Octavia Tomyn describes herself as an extreme extrovert who loves meeting people as part of her work. It also seems like she loves representing people as part of her work. Her Instagram page shows hundreds of human figures, sketched in a single black line, but which still depict a strong individuality and subtle emotion. Octavia answered our questions from her home studio in Melbourne, Australia, and told us everything about her career as a designer, her relationship to religion and motherhood, and how she manages her business.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I create minimal abstract line art. My aesthetic uses simple lines and shapes to capture the movement and emotion of human figures. I am fascinated by people and the complexity of their relationships with each other as well as the way they express their emotions and thoughts through body language. I also love to use pattern, colour and shape to incorporate secret symbolism in to my work, capturing a particular story or idea.
What has inspired you to adopt minimal abstract line art as your aesthetic? How has your aesthetic evolved since you began making art?
I love the instant interpretation of thought and emotion a quick squiggle can convey. Alongside writing, it is perhaps the most direct expression you make make from your mind and body, to the outside world – other than talking. I love the movement it can capture in a face or figure. I believe I took on this style after life drawing classes in school. We did exercises where you had to draw blind or you couldn’t take your pen off the paper. You had to trust what your mind and hand could do together and not overthink it. I loved the results. So much better that me trying hard to capture the image realistically, stroke by stroke. I also have never been a perfectionist so I love the distorted, out of proportion, wobbly aesthetic. The line is still central to my work and is always the beginning point, but I now experiment with refining those lines, reducing them to shapes or layering them and introducing symbolism. I also recreate original sketches by painting them. I capture the idea and movement from multiple sketch drafts , (the technique i am most comfortable with) and perfect them for painting on a larger scale.
Who / what inspires you to create?
Creating is a basic need for me and always has been. I am always thinking about something to make. Even if it’s just dinner! My art is inspired by many things including my faith, social and cultural trends, art and design, history, people and their personal stories, reflections on self improvement as well as a whole lot of subconscious things I have not yet identified.
What is your creative process ?
Sometimes I have a lead of inspiration I want to follow. It could just be an idea or thought and nothing else, but I take that to paper and begin with a subconscious line. I pray and meditate on the thought and see what comes out, usually with no plan or particular intention. I just have to let it out from my mind, through my hand and onto paper, as if an extension of the prayer. I find drawing and painting very meditative, I can really get into a zone in which time flies by and it is just me and the thought. Other times, images will appear to me just as I am about to fall asleep. They are often just flashes of a random finished artwork and are gone within a moment like a dream. I try to make mental notes on them at the time, taking what I can remember to my sketch book. I am very process lead so an idea always changes and morphs several times while in work – usually looking quite different to the original imagined idea. I love being surprised by the finished piece and the little journey it has taken me on.
Let’s talk about consuming art instead of making it. What are some of your latest favorites?
Well I just finished watching the mini series Chernobyl. It was super powerful and seriously well made. I was so moved by the power of such great destruction created by a few individual humans in contrast with the power of human sacrifice and love for the greater good. I’m drawn to discovering glimpses of impossible hope and love in a suffering world. My faith leads me to reflect on what it means to be human, what we are designed for and what our lives can mean. Therefore, I find great inspiration from studying books and verses from the Bible. Incredible ancient philosophy, beautiful poetic imagery and awe-inspiring historical stories of hope and love as well as some super challenging, complicated shit that can send you into a spiral of questioning and deeper seeking. This is a rich source of thinking and inspiration for my work and also influences how I relate to the clients and collaborators I meet along the way.
On a lighter note, 10+ years experience in the fashion industry still has me devouring fashion and design trends. At the moment I’m obsessing over Iris Van Herpen couture fashion. Her use of lines in her wearable sculptures are hypnotic. So inspiring! I love history too – so any movies, books, information on times gone by often captivate me. Particularly details about the way people lived. It gives me a grateful and humbling perspective to my (privileged) place and time in the world.
You used to work as a fashion designer before returning to art. What inspired this decision? How does your background as a fashion designer influence you as an artist ?
I was in my third year of maternity leave from my job as a fashion designer for a big Australian retail brand. I had made the decision to stay at home with my two young girls for the forseeable future – treasuring this time while they are so little. Having just moved in to a new home, I decided to create some art for our bare walls. I returned to the abstract line style I adopted back in school and university, covering the walls with whatever paper I could find just to get my hand moving again. After sharing a few pictures of my process on Instagram, I had a flood of encouragement and requests to create something similar for friends! I was surprised and excited and so, so satisfied to be creating again. Based on demand and enthusiasm from others, I decided to give this a shot for real and have not looked back! Its been the best work I have ever done – and I’ve had some fun jobs! My background in the fashion industry heavily influences my work as an artist in that I am still watching and analysing design trends and still gathering inspiration in moodboard form. It also helps me structure a collection of works and allows me think commercially as well as creatively, which is important when you have your own business.
