12 months of 'nothing new' with artist Sally McKay

12 months of 'nothing new' with artist Sally McKay

We have known Sally McKay for a while now and love her photographic art that is not just beautiful, it draws attention to the environment and unnecessary consumerism.  What especially inspired us was Sally's recent goal to purchase 'nothing new' for 12 months.  We interviewed Sally about her art, life and how her young children coped with 'nothing new'....

You set yourself a goal to consume less?  What was your motivation and what did you achieve?

At the beginning of the year I started work on my exhibition to draw attention to the endless consumption of toy plastic that occurs in Australia and as I began research the volumes of plastic we consume (3, 513 100 tonnes of plastics were consumed in Australia in 2016–17)[1]  I started to think deeply about our overall household consumption. We decided to no longer purchase toy plastics, reduce our consumption of all single use plastic and then we extended this into “nothing new” for 12 months.

What are your 3 tips to guide others who are interested in consuming less/leaving a light environmental footprint?  

1. Experiment with ideas -  Try concepts on with your family - whether it's for 12 months or 3 months, experimenting with different ways to reduce your environmental footprint enables you to be student in the process and open to all the learnings that will come your way.

2. Go lightly  - I tend to be an all in or all out type of person (ie. when I first read about BPA in plastic in 2007 I removed all forms of plastic from our home within 24 hours), but when reducing your environmental footprint that type of approach is just a quick fix. You need to go lightly into something for it to sustain.

3. Map your progress - in the notes section of my phone I have logged all the “new expenditure” purchases I would have made and how much time they would have consumed ie. new pair of trainers - $145.00, 1hr and 30mins to find/purchase and 4 hours spent putting away annually. What has surprised me most is the time I’ve saved by not purchasing anything new.

What brought you to photography?

My Dad ran a printing factory in Victoria, and when I was 12 he lent me our family camera on holiday and said “you have a go!”  Several weeks later he came home from work with a huge pile of holiday snaps which he placed across our family dinning table. Pointing to a set of images he smiled and said...“see all these good photos….they are the ones you took, not me….you have an eye for this Sally’. That was it - my Dad believed in me and so I started to believe in myself.

What was the inspiration behind your latest work?

As a young mother, I have been well positioned to see the toy plastic birthday transactions – toys that are given, received and provide a passing diversion before being relegated to the garage, and eventually the tip. I was inspired to create artwork that highlighted the folly in this, and that showed a link between environmental damage, consumerism and the way we package up plastic to appear beautiful.

Which piece are you most proud of?

Dentelle Jaune D’or – it took all my patience, creativity and endurance to create this artwork – each piece of toy plastic and dead nature was moved into position with tweezers and the work was painstakingly detailed in its construction.

What does a typical day look like for you?

5am - When I’m in the middle of creating an exhibition my days start at 5am – I’m very fortunate to have a studio at home – I’m in my creative element when the world around me sleeps and I can't be distracted.

7am - I’m very focused on brain health and well being as my father developed early onset dementia at my age - so I make bone broth based green smoothies for my family in the mornings (to learn how go to Star Anise organics). And either myself or my husband take our kids to school.

8am - I move everyday and with a group so I’m committed – currently my favourite activity is training with the women’s paddling group at the Sydney Harbour Surf Club.

9-12noon and 1-3pm - I work in 3 hour blocks and try to take time in the middle of the day to sit in my garden, eat something from our veggie garden and just be.

4-8pm - I love spending this time with my kids - when they started school it felt like someone stole their time away from me and so this is my time with them.

How did your children take to reducing consumption?

They are fascinated by the concept of self imposed LESS - in contrast to a culture that surrounds them to constantly buy more and new. My children are 10 and 8 so I think it’s been a good age to run this experiment; they are old enough to understand environmental science and limited social influence pertaining to material possessions.

How do you maintain energy and enthusiasm to run a creative business?

Elizabeth Gilbert delivered a brilliant TED talk titled “Your Elusive Creative Genius” on this topic – which I would highly recommend to anyone running a creative business.

After her best selling novel “Eat, Pray, Love” she started to question… had she run out of creative energy? She discovered in ancient mythology they believed instead of someone “being” creative, all of us “have” creativity - the key is being open to it.

I’ve adopted this concept, as it helps me take the “creative pressure” off in the process of running my business. This has in turn enabled me to direct my focus to being mindful to the continuous stream of creative ideas that run through my head :)

Do you have a favourite Bondi Wash product?

Non-toxic living is a non-negotiable in my household – so I have many favourite Bondi Wash products! However, my absolute favourite would be the Lemon Tea Tree and Mandarin Bench Spray - the fact that you designed it so you use 4 times LESS than a standard bench spray bottle ……well that is true creative genius in my mind!


McKay was born in Melbourne and introduced to photography at an early age by her father who was a printer. She worked as a Portrait Photographer in Sydney for ten years before launching her career as a Photographic Artist.

McKay’s philosophy is to create artworks that consider the impact of humanity on our natural environmental state, and her process involves collecting objects from nature found in her local environment. 

instagram: sallymckayart


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