As a child, pencils in hand, Billie Justice Thomson knew that creating was for her. In high school, she completed Year 12 art while still in Year 11; a step ahead that demonstrated her future would be a creative one. And that’s exactly what it is. While living in Melbourne, Billie’s nostalgic, food-inspired designs made her a quick hit in the food and hospitality industry. Soon after, the demand came from all walks, whether it was private commissions or major commercial contracts. In 2017, Billie returned to her hometown of Adelaide and settled into a cosy studio infused with the scent of coffee from the cafe next door, just a short distance from her home. Here, she talks about her creative process, the importance of a creative community and her tips for creatives following in her footsteps.
Creativity and Gratitude
I am very fortunate to get to use the creative side of my brain every single day. I’m grateful for my kind of creative freedom. I’m also proud that I get to share it with other people, because there's not much of my work that doesn't get seen. It’s nice that I have been able to access lots of people's eyes and have my work in people's homes. It’s a beautiful thing that my artwork is a part of other people's lives.
Becoming a Household Name
I’d been living in Melbourne for a few years and had just started to get noticed a bit more when I was featured on The Design Files. Their reach is huge, and their audience is really enthusiastic about art, so that was a massive day for me. It was a crucial stage, where I was starting to think about working at my other jobs [in hospitality] less. The work I did for Qantas, where my art was featured on the international business-class toiletries bags, was also big for me. For six months, there were Billie Justice Thomson toiletries bags flying around the world.
Inspired by Home
My mum's a chef, so food has always been a big part of my home life. Growing up, I would want to draw and paint things that were in front of me. There was always a bowl of fruit on the table, so it was this obvious, almost still-life inspiration. But now I've taken it further and just gone a bit deeper with it.
The Importance of Community
When I lived in Melbourne [from 2010-2016], I was in a studio with two other artists. We liked each other and would help each other. One was a graphic designer,Spencer Harrison, and the other was craft-based designer Kitiya Palaskas. We all had slightly different practices and always had nice input into each other's work: with technical things, visual things, with theoretical things, and also with business things. You can get stuck and have your blinders on, or look at something way too long and not even see it properly anymore. It’s important to have other eyes and ears around.
Tools of the Trade
I love painting on clear, acrylic perspex. It makes my colours completely opaque and really vibrant. And there are no brush marks in there, so they take on a very illustrative and cartoon-like finish: slick and really vivid. I paint from the inside out too, so everything's done in reverse. The perspex comes with this protective paper that is sticky, like contact. I'll do a first version of the design in pencil, and then I'll do a second version in Sharpie. Then I'll peel off the paper and I can see my original drawing in Sharpie. I'm pretty rough on my brushes, so I've stopped buying expensive brands, and I've started to get the less expensive ones now, but I use highly pigmented, high-quality acrylic paint.
Behind the Scenes at the Studio
[My studio now is] behind a cafe called Sibling and I share it with a friend who is a dressmaker. We also share the door with the kitchen of the cafe, which is great because we can get coffee anytime and it's a thoroughfare for the coffee shop, so it has a busy atmosphere. Sometimes art studios can feel a bit abandoned, because people will leave them for long periods of time if they're not working on projects. I love getting visitors and the energy of it.
The Business of Creating
I try to get out of the house in the 8’s, get to the studio in the 9’s and get fully in the work by the 10’s. One day a week is fully dedicated to my online store; that’s when I pack all my orders and post out pieces. I’ll do a bit of inventory of my stock and make sure that all my wholesale is being taken care of. Then the other days are dedicated to painting and drawing. I’ll also talk and email with professional clients about illustration work and keep on top of my commission painting work.
Passion and Projects
The most satisfying work, for me, is my exhibition work: my original paintings on perspex. I try not to have more than one exhibition a year, and I need to plan for at least 12 months. Depending on where it is, I’ll make it work to fit the space. It's a very lengthy and all-consuming process, but when it's well received, which it has been recently, it’s so rewarding. I also really love working with brands and doing commercial work because it has such a different audience. I love representing a brand and I choose brands that I believe in ethically. It's so nice that the pieces go on to completely have another life of their own.
Advice for a Creative Life
Share as much of your work as you can. Share the process and share the outcomes and also share your ideas with people around you.