Many of us are familiar with the renowned adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. In the case of the emotive works of Octavia Tomyn, it would perhaps be more accurate to say: ‘a single line is worth a thousand words’.
Through the meandering form of one uninterrupted line, Octavia captures the complex and intimate connections of people. In one line there is movement. In one line there is a wealth of emotion. In one line there is life.
While simple lines populated her portfolios in high school and university as she pursued art, Octavia’s initial career path led her into the fashion industry as a designer. After a successful journey spanning more than a decade, working for some of the biggest names and high-end designers like Marc Jacobs and Christopher Kane, it was the calling of family that inspired Octavia to shift her career onto a different creative track.
In her third year of maternity leave from her job as a designer for a big Australian retail brand, Octavia knew she wanted to prioritise her two little girls: “I had made the decision to stay at home…treasuring them while they [were] so little,” she says. “Having just moved into a new house, I decided to create some art for our bare walls.” Octavia returned to the abstract line style of her school years, covering the walls of her home to get her hand moving again. “After sharing a few pictures of my process on Instagram, I had a flood of encouragement and requests to create something similar for friends!” Octavia explains. The enthusiasm and demand for her work spurred her to give art-making a real go, but the outside appreciation was just a bonus: “I was so satisfied to be creating again,” says Octavia. “It’s been the best job I have ever done – and I’ve had some pretty fun jobs!”
When asked about the inspiration for her pieces, Octavia is frank – it’s people. Understandable, given our nature as beings with rich emotional landscapes. “I love people,” Octavia says, “so the relationships, connections, and emotion between humans is what inspires a lot of my work. I love creating personal, abstract portraits of people and their loved ones, reflecting their bonds with one another and their unique journey.” Creating commissioned pieces is one of her favourite parts of her practice. “It is a privilege to hear people’s most intimate stories and moments. I love the words they use to describe their loved ones,” confesses Octavia. With a bare, abstracted line, Octavia captures the most precious aspects of clients’ relationships. “Sometimes I use symbolic shapes or patterns to capture a family’s story, hobbies, values and personality,” she explains.
When not creating for others, Octavia explores ideas around womanhood, self-reflection, and spirituality. This is evident in the captivating figures exhibited on her Instagram (@octavia_tomyn_art) – single lines, but rich in emotion, thought, and individuality. She acknowledges that meditation and prayer are instrumental in her process. “I often pray over my work, usually before I begin. For my commissioned portraits I pray for the families that I work with,” explains Octavia. Once she begins the actual art-making, Octavia says the experience is similarly mindful: “Painting and drawing takes me to another level of consciousness. It’s like an escape but with a focus, my mind homes in on whatever I have been meditating on or thinking about that day.” As lines wend their way and traverse the paper, the world softens and fades. “It gives me time to slowly process thoughts which my busy life would not otherwise afford me,” she explains. “It’s nice to have the time and space to go deeper and truly process.”
While she has always loved to convey emotion with lines, Octavia says that her approach to creating has evolved with her over time. “I have refined some of my concepts and developed what I believe is a unique take on one of the earliest styles of art known to man! I am continually having new ideas of ways I’d like to develop my style further and I think my aesthetic will grow with me as I move through different seasons of life.”
There’s no knowing what the future may hold, but Octavia’s love for this minimal, abstract aesthetic and the messages it can convey is central to her work. “For me this is a language that communicates something deep and innate that I can’t explain with words,” she says. “I can express myself freely here and ideas often come from [my] subconscious, surprising my conscious self with the results! From here, I either leave the work finished in this raw form (my line drawings) or continue to develop the concept by deriving shapes from the lines or layering symbolism and meaning into the piece through shape and pattern.”
As you’d expect from one so passionate about people and attuned to relationships, Octavia is a self-confessed extrovert, and time spent with others fills her with verve: “I love being out and busy and around people,” she says. Dining out, visiting galleries, and enjoying little getaways are some of the other ways Octavia cultivates her vitality, and as a mum to two, she’s almost never without company. “Being a mum and wife fills up every other moment of life. It fills and drains my cup all at once!” she laughs.
But maintaining an equilibrium is just as important. “To centre and balance everything, I am grateful for my faith which anchors and directs the way I navigate life,” says Octavia. Well-versed in the value of relationships, she asserts that the people that surround a creator are so important in that person’s ability to flourish. Her parents nurtured her creativity from the beginning, and with the support of her husband and the presence of her two girls in her home-curated business, Octavia is blessed with a wealth of connection – which continues to be felt and seen, on paper.
What advice would she give to those wanting to create? “Get into it. Now! Don’t wait for anything. Just start and see where it takes you.” And while she acknowledges the vulnerability that can come from putting your work out into the world, she says it’s a valuable experience, and to use the feedback. “It’s scary sharing part of yourself in this way,” Octavia says, but with honesty and authenticity you’ll find encouragement – and form relationships that may, in turn, spark your creativity.
Words: Erin McDonald