Written byLuise Adams
For your summer holiday reading pleasure, we’re continuing on with our BA Textile Design guest bloggers series. Recent graduate Lou Lou Kitching interviewed one of our esteemed Alumni – Beci Orpin in mid 2016. We hope you have as much fun reading their conversation as they obviously had recording it….:
Lou Lou: How did you get started?
Beci: I started out doing fashion design. But I didn’t love it. I like fashion, but I’m not like interested in the latest fashion shows. Well, some of them I am, do you know what I mean?
I feel like most of the people in fashion just want to like, work for Chanel or… yeah, that’s not really for me.
After I dropped out of fashion (after 1 semester) I went back and did a year 13 course. Which is like a bridging course between uni. And yeah, that was just cool because I… I don’t know, I just wanted to draw, and that’s what they let me do, and I had this really amazing teacher. And I actually ended up doing it for 2 years, even though you’re not meant to. And then by the end of the 2nd year I was like “ooh okay I’ve really got to find something” and my friend said I should look at textile design.
L: And what did you do after you finished at RMIT?
B: I know the course is really different now, but back then I was the only person in the course who was really interested in fashion, which gave me a point of difference. And then at my graduate show, I got my first freelance job, which was for Factory X.
And Factory X is a company that owns Gorman and Dangerfield and others. What happened actually, is my good friend Shauna was in fashion design, and we had worked with each other before, like I had helped her print fabric and designed some stuff for her fashion, and we just became friends doing that kind of collaborative stuff. And then she got a job there (at Factory X) and then she fired her graphic designer and hired me, to do freelance graphics!
B: So that’s how I got started!
L: So would you say it was more graphic design?
B: Yeah, yeah. Well it was designing t-shirts, so kind of both really. And so once I started working for her, in Factory X, you worked for a label called Revival, and then slowly I started working for other labels like Dangerfield and Alannah Hill. I didn’t leave uni thinking I would go freelance straight away.
But I won lots of the awards (at uni). I won Sheridan, which I don’t know if you still do…?
L: Yeah, well we do Linen House now, so same-same, but different.
B: Oh yeah cool! Yeah, so I won the Sheridan project, and I did work experience and stuff with them, and they were kind of sussing me out like “what do you want to do when you finish?” And I was just like “I don’t really know…” so like, I think I probably could have gotten a job, but I just sort of fell into freelance.
L: Would you have gone into commercial design do you think, if freelance didn’t come to you?
B: I’ve got no idea! (Laughs) I don’t know! It just sort of happened!
There was a company called Vixen at the time, who are also graduates from the program, and they made these sort of high end silk clothes, and they hand printed everything in Melbourne. So I got a job with them 2 days a week, screen-printing. That was awesome.
And I worked in a bookshop for like my whole student life, so I was still doing that. Oh, and I worked in a nightclub! I was at the Lounge! I ran Saturday nights at Lounge. And everything started to like… I know it sounds disconnected but, like I was able to use the screen-printing facilities at Vixen, they were really nice, and then I met heaps of people working at Lounge. That’s how I met Lisa Gorman, and I met so many people. And it just came really connected and it got me more work.
And I was doing all those things for like 5 years, until I got to a point were I was just doing freelance.
Image: Beci at work in her studio, courtesy Beci Orpin
L: How do you design? What is your process like?
B: (Laughs) Well, it’s pretty much the same all the time.
So I’m always collecting resources and inspiration and stuff, whether it is through Pinterest or just, I don’t know… I just look at shit all the time. So then I get a brief, and then I kind of work in my sketchbooks.
L: Do you carry one everywhere with you??
B: Yeah. I’ve got a few. Actually a lot of it is just writing and just, I don’t know… they don’t look that good (laughs). They used to be really big, but know they’re small. Um. But it’s just like messing around really. So I’ll always start with just writing stuff down. And if I have a luxurious amount of time, which I never do! (Laughs)
I always put all the relevant inspiration together, and I print it out and work in the sketchbook that way. Otherwise I’ll make a virtual sketchbook in illustrator, which more than often is what happens. I’ll just gather all the stuff I think is relevant and just make a weird storyboard. And the other thing I do is I always get recent work or old work, which I think is relevant and put that together.
