Penelope Bell is one of those women that you meet and you instinctively know she is her own person. She is self-assured without being arrogant, she is thoughtful, attentively listens and openly and generously compliments without coming across as being disingenuous. You can tell she is an old soul who genuinely loves a good chat, regardless of who you are and what you are doing. This is a hard mix to find. She also happens to be a very talented artist who not only has an incredible body of work in the fashion illustration and design space but who actively supports and encourages female empowerment. Oh…and she loves a good sequin. What’s not to love! We recently engaged Penelope to create two new incredible prints (which we cannot wait to share with you) for our Cocktails at Sunset collection due for release later this year. Because Penelope is such an important part of the Robe family, we wanted to sit down with her, get to know her a bit better and share that beautiful soul with you!
You recently painted a Brisbane woman, Judy Stewart, for the new Brisbane Portrait Prize offering. You described Judy as possessing a “gentle fierceness”. I can only dream of people saying I have a gentle fierceness – I fear mine is more of a fierce fierceness! Tell us why you entered this competition, why you chose Judy and what about her made you describe her in that magnificent way.
I entered the Brisbane Portrait Prize for a few reasons. The main reason is because I like to support the creative industries wherever I can and initiatives like the Brisbane Portrait Prize (which has significant investment, potential and expectation) serve an important purpose to not just those in the creative industries but other industries too.
On a personal note, I chose to enter it because I wanted to challenge myself to paint on a large scale again. So much of my creative practice is usually following another’s art brief whereas this artwork was something I decided to do just for me. It’s a desire I’ve been ignoring for quite some time so it’s a special piece to me on many levels.
I chose to paint Judy because she was one of the first faces who came to my mind when I was first told about the prize. When I first met Judy, she came across to me as interesting, interested, intelligent, nurturing, kind, animated, enthusiastic and determined and I figure, anyone who possesses those attributes has (generally speaking) always lived life well! She is obviously naturally beautiful and I love how her face holds age, wisdom and confidence without barrier or apology. I described Judy as posessing a gentle fierceness because she accesses her self worth and strength through her vulnerabilities. It’s admirable!
When did you discover painting, illustration, art and design in general and when did you decide that that was your path?
It sounds ridiculous but I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil, so around 2 – 3 years old. Art and design has been in my life for as long as I can remember. My Mother is an artist and Art teacher and my Nana and Papa had a fashion label back in the day so there was no escaping it really! The performing arts is prevalent on my Dad’s side of the family so creative expression was definitely encouraged to my siblings and I from a very young age!
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A sneaky look behind the scenes of a “yet to be revealed” project I have been working on with luxury resort wear brand @get_robed . Delicate, feminine and enchanting all rolled into one. Keep an eye out in the weeks to come. Xx⠀ ⠀ #fashionillustrator #fashion #slowfashion #slowfashionmovement #slowfashionblogger #getrobed
I don’t know if there was any defining moment in my life when I made the decision to study fashion design, it just always felt like that was what I was going to do. Nana taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was around 7 years old because I wanted to sew clothes for me and my Barbies and the interest continued on!
Tell us about your work – what is your favourite part of it and how do you stay motivated working for yourself?
The best part of my job is the creative brainstorming for campaign concepts and stories and then creating the imagery to support it. I love it! Storytelling through imagery and design has been around since the beginning of time and is so important. I find it inspiring and incredibly stimulating!
Motivation... Like everyone, I have my good days and my bad days but overall I would say motivation requires a great deal of resilience! Someone told me very early on in the piece that I should replace any attachment I have towards my purpose, with commitment. The idea being that it’s easier to act from a place of commitment than a place of attachment.
What new and exciting things do you have on the horizon for work at the moment? Any secret squirrel things we can be let in on?
Every time someone asks me this question my mind seems to go blank and its only afterwards that I remember everything I have coming up!
There are a few projects I am working on for other businesses but I don’t think I’m allowed to speak about any of them yet! Sorry!
I’m currently working on some online courses which I’m really excited about, as well as beginning a new Consciously Spending Less To Create More fashion challenge in October.
Outside of your work, where will we find you? What drives you on the weekends?
