Designer Talks: Magali Dincher

A series of interviews with the designers and makers behind the brands featured and coveted at COMPENDIUM DESIGN STORE.
  
Magali Dincher of Beau Est Mien
—  Spring, 2015. Perth, Western Australia  —
Photos and words by Daniel St. Vincent
 
I meet Magali at her studio workshop above Beau Est Mien, her shop-front on William Street in Perth. It is an old building – one of the few terraces saved from the mass redevelopment that reshaped Perth during the late 20th century. Wooden floors, white walls, light-filled, it exudes a welcoming presence.
 
Magali greets me at the top of the stairs. She is bright, friendly, colourful, and carries a songful French accent. In her arms lies Lulu, a [bi-lingual] male sausage dog, whom she coos to in French.Magali Dincher at her studio
Do you prefer to work in a collaborative/communal space such as this, or in a private studio? How important to you is environment in the creative process?
The creation part is always better when I am by myself. It feels like you are with yourself, so you don’t lie to yourself, and you just act. You just do what you want, you just try things that you probably wouldn’t try if you were surrounded by others, because you may be judged – not judged negatively – just, yes, they may have an opinion, you know? So I think working by myself works a little better, but I will be sad if I was always by myself. When I worked from home, I was proactive and efficient because my studio space was in the courtyard. But everyday I would go and have coffee so I could be surrounded by people… So it’s about trying to find a good balance and separation between the two.
 
Do you think you have good self-discipline?
Yeah. I work too much, that’s the problem. When I worked from home there wasn’t any boundary between my work and life. When I had time off, it wouldn’t really be time off, it would be like, “oh, I don’t know what to do, maybe I will go to my studio”. So I will just constantly work. While now it’s more like, “okay, let’s get dressed, let’s work”. I am a bit more disciplined for my own sake; to have time off, to have days off, and enjoy.
 
When you have a day off, do you feel like you’re constantly working? Are you actively, or subconsciously, scouring the environment for the next idea? Or are you able to detach yourself from this?
Yeah, it’s hard… I think when you’re self-employed and when your work is related to what you like doing – it’s not like an office job where you work Monday to Friday, and that’s it, you know? With my type of work you’re constantly researching and searching for new ways to be stimulated. So, usually when I have a day off, I catch up with the girls [her staff at Beau Est Mien – Johanna and Alina] and we go out for lunch, or we have a breakfast together. It is our private time, but still there are little bits of work, things that had happened during the week we have a laugh about, or, “you should do this, or you should do that”, and we think about Christmas products or things like that. If I really want to have time off work, I have to leave Perth. And I have to even leave my house, and interact with other people in another environment.
Where were you born in France?
I was born in a little town named Forbach; a very industrial area. So, lots of people working in industries, in factories and stuff like that. And then I studied, and because I was good at school and was lucky to be good at school, I went to university. I moved to a bigger city, which is called Metz – which is lovely – to study social psychology. And then I moved to another bigger city, in the same region, called Nancy. And then I moved to Paris, for nearly two years, to study. So then I moved back to the region, and then I became a town planner, and then I moved to Perth.
 
Ah, interesting. Obviously the social psychology and town planning influences are present in your work. Do you feel like this journey you undertook – growing up in France, studying town planning, moving to Perth etc. – influenced the evolution of your art/your thinking?
I don’t know…
 
Did you start drawing in Perth?
I mean I’ve always drawn. Drawing and playing with leaves, and making little characters in the garden with leaves and plants and making little sculptures and stuff like that. I had a brother and a sister who were much older than me so I had to develop my creativity because I wasn’t surrounded by lots of kids, and I kind of felt self-conscious when I was with kids. I always liked the presence of adults better. I always liked drawing and using tracing paper, and I like little details, and drawings of others, and that was like always around me.
'Fremantle Mementos' greeting card by Beau Est Mien.
 
Do you feel your work is symptomatic of your birthplace, and this journey?
Maybe it was because I lived in such different environments and worked in this really tiny village where basically everybody knew everybody, and then I moved to a bigger town, and then a bigger city, and then Paris, and so my relationship with the environment – with a capital E – had to cope all the time, and there I kind of realised that I as a human being was changing, was coping, and was adapting to different environments, and I kind of became curious about the environment and how it influences people’s cultures, habits, everything. Architecture. Everything.
 
