Interview & words by: Lisa Marie Corso
Photographer: Amelia Stanwix
Beci wears: Mesozoic Garden Sweater (shop) + Discus Earrings (shop)
Aspirational and inspirational sound quite alike but are very different. One is always out of reach, the other is within. Prolific Melbourne-based artist and designer Beci Orpin is inspirational, and not in a grandiose awards ceremony orchestral speech kind-of-way, in a matter-of-fact real way. She makes you feel like your dreams and ambitions are achievable, and even doable if you have the right attitude.
Growing up in the 1970s with an activist and feminist mother, Beci learned from a young age that gender should not defy who we are and the opportunities presented to us, instead she was taught to grab life by the horns. Doing just that, Beci took her childhood flair for drawing and turned it into a sustainable career now spanning twenty years. Working as a full-time freelancer as a visual and graphic artist, textile designer, creative director and author, Beci also embraces her role as wife and mother into her daily life. Beci's also been a longtime collaborator of Gorman, she and Lisa Gorman have been friends for close to two decades and when Lisa started the business she went to Beci to design the first Gorman print.
Spending her days in Brunswick, we visited the artist in her studio and chatted about the first ever artwork she created as a five-year-old to eating congee for dinner with her family and her dream of designing a hotel.
Efficiency is everything in 2018, so in a sentence can you tell us what you do?
I’ve always struggled to describe what I do in words as I do a lot of things. But at the moment I think I exist in this space between graphic design, illustration and craft.
You grew up with a feminist mother and have since become a self-sufficient businesswoman, how do you think your upbringing and family influenced your career?
Definitely! My mum was a very strong feminist in the 1970s and I grew up going to demonstrations with her, which definitely showed me this type of independence I have carried throughout my life. I never grew up thinking about gender, I knew I was a girl and that was a bonus but didn’t think it was a disadvantage. I believed I could do anything, which was a pretty typical 1970s and ‘80s child mentality! I think this upbringing gave me a very broad view on humanity from a very young age and a strong work ethic in later life.
You’ve worked as a designer and graphic artist for 20 years now, so if we go back to the very beginning – do you remember one of the first pieces of art you created as a child that you were really proud of and may have kicked your impulse to create?
I do! I was in grade prep and I made this drawing of a merry-go-round carousel and a circus, and my mum was like this is really good. The moment is very detailed in my head.
When you were at school what did you want to be when you grew up, was art always on the agenda?
I always wanted to do something creative because that’s the only thing I was really good at. I was also interested in biology, but for all of my assignments I would draw wherever possible, for instance cataloguing shells by illustrating them. I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do when I left school but knew it would involve drawing in some form.
What did you study after leaving school?
I originally studied fashion design then dropped out as it was very technical and not for me. A few later years I studied textile design at RMIT.
How did you make the transition after graduating university to take everything you had learned and turn it into a sustainable career, were there ebbs and flows to your success?
It was a real struggle especially the first year out as I went straight into running my own business. I kept wondering “Did I just spend three years learning absolutely nothing?” But what I eventually realised is that university not necessarily taught me practical skills but taught me how to take a concept and turn it into a finished product. I was working a few part-time jobs while doing freelance design jobs on the side. It was about five years after graduating that I realised freelance work was taking most of my time and I quit my other casual jobs and decided to work full-time for myself.
Describe your work in three words:
Bold, graphic, feminine.
If a benefactor fell from the sky and said you could manifest your dream project into reality with no limitations what would it be?
I would really love to do a hotel with Raph my partner because he’s really good at hospitality and I love interiors and creative direction. It also helps we’ve worked on lots of projects together in the past.
Day-to-day how do you keep things interesting and do you have advice for getting out of a creative rut?
Part of the reason my job works the way it does is because there’s so much variety. Sometimes my work is on the computer, sometimes it's researching, sometimes it's sourcing materials for a photo shoot or sometimes making things. If I’m on the computer and things aren’t coming to me creatively, then I am able to switch projects or spend an afternoon in my sketchbook. And if things are still difficult creatively, my advice is have a mental health day and go to the gallery or go to the park and change up your scenery.
Best tune for when you are on a deadline?
I am pretty into Cardi B at the moment and her new album. She’s like fire. If I really need to focus, I go in the total opposite direction and listen to Beethoven and Phillip Glass.
A daily ritual you could not live without essential to your creative practice?
I’ve been doing a lot of work for Smiling Mind the mediation app recently and reading a lot about mindfulness, and discovered for me riding my bike daily is my mindfulness practice. The other ritual is making my bed every morning! It’s a recent thing for me and sets me up for the day.
If you could invite any living or dead design heroes to your house for dinner who would they be and what would you eat?
Dick Bruna and Tove Jansson who wrote Moomin! I’d probably cook something from Ottolenghi because he’s my dinner party fallback – his recipes always impress.
Outside of the studio you’re also a wife and mother, what’s your advice for managing a work life balance that doesn’t sound like it’s from a ‘work life balance’ seminar?
I feel like we’re really lucky because Raph and I do do everything together, so we can maintain a healthy balance. We both have our own businesses (which is incredibly stressful at times in terms of security) but this lifestyle affords us the flexibility we need to raise our children. The other thing which has really helped us, but I realise is impossible for a lot of people, is that we’ve kept our lives, school, after school activities and work within a 2km radius. Everything is really ergonomic.
As a family what’s your favourite thing to do?
Definitely eating! Everyone now is getting older and has different interests, but getting everyone around the table is easy because everyone is always hungry and Raph is such a great cook.
So, what’s the Orpin-Rashid family dinner menu at the moment?
Raph’s really obsessed with congee and was making it for breakfast every morning and I was like ‘Dude I love this but it’s a little heavy!’ So he instead made this dinner dish that was delicious, it was congee but not too soupy which he added chicken with a cold sesame dressing and a boiled egg. The dish is my dream food and I would like to eat it every day.
Your visual style is so essential to your nature of work but how would you describe your personal style?
I think my personal style is quite different to my visual style. In my visual style I use lots of clashing colours and patterns. In my personal style I am a bit more conservative and rarely wear pattern because I am surrounded by it all the time. I would say I am definitely very casual, and I like to look high and low. I was obsessed with fashion in my twenties, had kids and didn’t have time, and now becoming re-obsessed again.
What’s your daily work uniform involve?
It depends on what I am doing for work that day but it always must be practical. I never plan what I wear the night before but definitely have a few go-to outfits at one time so getting dressed is not a challenge. For me it’s usually a pair of trainers, pants, tshirt and a jacket but I'm on the hunt for a corduroy skirt at the moment. The search is part of the fun.
And lastly, if Gorman was a person how would you introduce them?
Unique, colourful, easily recognisable – you know when something is Gorman!