Pretty Profiles: Rebecca Mills
Currently Listening To: Clare Bowditch - Modern Day Addiction
Favorite Wild Animal: Gosh, just one! It’d probably be our native wombat. I’m big fan of the slightly odd, so runners up are capybaras, coatis (recently added to Perth Zoo) and giant anteaters.
Tell us about yourself and the kind of work you create.
I am a freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator based in Perth, Western Australia. I grew up in a small farming town in country WA, which is where I got my love of animals and probably my sense of humour. I started freelancing in 2009 after 3 years working in an agency. My business quickly grew on the back of corporate design; doing branding, print projects and vector icon design for large and small businesses… and then I had my children.
Life changed. I changed. I’m still designing for a small subset of my most favourite corporate design clients, but am now working outside this with the goal of being more authentic to my own personal illustration style and seeing where life takes me. My work is a collection of tongue-in-cheek storytelling pieces, that generally feature a caricature of an animal. Stylistically, most reflect my vector background with simplified and geometric shapes, crisp edges, smooth curves and bright colours. I soften them and add depth with textures, either using handmade paint brushes or paint textures (sometimes salvaged from craft sessions with the kids) or digital airbrushes. I’m now doing more creative illustration work for clients such as primary schools and local community events, and hope to expand more into children’s illustration and mural work.
What is your typical day like? Are there any challenges that you face on a consistent basis?
Ha - do you count convincing my toddler that I didn’t open the banana the “wrong” way as a challenge? Seriously though, like lots of working parents, my life is a bit of a juggling act at the moment. I have two crazy kids, a 4 year old son and an 18 month old daughter. They are hilarious and great muses for my animal caricatures (really!) but it does mean that my work schedule looks a little different to what it used to. I work from my home office three days per week. These working days ALWAYS start with coffee, then I tick off my emails and map out an idea of the day’s work to be done. I tend to knock off the corporate design projects first to allow myself the clean-slate headspace to better focus on any illustration work. I work on whatever personal project is on the go once the day’s jobs are completed, or while waiting for feedback. I find my creative brain fares better without the buzzing of a to-do list in the background.
This to-do list is actually what has kept me from ‘indulging’ my illustration for so long. As much as I am obsessed with humour and whimsy, I could never allocate the time to produce it. With all the happenings of the world lately and some life-lessons that you gain from getting older I’ve realised that it’s important to do the things you truly love, and that making people smile and injecting some brightness into the world is not a bad way to spend that time. And now, I’ve created a monster. My brain will not stop! It is like it is spewing out 11 years of crazy ideas all at once and my hand can’t keep up with my brain. I’m really enjoying feeling inspired again.
This is all great, but becomes problematic when I am scheming my next illustration when I really should be being present with my kids. I’ve started keeping a notebook so I can jot down my ideas and then come back to them later. Balance: the elusive sweet spot. But I am getting there and enjoying the process.
You illustrate a lot of beautiful animals in your work and you've worked for clients like the Perth Zoo. What kind of research goes into bringing these critters to life?
Thank you! Reference photos are gold to me. The Perth Zoo team gave me access to an extensive photo library of their exhibits which was immensely helpful. If I was missing a certain angle, or particular detail, it was a great excuse to do a site visit to get the missing shots (and see what the coatis were up to again). With my personal works, it’s normally a simple google search up on my iPhone while I sketch out the concept in my notebook. Most are pretty abstract approximations so it’s more about getting the right shapes and forms than the finer details.
With a lot of Australian clients, do you still tend to work remotely, or have you found opportunities to meet anyone in person? Do you find your process is any different with a local client?
I love an excuse to meet in person before I take on a job – freelancing is quite isolating, so I really enjoy meeting people and getting a glimpse into how their businesses work (and a proper coffee is always great). Phone calls are my next step if in-person meetings don’t work due to distance or deadline. It’s so much easier to gauge what a client wants after a good chat, and some important style or design cues come from reading between the lines of what’s actually said. I’ve built some really great relationships with my long-term clients, and some are now really good friends.
Your work has a nice balance between crisp geometry and beautiful texture. How did you develop your style?
I love the control and balance of vector work and also the warmth and uniqueness of the handmade, so I’ve been trying to get a balance between the two that feels right to me. There has been a lot of trial and error. If you scroll back through my Instagram feed you’ll find works that are either too heavily texturised, and those on the other end of the spectrum. I’m really enjoying working with digital airbrushes at the moment too, but am conscious I’ll need to figure out a new way of working if I’m going to take my style large format for murals etc.
You make some excellent color choices in your work that really make your compositions feel complete! What's your process for developing a color palette for any given piece?
Lately, it hasn’t really been a conscious “choice”. I’m just making things that feel right and right now, the things that feel “right” are waaaaay to the right of the saturation scale. I’m blaming that on having to adhere to branding guidelines for so long. Maybe once I get all the neon out of my head I’ll be ready to work with some more refined (and more ‘grown up’) colour palettes.
I’m lucky that my subconscious has a good base to refer back to. We covered colour theory as part of my Graphic Design degree and my years of working in merchandising with screen printing and embroidery has been good training. In that line of production, adding colours adds cost so I spent a lot of time flicking through Pantone books trying to get the exact right marriage of swatches because the 2000 unit run of shirts only had a budget for 3 colours.