A word with Angela Mckay: Behind Ohkii Studio

Ohkii Studio was created by Angela Mckay, a surface pattern designer and illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York. Originally hailing from the sunny shores of Australia and the humid tropics of Thailand, she brings her unique illustrations together to create a fun and diverse range for Ohkii Studio. 


Hi Angela! Can you tell our readers: who are you and what do you do?

Hi! My name in Angela Mckay and I'm based in Brooklyn, New York. I'm an Australian illustrator and surface pattern designer.  

How has your journey brought you to where you are today? Have you always wanted to become a freelance illustrator?

I never really set out to be an illustrator,  although I think in my heart of hearts it's what I've always wanted to do. At university I studied Design (majoring in Textiles and Graphics), mainly because I was concerned  that choosing Fine Arts (painting) was going to lead to the life of a struggling artist! I knew I wanted to do something creative, but still make enough money to keep the lights on, so this seemed like the ideal compromise.

When I finished University, I was quite disillusioned with design in general and was unsure how I was going to find my place within that world. I decided to take some time off and go backpacking through Central and South America for 8 months. I took with me a small sketchbook and some paints, and through the process of sketching and painting along the way, I rediscovered my passion for painting and drawing. When I returned back to Sydney, I worked as a textile designer which was great, but I still didn’t feel quite fulfilled. The opportunity arose to move to New York, and I didn't realise it at the time, but maybe it was the shake up that I needed to redefine myself. It’s since i’ve been in New York that I’ve realised that it’s possible to make a viable career out of illustration and painting.  

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When did you open Okhii Studio and what's the story behind its name?

I started Ohkii Studio a couple of years ago when I first moved to New York. I wanted Ohkii studio to be a purely creative outlet, something completely separate from my commercial freelance work. I wanted it to be somewhere I was completely unrestrained from client requests, money, scope etc. A place where I was the client and I could create whatever I liked and allow myself to grow in whichever direction I wanted. I was searching for my own style and it forced me to continue to keep making work and allowed me to hone my artistic voice. When you're always creating work for clients, it can be difficult to maintain your own style and voice. I must say that I think Ohkii Studio is still evolving and growing, I really want to keep pushing it and see where it takes me.

So the name I had originally picked was Enokkii (like the mushroom) but we discovered that another company had a very similar name, so I decided to change it to Ohkii - which had a similar ring to it. I later found out that Oki means "open sea" in Japanese which I thought was a nice metaphor for the creative freedom I was seeking.

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you describe the source of your inspiration "many places including the natural world, overseas travel adventures, folk tales and old murder mystery novels". Tell us about these.

I do love the natural world and being surrounded by nature. I grew up in the bush in the south west of Australia so I feel most at home when I'm surrounded by lots of trees and the beach. I love to travel and I enjoy keeping a visual journal of what I can capture on my trips. I take a sketchbook with me and try to sketch as much as I can. As for the murder mystery novels... this came from my grandma so I guess there is something nostalgic about these old stories for me. I borrowed lots of her Agatha Christie novels growing up and we would always watch Hercule Poirot together. I love the drama and characters, I find them so entertaining! I designed a scarf collection all based on Agatha Christies novel “Evil under the Sun.”

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You have just shown some pieces made for Gucci Beauty -  how did this collaboration come across?

It happened pretty organically, they reached out and asked if I'd be interested in creating some content for them for their latest fragrance Nettare Di Fiori.  They sent a small blurb of the fragrance character and the different elements in the fragrance and I had to think of different ways to interpret this visually. I went out to the New York botanical gardens and took lots of photos and did some sketches of the flowers and used that as a starting point.

Your work is primarily made by hand then finalised on a screen. This gives a certain hand-made feel to your illustration that is kind of lost in digital illustration, right?

I have created work digitally before but I just love using real materials. I find it very cathartic and mediative. It's also what I'm most comfortable with. I also like the happy accidents that happen when you work with different mediums. I like to work from life or from photographs. I usually sketch up the work and then paint one big piece or paint separate elements, depending on the outcome. I then scan everything in and clean it up in photoshop.

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What is coming next for OHKII Studio?

I have an exhibition coming up next summer in Paris which I'm very excited about! I'm also looking forward to continuing to grow Ohkii Studio and seeing where that takes me.


You can follow Angela Mckay’s work on Instagram @ohkiistudio and find her work at ohkiistudio.com