Your book ‘All of this is for you’ is a beautiful reminder that we have the power to be kinder to ourselves, the people in our lives, and our world. This year’s theme for MHAW is ‘Take time to kōrero’ all about the importance of connection and the power that communication has in bettering our wellbeing, what does this theme mean to you? Is there an illustration of yours in particular that you think reflects this theme?

For me this theme is all about making sure I prioritise time for the people I love no matter how busy I am. Sometimes it’s not about me needing to talk to anyone, but rather having the ability to realise when someone just needs me to listen. The gift of truly listening is invaluable, especially during these strange and difficult times.

An illustration from my book that I think reflects this theme is one of a person sitting with their arm around a dog and beside them are the words ‘find someone who will listen.’ This is meant to show the importance of talking out loud to someone or something and not necessarily wanting or needing a response, but simply wanting to feel heard. The kōrero, the verbalizing helps to bring things into focus. Sometimes that can be scary, like saying ‘I feel sad’ – but this illustration is a reminder to just ‘be’ with the words.

In these times of bubbles and levels, how do you stay connected with those special people in your life?

I call at least one person in my family every day because we’re all in different cities and countries right now so keeping up that regular contact feels so important, even if it’s just to talk about the weather. I also like to surprise friends with letters or parcels, particularly if I know they’re on their own, just as a reminder that they have someone in their corner thinking of them.

A little kindness goes a long way, what would you say is the easiest way to spread a little kindness in our day to day?

For me, it’s deciding to get up each morning and go out into the world with an open heart and a willingness to listen and to learn. It’s not necessarily about showering people with gifts or compliments, but just taking time to be there for one another. Giving your time to someone might seem like a small thing but is a real gift. I also see prioritising our own well-being as a huge act of kindness to oneself - whether that be learning to say no more often, going to bed earlier, getting out for a walk, reading a book etc.

Your work shows that kōrero doesn’t always mean word of mouth and is the prime example of ‘a picture can say a thousand words’. Your illustrations hit home for many of us and are a reflection of our reality which inspires conversation. Gaining recognition after posting your artwork following the Christchurch mosque shootings, when was the moment you knew your work was more than a hobby and something that people worldwide could benefit from?

I always dreamt it could be something more than a hobby but I also grew up believing that pursuing art as a viable career wasn’t an easy path. I was incredibly surprised and overwhelmed with the response to the March 15 illustration and it wasn’t anything I had ever expected would happen to me. It was so bound to the shock and grief of that event that it was a long time before I could step away from a sense of guilt at the opportunities that came to me. So there wasn't really a moment - more like following a path with no idea where it was going. I guess the first conversations I had with Penguin were what made it become real. Their belief in me let me start to believe that I had something to offer.

With the timely addition to ‘All of this is for you’ of illustrations around Covid-19 and the real-life ups and downs that people are facing daily, what inspired you to reach out to people and create illustrations around their stories?

Watching Covid roll relentlessly around the world was really hard and it still is - and the anxieties, the grief, the grip of uncertainty about where things are going, along with finding ways to cope, looking for relief and joy in what was close – people shared their stories to connect, to reach out, to not feel alone with it all. I just tuned into the threads that were in the news, on social media, in all the places people found to say how they were feeling.

There’s an illustration of yours that I must admit resulted in a lump in the throat and misty eyes for me titled ‘Half way there’, what was the story behind this one?

This was the first illustration in my ‘Thanks From Iso’ series which told the stories of returning kiwis, hotel staff and frontline workers during the COVID pandemic. This illustration was inspired by a woman I spoke to who had recently returned to NZ from the UK after many years away. I asked what the hardest moment being in MIQ was for her and she said the halfway point when she knew was so close to seeing her family but there was still an entire week to go before reuniting with them.

What words of wisdom do you follow in life and what inspires you each day?

I often think of F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘for what it’s worth’ quote whenever I’m feeling anxious or unsure about things, or wondering what direction to go in next. It just says it so clearly - every sentence.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

I'm inspired by people who stand up for others. I’m inspired by the people I love. I’m inspired by music and art. I’m inspired when I go for a walk and get to take in all of the beauty of Wellington. I love it here and feel so thankful everyday that I get to call it home.

And because we must ask, what are your spring wardrobe go-tos?

Spring is all about the maxi skirts and dresses for me. I’ll usually pair one of those with either a bright jumper or cardigan, and sneakers.

Photography from
Ruby Jones

As told to
Courtenay Lewis