Which is a very contemporary discussion.
I think so. And having studied social psychology you kind of studied that as well more theoretically and learning the concepts of the influences of others on your personality and on your behavior, and what you think and what you believe in too, and so social environment as well as urban environment can have an influence. And so then I had to cope again with a very new environment, which was Australia. So obviously it opened my eyes and I kind of just thought I am by myself in this city, so I can do actually whatever I want, and then I fell into printmaking, and since then I’m a printmaker.
The influence of your childhood environment is very present in your work, as in there is a particular optimistic/romantic look to it. It’s almost like you have this real identity of what place is. And you have this own particular viewpoint of what place is.
Yes.
 
Why do you think you’re drawn to cityscapes like that?
Because it is a way to escape reality, I think. It stimulates me to learn about places, through the architecture, through the shape of the buildings - whether they’re little houses or big buildings - it’s stimulates your curiosity. And you have to kind of research, look at books and read, and watch documentaries. The world is so big, and let’s be honest, I’ll never have time in one life to get to meet all these people and get to discover all these places and all these cities… Printmaking is a way for me to escape, discover, travel, and get to know about the world basically, and have a chance to live in it. You see?
 
Are you a fan of imagined environments? Have you read Italo Calvino -
No, I’m not a fan at all. I’ve always liked realistic movies, and realistic books and stories. I don’t really like sci-fi and stuff like that. My husband is a fan of that, he is a big dreamer, but I think I am interested in the reality of others. I’m fascinated now by the fact we’re basically talking, but in the meantime some others are sleeping, some others are meeting for the first time, some others are falling in love, and some others are fighting, you know? It’s just fascinating. And that’s quite realistic, really.
 
Would you say you’re an idealist?
I don’t know… No, I don’t think so [laughs]
 
Your illustrations are romantic takes on the world around us: bright, clean, free of blight. Do you feel like you present a more upbeat version of reality?
Probably a happier version. This is why I don’t really like being restricted or constrained. When we colour – as I am not the only one who colours - we allow ourselves to change things a little bit. So when a building is like grey – because most of the buildings are grey, or greyish, or brownish, or blackish - we kind of say, “ah, no, this, this is not happy enough”. [Laughs]. I want people to be happy when they look at my work.
 
So would you ever approach illustrating a more rundown cityscape? Something less traditionally happy? Maybe even suburbia?
Yeah. Yeah. But it just doesn’t stimulate me as much… Yeah. It doesn’t stimulate me as much. But there is this Perth illustrator whom I really like, Shaun Tan, and he has done amazing work about trying to make Perth suburbs more beautiful and interesting, not as boring. And I think that I will probably be a challenge for me because I’m not really fond of suburbs because it is not part of my culture, and I think it is quite sad… Because they’re all the same really, you know. All suburbs really are the same, it’s a kind of lack of personality in a way, so it would be a challenge to try my best to give, to reveal the suburbs personality in a way.
I think people will enjoy it for that reason – your take on a different subject matter. To try and find the personality in –
That’s a good idea, actually. Yeah. Maybe I should look at that. [Laughs].
 
Do you have an opinion on our lackadaisical view towards heritage in this city?
I think it is really important to keep the buildings from the past. For me, as I suppose you know, we learn history when we are very tiny, and the history goes back to the fourteenth century. In France you have buildings that are very, very, very old, and so sometimes you think, “we’re building the history here, we’re part of the history”, and...
 
It’s a different place.
It’s a different place. This is why I think I feel happy when I go to Melbourne, for example, the suburbs aren’t that overwhelming, there are heaps of very interesting buildings, and they’re old. They have been there, and they have a story to tell. While, in suburbs… That’s why I’m not that really connected to suburbs – the houses are pretty much the same. I don’t know. They must have stories, of course.
 
What is your standard working day like? Are you institutional with your time, or do you wait for moments of inspiration? You mentioned you are very disciplined, but is there such a thing as a standard day?
No. No. The thing is, now that I have a business, things have changed. [Laughs]. Slightly.
 