This is tough one to answer because I’ve got a broad range of interests so you could find me anywhere!
Outside of work, I’m quite a social person. I love going to the theatre, musicals, opera, art galleries or attending a sports event. I’m fairly active so I always do some form of exercise in the mornings whether it is going for a long run, doing pilates or yoga or jogging (more like walking) up Mount Coot-tha. Staying fit and feeling healthy is definitely and has always been one of my drivers. I’ve always loved cooking and in the last few years have taken up gardening too so a good portion of my weekends are making like Martha Stewart and wearing my domestic crown! Feeling connected to the earth and a bigger purpose is another significant driver for me as is spending time my family and friends.
I recently shared a lovely breakfast with you at the Vogue Codes. You were wearing the BEST pair of sequin pants and your hair was elegantly and (to use your beautiful language ‘gently but fiercely’) swished back – you were literally killing it in the fashion and style stakes – how would you describe your style?
Femininely classic with a few twists, turns and colourful fire crackers thrown up under the skirt!
You are a self-confessed storyteller, which I love. I spend half my life listening to people tell their stories on podcasts and I am obsessed! Tell us a story about Penelope Bell…maybe even a story not many people know…
A self-confessed anything is a bit cringe-worthy but yes, indeed I am a self-confessed storyteller! I love stories!
Something people might not know about me is I loathe being pigeonholed! For example being called “a creative” makes me feel claustrophobic and misunderstood. There has always been a quiet determination in me not to be categorised as the “muso/ artsy” kind. I’m not sure what it has stemmed from but I’ve always gone out of my way to prove myself in other areas. Perhaps it’s a fear of missing out on all that life has to offer and an insatiable curiosity for understanding how and why things are the way they are.
So, a story people might not know about me is: I studied Drama all throughout school, was classically trained in voice for 6 years, topped the state in Speech and Drama, won acting bursaries and awards, was Arts Captain and was given (and accepted) an acting half scholarship out of school. Before I studied fashion design, I studied part of a Communications degree at the University of Queensland and took a number of Drama, Film and Television subjects which were a part of my course. Performing on a stage in front of hundreds of people is one of the things which makes me feel exactly like me – it makes me feel alive! Give me a microphone, lead role, presenting gig or put me in front of a video camera and I’m like a pig in mud!
If I can create a more conscious, sustainable, educated and positive experience for people by sharing the stories of creatives, artisans, luxury and heritage brands all over the world, then I’m on my way to living my best life! How fantastic is it that I can tell these narratives through illustration, narration, video and bespoke keepsakes?!
What are you watching at the moment on Netflix (or equivalent), what are you reading and what are you listening to?
Television isn’t something I watch a lot of and if I say what I do watch I think another 100 grey hairs will sprout on my head! I watch the ABC news, Australian Story, Catalyst, The Repair Shop (highly recommend), True Story and (curve ball) The Bachelor... (I can’t believe I’m admitting these out loud!) I love a good animal doco and there is a brilliant documentary about Iris Apfel on Netflix called “Iris”. It’s one of the most uplifting things you’ll watch. This is also one of the most heart-warming things you’ll watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWKTfqivbRQ !
At the moment I’m reading “It’s Not Your Money” by Tosha Silver. I’ve recently finished “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown, “Entrepreneurial You” by Dorie Clark and “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Last year I read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert which is one of the most inspirational books I’ve read in a long time.
Listening to: PODCASTS!! I love them! I binge listened to The Teacher’s Pet, Content Sells, Wardrobe Crisis, A Stand Out Life, Oprah’s SoulSeries, Hamish and Andy, Conversation Hour with Richard Fidler. Also, Taylor Swift’s new album Lover – love me so T-Swizzle.
Finally, our incredibly gratuitous question – do you have a favourite Robe and, if so, which one is it and how are you styling it?
Sophia in Central Park (soon to be surpassed by pieces from our collab!). It reminds me of my life working and living in New York! I style it with a big, worn raffia woven hat, a raffia straw beach bag, barefeet, nude glossy lip, hair slicked back, open. So luxe!
What a great read! Penelope Bell you are a true talent and Robe, your Robe’s are devine! Can’t wait to see the Robe x Penelope Bell collection when released x