This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
You know that feeling when you’re on a roller coaster, and you’re slowly making your way up, climbing toward the heavens, anticipation building. Here it comes. Now, imagine being stuck in that weird purgatory – no longer in line, but not yet at the big drop; the sweet release. Instead, you keep climbing, anticipation and unease growing. How long can this go on?
That’s a bit like how the last couple of years have felt. We’re all stuck in this mundane purgatory, waiting for that drop to come – waiting for things to get back to normal. But what is one to do until then? How are you meant to find meaning when everything seems so weird and uncertain? That’s exactly what we asked Sydney creatives Bianca Beers and Grace Taotua.
Bianca Beers is an artist, designer and creator specialising in digital illustration and creative direction. Bianca’s work is a buoyant amalgamation of fashion and botanical illustration, graffiti and portraiture.
PTV: Hey Bianca, your art is incredible – have you always been “artistic” or is it something you’ve had to work at?
Bianca: Thank you so much, yes I’ve always enjoyed creating. My mum tells a story about how when I was three, I was sitting in our driveway “painting the wind”, so the enjoyment for art was always there. But I think as a kid I was so drawn to creating because we were poor and I had nothing else to do. We didn’t have Foxtel or an Xbox or anything like that, and most of the time we couldn’t afford extracurricular activities, so I had to make do with whatever I found laying around the house.
I reflect on that sometimes; like, because I was so limited it pushed me to be creative with less, meanwhile as I’ve gotten older and had exposure to more, I kind of notice a sense of overwhelm and realise that I’m maybe less inventive than I once was. Tea!
What is your main goal as an artist?
My main goal is to be authentic and enjoy myself. I think as long as you do that, you’re gonna enjoy your work and be proud of what you create. I’ve had times where I’ve agreed to a project purely for the money, and honestly, it never turns out the same as when you have your heart in it. So my goal, I guess, is to be authentic, enjoy the process and make things I can be proud of.
But for a more traditional answer, I’d also love to create a tarot deck, I’d love to illustrate the zodiac – maybe for a magazine. I’d love to create a capsule collection with Nike, and I’d love to collaborate with a major high-fashion house in whatever capacity I can. And I’d love my own gigantic light-filled studio overlooking a cliffside in a big house amongst the mountains… you know, the usual.
You and me both. What drives you to create?
A sense of joy. I tend to create when I’m in a good mood; things like happiness, insight and excitement really light me so it’s more of a feeling that drives me rather than any solid “thing”. Sometimes I’ll have an idea or vision that I feel compelled to create, almost obsessively, and if I don’t act on it immediately the idea dissolves away.
So when working on my personal art I’m a bit spontaneous, but in the background is a solid ongoing effort to elevate my mood and mental capacity so that the creativity flows when I need it.
How do you stay motivated when the whole world is stuck in this seemingly never-ending COVID slump?
I think in a way I’m lucky because I wasn’t allowed out much as a kid – immigrant dad vibes – so now it now means I’m totally adapted to this shit show we’re all in. So initially, COVID didn’t really hit me as hard as it did others, but now that it’s kind of dragged on, my patience is wearing a little thin. Mainly it’s the delays and cancellations that do my head in, so I do active stuff like nature walks and beach trips to keep me balanced.
Lowkey, I think we don’t appreciate how important it is to be amongst nature and be outside of a box, breathe fresh air and have literal earth under our feet. So I reckon that’s been my little hack.
Not a bad hack. How have you shifted your approach to life and art since the pandemic began?
I think the main shift I went through work-wise was developing the courage to accept content-creation work, and recognising that content-creation can be art as well; it doesn’t have to be flavourless nonsense – which was my previous misconception.
Generally speaking though, COVID has helped me with managing expectations and has also taught me to go slow and enjoy the ride as opposed to being entirely end-product focused, which was definitely my mindset prior.
How do you find meaning in the mundane or normality amongst the monotony of working from home?
I honestly don’t find it monotonous at all. For me, about 50% of my work is art and graphics and the other 50% is content creation and modelling. Then add into the mix admin, PR events, hosting events and speaking on panels, interviews, and probably much more I can’t remember off the top of my head – it’s a lot of variety. If anything I wish my life were a little more monotonous, then I’d have a much neater schedule.
What does a regular day look like for you? Do you have a morning ritual? A set time dedicated to art and creating?
I’m about to get roasted because my routine is gross. Full honesty, I wake at 10am then have a leisurely coffee while I catch up on emails; at around 11am I’ll pop in the studio and get cracking on my projects – I have an at-home studio so luckily there’s no commute which is my saving grace for the sleep-ins.
While I work I listen to music and have the occasional dance break, I’ll do a meditation at lunchtime then end up finishing work somewhere between 5-8pm depending on the project. Sometimes I’ll have a shoot or meeting or casting or on-site project which can change things up a bit, but generally, that’s the blueprint of my days. Very chaotic, very Sagittarius.
Do culture and travel inspire you and your art?
Yes – it’s been a bit stifling being “stuck” due to COVID. There are so many things I’ve been wanting to see and do and so many places I’ve wanted to experience. In some ways it’s been good cos it’s meant finding new ways of exploration and creativity, like nature walks or glass-blowing classes – but I’m definitely waiting for the second I can safely travel. My partner and I are wanting to visit his family in the US, see Japan for the first time and also have a cute island holiday. Fingers crossed we can get started on those this year.
What is it that inspires you about Japan?
