Natalie Ex: Illustrator: Melbourne

One of my main stylistic influences is the 80’s manga (Japanese comics and cartoons) from my childhood.

Name: Natalie Ex
Occupation: Illustrator // Graphic Designer // DJ
Location: Melbourne

What have you been doing today?
I usually live in Melbourne but I’m in Japan right now, visiting family and working from here for a bit. I worked on a poster design then went to a rooftop party next to Heian Shrine.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
An artist or designer.

When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
Drawing was my thing since I first held a pen at the age of three!

Did something/someone influence you?
Every year during the school holidays, I’d visit my fashion designer aunt in Japan. Following her to work and “helping out” was influencial. My dad was a sound enginner and I’d “help” him with his work too – my love for technology and audio may have come from dad.
One of my main stylistic influences is the 80s manga (Japanese comics and cartoons) from my childhood. For example, my uncle got me into collecting the original Dragon Ball comic books. These were quite the opposite of what Dragon Ball (and most manga) has become – the drawings were simple black and white and the story lines were light hearted and fun, way less action orientated. I’m not a fan of most current manga, I find it far too busy!

Where has your art taken you?
My creative journey is a bit unconventional I guess. I worked as a freelance illustrator while studying, but after completing my illustration degree, did everything but draw. DJing became my main creative passion and 9-5 jobs wise, I worked in graphic design, web/digital and marketing (mainly in the music and fashion industries). What was supposed to be a short break from drawing ended up being an unexpectedly long 13 year hiatus!
In the last couple of years, I started drawing again and have become a full time freelance creative. Now I get to do a bit of everything I love – commissioned art, music and fashion related illustration and grahpic design, web design and such. At times it felt like I was detouring from my original goal of becoming an illustrator so I’m happy with how everything came together eventually.

What has inspired you most on your travels?
Time spent with fellow creatives following their dreams.

Any significant moments?
The other day I went to check out Y.gion, which is a newly renovated building in Kyoto, housing creative businesses, shops and exhibition spaces. My sister’s partner was the mastermind behind the stunning interior design and helps operate it and my sister also helps out when she’s not busy running her boutique tour agency. I caught up with my wonderful friend Adam there, who is originally from Melbourne and now based in France. He teaches the art of Japanese tea ceremony online and in person across the globe. My new friend Marcus and his friend also came down. Marcus runs Melbourne based fashion label, HoMie – we’ve been following each other’s creative ventures but had never hung out properly so it was lovely to get the chance to do so in Kyoto. Being surrounded by such talented and motivated friends from all over the world in this beautiful building was incredibly energising.

What other creative passions do you have?
Just the drawing, graphic design, web design and DJing – I’m not allowed any more creative passions or I will have even less spare time!

When you aren’t painting what else do you get up to?
I enjoy chill activities like going for a stroll around the Carlton gardens with my boyfriend or joining friends for a drink at The Black Cat bar on Brunswick Street.

What have been some highlights over the past 12 months?
It’s difficult to choose highlights, I genuinely get excited about every piece I have the opportunity to create, whether it be a design for a company or commissioned art.

What changes have you seen in the industry?
When I was a freelance illustrator 15 years ago, work came from word of mouth or approaching agencies with printed portfolios. Getting back into freelancing after a long break has been a completely different experience. Word of mouth is still very important but now potential clients and customers are able to discover and hit you up through social media and your website. What I really love is how much more personable it’s become. Back then, I found everything a bit rigid and overly formal but now it can start out as casually as receiving a DM on Instagram saying “Hey, I want you to create for me!” and writing back “Hey, I’d love to create for you!”. Perhaps I’ve been very lucky, but my interactions with clients and customers are nothing but authentic good vibes. That puts me in the perfect head space to create. Embracing the online environment has been a real positive.

Has this affected your approach to your art?
I’m super aware of the significance of the digital realm. Whether it’s creating personal work or designs for clients, questions like “Will this look good on a mobile phone screen?” are very important. My work is often a combination of traditional hand-drawn drawings and digital techniques. Wanting things to look awesome both in print and online is the practical reason behind it, but there’s a conceptual reason too. I’m fascinated by this era we are currently in where the boundaries between the organic and digital world continue to blur. Creating work that reflects this has become an ongoing theme.

What do you think the Australian Government could be doing to support creative culture?
To be honest, I’m not familiar with how much/ little support and funding the government already contribute to our creative culture. I hope places like the NGV receive enough funding to be able to continually host high quality exhibitions.

What is the secret ingredient to success?
Work hard and be kind (to myself and others) is my motto. I have no idea if this will be an ingredient for success though, guess it depends on one’s definition of success.

Favourite website/s?
Straight up, I mostly follow cute guinea pig pages and read the news.

Favourite app/s?
Same as above.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would that be?
I live there already – Melbourne 🙂

One thing you would like to do but haven’t got around to it yet?
There’s a huge list but nothing interesting enough to share. I will catch up one day, when I discover how to clone myself or stop time!

Do you have any shows coming up?
I don’t have any planned. My focus for this year is to continue creating custom work for clients and customers. If I end up with time to create personal work too, a show towards the end of the year would be fun.

What’s 2018 looking like?
The year so far has been jam packed with fun portrait commissions, design and illustration work for musicians and music promotion companies, some web design and DJ’ing. I’d be stoked if the rest of 2018 continues this way, I’m feeling super grateful and inspired right now.

Website // Instagram

Interview: Michelle Owen
Photographer: Tom Terlaak