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A conversation with illustrator and designer Adam Parata

by Emma Sheahan |

Adam Parata is an illustrator and designer, who worked as a Wide Open Road and A Minor Place barista while developing his arts practise. He now works on the creative team, designing things like our menus and branding collateral, as well as working for freelance clients like Disney (working on Star Wars and Pinnochio) and even illustrating single art for Harry Styles. We sat down for a chat with Adam.

Hey Adam, can you tell us a bit about yourself, what you do?

I do design and illustration work. I started with a design focus and then transitioned into illustration, and now I multi-task between both. I was working as a barista at Wide Open Road, and Jono commissioned me to paint a mural on the side of the cafe, so that was really the gateway to start promoting my illustration work. While I was working at Wide I had a studio painting, but the further I got into that the more I felt discouraged with the art scene and I wanted something more stable. I had three coffee jobs, one of them working the coffee cart at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, so I was interfacing within the art scene a lot and trying to develop a vision of how my work might fit into the contemporary art space. I kind of fell in love with art through more traditional mediums though, so it became difficult for me to see how that would translate into a contemporary space. I decided to adapt my skills into the digital space, which I felt could be more easily applied to commercial work.

What kind of clients do you work for?

I have multiple clients - Wide is a couple of days a week, and that work blends between illustration, design and product. Then there’s word of mouth freelance work, and Jacky Winter Group, which is an illustration agency. The process there is that clients are looking for a specific kind of talent, and they’d reach out to JW Group who would show them the work of their artists that they think might be a fit, which is great because it allows you access to clients you otherwise probably wouldn’t get access to. It’s a mix of work; book covers, podcast thumbnails, a range of things. I spend more time working on the craft, rather than the business, so that allows me to be more focused on the craft while they handle the business side of things. 

What’s your favourite kind of work to make?

I really enjoy solving problems, it’s become less about ‘cool work’. For example right now at Wide we’re looking at creating some new, ethically friendly coffee bags, and the problem solving part of that; getting everything in line to produce that, that’s really fun. I could sit for a few days and draw something, which I really enjoy doing, but once it’s done, the gratification is short lived. To see things go out into the world and there’s this constant feedback, that energy keeps you stimulated. I did a piece for Disney for the new Pinnochio movie, and I love to see it out in the world, but I also make wine labels for my friend, and when you see his business be successful, that’s even more gratifying. It stimulates more than just insatiable appetite of producing content. 

When did you start doing art, were you an arty child?

I guess I was, I drew, and I didn’t really ever stop. I wasn’t the strongest at drawing, I just persevered the longest. At the end of high school I wanted to go to art school, but I failed the art class. In reflection I probably wasn’t listening to teachers, I preferred to copy work that I thought was cool, rather than developing a folio. The other students were thinking more of concepts like gallery spaces, and bodies of work, which are concepts I was ignoring. I was more interested in the technical side of things - how do you draw, how do oil paints work, all that sort of learning. Even now I think I’d enjoy teaching and contributing to the arts more than being a gallery artist. I developed quite a distaste for that culture, what it was bringing out of me; the anxiety, the type of person I felt like needed to be to fit into that world, it didn’t come naturally me to, so I felt as though I either had to abstract my personality to fit in, or just listen to my intuition and follow something that feels nourishing on a personal level. That kind of leans back in to the Wide Open Road metaphor we have about being a traveller - following your own path, finding what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning, what you love doing.  

What are your plans for your art practise moving forward?

I guess the goal is to continue focusing on the space I’m in now with illustration and design, earning some money from that and then integrating more of the practise; painting, creativity that’s free from all those ideas. And if it turns out some of that’s interesting, then approaching someone and saying here’s my body of work. 

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

I do want to shoutout Jono and Hootan (owner + former co-owner of Wide Open Road), because with the success they’ve had they’ve given opportunities to people like me, and I think that’s a large part of why I’ve stuck around; the culture and vision is strong, and it’s so nice to be a part of something where the intentions feel like they’re in the right place. It’s nice to be growing with them, I’ve learned a lot of what I know thanks to the opportunities they’ve created.  

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