Perched on a small white wooden stool in the back of a poky Waikato art gallery is Denise Fort.

She's drawing. 

Black ink sprawls across pale items - some canvas, some paper, some wood and some stone. 

Denise Fort, Raglan, invented her own style of drawing, which was influenced by her background in industrial design.

The 35 year old has given up the daily grind, opting instead for this.

When she was growing up in Munich, the expectation was to study, qualify and then work. 

Denise Fot sometimes draws on teapots, coffee tables and lampshades. Raglan, NZ

Fort tried it for a bit.

She studied industrial design and worked for a furniture design company in Europe, but found it to be too competitive. 

On a six week trip backpacking around New Zealand, she discovered the small town of Raglan on the North Island's west coast and fell in love with it. 

Denise feels at home in Raglan, in a way she never felt in Munich

"For me it was ... this contrast to back home. Back home, it's very career based. I felt like I couldn't breathe there.

"They would say, you should do something with this qualification and have a career, you can't be an artist and that sort of stuff.

"People were different here. They just called me an artist. They introduced me as an artist. I said, no, I'm not, I'm a designer. And they would say, no, you're not, you're an artist.

Some of Denise Fort's handpainted jewellery from her Raglan shop. Waikato district, NZ

"It was positive. I just felt this freedom here, freedom be able to do what I want to do and to be who I am.

"I think artists feel normal here, kind of, to do what they want to do. We are different but we don't want to be too different. We want to feel like we have a community. I think Raglan gives us that."

Having parents from the Czech Republic also made life difficult.

Denise draws on items she has found or self-made paper. Raglan, NZ

"My Czech family doesn't see me as Czech and the Germans saw us as immigrants. It wasn't home. Where I come from, it's very conservative and traditional. 

"Here, they don't care that much about the cars they drive. In Munich, the car, even the bicycle, is a status symbol."

It was nine years ago when Fort and her travel companion came to New Zealand. They were meant to be touring the east coast, but the weather was poor so they went west to party. 

During that time she drew - on coffee tables and walls. People would ask her to draw on their cars and shoes and guitars. Eventually she started making money from it.

She invented her own style. 

Her industrial design background influenced her line work and nature features strongly throughout. 

She opened her gallery in the summer of 2015. It's a good little space. 

Sometimes she can be seen staring out the window. When someone walks past and looks in, she's reminded to keep working. It keeps her busy and encourages her to finish work.

Raglan's boost in tourism has helped her.

Nine years ago, she says, she would never have been able to have a gallery in the town. "There wouldn't have been enough people here."

Image source: Dominico Zapata/Fairfax Media


Raglan's Ngarunui Beach, Waikato district, NZ

Whether you're looking for world-class surf, stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, inspiring arts or simply a good old cup of coffee, laidback Raglan offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Click here to read more about Raglan.


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