audience to resolve everyday predicaments and to significantly optimize their quality of life, while they are on the move. These are the Stellar Ideas.

It helps to imagine that you are lobbing an expert idea into someone’s predicament:—They have got their phone (check); They are having the sort of trouble that your can help with (check); They have your offering (KAPOW problem solved!).

How grateful will they be? How will they feel about further engagement with you?

How do I package my content to be valuable for a mobile audience?

It always helps to start with a post. Whatever form your offering eventually takes (video, podcast, infographic) being able to clearly convey your idea in writing will help you to think clearly about what you have to offer.

8 tips for writing (thinking) clearly

Focus on a single valuable idea in your offering. Unpack what your want to say and leave things out that cannot be expressed in 300-500 words. (These can become separate, related offerings.)

  1. Choose a nice place to write
  2. Pick a time when your brain is fresh
  3. Plan what you are going to write before you start
  4. Think of questions your audience might ask
  5. Work in 20 minute spurts (with rests in between)
  6. Use: http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
  7. Give your brain a night’s sleep before you publish
  8. Get a buddy to proof read it

How do I structure the offering?

Start with your conclusion!

In journalism this method of starting with your conclusion is called the Inverted Pyramid style.

Here are some principles for structuring your content to really help people when they are using mobile devices:

  • Start with your conclusion
  • Provide a summary (take away) at the top
  • Provide an image to illustrate the key concept
  • Provide a call to action at the end
  • Organize everything in between in order of importance
  • Phrase headings as questions
  • Front load paragraphs
  • Limit to 300-500 words (5 minutes)

How does this help people?

  • Your audience can scan
  • Your audience can stop reading at any point in time and still come away with the main point
  • Starting with your conclusion boosts Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Having built a bond with my audience, what can I offer them next?

If someone reads to the bottom of your offering, they have invested 5 minutes of their time and may be ready to invest more. Examples of a “call to action” are:

  • Link to my related offering
  • Register for my seminar
  • Enrol in my online course

Watch my video

The following video is an example of a mobile content offering in video form. It’s a mashup showing how to powerfully convey a stellar idea to a mobile audience.

It all comes down to content, comparatively speaking

I have been noticing how much YAMMER and PANIC there is in online communication lately. Everybody is spamming and broadcasting to everybody, trying to find work, trying to make a living, trying to participate.

marketsquare

My sister Fiona tells the story of the medieval marketplace. Imagine you are there, say Venice. As you approach the market you can hear the great hum of human activity. It gets louder until, as you approach the gate, you can hear hundreds, possibly thousands, of voices crying out. Peddlers with their barrows line the road, the walls, and crowd the entrance. The noise is deafening. Everyone is shouting. At you! Everybody wants to sell you something. It’s utterly overwhelming. But you knew it would be. You came anyway.

You push past the screaming traders at the gates. You came for 3 perfect apples. You can see apples in some of the barrows here at the gates, but you walk on. You feel sure the best apples are somewhere in the interior. You’d like to check, before you buy.

Being completely new to this market you decide to sit down at the cafe in the centre and just get your bearings. You relax, recover from the jostling at the entrance, and just watch the world go by.

You are looking out for people going by with excellent apples in their possession. Or a trustworthy-looking local. Or even the guy running the cafe might help.

A few clues from people like these and you discover the best apple traders. There are only two. You compare their wares, their prices and how much you like either one—and the you buy your apples. They really are the best in town.

This is the way markets work. Have always worked. Online markets are just the same. The web is a massive online market. These days everyone is clammering to be at the gate (the top of Google search) and shouting over everyone else (their brilliant 60 second pitch, photo, animation, video, slogan, widespread social media campaign that blasts out 20 times a day).

And they are surprised when they don’t have a queue lining up at their store.

ULTIMATELY, it all comes down to content. And how valuable it is, comparatively speaking.

Mobilize Your Business to Achieve Your Main Goal

As a small (probably solo) business owner you can no longer afford to be locked into static business practices or environments. Your market, staff, competition are on the move: how ready are you to compete? This article describes how to use the mobile internet, apps and mobile-first content to free yourself so you can concentrate on what really matters.

focus-road

Why am I mobilizing?

