Creative people have been doing it for centuries: blending practices and dabbling between crafts. But just because the worlds of design and fine arts see themselves as separate from one another, doesn’t mean the creators do. Australian-based Evi O began her creative career as a book designer, but has since branched off into different realms. We chat to her at 4am over on the other side of the world to find out more.
So Evi, could you tell us a bit about you, how you started out, and what brought you to having your own studio?
I am just that person who finds joy in playing/working. I grew up in a town called Surabaya (Indonesia) but I moved to Sydney (Australia) when I was seventeen to study design. After that, I worked for Penguin Books for most of my twenties doing mainly book design and tinkering on the side painting and making things. Following this, I started a design duo business, but that didn’t last long – and that pushed me to start my own studio at the end of 2017.
I love working collaboratively rather than solo, you get better results that way. Now I do that daily with my studio crew of three (four, if you count the whippet), designing publications and brand identities, illustrating vegetables, gin bottles, portraits and much more. Of course, I also paint abstract pieces based on fascinating topics and things I come across in my life. I do all of that with music in the background, always.
After almost a decade of working at Penguin, did you feel that you finally had the skills and experience under your belt to branch off and go solo, and was it a tough decision to make?
It was, and wasn’t. I didn’t really have a choice, as the imprint I worked on was unfortunately shut down. I probably would not have left the job if it didn’t happen. But things probably happened for a reason as I have been exposed to many fun things in the last two years since I have been out of Penguin Books. But this would not have happened if I didn’t learn all that I needed to learn at the company.
I love, love, love the book you illustrated/designed, Japaneasy. A lot of your design work is either about or inspired by Japan. I can also see subtle nods to Japanese artists such as Yayoi Kusama in your artworks. What are your favourite things about Japan, and would you ever move there?
Thanks for asking this question as I’m not shy putting the idea to the world that, one day, I would love to live in Japan. It’s funny, I wanted to travel to India in 2013 but life took me to Japan instead, and I fell in love with the country on day two. Having said that, I’ve only ever been there as a tourist and would love the opportunity to live there properly. I think my deep fascination with Japan has a lot to do with their thoughtfulness; they are not afraid of over-catering small details to perfect an experience, and I’ve been trying to apply that idea to how I design, create and live.
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As well as a designer, you’re an exciting artist and late last year, had your own solo show in Sydney. Do you find creating works of art more rewarding than illustrating/designing for a client? Is it less restrictive?
My art practise started accidentally, as I was painting purely for myself for a few years before a curator friend asked me to paint a small collection to include in her group show, which humbly created some sort of creative career for me. I am quite protective of my art practise, in that I don’t churn it out and produce works for the sake of paying bills – which contrasts to my design practise. I love both practises equally: the slow-paced art making balances the fast-paced studio life, and I don’t think one can exist without the other for me. Both have restrictions in different ways, and I actually embrace limitations – it pushes you to think of clever solutions/results.
Your paintings and larger works are so bright, bold and striking. I think they also really lend themselves to murals, have you considered making public art?
Yes! I’d love to when the right wall pops up – any takers?
Art is subjective and, to me, your works are super fun and light-hearted – a particular favourite of mine being the Jungle series. But are there deeper meanings or interpretations to these abstract pieces?
There are, actually. The collection Jungle had been in the working for two years before I got somewhere happy with it. I paint based on what I’m exposed to in life and this collection is of the important people in my life. They were reimagined in abstracted animal forms, and the naming of the pieces had a lot to do with creating a narrative of who they are, but I never tell the people whom I painted.
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Is there a reason for the small circular form that pops up in most of your paintings – is it a signature of yours?
That happens subconsciously. Often, I needed to balance a composition and a small circular dot usually solved the problem. And the more I use it, the more I rely on it and, as you mentioned, it has now become a signature.
Could you name your top three most inspiring/interesting creative people in Australia right now?
That’s hard! But in general, my artist peers are very inspiring as they work hard to pursue their calling. I can’t possibly name names, they know who they are.
I’m always really interested in people who are hybrids between different creative arenas. You have explored many areas and continue to do so. Do you think there is more of a blurred line between visual communication and fine art?
Yes and no. Fine art is its own beast, and even visual communication has so many strands that I often feel it’s impossible to explore everything within the two streams. I do try to keep learning and self-educate myself constantly. I toyed with the idea of going back to university and study architecture a year ago, as I was fascinated by designing things on a much bigger scale, but that idea quickly dissolved when I heard the word ‘assignments’.
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You’ve worked with many big-name international clients such as Harper Collins, Thames and Hudson and ABC books, and also won so many industry awards. Now that you’re better known in the industry, are you more selective in the clients and proposals that you take on?
Naturally I have to, because unfortunately, there’s only twenty-four hours in a day. It is very hard to say no to things, as I’m such a yes person. Selective is perhaps not the right word, as I tend to see any project can have a good solution. But I’m probably a bit more conscious of trying to collaborate with like-minded clients that share the same values.
Obviously, as a designer, you collaborate with different people from authors to stylists to clients. Is it tough working together as a team, and do you have any horror stories, or has it all been plain sailing?
I love people! So I’ve never had any problems working in a team. Working with people is actually the joyful part of why I’m working in publishing. It takes a family to give birth to a book. Obviously, it’s not always been plain sailing. I don’t have any bad horror stories caused by others, often I create horrors for myself – like that one time I accidentally deleted a book on the day it went to print… (Another story for another time)
What’s your next exciting project coming up, and where can our readers catch your work in the flesh?
I have recently collaborated with Milligram, an Australian stationery label, on a diary series. I’ve also worked with Slowdown Studio to produce an exciting range of rugs. Both collections will come out later this year, so stay tuned.
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