Artist and illustrator Bonnie Brown of Studio Bon delights in colour and a playful approach to design
Bonnie Brown, the illustrator and founder of Studio Bon, needs no introduction.
You might have seen her colourful designs on the last limited edition Roses chocolate boxes, L’affare coffee packaging, or perhaps on a Blunt umbrella. Or, you might be one of her thousands of Instagram followers, enjoying the bold and bright posts her signature glowing style brings to your feed. If this is your first introduction to her, you’re welcome, and get ready to see a lot more of her work. Bonnie is designing the Your Home and Garden Christmas gift wrap for our December issue.
Was it one project in particular that kick-started business for you, or has it been more of a gradual build? It’s been a gradual build. I started illustrating while I was working full-time at another job, more than four years ago. I have been full-time for just over two years now.
Did you always have your heart set on being an illustrator? No, absolutely not. I’ve always been really creative, and I was encouraged by my mum to pursue something artistic when I was growing up. But I grew up in a household where money was tight and the thought of going into a creative field and struggling financially put me off. Obviously, money isn’t the be all and end all, but I think growing up without financial security can really shape decisions around your career. In the end, I was fortunate enough to get a few scholarships to study architecture at Victoria University of Wellington and this felt like a happy medium between something creative and practical. Once I graduated, I was working at a local firm and feeling uninspired so I started to draw again for fun. I began sharing my work online and that became the unofficial start of Studio Bon.
What or who influences and inspires your work? I love the work of Hilma af Klint, as well as a lot of the Bauhaus-era artists and designers like Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl. I’m really drawn to anyone who uses colour in bold and interesting ways. Closer to home, I adore Carmel Van Der Hoeven’s work, and her state houses series in particular. Outside of artists, I’m inspired by architecture, fashion and furniture design.
Do you ever suffer from creator’s block? If so, how do you get past that? I do! Sometimes I find the best thing to do is not work. To get outside, see friends and family, enjoy nature, work on other hobbies and come back to my work when I’m feeling refreshed.
What has been your favourite project so far? Earlier this year I worked on a project with L’affare to redesign their fair-trade Gusto coffee packaging and it’s just launched. I’m a huge coffee drinker and I’m always hanging out at their College Street cafe so it felt like such an organic collaboration – and I’ve just started to see the bags pop up on shelves at the supermarket. All the projects I work on I really love, but there’s something so special about seeing your work out and about in the world.
Is there something your designs have ended up on, which you’d never have imagined they would? I worked on a piece with Amplifier Art during lockdown last year. It was about bringing hope during Covid and it ended up being projected in Oxford Square in London, which was really surreal.
What would you love to see your work on? I would love to collaborate with a Kiwi fashion brand on a textile or T-shirt print. We’re lucky to have so many talented designers here in Aotearoa.
What’s the hardest part of your job? I saw a meme that said ‘I gave up the 9-5 to work for myself and now I work 24/7’ and that rings true. I struggle to switch off and not work evenings and weekends, but it’s
a happy problem to have. When you love your job, you always want to do it.
And the best? I love connecting with so many different clients in such a variety of different industries and helping to interpret their ideas and viewpoints into a design.
What drew you to digital design? I love the ease of being able to work from anywhere. I can take my iPad with me to a cafe, the waterfront or on planes and still be productive. It’s also an easy medium to work in when you have clients all around the world. Recently I’ve also been exploring how my digital style can work physically, as paintings and hand-tufted rugs. At times it’s been challenging not having the same control you have digitally – there’s no magic undo when you mess something up.
What’s your favourite subject to draw? Generally, I love drawing women and they are a huge focus of my work and style overall. More recently I’ve been interested in a kind of retro still life. I’ve been drawn in by the cyclical nature of design and how we’re seeing so many pieces from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, make a reappearance.
What is something you’ve learnt through working for yourself? Motivation and consistency. When you don’t have anyone to report to and you’re entirely responsible for your work, then you quickly learn how to be productive, how to stay motivated and when to outsource.
What role does social media play in your work and how do you navigate it? Social media played a huge role in helping to establish my work initially and get it in front of clients all around the world. I’m lucky that the people who follow me online are really positive and encouraging, so I don’t see the darker side of social media very often. However, it can feel like a race to stay on top of the trends and to constantly create new work, so when I feel that pressure I stay offline for a bit.
What exciting projects do you have coming up? I’m really excited to be working with the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF-New Zealand) and Wild in Art on their Whale Tales Art Trail in 2022. This involves painting a whale tail sculpture that will be displayed around Auckland alongside 79 others for 12 weeks in late January as part of an interactive art trail. When that ends, the tails will be auctioned of with the proceeds going to WWF-New Zealand to help fund their work to protect and restore our ocean, particularly in and around the Hauraki Gulf. I have a few other projects I’m working on, and am looking forward to when I can tell everyone about them. Outside of client work, I’ve been working on a new print range and exploring a whole range of new mediums with my art.
Can people purchase your work? Absolutely! I’ve just launched new prints through my website and I’m hoping to add more work soon. I’ve been exploring new mediums such as screen printing and tufting, so I want to share these pieces too.
Interview by: Bea Taylor. Photography by: Anna Briggs