Being mobile is an essential human quality of life requirement. 

Mobilizing your business will give you a more balanced life, which for highly effective people is the main goal.

“To live a more balanced existence, you have to recognize that not doing everything that comes along is okay. There’s no need to overextend yourself. All it takes is realizing that it’s all right to say no when necessary and then focus on your highest priorities.” Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Bringing a balance to my business is exactly the same as bringing a balance to my life. In this sense—I am my business. My business is not a separate entity that will control me or get out of my control. So I have the power to say no, but what to?

What really matters?

Having control of my business matters!

“It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.” Elon Musk

I want to be free of restraint so that I can move in my intended direction. Not static. Not stuck. So what things am I going to mobilize (which have kept me stuck until this point):

  • My online presence (website and social media): so that they exclusively support me as I mobilize my business. Exclusively means—that this is their only purpose. They are no longer used for marketing purposes, efficiency purposes, administrative purposes, and so on. [These are traditional ways of using these technologies—which have caused me to become stuck.]
  • So, from now on I am building mobile-first content and nothing more.
  • My customers (through mCommerce and mLearning): so that they can be mobile. When they interact with me they will not be stuck with traditional ways of doing business. In this way I am bringing real value to their lives by helping them to also mobilize their business.
  • My resources (apps and cloud services): so that I can run my business while I am on the move.

What do I have to do to make this happen?

It’s more about what you have to stop doing: wasting time doing things that are not helping you to mobilize your business and your important ideas.

Do nothing that is not helping you to mobilize your business. Say no. Stop overextending yourself. Stop writing unnecessary content, posting random blogs, tweeting, filming videos, updating web pages and website designs, running around after clients, searching for new models and answers.

Stop all random publishing, responding and working online.

From now on think mobile-first. Ask “how will this help me to mobilize my business?”. Prioritize those activities that have the greatest mobilizing impact, which:

  • provide you with direct and immediate income;
  • clinch a deal (not just bring you leads);
  • help you to marshal, bring together, prepare (power, force, wealth, resources, networks, content) for action;
  • are responsive and capable of moving or being moved readily

Beware of traditions. Those activities, mindsets and people who want to keep doing it the old way. These are now traps on mobility.

Modularlize everything you do so that you invest your energy wisely and this investment can serve multiple purposes and can be mobilized.

Finding Your Global Niche Audience

How to find your target audience in the global ideas economy. People who will pay for your important ideas and who you will love to work with.

As you set out to stake your claim in the global ideas economy you will have to find an audience for your important ideas.

Your ideas are important to you because of your rich experience in life. This is also what makes them unique and valuable to others.  As a first principle, you should strive to develop a confident, authentic voice. Using clear English and address one key idea at a time. Tell people what you actually think!

 Who will be interested in my ideas?

Expertise is a continuum. In any area of human knowledge, skill or experience there will always be people greater and lesser than you.  The key is to target those who are just behind you on the continuum for your important idea. These are the people who will understand your idea with minimal explanation. They will value your idea because they have traversed the same path as you (metaphorically speaking) and are just behind you in their capabilities.

expertise-continuum

Tip: The more recent this experience, the more relevant it will be to your target audience.  So you do not have to cast your mind too far back to find ideas of value and people for whom they will be valuable.

Who would I love to work with?

Within your target audience think of the ones you would love to work with. The ones that you admire; are doing worthwhile things; have a good energy; are making a difference. Talk to them.

You do not have to set out to persuade. If you find yourself trying to convince your audience of the value of your idea, then you are probably focusing on people who are not already sold on your idea. Stop writing. Put someone you would love to work with in the frame. Start writing again.

Who will invest in my offering?

People value and will pay for content that helps them to optimize their quality of life. The more unpleasant, unhealthy, or embarrassing the situation (predicament) people find themselves in, the greater the urge to use available resources such as content offerings to restore quality of life. So it is a good idea to think of predicaments where the people in your target audience will REALLY NEED your offering.

How to find your paying customers and clients

Purchase the following exercise to identify your target audience then crunch down to those you know, who will pay for your ideas.

[purchase_link id=”203″ text=”Add to Cart” style=”button” color=”blue”]