And that’s how I start! A lot of writing, and sort of like, what people call ‘mind maps’ or something lame like that, I hate that term! (Laughs) I would never say that! And then, you know, just start.
I always produce lots of work, more than I need to. And I also present a lot of work for the first initial concept, unless they have asked for something very specific. Like for this (points to page in sketchbook), they only wanted 3 concepts… I showed 15… but they weren’t 15 different concepts, they were like, variations of a few concepts.
I never do working drawings. I think people aren’t design educated enough often, for you to show them an idea, and for them to visualise it… so I try to finish stuff off as much as possible or have it looking relatively final. And then feedback, and then blah blah blah.
L: So you’re freelancing at the moment?
L: Cool, so how do you source clients? Do they come to you?
B: They come to me now.
Image: Beci installing exhibition work- courtesy Beci Orpin
L: Do you think Instagram has a big impact on that?
B: Um, well I’ve been working for 20 years, so I think Instagram and just general reputation.
And I’ve found with freelance, I was definitely pro-active when I started. Like, this is pre-digital age; I used to print out these little mini pieces of my work and stick them on foam core and make little puzzles. And I literally took them to New York and slid them under my favourite designers door. And started working for her for 3 years!
L: Awesome, who was that???
B: Built by Wendy. And I worked for her for 10 years! Yeah!
B: Yeah, so stuff like that.
I just did my first kids book last year, which was something that I always wanted to do, but I tried to make that happen maybe 10 years ago, and it just didn’t happen! Things happen really organically for me. If I try to push something before the world is ready for it, its just not going to happen! (Laughs).
So I definitely promoted myself, but it was always really targeted. I never just sent out heaps of packages to everyone, it was really targeted like, “I really love this persons work, and I’m going to send them this!” I guess I was quite obsessive. I’m still quite obsessive about certain things. So, I definitely honed in on those things. And luckily it worked!
And then once that worked, I started working for Wendy in New York, and at a skateboard label in New York and that was through a mutual friend in Australia. And then that lead to a label in Japan, so its just word of mouth and general connections. And just being involved in something I really loved, which attracted likeminded people to like my work.
L: Who are 3 of your favourite designers/ sources of inspiration?
B: That’s a hard one!
L: Sorry!! I can’t do favourites myself, so I don’t know why I asked that (laughs) an awful question sorry!!
B: (Laughs) Um… Definitely there’s an artist called Bruno Munari, and he’s like incredible because he’s done all this amazing art theory stuff… which I’m not so into. But all this theory based on designers art. People always call me an artist and I’m like, “I’m not an artist I’m a designer!” So, he’s written lots of incredible children’s books, and he did all these incredible exhibitions, he’s just amazing. He would be one of my top, top, top ones. He just worked across everything, and nailed all of it! And was like, a genius.
L: I will be looking him up for sure!
B: Who else? Um, there’s definitely a lot in the early to mid 90’s, I was really influenced by that general movement.
There was a label called XLARGE that was run by the Beastie Boys and XGIRL, which was the girl version run by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. So I was really obsessed by that whole movement. And there was one designer who worked for a lot of those people and his name was Mike Mills. And he’s gone on to make movies, so he’s definitely one. And he’s married to Miranda July. Do you know Miranda July?
L: Yes! Not well, but I definitely know of her.
B: Yeah, she’s an incredible author. So that’s another one. I was obsessed. Um, I don’t know!
L: You don’t have to name 3!! Sorry (laughs).
B: (Laughs) thanks! Nah! There’s just so many!
I always talk about males, but there are so many females! Like this women who illustrated this mug (picks up tea), Tove Jansson, she’s awesome! And was like a total rebel in her time! Like, she was a lesbian, and she isolated herself on this island and just lived this incredible life! She’s incredible!
L: Whoa! There too many great people in the world!
B: I know!!! Yeah, lots of illustrators! Dick Bruna, you know Miffy!
B: One of my all time heros! He’s amazing! He still rides his bike through the forest everyday to his studio, and he’s in his 80s.
L: So cute, oh-my-gosh, imagine it!
