The works of Craig Waddell are somewhat of an oxymoron. They are chaotic yet calming; poignant yet fun. Some feature imagery of floral bouquets; others dark skulls. Some depict the beauty of heaven; others the desperation of hell. Craig’s pieces are shaped by his own life experiences—overseas travels to faraway places, volunteer aid work, and falling in love. They often reflect a story or a place brought to life through a painting, drawing, or sculpture.

Craig’s interest in art began during his childhood. He says school was always a challenge for him and, due to dyslexia, he bluffed his way through most of the academic subjects, using his homework time to steal his sister’s Dolly magazines and draw inspiration from them.

In his early youth, his attention shifted to sport. He was playing first-grade cricket in Sydney and travelling to England in the off-season, showing great potential to make a career out of the sport. However, marred by injury, he was forced to give that dream away. It was later that a friend’s mum suggested enrolling in the National Art School. “At this stage, I had never had anyone discuss university or any other options with me,” he recalls. “She was quite instrumental in helping me explore those things and then it all sort of flowed on from there.”

Craig’s application to the National Art School was rejected at first, but somehow the stars managed to align. University enrolments were down that year so a lot of students who had already been accepted into the art school left for other institutions. This created an opportunity for Craig, and a dozen others, to enrol in a first-year art class. “I think being in that environment—and a lot of us were mature-aged students by that point—allowed for some wonderful creativity. Most of us had done a lot of travelling and other things before we decided to come to the National Art School. I think being rejected at first makes you work harder. We were going to show the world that we were capable. We were comrades and we had this special bond. I think that was really nurturing.”

At the end of their time at the National Art School, many of the students from that class won scholarships for further studies. This included Craig, who received the Pat Corrigan Travelling Scholarship for painting.