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

26 June, 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.


Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungungu ki te Wairoa)

You can’t help but be drawn into Isobel’s (@izzyjoyart) intricate artworks. She has a serious eye for detail and works across a variety of mediums, enjoying traditional methods and digital form Her influences come from botanical illustrations, mythology, folktales, and her experience as tangata whenua.

Izzy, can you tell us about your journey into illustration?

I’ve always been obsessive about drawing so it was kind of the natural progression of things. I dropped out of high school to pursue an art diploma at UCOL, then went to Whanganui School of Design, and finished the design degree at Massey in Wellington. There are also many people out of the mainstream education system that nurtured me into an illustration career.

Your portfolio showcases a range of diverse styles. How did you arrive at this varied approach?

With a wide range of influences and an appetite to experiment, I would get bored drawing the same thing over and over! I think the ability to adapt my style comes from technical training. Once you understand how structure and light work, it becomes easier to stylize it in different ways. There are things that run through all my illustration styles though, flowing tendrils and Pattern-work.

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Describe your favourite creative medium to work with and why?

Digital; less tidying up, more ctrl+z. The downside is that it is also less tactile, so when I branch out into oils or watercolour, I enjoy those all the more.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m a perpetual seeker. Part of my artistic expression is about trying to figure things out, so learning on the job makes it all the more rewarding for me.


Do you have time to explore personal projects?

Sometimes. The best thing is when my mahi and interests collide. Being into native plants, environmentalism, women’s activism and the ancestral stories of my culturally-mixed ancestry, I prioritize the jobs that are based around these things – things that I would be doing anyway, even if I wasn’t being paid to.

Describe your dream brief.

Illustration and design for a comic or animated series about rangatahi māori who channel the power of atua to combat the capitalist desecration of our ancestral lands.

Dealing with the challenges of 2020, did you feel connected to any creative communities?

Wellington Zinefest, Toi Tangata and Awa Wahine made great uplifting spaces for creatives in 2020. I did feel a connection with the online discourse that was taking place amongst artists, illustrators and poets of these communities, and created my own drawings around the Heroes of Lockdown, depicting some of the essential workers as superheroes.

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Is it important that there is a connection between your personal values and what you are commissioned to produce?

Yes, absolutely. Sustainability and equality is always top of my list so I avoid illustrating anything that exploits the environment or people along the supply chain.

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

Fun and interesting, thank you so much for inviting me to contribute.

Ngā mihi | Isobel Joy Te Aho-White @izzyjoyart

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.