Designer / Illustrator / Curator / Studio Owner / Teacher
Illustrator, multidisciplinary designer, curator, teacher… Yes, Ngaio Parr is all the things. Beneath her rock star exterior is a woman unashamed of her authentic power, you see Ngaio was born to inspire, challenge and create.
Ngaio helps paint the town with her intoxicating, original aesthetic. She first came into my stratosphere a year ago after I was hunting for some ‘real’ inspiration online. You know, something different, profound and lively. I googled, and up popped Ngaio’s CreativeMornings talk titled “How to feel the fear and do it anyway.” Some 20 odd minutes later and my digital mentor team had grown by one.
After this #careerstory I challenge you not to feel the same way.
In this interview we dive into Ngaio’s zestful live, we discuss high school, courses, clients (including The New York Times, Thames & Hudson, Red Bull, Penguin, Ban.do, Buzzfeed, and Hachette.) and why she had no choice but to found Make Nice, a platform for creative women.
It’s time to meet Ngaio Parr.
Hey Ngaio, welcome! Can you start by telling us where you grew up, and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I’m not sure it was a particular experience, but rather the culmination of my childhood interests and lifestyle that led me down this independent creative path. I lived in a country town where I was outside a lot, and encouraged to make and create things instead of consuming media. My favourite toys were crayons and empty packing boxes. I also read a lot as a child, and I think that developed my real love of knowledge and learning at the young age – something that keeps me unsatisfied and ready for more information at any time. Finally, I think my parents raised me to be strong and believe in my abilities – something that, without them realising, led to my becoming a strong feminist that stands my her beliefs in life and work.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to a private girls school in Queensland that generally valued those with math and science skills over creativity. I had a few supportive visual arts teachers who let me hang out in the dark room all the time, but otherwise I came across a lot of disbelief that I was an intelligent person from other teachers simply because I wasn’t interested in a traditional career path.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
No, I don’t think so. I’m glad I was confident enough in my abilities without assistance from my high school, otherwise the lack of support could have been really damaging. I also think that the importance of your final exams on your career / life / future are overstated and add unnecessary pressure. There are other ways to get into almost any career, and it isn’t worth the pressure put on girls and boys who are already going through a really tough time learning about who they are and can be.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I didn’t. But I did have a normal job, which I think helped develop my people skills, understanding of money, and my desire to work my own way.
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
Sure you have the time for all of it? When I first graduated, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do — so I did one year of a Bachelor of Arts and took a heap of subjects in different faculties, Criminology, Literature, Art History, and Philosophy. That year gave me time to figure out what I was more interested in, and become familiar with how university works. They all also ended up contributing to my first degree as elective subjects, so it wasn’t a waste at all.
Then, I applied to do a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts and Art History. It required a folio and interview at the time, so I needed to really want to be applying — rather than just clicking something on an online form. I loved every moment of that degree, it was very self-guided which developed my love of self-directed learning. I learnt how to talk about creative work, what I’m interested in, develop my writing and critique skills, and created photographic, video, and drawing works. When I graduated I didn’t feel like I had enough to say compared to some of the artists I admired like Vernon Ah Kee so I took a curatorial route and worked in galleries for years.
I worked at a fantastic gallery and learnt so much, including my aptitude for organisation, developing professional contacts, and problem solving. After a few years though I felt like there was not much left for me to learn, and boredom started to creep in. I signed up to a Bachelor of Design and studied full-time while I worked full-time for the next three years. The design degree itself wasn’t wonderful, but I did an exchange at the Rhode Island School of Design which was incredible. The time and attention that American institutions can afford to dedicate to their students is wonderful (though expensive!).
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I’ve worked a lot of different jobs! I’ve worked in galleries as a curator and gallery manager, some in-house design positions including one at Triple J, design studios designer positions, and still — as a tutor and lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney. I’ve worked independently in creative studio for around 5 years now, and work in design, illustration, curation and public speaking. As part of our studio we also created and produced a conference called Make Nice: An Un-Conference For Creative Women for three years until we went into hibernation this year.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Money! Knowing what to charge, negotiating the pricing with clients, and managing it once it is in!
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
I travel a fair bit and work in a lot of different areas so no two days are exactly the same.
But, an ideal day includes a morning walk, an early start around 8am after a good breakfast, a big block of time working on my hardest task, a lunchtime swim, a good playlist, and no social media.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
I’ve loved Miranda July for as long as I can remember. She works across many different creative fields, from films to performance art to visual art and writing novels!
I look up to anyone who works outside the studio system, does what they like, and works across disciplines.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
I love my work, but unless you really love learning and being interested in life — it is hard to do well. I know it looks like an instagram following is the key to life, but doing the work is key.