I can only speak from what I’ve seen online – but the fashion, culture and nightlife looks amazing. I’m really into all the themed restaurants and bars, I’m all for fun and novelty. Also just the picturesque architecture, mountains and cherry blossoms – it definitely seems like a different world and I cannot wait to explore it.
It really is such a beautiful place. Back to working through a pandemic – that morning coffee has taken on so much more significance as a morning ritual, is this the case for you too?
Yep. I can’t get into my zone until I’ve had my morning coffee – it’s probably the only thing I do that I could call ritual. By the way, I’m so glad I found out about Suntory BOSS Coffee ‘cause up until now I’ve been drinking hot coffees throughout the summers like a sucker.
Grace is the Co-owner and COO of Flex Factory Store, A woman-owned, Black-owned and Australian-made small business, founded in 2019 with Flex Mami.
PTV: Hey Grace, can you tell me a bit about yourself and Flex Factory Store?
Grace: I’m 27, from Sydney, and grew up in Campbelltown in a big Samoan family where I’m the youngest of six kids. Half my mind is on the internet and the other half is always on Flex Factory, my online store.
I founded Flex Factory with my brilliant business partner, soul mate, and friend Lillian Ahenkan – aka Flex Mami. We sell lots of things, but we specialise in creating fun conversation card games that can be used to improve and nurture quality conversation.
What motivates you to strive for success?
I love seeing our customers’ feedback. When they describe how they’ve used our conversation cards, and how it’s helped them. We’ve been flooded with so many beautiful stories saying how it’s helped people talk to their family, friends, colleagues and partners. It’s really rewarding, and we’re constantly trying to find new ways to showcase and facilitate it more. I love it so much.
Starting your own business isn’t easy – what ingredients are essential for any would-be entrepreneurs out there looking to emulate what you’ve done?
I know it’s often said that “communication is key” – but it literally is. I wholeheartedly believe that if I didn’t care about quality communication, so many aspects of my business wouldn’t be as strong as they are. Being a great communicator can open so many doors for you in business, because it’s an essential aspect to having quality interactions. Whether it be with your employees, business partners, accountants or contractors. It’s always so rewarding when there’s a mutual understanding, created off the back of really great discourse.
It’s a huge key in terms of learning how to represent myself, my team, my customers and my brand. And unironically, it’s exactly what our product is about. If you can communicate well, you can tell the right people exactly why they should believe in your business, and why they should invest their hard-earned money in it. With that skill set, you can assure that purposeful, considered choices are being made, and good practices are being nurtured.
How has the pandemic affected you and what have you done to try and ride this messed up wave we’re all on right now?
The pandemic has been so unpredictable. We’ve been really lucky that we’re an online store and don’t have any customer-facing services, so it hasn’t affected our customers’ ability to access our products online. However, it has been tough on us in terms of changing the way we operate. In terms of riding out this messed up wave, we’ve definitely faced risks and mitigated them as best we can.
I think the most valuable insight about operating during a pandemic is that sometimes you do have to surrender to things being beyond your control. As a business, we can definitely put plans in place to help us better cope with the anxiety of the spicy cough’s inevitable impact. Which might look as simple as, having a well-thought-out COVID exposure plan for our staff, or setting up working from home, or just having general COVID-safe rules in our office. It’s the best we can do, and I’m grateful that we’re able to facilitate that.
On a personal level, how have you maintained a sense of normality?
I wish I could say I had a morning ritual, but I really don’t. I think it can be seen as chaotic, but I definitely take each day as it comes. Though that being said, I do like to think that I have done this “life” thing long enough to have go-to things to do depending on what I feel like.
For example, if I’m struggling to get out of bed, I know that putting on music will get me out of bed and in a good mood. If I feel like something sweet for breakfast I have a go-to meal, if I feel like something savoury, I have a go-to meal. And if I’m tired I have a go-to coffee – Suntory BOSS Iced Long Black coffee. So maybe my morning ritual is listening to my body and understanding my mood, so I can create the best environment for me to get things done in the day.
Your business and card games help facilitate and fuel meaningful conversation and connection all over the world which has been crucial during the pandemic. What fuels you?
What fuels me? I guess I want to work hard so I can do all the fun things that life is about. Like I love travelling, restaurants, and shopping. It’s definitely not my life purpose – to shop and eat – but having and maintaining access to those exciting things definitely gives me something to look forward to. I can’t wait to be able to book a long holiday abroad soon.
With travel being off the cards for so long, is this something you’re looking forward to more in the future to keep inspired by different communities?
Yes, absolutely. As soon as I can, and soon as it’s safe to do so. I will be out of here. Travelling is such a privilege. Being fully immersed into another culture outside of your own goes hand in hand with the types of experiences we try to nurture in our business.
Understanding people through conversation is one thing, but nothing compares to living it out and seeing things for yourself. I think we can always get stuck into thinking we have everything figured out here in our day to day lives, but a new perspective when travelling can for sure challenge you in the best way.
You mentioned your love for Japan in the past – what are your fondest memories of your time there?
I love Japan. I’m not afraid to admit that my favourite thing to do in life is karaoke, so being in Japan where they’re famous for it and have it almost everywhere, was perfection. I was doing karaoke every single day, having the time of my life. I just love Japan so so much. Everyone is so incredibly friendly and they have such a rich history and friendly culture. And visually it’s just such a stunning place, the vending machines, the iconic mini-marts, the food, everything.