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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 Casterton 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.

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
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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:

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.  (

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.

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.


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”]

Your Ideas Can Kick Start Your New Career

How to work out what makes you tick. So that you can build a personal online presence based on your important ideas and share it with a niche audience. And bootstrap your way out of employment into a profitable and meaningful new career in the Global Ideas Economy.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost.” by Martha Graham, from Blessed Unrest.

The world of work and education are changing profoundly. They are going solo, mobile and global. In this rapidly changing economy, most of us are getting buffeted around in our jobs—which hurts. You may be feeling disillusioned. Needing an escape. Wanting inspiration and a new beginning—a new career.

You can be part of the new Ideas Economy emerging online. The Internet has become an Ideas Platform where individuals can make a significant contribution and have a distinct competitive advantage. Ideas people thrive online. Creating the future with their visions.

In an Ideas Economy your ideas are assets that can generate income and make you financially independent. In this type of economy, people place the most value upon ideas that allow them to resolve their everyday predicaments and to significantly optimize their quality of life. These are the Stellar Ideas.

How do I find my Stellar Idea?

To contribute to the Ideas Economy you need to know what makes you tick. You are your ideas. The ones to develop are the ones that capture what is truly important to you, that you wish to share. When you tap into your true passion it becomes a wellspring of energy and further ideas.

The best way to get started is to ask: What idea is important to me, that I would like to share? Then ask seven more times: “why is this important to me?” until you arrive at the deeper values that make you tick. See my example:


Download a blank What Makes Me Tick Template and find your important idea.

What is the next step?

Once you know what makes you tick, share it with the world. You will need a website in your own name. WordPress blogs are a good starting point, because they are really mobile friendly. Each post is a powerful content offering to people on the move. If designed well, they will be appealing to a global niche audience.

You are not ‘blogging’ though. Instead, you are talking exclusively and strategically about your important ideas. This website is your Ideas Platform. Over time, if you focus on helping people to optimize their quality of life, you will be able to charge a fee for this content. Since it is on your website (and not a social media platform) you will always own and control your content. [You can use the social media platforms to promote your own website and bring traffic to your content.]

How can I do this while I am working for someone else?

Many people are using their online presence and the passive income they make from their content to bootstrap their way out of employment.

Growing an Ideas Domain in your own name is a sustainable business model in the Global Ideas Economy. Through this domain you can change the world.

More about participating in the Global Ideas Economy

  • Download a blank What Makes Me Tick Template and find your important idea.
  • See video : Dare to Imagine: What will The World Look Like in 50 Years (created by the Skoll World Forum).

Top 10 commercial reasons to mobilize your consultancy (content/IP)

The mobile platform is a powerful referral and engagement platform. When someone forwards your content on to a contact using their mobile device, it is perceived as a personal referral and endorsement of both the content and of you as the content provider.

With this in mind, the top 10 commercial reasons for mobilizing your consultancy (content/IP) are:

  1. It helps bring in clients. Mobile content offerings have far greater reach and capture potential than all other digital marketing mechanisms
  2. Turning your content/IP into mobile content offerings; structuring them into courses; then placing them online, helps to reduce the time you spend delivering repetitive material (because you and your clients can access it when and where ever you like)
  3. Providing opportunities to interact with your content/IP while on the move, enhances your engagement with your key clients
  4. Valuable content like this attracts traffic which raises your online profile
  5. People pay for content on their phones, so your mobile content offerings are a potential stream of passive income
  6. The process of mobilizing your consultancy helps you to recognize, test and package your IP for delivery to a global niche audience
  7. Engagement with your mobile content offerings can be monitored, giving you an invaluable, dynamic source of information about customer activity which you can use to continually monitor and improve your content and your consulting services
  8. Building mobile content offerings and delivering them from your own website is a low cost and investment approach—you build and release modules as required (as you can afford to)
  9. It’s low risk—you can stop any time you like. Which gives you total control over your content and allows you to grow as fast and as big as you like, and
  10. It’s very flexible—you can reuse modules and arrange them into different packages, which increases the Return on Investment (ROI) for any given module.