First things first, it’s pronounced ‘Air’.
Now that we’ve got that sorted, onto the matter at hand – the immense talent of Melbourne artist/illustrator/designer Alice Oehr!
It’s been a huge year for Alice. In the past 12 months alone, the prolific freelancer’s unique, playful design work has featured in three published books (this one, this one and this one!), she’s exhibited at Geelong Gallery, and her work has adorned an array of amazing food packaging (and Christmas windows) for Melbourne’s favourite baker, Baker D Chirico.
Alice’s distinct aesthetic incorporates her love of food, pattern, collage and drawing. Her clients include the National Gallery of Victoria, Hardie Grant Publishing, Melbourne Food & Wine, Lavazza Australia, Go-To Skincare, Broadsheet, Frankie Magazine, Eastland and many, many more! Her ideas have made their way onto textiles, homewares, and printed matter – and even once as a series of six-feet tall Ancient Egyptian statues for a marquee at the Spring Racing Carnival!
Today we have a chat with the designer herself, about her career trajectory, going freelance, overcoming creative block and more!
How would you describe your illustrative style?
I’m trained as a designer rather than an illustrator, so the principles of that trade always feed into my work. My illustrations reference the time I’m working in – whether digital, analogue or a combo, my style always contains many layers of textures, colours, pattern, drawings, photographs, collage… it’s a bit loud, but I try to pare it back to a place of balance.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how this lead to creating art, awesome branding and illustrating some of our favourite books?
I grew up in Melbourne with a lot of time spent in rural France. There was no technology there, so I had to learn to amuse myself in the same ways I do today – drawing, reading & making things.
I did an arts degree after school and then graphic design at RMIT TAFE. My arts degree stimulated my brain but I really needed a way of keeping my hands busy as an adult – as a job, not as an artist. I found it.
Did a specific moment, person or experience inspire you to pursue this creative career?
I know now, when I look at all my books from my first uni course covered in doodles, that I really should’ve just gone straight into something creative – but I didn’t actually feel ready until I was a bit older. After TAFE, my first job was as Beci Orpin’s assistant, and she showed me that you could totally make this lifestyle work. It was normal to work all hours, work on unusual projects, make art for exhibitions, do commercial design work. Many of my family and friends follow a more linear, 9 to 5 career path, so working with Beci, as well as meeting all her family and friends who all work in interesting fields was truly a life-changing experience.
What are a couple of your projects that you are most proud of so far?
Food and all its imagery is a major obsession of mine, so anything that ties that with design is very exciting to me. I just designed the Christmas packaging campaign for my favourite local bakery, Baker D. Chirico. Getting to actually drive the concept of the campaign, as well as create the artwork, and then bring it into 3D space by designing the decoration for an extra pop-up store was a dream job for me. It was a fully immersive experience – so exciting. The packaging and the spaces were inspired by the Baker’s Italian and French history, so I was able to incorporate another major interest of mine in there too.
Another project that totally surpassed my expectations was working with kids at the NGV last Summer. I designed an activity to create paper stand-up dogs, and a big dog-park that the kids could walk their dogs in, all under the beautiful stained-glass there at the gallery.. I was there for a week and watching the way they worked, and how much they loved the dogs never stopped making me happy for the entire time.
where DO you typically create? And do you employ any unique techniques, materials or processes?
It’s a strange time to be a designer, because there is the constant juggle between digital technology and analogue processes, like painting and drawing with a real pen. For commercial design jobs, there is no escaping the computer for efficiency. I use a tablet and am trying out an iPad pro for 6 months because I teach illustration classes on it at Lamington Drive.
As a rule, I try and keep my messy stuff like paint at home, and have my studio function like my office – where I can scan in my drawings and do all the clean stuff in there. I’ve been in my current space for almost a year and it’s not-so-clean anymore.
What are some things you do when you have creative block?
When I have creative block on a commercial job, I just try and push through. The answer is there – I find it just often takes ten times longer than you originally thought. You have to actually get out of looking on Google for the answer, and go out into the world. I go to books, walk around the block, go socialise and come back to it later. This works, but whether you take a break or not, you need to put in those hours.
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator and artist in Melbourne today? And on the other hand, what do you find is most challenging?
The best thing about it is our community is solid, and I can form really good relationships with a lot of people I work for, and can continue to see them around. The challenging aspect of working in Australia is that, in spite of all the technology in the world, we are still far away from everywhere else, and I believe that until you can be face to face with someone to meet, you don’t seem entirely real, or as accessible to be hired for work as those who live in say, New York or London. Even talking on the phone is a bit of a logistical nightmare with the time difference. For better or for worse, more of my work is therefore, local.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?
I have a solo exhibition opening at Lamington Drive soon, so I will be having a slightly different work schedule until then – less computer time, more getting my hands dirty. That balance keeps me happy.