Can you break that down for us?
I wish… I wish I could have had more time where I could just do what I want to do. The thing is, when you get here, you get overwhelmed by admin, human resources, marketing, projects; what I should be doing, what I should be offering. Then I will work on commissions as well. So, it’s lots of things that have to be done, so obviously the roster has to be done - the girls need a manager. Unfortunately all these little tasks come before I get to sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil. So this is why I think I suffer from a lack of privacy, and I should try to find a good balance. So when I want to draw, when I allow myself to draw and be creative, that’s usually now most of the time happening at home.
 
So yesterday, for example, was for commission work. A writer, for example, he writes when he wants to write a story he wants to write, but when he has to write an article for a magazine, it’s not really the same, though he writes. So working on commissions is the same. You have a brief, people tell you what they expect from you. But on Monday – that was my day off – on Monday, we came here with Alina and Johanna, and we allowed ourselves to be creative people, so I drew little cafes of Northbridge. But we build it towards something we’ll sell, but it’s something that makes me happy.
So, do you start say the Monday by buying macaroons from next door [Daphne], putting on a pot of tea, some music, closing the doors...?
Yeah. That’s like when I really allow myself to do it. That now most of the time happens at home.
 
Say for instance, you’re drawing the cafes from Northbridge, do you take photos of the cafés for reference?
Northbridge, that one was a bit different. I needed a bit of inspiration from the girls, and sat down with a cup of coffee, and I just said, “look, what do you think I could be inspired by?”, and the idea came up. And so we kind of had a list, and completed the list, and then, “oh, there is this nice cafe that makes this amazing coffee”, or, “this beautiful setup”, and blah blah blah. And so most of the time I know them, I have been there, so I visually know what they look like. But I don’t really walk and take a photo. These days you have the internet, these days you have Google Maps, so you build [laughs] a little itinerary through Google Maps and so on. For this one I had Street View.
 
Would you always work from an image?
No… Oh, not quite, actually. It depends. When cities or places inspire me, for sure, I need to have something to look at. But when it is more like botanical, or things like that -
 
Or portraiture?
Yeah, then I don’t have any images. I kind of get stuck when I have an image to look at. So it depends on what I get inspired by.
Do you generally use the same equipment? Pens, pencils etc.?
Yeah, I kind of have my favourite pencils. Yes. Paper can be whatever paper, really (a sneeze in the background) bless you! Then the colours (another sneeze) bless! They are the same, always the same. Watercolour pencils, or watercolour little sugar cubes as well.
 
And they’re all available in Perth?
Yes. Except I have some watercolour brushes my dad sends us because we don’t have them here.
 
Do you know the name of these brushes?
They’re the Raphaels, and they’re very high quality. And I just couldn’t find any in Perth. And, you know, when my dad sends them they’re free, so it’s even better [laughs].
 
Do you think the style you have is unique to now? Say if you were illustrating fifty years ago, how do you think your art – knowing the way you are and how you approach things – would’ve appeared?
I draw what I can draw… or how I can draw. I don’t have the technique… When we have workshops, for example, people are just terrified how to draw, and not knowing how to, and what to. So we have a workshop called ‘Draw and Print A Map of Your City’ – obviously inspired by my work – and I always do a little demo for them to realize that nothing needs to be accurate as long as when you look at the picture you know what you’re talking about, or what the artist has talked about, so it doesn’t have to be exactly what it really looks in reality, as long as you just capture the details.
 
Details that are specific to you/the illustrator?
Exactly. And then it happens they’re not just specific to you and that they tell stories to others. There’s heaps of stuff we have in common. So I always tell people to make and draw what makes them happy. And not what like they should be drawing, or what the drawing should look like. If it doesn’t maybe just do something else, or draw in another way.
 
Do you think people feel restrained because they do not have the education? Because you didn’t come from that–
Exactly.
 
