Illustrator, multidisciplinary designer, and Wonder Woman, Ngaio Parr, totally gets you! A self-confessed school nerd, Ngaio tells us all about Make Nice, being a hype (wo)man at UTS, plus she shares some of THE best advice for those starting out.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
I was a complete nerd for school and worked very hard during both of my degrees (I have a Fine Arts Degree and Design degree). When I graduated from Design I was invited to interview at a few studios/agencies that were considered the ‘successful/cool/top’ agencies. After the interviews I felt really uninspired and realised I’d been listening to what other people considered successful, rather than what I actually enjoyed.
I took a step back and honed in on what I enjoy and value in my life and career and making my decisions based upon that - rather than scrambling for a ‘good’ position. Common sense in hindsight, but it is easy to get caught up in hype. I ended up freelancing for a few studios, working at Triple J as their graphic designer, and then jumping out on my own.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.
I’m an illustrator, multidisciplinary designer, and curator who likes to do a lot of things at the same time. I work with clients like The New York Times, Thames & Hudson, and Redbull on illustration, book design, and creative direction from my independent studio. I’m also the director and founder of Make Nice, a global platform for creative women that includes an online community and real-life events, a contributor to Women Of Graphic Design, and teach design at the University of Technology Sydney.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice?
Yes, I teach at the University of Technology Sydney and it really helps my practice. On a personal level, it gets me out of my studio talking to real-life humans which is really lovely. Discussing and exploring design with students also helps me realise how far I’ve come, and as such provides a little rest from the almost constant imposter syndrome pulling at my seams.
I love that part of my job as a teacher is essentially being a hype (wo)man for design, curiosity, and learning - I’ve always been quite self-motivated so it is really exciting when I see a student pick up on a designer, event, idea or book that I’ve been repping and run with it. I also love that I can be a point of call for female students who don’t seem themselves reflected in the design history lectures, high-level design positions, or in design media. The most exciting part of teaching though, is when I can see one of my students hit that breakthrough point on a project or concept - watching them being proud of themselves and their hard work is so rewarding.
What has been your highlights since you started out?
When I first started out seemingly simple things like charging what I’m worth, saying no to painful clients, and getting in touch with people I’m interested in were highlights, and they still are to this day. Although I probably shouldn’t say it out loud, I’m still routinely amazed that I get to do what I do and make a living.
This year I’ve had a few lovely ones appear that I’ve been chipping away at for while including receiving a commission from The New York Times, finishing my first major publisher book project with Thames & Hudson, being invited to pitch a book as an author, as well as consistently receiving wonderful feedback from the Make Nice community since its launch early in 2016.
What advice would you give students starting out?
Make the most of it.
It makes me sound like a mother, but don’t waste your education. So many students coast through degrees doing exactly what is required and little more, which is such a waste! Engage with what you are learning, use the resources (yes - the library!), ask your teachers questions, and go to the events on around you. Those students are always the ones way ahead of the ball.
Be interested, and be interesting.
The more you learn about, teach yourself, and interested you are in the world around you, the more interesting you and your work will be.
Teach yourself new tricks.
For most projects, concept should come first - which is why being adaptable and open to learning new skills is a great ability to have. Don’t be afraid of trying out watercolour, costume design, or video for the first time on a new project - if you are adaptable and the concept is strong it can lead to your best work.
Don’t be a dick.
Pretty common sense, but if you are a nice person people want to be around you. It’s really as easy as being yourself (unless you’re mean I guess), trying not to judge others, and not letting your ego guide you.
What's on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?
2016 has been a really big year for me, I ticked off all of my goals, and balanced it with two months overseas which is a nice feeling. I’ve already managed to bite off more than I can chew for 2017, which is good as I tend to thrive in that position between excitement and fear.
In the studio, I’ve got some really fun book projects lined up, and I’ll be focusing more on editorial illustration work and building that up. With Make Nice, we’ve got some amazing programming in the planning stages, and we’ve got a big international collaboration slated for May 2017. These projects, combined with a potential book deal about creative women around the world (!!) and I think I’m all set! Oh - and I’m dreaming of visiting Tangier, Myanmar, and more of Australia (in road trip form).
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