TWO - Creative Couple Sonya Nagels and Toby Morris

Photographer, jeweller and maker Sonya Nagels and designer and illustrator Toby Morris agreed to be my first Two - sharing the lives and work of creative couples. 

I've long been a fan of these two separately (especially of Sonya's photo projects/photo series' and Toby's hand-drawn type)... but it wasn't until they opened their new Morris/Nagels 'family store' - Beard & Braid - a couple of months ago that I realised they were besties and partners.

W H E R E   W E   L I V E :

We live in Sandringham, in Auckland right next to Eden Park. We're renting an old 1920's villa. Sometimes we feel like we'd like more space, but yet we lived in tiny apartments overseas and now we have 4 times the amount of space…

Toby: I call it Fort Royal. It's on Royal Terrace and has a big high fence around it so it feels like a fortress. It's great to have a yard after years of a tiny apartment in Amsterdam.

W H A T   W E   E A C H   D O:

 I'm a photographer. I've done a huge variety of freelance work - you name it, I've done it. But what I specialize in is lifestyle and portraiture. I interned as a jeweller in Amsterdam and I love textiles. I'm really interested in combining those two things. I'm also a stay-at-home mum with two little boys who are fun and distracting and who just want to be doing whatever I am doing. Which can't involve sharp implements.

Toby: By day I'm an advertising art director at DDB, and then after hours I draw. I've been making comics since I was 13, so I've made a few books by now and these days I'm doing a monthly non-fiction comic strip for the website The Wireless. I also do freelance illustration, my own artwork and I draw a lot of concert posters.

F A V E   T H I N G   I N   O U R   H O M E :

Toby: I've always wanted to live in a house with lots of books. Lots of books and art. 

Sonya: I love all the art we've collected up over the years. We've tried to pick something up in each place we've been - some haven't yet made it up - like the painting of the weird Cambodian girl in a tiger print bikini floating on a raft, or the giant fluro pink hill tribe quilt that I lugged through northern Laos… but they'll make it up one day. 

Maybe my favourite piece is the woodcut of the bear - Grrr macht der Bear by Phillip Janta. We bought that from this shop in Berlin, for not much money, the artist was a student - he did a whole alphabet series - they are all beautiful.

In terms of objects - I love our dining room table. It belonged to my aunt and uncle who gave it to us when we moved back to NZ. It was their family table for over 20 years and it bears all the scars. I love that our family get to make some more. It's big and heavy and perfect to lay out sewing projects on, or do a gocco screenprinting run. It lives in our dining room, which we use as our studio- so it only gets eaten at on very special occasions. Too much stuff has to be shifted off it!

C R E A T I V E L Y,   W H A T   W E ' V E   L E A R N E D   F R O M   E A C H   O T H E R:

Sonya: From Toby I have learnt about dedication and persistence. He has a saying about if you do just one small thing towards your goal everyday, you will get there. And it's true. Everything that he sets out to do, he achieves eventually. He works harder than anyone else I've ever met and on top of that, he has the highest code of honor. He'd rather take the long route than run something over. (I have to admit, I'm not adverse to a short cut or two.) I love seeing how much better his drawing gets each year. He pushes me to be better and to persevere. 

Toby: Sonya has taught me about being observant in my work. She finds moments and angles that I'd totally miss. Watching her has helped me slow down and observe better - find beauty or humour in the ordinary.

H O W   W E   B E C A M E   A   C O U P L E :
Sonya: Toby doesn't remember the first time we met. It was at a full moon drum circle at a bar on Cuba St in Wellington. Ha! But this was way back in 2000. He was wearing baggy jeans and a baseball cap. And probably a plaid shirt. But anyway, I was working at a photocopy shop and Toby used to come in to print his comics. I used to give him extra good rates. I thought his comics were cool, and he was so nice and a bit shy and I liked his beard. So Wellington! So it took a while, but after we got together Toby moved in pretty much straight away. That was thirteen years ago. 

Toby: I thought she was cute. I did a lot of unnecessary photocopying.

Sonya made this dressing gown for herself from a vintage pattern. I just loved this photo...

I N   T H E   F U T U R E , W E ' D   L O V E   T O   C O L L A B O R A T E   O N :

Toby: I've got this idea about doing a book of portraits - photos by Sonya and comic stories from me. Hang out with someone, Sonya shoots them, I interview them and do a story on a moment in time with them. 

Sonya: Big art and little art. I think we'd both like the chance to go really big with some of our ideas. Also, I'd love to get back into the jewellery studio, and have Toby design some 3D characters to cast in silver. That'd be really fun.

Sonya is always making - whether for her own home and family or the Beard & Braid store. She documents all her making and homemaking on her lifestyle blog, A Lioness You.
Sonya steals flowers from people's gardens.  She turned her thievery into a beautiful photo series - you can buy the photographic prints over on Beard & Braid.

O U R   N E W   P R O J E C T   B E A R D  &  B R A I D   I S :

Sonya: Beard & Braid is our family store. For a long time Toby and I have worked very separately, and when we have tried to collaborate, it's been quite forced, and not always very successful. We both love making things, and selling our work and we both had separate web shops and it was all very "this is yours and this is mine". But everything we do is literally done side by side. Everything is filtered and edited and talked over with the other person, and as we became a family, it seemed weird to keep defining our work as separate. Because it's just us. So we streamlined our webstores into one space, and made it a family store. Somewhere where we can sell whatever we want. It's not very commercial. It's an umbrella under which we can both stand, even if what is produced is very clearly one or the others.

C O M I N G   U P   S O O N   F O R   U S   IS:

Toby: I've got some prints I'm working on and a couple of books in the works that are comely along very slowly but surely. One thing we've done with the shop is sell commissioned paintings by our little sons Max and Iggy. I love drawing and painting with them so hopefully they keep getting a few requests. Max did an amazing lizard the other day. 

Sonya: I'm working on a zine of a series of photos that I've been taking of the flowers my son has brought me. The zine is a collection of Polaroids, Instagrams and a little writing. Toby will be heavily involved in the design of it. 

We are speaking at a Design Assembly talk on the 5th of March about collaboration. About why it's hard and good, and when it goes wrong, and when it goes right. It should be fun but I'm a bit nervous!

The Beard & Braid logo (best ever) | One of Toby & Sonya's co-creative prints, titled Bird & Bird (their kitten)

Two of a number of Toby's works for sale on Beard & Braid - an original painting and a handprinted linocut print. (Endemicworld also has a catalogue of Toby Morris art prints.)

A Lioness You - Sonya's making and homemaking blog

Sonya Nagels Instagram

• • Sonya and Toby are giving a talk this week (along with Hardhat Design and Libby & Ben) at  Design Assembly's Autumn Conversations Event. Get more info and tickets here.

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