B: Yep!! Just a lot of influences from my childhood…
Definitely that early 90s thing, and that’s what I kind of came out into when I started, and that’s what inspired me to do what I started doing.
Image: Find Me a Castle, published by Penguin Books, courtesy Beci Orpin
L: When you wrote your books, did you do any writing courses? Or just dive into it?
B: Nooooo (laughs)
L: Cool, my sister is currently writing a book, just thought I’d ask (laughs).
B: Oh really! Cool!
Nah, well I was writing a blog, and that was good practice. I’m not a very good writer; I’m not that amazing. Its only now that I’m writing my 5th book, that I’m like, I should probably sort this shit out (laughs).
But I’m going to do a grammar course. My friend runs it, and I’ll do it, just because I’m interested. But I wrote a blog, so when the publishers approached me they knew I could write, to certain level. I was approached because of my blog. I don’t write a blog anymore! People used to call me a “blogger”, and I never ever wanted to be known as a blogger! So I haven’t written a blog for at least 5 years now!
But I grew up in a very literary household. My mum was always reading one thousand books, and I grew up writing journals (laughs), I’ve got thousands of diaries that I’ve written! Ah!
L: No way! Keep them forever!
B: I’ve hidden them away!
L: Yeah, nightmares to read them (laughs). Do you manage everything by yourself? Like your Instagram, finances etc.?
B: Yep. Oh. Yeah-yeah-yeah, totally. Raff (my husband) helps with finances. It’s pretty simple though. My business is not hard. I was working for Arro Home, and I’ve resigned from that… L: What? Have you? When was that!?
B: Yep! Um officially like 2 weeks ago (mid 2016).
So that’s made things a little more complicated, because I was getting a wage. But yeah no it’s really simple. Yep. Its just like, invoice out. Money in… hopefully money in!
L: That’s the ideal aim of it!
B: Yeah! And I have an accountant who does the BAS and stuff. But that’s just kind of mixed in with Raff’s business. Which is like one hundred times bigger than my business, so mine just seems pretty insignificant. And it’s really simple! My business is not hard.
L: With freelancing, are there any pros and cons or just things to look out for?
B: Um. You definitely need to have a… well I pretty much could have ended up in jail… because I didn’t pay any tax for 5 years… (Laughs)
B: And that almost got me in a lot financial trouble. I ended up owing the tax department a shitload of money!
L: No! Was that when you were just getting started?
B: Yeah. I think it was the first few years. In that time my business kind of grew and I didn’t know… I wasn’t ready and I didn’t think it was really that important. Thank god Raff came along and was like “what the fuck are you doing!” (Laughs).
B: He fixed it all. But I still paid the tax department so much money and it took me ages to pay it off, so definitely got to get that stuff sorted! But I didn’t ever set out with a business plan or anything, it just happened.
That stuff’s really important. That and, I mean, I wasn’t very picky, but I think as you develop a reputation you have to become more selective. I definitely made some regretful choices. Like there are things out there that I hate! Do you know what I mean?
L: Yeah totally, but there always is I think.
B: Of course! I think that’s all just learning.
I did shoes with a big US based skate company. And like, it was this weird situation where they were like “do you want to do a collaboration?” and I was like “oh I guess so”. And then they really directed what was on the shoe.
L: Oh what, so it was hardly even a collab!?
B: Yeah! And I hated it! It was so awful!
Like, I was really excited about the prospect of doing a shoe. (This was like so long ago. Like 15 years ago). And then it was so not… like it was so awful, I hated it. And it was a major U.S company. So I was like eeeeeee regrets. So stuff like that. If something is going to come out with your name on it, in that respect, you’re within you’re rights. In retrospect, I would much rather that shoe didn’t come out. Me argue, and the shoe not to have come out. I think its good to take a deposit or make it COD (cash on delivery) if it’s your first job with someone. That goes for if you’re running a label too, if it’s your first time selling to a certain shop, take a deposit or make it COD.
L: Have you had people stuff you around?
B: Yep. We had this one shop in the UK and they ordered like 15 grand worth. And never paid it…
L: So dodgy, wow! Well that’s about it! Thank you so much
B: No worries.