From fortuitously meeting his now wife Louise Olsen on the first day of art school, to starting their iconic homewares and jewellery business with a humble stall at the Paddington Markets, 2015 marks Dinosaur Designs’ 30th anniversary. Alongside the business, Stephen is also a fine artist represented by Olsen Irwin, known for his bold, geometric works.
Stephen explains how he juggles his business and his art practice, makes time for his family, and is always ready to start the day in the surf.
Designer and artist Stephen Ormandy always knows what the ocean is doing. ‘It’s a very fickle business, surfing, because it depends on so many elements – the swell, wind and tide. You’re always trying to pick the optimum moment to go for a surf.’
Stephen also recognises the ever-changing elements that make up our daily lives. ‘No day is exactly the same – some days I’m up early, some days I sleep in, it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. But there’s got to be good coffee, that is crucial.’
Unlike the surf, Stephen’s approach to business is far from fickle. As creative director of Dinosaur Designs along with his wife Louise Olsen, Stephen’s creative output is characterised by large doses of passion and drive. From starting out at Paddington markets in 1985, to launching a store in New York, fuelled by an intensely creative approach to business, Dinosaur Designs’ resin-based jewellery and homewares have reached cult status across the globe.
Stephen and Louise met on the first day of art school because both their surnames started with ‘O’. Nearly thirty years later, their daughter Camille has almost finished high school, and Skipper the family dachshund rules the household.
For Stephen, striking the right balance between his business, his own independent art practice, and family is simply about embracing a necessary fusion.
‘I never really understood the whole switching off thing,’ says Stephen. ‘I love what I do, so I am always thinking about it and always doing it.’
From his morning surf, dealing with procrastination, to what he has learned about the artistic process, Stephen shares both the remarkable and the mundane elements of his daily life.
Stephen Ormandy’s Extraordinary Routine
If my daughter is begging me to drive her to school, then I will probably get up around 7am, if not I will probably wake up closer to 8:30am.
I’m a champion sleeper, but I always get out of bed really well. I’m not groggy, I’m not grumpy, but that is because I’ve had enough sleep – nine hours is gold.
The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is look at the ocean. If it’s looking good I’ll check my diary and see whether I can rearrange some meetings. (On the odd occasion, I have forgotten to the check the diary in the excitement of a possible good surf!)
If the weather’s not looking good, I’ll then head straight into the shower and get the old bones going. I’ll normally grab a takeaway coffee and maybe a muffin or toasted sandwich and bring something back for Louise.
But things are hectic – the whole process is laced with answering emails, checking Instagram, that sort of thing. But that’s the great thing about today’s world – you can just look at your phone and you’re in the office, it is so convenient and totally frees you up, which you crave as a creative person.
I hate peak hour traffic so I tend to wait for the people who have to be at work at a certain time to do their thing before I leave for the day. I’ve got to get back into riding my bike to work now it is summer.
Sometimes I’ll go straight to work after my surf. There’s nothing like sea-salt hair – that is the greatest luxury!
Once I’m in the office the focus is on whatever is screaming at me the loudest. I handle the financial side of Dinosaur Designs, so there is a lot bill paying, a bit of administration, and then there are always decisions to make, problems to solve, production questions, and stock issues. I’m always talking to someone about a lease or a squabble about something – that sort of business never stops.
I don’t love that side of it but I know how important it is, and when it is important, you pay attention.
After I’ve cleared the decks for Dinosaur Designs, I get straight down to the studio. My art studio is in the same building as our offices. I could be working on a collection for Dinosaur Designs, I could be working on a painting, or I could be working on a new sculpture. If I’ve got a show coming up I’ll be just working through that process.
I also think there is always a place for procrastination, and you just have to embrace it. Hopefully you have more good days than bad days, but you know you’re having a creative block when the studio is super clean and then you sit in your chair and you say, ‘Oh man this is tidy. I’m in trouble!’ But I also think tidying up is a productive kind of procrastination.
I’ve fallen into a bit of a rhythm of having a bite to eat around 1:00pm. Sometimes Louise and I go out, but mostly we just grab a sandwich or bring something from home. On Wednesdays a friend of ours who is a chef comes in and cooks a special lunch in the studio for everyone.
In the afternoon I might be dragged out of the studio into a meeting. I’m always moving between the studio and the office and I quite enjoy that.
The balance between Dinosaur Designs and my studio practice really just comes down to what needs to get done, but I think being busy with both works well for me. I’m terrible at lists – I write them but I never go back and check them. That’s also why I am really bad with diaries, thank God I’ve got a modern diary that beeps and chirps at me now!
Around 6:30pm I start to think it is time to leave, but if I am busy I can work through until 10:00pm. It’s not often, usually just when I have my back against the wall with a show.
When I come home we will have a glass of wine, chat about the day, watch the news, and just kick around. Then we will eat and clean up and normally collapse on the couch for a little bit.
I think my worst habit is just staying on the couch too long at night. Our couch is just so comfortable and before you know it, you are watching some rubbish and you think, ‘What am I doing? This is crap. Go to bed!’
I love going to bed and having a little read before I fall to sleep. I love reading biographies, especially about artists and their process in the studio and how they think. You can learn so much about how they go about what they do. When you are looking at an artist’s work it can be overwhelming, but if you can look at how they arrived at that you can learn a lot.
I’ve found that the most common artistic process tends to come back to drawing. I draw a lot and always have a sketchbook with me. If I have an idea I sketch it down and it is a visual note that I can go back to and feed off.
‘What makes our days extraordinary is when things line up. It can take so much effort to get to that point – the elements of nature having to line up for an amazing surf; all the research that goes into your work; or trying to solve a puzzle that eludes you. You never know how it’s all going to fall into place, but when it does, it’s magic.’