Has motherhood changed your relationship to art and creativity?
Definitely. The first pieces that got me creating again were portraits of my family. My work is a lot more about relationships now. Not just parent and child, all intimate relationships. Before I was predominantly fascinated with the female form and body language and while I still am, I have moved from more of a reflective, inward focus to one that embraces shared emotion and intimacy. Being a parent will force you to think of others first and redefines your sense of self to include others. I think that outward focus is translating itself in my art work too.
Beginning an entirely new career while raising children and moving into a new home – that’s a lot of change!
It’s just seemed to happen bit by bit! However taking on the months long project of researching, negotiating and finally purchasing our home at 38 weeks pregnant is actually one of my proudest achievements. I’m lucky enough to have a husband who is supportive of me staying at home to care for our girls while they are little. So we had made this decision early on before moving home and starting my business. Now that I am contributing to our family finances again, I feel like I have the best of both worlds and do not feel pressured to return to work the way it looked before. I also never put pressure on my art business. I am taking it one step at a time and seeing where it takes me. Any success I have from this is all a bonus and I am grateful to be able to do all the things I love at once!
How do you manage your job as a full-time artist and business-owner?
I’m very grateful for my experience in fashion design and buying. I was able to see the full process of planning and creating a unique collection and selling it – well! My mum also taught me a lot of practical business skills from an early age. Through my fashion experience I subconsciously plan my artworks as ranges. I take a theme and run with it as a series. This is partly because I like seeing my work in groups and pairs and also because I don’t do prints. All my work is original and I like people to have a selection to choose from. I also like the exclusivity around original art, knowing that no one in the world owns the same piece as you. Another reason for creating ‘collections’ of artwork is because I often have a lot of ideas around one source of inspiration. I like telling a story through my work and one piece is often not enough for me! Commercially I aim to have a balance of price points and sizes to suit all clients. My A3 line drawings are best sellers so I am constantly making time to create more of them. They feel so natural to me, I could draw them forever. Balancing my work between mother and artist is becoming increasingly difficult as I have more and more commission requests and sales. The admin and communication work alone is extremely time consuming. But as I said, I am just taking this one step at a time and trying to adjust where necessary. Its a good problem to have!
How have your religion and your artistic work influenced each other?
I became a Christian about 10 years ago. I remember having this overwhelming sense of gratitude for my life and the things in it. I wanted to explore that and show thanks for it somehow so I went along to church. There I met God. I threw myself in to learning more about Jesus and this incredibly deep, layered, frightening but amazing bible. There is SO much wisdom and so many answers here. Yes, there are controversial, unpopular parts, but these need to be read with careful study, context and understanding. It’s hard! I’m learning all the time. There’s still bits I don’t like, but no matter what challenges I have with it, the overwhelming love and grace that God offers triumphs. I am not like God, the teachings don’t need to agree with me and my privileged, white, middle class, 21st century life. There is so much I don’t understand. The love that I have seen in Jesus is humbling beyond all measure. It makes sense – even when it doesn’t. I want to love like that too. These struggles, thoughts, ideas and revelations inspire my work greatly and help me to process difficult concepts. Almost as a form of meditation. I have done series of works inspired by a podcast series on the story of Jonah (and the whale), series contemplating the value we place on material possessions and the things of this world. Works contemplating what it means to be saved and how that looks in a world full of suffering. Its a way to test and align my thoughts, desires and struggles against my faith. I also pray over my work. Particularly for commissions. I get to hear about people lives and their most precious relationships. Sometimes the stories are heartbreaking, sometimes they are joyful and celebratory.
I also like to draw from prayer. Line drawings can often be an extension of a conversation with God – coming subconsciously from my heart, mind and hand, sometimes without me even knowing what I will draw! I feel grateful that I can create – I believe art is a good expression as it reflects our greatest Creator.
What is a question you wish I had asked you?
‘Tell us about your support team. Do you have people around you that enable you to pursue a creative career, supporting, inspiring, encouraging you?’ I think it’s really interesting to hear about the people behind an artist. In my case, I wouldn’t be able to pursue this without those close to me. While creativity can be a very personal, individual thing – allowing it to produce and thrive is often dependent on circumstance and relationships!
Octavia Tomyn is a 34-year-old artist from Melbourne, Australia. After graduating with Honours from her Bachelor of Design in Fashion degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, she has worked in the fashion industry as a designer for over 8 years. Her former employers include large Australian retailers as well as international designers such as Marc Jacobs and Christopher Kane. She now dedicates herself entirely to her artistic career and works from her home studio while looking after her two young girls. Her art has been purchased all around the world, and she has been invited to collaborate with many interesting, creative people. More of her work can be found on her Instagram page or her website.