Whether she’s illustrating ice-creams, designing books or organising large-scale events for creative women, Ngaio Parr is a creative all-rounder with enough talent to span multiple disciplines. An illustrator, designer, and curator by trade, she applies her skills to roles as a freelance artist and teacher at the University of Technology in Sydney. Ngaio (if you’re wondering, it’s pronounced Nigh-Oh) has produced work for clients all over the world including Redbull, Triple J, Institute of Modern Art, and The Conversation - to name a few.
Founded in 2016, Make Nice is one of her greatest feats to date. An online platform, it provides answers to questions that everyone in the creative industries hates to ask (think: how should I price my work? Is anyone making money off their art? And, how does everyone else do it?). Their ‘un-conferences’ are spaces for ‘not-gross networking’, bringing women together to provide practical advice for working in the creative industries and fostering a positive dialogue.
We sat down with Ngaio to find out how we can better support women in the arts, the key to developing your own artistic style, and just how she manages a work-life balance.
Your illustration and design work is diverse and varied, but it's all very distinctly 'you'. When did you start making art, and how long did it take to develop and refine your own personal style?
Oh that is so lovely to hear! Thank you. I've been into making things since I was a child, but I really immersed myself in it during my Fine Arts degree. It helped me to develop my love of self-learning and not being afraid of trying new things in my work. I'm so pleased to hear you think my work is distinctly 'me' - sometimes I wonder about that. Maybe it seems refined as I use the same type of problem solving and making process no matter the subject or the materials, so all my work has my kind of thinking embedded in there somewhere.
You're the founder and director of Make Nice, which brings together creative women through 'un-conferences' and online sharing. Why do you think these types of platforms are so empowering for women in the arts?
Because we need an open dialogue, we need safe spaces to discuss what is important to us, we need to see ourselves reflected in others, we need to see that competition doesn't help anyone achieve, we need to create a thriving and supportive community for women to be their best.
There have been more and more women's platforms, collectives and female-led projects cropping up over the last few years. Why do you think this is? And where do you see the future of the creative industries heading in regards to gender representation?
In response to the overwhelmingly male-focused/targeted/created media, education systems, and workplaces. Women have to carve out a place in so many of these spaces, when they should be created with them in mind. I hope that the creative industries (and all industries) can create equal representation and opportunity for everyone. I'd like to see myself out of a job - I'd like Make Nice not to be needed anymore.
How do you manage all your freelance work as well as teaching illustration and design at UTS and running Make Nice? Any tips for a manageable work/life balance?
I've made my job fit my lifestyle - so even though I still work long hours and find it difficult to balance, it is a little easier. I left my job as a curator and studied again so that I could create a job that let me live near the beach, travel more, listen to music all day, and have my dog with me most of the time.
I've also become quite strict with my morning routine, and that's made me productive when I'm working from home. I guess I also really like to be busy so I don't mind if the balance is off - I have trouble on holidays when I have nothing to do, I fidget and annoy my husband and friends constantly until we're on the move again.
What are you favourite things to do when you find some spare time?
I'm really into getting out into nature. I live near the beach here in Clovelly and make it down every day. When I've got a bit more time I love going for hikes. We recently did a bit of a nature tour in California going for hikes in Joshua Tree, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Red Rock, Yosemite, Big Sur, and San Diego - it was a dream.
I spend the rest of my spare time going to (too many) gigs, buying (too many) cookbooks and using them well, and hanging out with my husband and our dog Iggy Pup.
You've been commissioned to create work for Brodie Lancaster's zine Filmme Fatales, Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter, and loads more. It must be really exciting when people you admire or publications you respect seek you out specifically to contribute. Which publication would you be most thrilled to be approached by?
I think the dream is always The New York Times. But I'd also be equally thrilled with Riposte Magazine, Krass Journal, Snacks Quarterly, and the (sadly now defunct) Lucky Peach.
What is inspiring you at the moment? This could be people, places, music, anything!
Los Angeles always inspires me - everything just seems so possible there. I'm also keen to visit Tangier as the food, the architecture and the weird rock music history really intrigue me. I'm listening to a lot of Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield and Leonard Cohen, along with the new Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and Father John Misty albums. The Sqirl cookbook, Brodie Lancaster's book No Way! Okay, Fine, and Elaine Welteroth's Instagram stories give me life.
What positive aphorism do you live by when you're feeling a bit uninspired or overwhelmed?
Feel the fear, and do it anyway.
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out in your career?
Don't let the bastards grind you down.
What has been the highlight of your creative journey so far?
I think it is just an overall thing. Being able to make a living doing what I love, and helping women get a knee up along the way, is really living the dream.
Can you tell us about any fun projects that you have coming up?
I have a few dream jobs in the pipeline, but if I told you I'd be killed (or, more likely - sued). Those - and Make Nice 2017 in September!
Photography by Ben Murphy