But I guess lot of your contemporaries do. Do you feel like that is needed, do you think you need to go to an institution to learn, or do you think if someone really wanted to do it -
I don’t think so; I don’t think you need to. I’m the perfect example. Nobody taught me how to draw. People told me how to print, so that’s different – you know you have to know what you’re doing with the equipment and the type of material you need to use – but drawing, all you really need is a piece of paper, or a surface to draw on, and that’s pretty much it. I remember someone who had a university background kept telling me, “Magali, you’re lucky not having gone to university because you would have been different, you would have learned things, they would have told you how to be and what to do, while you feel free doing what you like…”. So, for some people it’s an advantage, but I don’t see it as an advantage.
 
I think it has worked to your benefit. You’ve had no constraints to your perspective, to your style, which makes your illustrations unique. Your drawings are more instinctual, and come from a more honest place.
Fine Arts degrees in France are really traditional, they haven’t really evolved, they’re really strict and you should be thinking that way, and you should be doing that. And that’s how you should behave, and think; it’s more like how you think. Especially if you’re young, like if you leave high school and you continue on to Fine Arts school, and you still learn a lot and do a lot of personality traits, so you want to be yourself in a way, and express yourself in a way you feel you should express yourself, and so if you have teachers telling you, “this is not the way you should be”, obviously it has a bad impact.
 
What other artists do you admire? This can be within or outside illustration.
I kind of have one type of role model, and they are people who are creative and have a business. Usually you’re either creative, or business orientated. I still get people saying to me, “oh, my daughter would have loved being an artist”, “so why isn’t she?”, “because you don’t make money”, and you’re like “um, you’re saying that to me?” I basically – I’m not a millionaire – but I have enough to be happy, and I provide people with employment [laughs]. I think it’s still kind of hard, even when you are the business owner with a creative business, to juggle with these two concepts.
 
Your work appears to be a throwback thematically, and in craft, to older, simpler times. What is your relationship with technology? Do you shun it or embrace it?
I try my best to simplify the complexity of the environment, for sure. Now, is it really because I want to simplify, or is it because of the fact I haven’t got the technique, and I actually haven’t learnt the skills, or just because it makes sense to me…? That is a good question. I don’t really know. But I do know my work tends to simplify what we’re surrounded by.
Your work continues to garner an increasing amount of notoriety. How conscious are you, as a businesswoman and an artist, of the public when you illustrate? Do you find it more difficult to branch off into other artistic fields or themes because of the increasing public demand for your work? And are you now making content for the public rather than for yourself?
I wish I could actually have the freedom to do things for myself. It’s just because of this discipline, and because I have this business, I have a feeling that I need to respond to people’s demands… Which sucks really because it’s not even true, it’s not true at all.
 
Before this job, when I basically worked from home, I just did it to make myself feel happy and it basically worked as well. People bought my work. There were no constraints on myself trying to respond to a demand. I mean I should just not care. I should just say, “this is it, this is what I like, so either take it or leave it”. And they would take it, because that’s what they used to do in the past, you know? I think now that the business is here, that I feel like, “yes, it’s the market, there’s needs, there is a demand and you provide”, like there are all these concepts that are overwhelming in a way. This is why I feel like I should listen to what they want, although that doesn’t make me always happy.
 
Commissions are good because it’s sometimes easier and simpler to just do what you can, but if you have commissions it’s also challenging in a way… And it’s also other people’s opinions of what they like and you work in collaboration with them. I should just sometimes feel or smell [laughs] if there is not going to be any connection or collaboration possible. You see, it will just save me some time and energy. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you’re like, “why did I just say yes?” So it’s always trying to find this balance where you are innovative and you propose new stuff, like a new style and technique and this and this and this, but is it still going to be a little close to what you did before because that’s what they liked you for. So [laughs], it’s interesting.
 
If you could do something new, what would it be?
Probably ceramics. But I just don’t have the time. Where I am now took seven years to establish, and I was younger, I was probably freer, and without any worries, carefree. And I am not carefree any more. I have a little baby in my tummy, so I am going to be a mum soon; I’m married; I have a business; people are employed [laughs].
 
Do you think there is a cost to success then?
Hard work. And you can’t care anymore. Sacrifices, yeah.
 
