‘You have to work hard. If you don’t work hard, it’s quite hard to get somewhere.’ I hold designer, illustrator, and fellow freelancing mum Beci Orpin’s words close these days – just as I did my favourite Princess Tina tote via Genki back in the early aughts; I’m always trying to work harder.
It might seem strange for someone so young, but it does feel like for those of us lucky enough to call Melbourne home, Beci has always been there – and everywhere. Her work enlivens city construction sites, shopping centres, festivals and food trucks, book stores, even our bedrooms and bathrooms! (Look out for her upcoming collaboration with cult New Zealand kids label Nature Baby, as well as a Beatbox Kitchen pop-up on Gertrude come March).
As an art director, designer, and illustrator – and wife, mother, and friend – Beci embodies my old school motto: age quod agis, meaning whatever you do, do it well. It was such a privilege to quiz her, post-family trip to Japan, on combining creative work and parenthood.
You’re just back from a whistle-stop tour of Japan. How did this trip compare with previous ones, particularly now Tyke and Ari are aged 14 and 10? And travel is such a source of inspiration for you, do you have any new ideas up your Tō-ji flea market kimono sleeve?
Now that Tyke and Ari are way past the pre-school age, we didn’t need to stick to a particular routine – which made everything much easier! I felt like the boys could enjoy the bits of Japan we really love (food and shopping), with even our fussy eater finding a bunch of things he liked. Plus as they’re older, and Japan is such a safe country, we could dash off for local adult dinners.
Our peaks were the things we all loved together: Osaka Aquarium, snow in Tokyo, trawling Shinsaibashi-suji in Osaka, vending machines. The pits were travel delays caused by said snow in Tokyo – the magic wore off when it took us four hours to get to our Airbnb! We also forgot that Ari is only 10 and not used to walking over 20,000 steps each day and eating out for every meal (he reminded us by getting a bit sick halfway through the trip). But even the bad bits were great in that we all learnt lessons as a family.
Japan is my favourite place to visit because of their attention to detail and consideration in everything they do. Even though the country is hugely populated and efficient, they run at a different pace. It’s good to be reminded of those things and the outcomes of living that way. That is always my biggest inspiration.
Of course, I have to ask about the food – what did you, Raph, and the boys go mad for? As a family, you’ve a special sense of togetherness and tradition around food – can you tell me a bit about how you and Raph created this?
Ah, this could take up an entire article! We had an amazing meal at Kishin Kitchen in Kyoto, we went with our friends and travel companions the Skinners – a very simple Japanese breakfast meal, but so amazing. The kids loved it too, much to our surprise. Raph sought out tsukemen (ramen) in Tokyo and Kyoto, he’s hooked. We also went to a great contemporary yakitori place in Tokyo with a Japanese friend, it was so tiny and great (if a little confronting – he ordered a lot of raw chicken dishes), and had breakfast every morning in Tokyo at Katane, best pastries ever.
Food was important in both of our families – cooking and having people over was something our parents often did – so this is something we do a lot out of habit. Raph is always thinking about new things he wants to cook and inviting people around to try his latest version of something. Our best times always involve food and friends.
Your Mum, Australian Labor Candidate for Kooyong Marg D’Arcy, is awe-inspiring; I loved her Treatise on Grandmothers (‘I don’t want to be defined as a grandmother. I am a woman with a history, an atheist, an activist, a feminist.’) How did your own childhood inform the way you’ve sought to parents your boys?
My Mum was amazing (the same goes for my Dad and also my Step-Dad, who passed last year). She gave me an upbringing that was alternative, but had the security a child needs to grow into a well-functioning adult. My parents taught me you can be creative but still pragmatic, be different but still operate in a conservative world. That gave me the confidence to run my life how I liked, not conform to the normal way of living and working. I hope I can do that for my boys – instill the confidence and independence they need to live their lives in a way that makes them happy.
My mum also taught me a lot about empathy, and how a person’s social experience affects their behavior. I think this gave me a greater understanding of the world, so I try and teach that to my kids.
Procrastination is important to your practice; how your quote ‘there’s days when I’m like, “Oh my god, I’ve spent the whole day just looking at blogs”‘ resonates! How do you marry the need for creative recharge with mum and freelance life?
I find the structure of family life offers recharge, especially now the boys are older and not as demanding in our everyday. Yes, we work hard and long hours, but one of us always finishes early to do school pick-up and cook dinner, and those few hours can be a great distraction – just switching off before heading back to the desk for the night.
Because of our busy-ness, family holidays and even weekends (when we have nothing on) are valued; snapping up small pockets of time to be together is essential. I also ride my bike everywhere, and have a great PT and boxing coach – exercise is a huge balancer for me.
Can you give us a glimpse into how your days start and end with Tyke and Ari?
Our days are pretty standard. Mornings consist of breakfast (porridge, last night’s leftovers, or pancakes) and lunch-packing; we make mornings screen-free for the boys, which usually helps with getting things done.
We have dinner together every night – that’s really important to us – and also try to make the most of daylight savings with a post-dinner walk or Frisbee in the park. Then it’s homework, bath, and bed. We do screens down for the boys at 6pm (though that doesn’t always work with a teen). Both play Futsal and have a few other activities, but we try to keep that to a minimum so we can all hang out as much as possible.
Moving across time, what kind of adults might you like the boys to grow into? How would you like them to remember you to their own families?
I hope they will be confident, kind, independent, respectful, but most of all happy adults. I would like them to remember that even though we worked hard, we made a lot of effort – and had a lot of fun times together.