4 minute read


More than a DREAM


Artist, academic and designer Dr Tarn McLean has worked steadfastly towards her goals: PhD, fine art exhibitions, luxury handbag label, wallpaper and textile designs, as well as a new business teaching people how to tap into their own creativity.

When you meet people like Tarn, you think that perhaps they have a secret key which allows them to smuggle more hours into their days. How else do they manage to achieve so much? But when I first met Tarn, about 17 years ago, she was a young mum with

two small children and a dream to be an artist. Turns out it was more than a dream! Her vision was clear and she’s only wavered once. Tarn, Jondy, Oscar and Sara McLean moved to Toowoomba from a cattle property at Mitchell where Tarn had begun undergraduate studies in art at the University of Southern Queensland.

I can recall how she was inspired by the colours and textures of life on the land and her paintings at this time were absolutely authentic. Fast forward to 2016 with PhD in hand - titled “Grubby Mistakes and Beautiful Propositions: The shift of painting out as a way to look in.” – Tarn stepped into the unknown.

“I’d worked so hard to finish my PhD and in 2016 I had this moment when I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” she said. “I sat and cried with Mum who asked me what I liked and I said ‘I like handbags’ so she told me to pick up the phone and ring the Fashion Council of Australia and find out about Australian-made handbags.”

Ocre – Oh so beautiful wallpapers, textiles and divine handbags

Australia doesn’t really have a luxury handbag label and the opening in the market gave Tarn the opportunity to create her label Ocre.

“Ocre started as wearable art,” Tarn said. “It took a while to find the right manufacturer but I have to say now, my manufacturer is insanely good! They guide me and support me and together we create these stunning luxury bags. “I was hand-painting the fabric lining of the bags and people were commenting on the fabric so the next thing Ocre textiles and wallpaper was born. “That was in 2017 and since then

I have been creating two collections each year drawing on Toowoomba for inspiration: There’s the ‘Toowoomba Magnolia’ and the ‘Toowoomba Camellia’. “The wallpaper and textiles are printed to order in Australia; everything I design is made in Australia – I’m absolutely adamant about that.

“I also offer a custom service and work one-on-one with clients to create unique fabrics and wallpapers that reflect their individuality and tastes. “These days I’m offering this facility to architects and builders as an add-on service to offer their clients.”

Fine art exhibitions

Let’s not forget that Tarn is an artist and she paints the most fantastic paintings. She is currently working on her next series titled “Seeing Painting (The Museum)” and WOW... just WOW! We are talking large paintings here,

each one a photographic representation of an image from her phone taken at public art galleries in Australia. They are the permanent reminders of a snapshot in time. An image that she might flick through on her phone or post to Instagram is now on the wall forever.

Finding Your Creative Why

“The only way for me to know if a path is right for me is to try it - to take a risk and do it.” Have you ever felt that you’re not achieving your full potential? Perhaps there’s a storyteller or an artist in there somewhere but you don’t know how to reach it? In order to achieve what she has achieved, Tarn has learned to draw on the never-ending resources of her own individual creative expression and now she wants to share this skill with others. “Everyone is creative but not everyone knows how to express that creativity,” she said. “I’ve been practising certain techniques for years and they work for me. So I encourage my students at USQ to

practise the same techniques and they work for them too – and fairly quickly which is great. “I wanted to share these techniques and skills with others who might be feeling flat or a bit lost in their chosen field. So I’ve developed an online course which has been achieving really good results and, again, quite quickly. “Students of the course have told me about their discoveries, such as they realise that by making something it gives them confidence to make better decisions and feel more fulfilled.” Finding Your Creative Why would be a fantastic staff training exercise for any business as it encourages collaboration. “Can you imagine the possibilities if you encouraged your entire staff to draw on their combined creativity?”

It’s only the beginning

With solid foundations in academia, creative opportunities in art and a growing business, Tarn says she is just beginning. “I have some great mentors who have helped me develop a clear business model,” she said. “I am conscious that when I’m working on the business side of things, I’m not designing and when I’m designing, I’m not working on the business. “I’ve also learned to ask for help so I can remain focussed on what matters most to me.”