Do you travel often?
I wish I had more time. I used to travel more when I was in Europe. Because it was easier. I basically lived in the centre of Europe so it’s cheaper, it’s quicker to travel; you have trains, and buses, and pretty much everything. You can fly for $50. So I wish I could have more time, and I wish Perth wasn’t as isolated, because you can’t spontaneously say, “let’s go”. And now that I have a business it is even worse. You just can’t let people down and say, “Fuck it, I’m not going to teach this workshop”, and I can’t leave the girls by themselves for two weeks.
 
When you travel, do you bring a portable kit with you? Do you take photos?
I try to, I try to take photos – I always try to, but it never really happens. And when I come back I go, “oh, Magali, you really should have documented it more, the amount of stuff and information you could have been inspired by is so big, and you kind of missed it”, but I just want to allow myself some space, especially because I never do it when I have time off here. When I am away I’m kind of, “fuck, I’m not going to do anything (whispers)”, you know? But afterwards I remember the places.
 
Do you feel that then from a distance, looking back on it, actually improves your work?
Exactly. I think so. It just changes it slightly, you see? I’m not that close to the reality of it, but I have an experience of it, you see?
 
You seem to have a romantic take on it.
For years at the beginning, basically when I lived in Perth, I would only make prints that were inspired by my French background. And it was a way for me to stay connected to who I was, and where I lived, and what I did before. So it’s always looking back.
'Little piece of heaven' - One of Magali's designs.
 
As a traveller, what do you search for when you travel?
Architecture, for sure. And also social relationships, like getting to know people. That’s why – even though I like travelling with my husband – my best memories I have are the travels I did by myself.
 
Is there anything else that you feel people should know about in regard to your work? Are there things people often overlook?
Sometimes we get these annoying, not comments… I’m a printmaker, so my work is prints, like they are prints, and they’re called prints. So a photograph is a photograph. A drawing is a drawing. A painting is a painting. And a print is a print. And so, after seven years of teaching people, teaching kids, having done interviews, having a website, promoting printmaking in a way through the shop, through the studio, and the workshops, people still call the works paintings. If you are a bit curious, and you are interested, the first thing you should know about me is probably, she’s French because of my accent, but also, she’s a printmaker. She produces prints… and not… paintings. So especially when someone comes for commission work, you’re like, “if you chose me it’s probably because you like my work, so you know the work we’re talking about is prints”. It’s just in Perth, you know, the lack of knowledge in printmaking, it’s not bad, but it just means we have a lot to teach, and we have a lot of people to teach printmaking to.
 
Do you find this is your new calling then? To teach?
Yeah. It’s a good thing in a way. On a business side it’s like, “yeah, so good.” There’s no competition, well, not a lot of competition - there are some screen printers around. But there are heaps of techniques. If you don’t go to uni, you don’t really learn except for when you come here really, so it’s good. As a creative person, you would love to have a bit more interaction, or opportunities to go to a printmaking exhibition, such as what you could do in Melbourne. In Melbourne there is printmaking everywhere. People know what a print is, people have had experience in printmaking, and so you can exchange a lot on the topic. In Melbourne you have galleries that specialize in printmaking, you have lots of not for profit organisations where you can become a member. There are shops, like suppliers, that supply you with only printmaking supplies - so it’s just like paradise. But in the meantime, everything is already done there. There wouldn’t be any space for us. We would not be as exclusive, or unique, or interesting.
 
You can move to Melbourne. You can move to Berlin. You can move to Brooklyn. But what are you going to add to the conversation?
Exactly. Nothing.
 
And finally, what’s next?
What’s next? Baby’s next, for sure. Then we’ll see. Let’s be honest, my life is going to change. I definitely do not want to be a full time mum, that’s for sure. I want to be back to work as soon as possible, maybe not by myself, but with my little boy. This year was trying to consolidate what we put in place last year. And we have lots of goals and dreams and stuff we’d like to achieve. What Beau Est Mien should be, not Magali, but Beau Est Mien the business. I’d just love to have more time to be creative and develop a lot more works that makes me happy without having to care whether or not they’ll sell.
 
Thank you Magali and Lou-Lou.
Thank you Daniel.
 
Visit www.beauestmien.com.au to view Magali's work.
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