Kaiwhakanikoniko – kōrero (Speaking with Katoitoi’s graphic artists) Back to Discussion

26 May, 2021

Published by
Kate McGuinness

Kātoitoi commissioned a number of Kaiwhakanikoniko (graphic artists) to visually interpret the written essays sitting within the project. We speak to three (of six) contributing illustrators: Bonnie Brown, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White and Joseph Carrington about their vibrant careers so far, where they draw their creative inspiration and some reflections on 2020.

In the first installment of this series Kate McGuinness speaks with Bonnie Brown.


Bonnie Brown (@studio.bon)

Freelance artist Bonnie Brown’s bold visuals pop with colour and vitality. She’s worked with much-loved local and international brands to create portraits and art that emanate personality and flair.

Check out Bonnie’s artwork for Kātoitoi:
In kōrero with... Matt Grantham

In Kōrero with... Kyra Clarke and Fiona Grieve of Threaded.

In kōrero with... Nick Kapica, Principal at Isthmus

Bonnie, did you aspire to be an illustrator from a young age?

Not at all, to be honest I don’t think I even realised it was a ‘real’ job. I was brought up in a super creative household, and was always encouraged to draw, paint, write and get my hands dirty but I was also brought up in a single parent household where money was definitely tight. Seeing how hard my mum worked, often working two or three jobs, and put off by the starving artist trope, I finished school and went to study architecture, which felt like a happy medium between creativity and a more ‘practical’ career. Fast forward a few years and I was working at a local firm and feeling really creatively unfulfilled during work hours, this led me to dust off my pens and start drawing for fun again. Initially I fell into illustration just for the fun of it, sharing my work on instagram for friends to see, and playing around with a bunch of different mediums and styles for the hell of it.

How has your style developed over time?

When I first started illustrating I created everything by hand, and kept to fairly monochromatic or muted palettes. Over the years this changed and now I create the majority of my work digitally, playing around with bold colourful palettes and shapes. In saying that it's an ever evolving journey developing your style, a lot of my earlier work had clear influences and finding your own ‘voice’ can be hard. Currently I’m hoping to create more work physically again, so I’ve been playing around with paints, pastels and screen printing.

How do you know when a concept ‘has legs’?

Initially it's a lot of exploration and playing around, testing out what isn’t working to find what will work. I’m not sure the origins of ‘the creative process’ list but I’m sure you’ll have seen it somewhere. It has the steps as;

1. This is Awesome.

2. This is Tricky.

3. This is Shit.

4. I am Shit.

5. This Might be OK.

6. This is Awesome.

I can absolutely relate to this process and sometimes it's pushing through steps 3-4 to get to a place where a concept is really starting to work.

Do you have a creative routine?

I like to think I do but it goes out the window when I have crazy deadlines on. In an ideal world I structure my days to get the more boring sides of work out of the way first thing (emails/admin etc.), and leave the rest of the day for the fun parts. Currently I’m finding I’m not making time for exploration, new pieces and direction so I’d like to carve that out in the future. I’m a generally motivated person so I haven’t had any major issues working by myself but I know it's super important that I get out for a walk/run each day, or work from a cafe if the apartment is getting too quiet! My partner also used to work from home but now that he’s back at the office I’m trying to make sure I actually get out and talk to different people during the day. I'm sure other creatives can relate to the isolation that working for yourself can foster.

Matt Web 2000x3000 RGB

Are there any particular features or subjects you always look forward to drawing?

I love drawing people. I think portraits in particular are my strength, and I love capturing people’s personalities through my work.

Does being an illustrator make you see the world differently?

I’m not sure! We all see the world differently, but being a visual person I definitely interpret the world through drawing. When I’m out I’m looking at different colour palettes, compositions, how people interact and I’m sure this all informs my work subconsciously or not.

How does it feel to be part of the Kātoitoi pilot?

It’s an honour. I’ve loved creating portraits of those on the review panel, and reading the ‘in kōrero’ pieces about what projects spoke to them, how they view design in Aotearoa, and the ongoing discussions we are having about our practice. It’s exciting to be contributing to the pilot and seeing how this will grow, and evolve over time.

Ngā mihi

Bonnie Brown @studio.bon

Thanks to Creative New Zealand who funded the 2020 Kātoitoi pilot. This interview sits within a series of commissioned essays, interviews, podcasts and artworks to be published over 12 weeks supported by CNZ.