Alexandra Nea is an illustrator, designer, afternoon tea enthusiast and mad teacup collector. Shes also the mother to Samuel, 21 months. Nea worked as a fashion designer for over 12 years at labels such as Ted Baker in London and Collette Dinnigan and Little Joe Woman in Sydney as well as running her own namesake label. Creating has always been my passion: sewing, painting, drawing, designing, crafting, furniture restoration. I love anything involving getting my hands dirty! she says. Five years ago, the Sydney based Nea found herself working in a role that was no longer challenging her creatively, so she started to draw. I have a love of baking passed down to me from my mum and a slight obsession with collecting vintage china. Putting these two loves together with my drawing skills, I set out to capture vignettes of sweet treats displayed on my beloved vintage china in pencil illustrations. Nea started a blog, The Art of Afternoon Tea, where shed post a new recipe and accompanying illustration each week. Shes since launched a new site, Alexandra Nea, where all of her recipes and afternoon tea illustrations can now be found, along with her incredible Enfant series. One of my most popular requests for commissions is illustrations of little babies and toddlers for new arrivals or birthday presents. They make such a special gift, she says. We visited the talented mother at home to find out more
Do whatever you love
Find your thing that inspires you, that excites you, that gets you out of bed in the morning and pursue it with all your heart. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a job or career that bores or doesn’t challenge you. Don’t be afraid to take the road less travelled, it is often down these overgrown paths, once you have bashed your way through, that the best adventures and most satisfying rewards will come your way.
My own mother was a hard working high school teacher
She taught hospitality and design and technology and built her hours around raising my younger sister and I, together with my father who also worked full time. As busy as she was, she would always find time after her workday to cook amazing meals for our family. We always sat down together for dinner and discussed the day.
Trust your instincts
As a new Mum you may not realise it yet, second guessing every little thing, but you know your baby. You know when something is just not right and to seek outside help. Listen to your head because mother absolutely knows best. If you know a new mum who you think may not be coping so well, reach out to her. By sharing and encouraging one another through the little milestones and riding out the dark moments with a friend by your side, we become better mums and stronger women.
My background in design often has me riffling through a vintage market…
Rediscovering bits and pieces of fabrics and lace where a colour, cut or embroidery catches my eye. I tend to be pulled towards anything old worldly, things that were handmade in an era long past, long forgotten. There is magic in a handmade piece, someone has spent many hours crafting a unique object, one of a kind, special. When I stumble across a piece like this no matter how big or small, this inspires and excites me. My illustration work pulls me in many different directions. From creating illustrations of weddings in my signature fashion caricature style to my afternoon tea foodie pieces, together with my botanical floral work, fashion and enfant styling, I am often working on several styles at once. The initial inspiration for each piece is unique and quite often comes from a special object I have collected on my travels over the years.
The Enfant series started after Sam was born
I found a new love in childrens illustrations. I started to draw Sam as a baby and a toddler, imagining what he may grow to look like and the things he may love. I have a number of little lady illustrations also that I have turned into limited edition prints and cards, making lovely gifts for family and friends. I have also recently started a new project, Sam and Maggie’s ABC. I am very slowly creating illustrations of each letter of the alphabet, featuring Sam and Maggie our chocolate lab playing, filling them to the brim with objects starting with that letter. I have hopes to one day turn it into a children’s book.
My tea sets are collected from all over the world
Where ever I travel I hunt out the local markets and vintage stores and set aside some time by myself to trawl for that special piece. I would say my love of afternoon tea stems from a combination of my love of baking (and consuming) sweet treats together with the old fashioned art of the tea service. In days gone by, taking your tea would be a savoured affair, something to be enjoyed and not rushed. I love the idea of sitting down to a delicious treat, relaxing into your armchair with a steaming china cup of tea. In the rush of modern life, I find this simple act of taking tea properly can be so refreshing for the soul.
My career completely changed after the birth of Sam
I went from working regular full time hours as a senior fashion designer at Little Joe Woman to working crazy all hours as a freelance illustrator around being a new Mum. I was working on and still am, establishing myself in a brand new industry. I have started again from scratch and as scary as that can be, it is thrilling, exhausting, inspiring and all consuming. I only have myself to congratulate or blame for success or mistakes, the only way from here is up and that is an exciting prospect!
I do find it now more important than ever that when I am with Sam, I am not trying to do work related stuff
Neither of them gets the attention and focus they deserve. If it means I am answering emails and drawing late into the evening then so be it. Often if I am working in the evenings I will take my pencils and paper and sit in the living room with my husband. Here I can still work while he unwinds from his work day and we can catch up while watching our latest favourite series, multitasking at it’s finest! My husband and I both take time out during the week to play sport and fitness train and on weekends we plan little family outings to the markets and park or run away from Sydney to the South Coast together to unwind.
Sam is about to enter daycare
I am also very lucky that we have both dotting grandparents who mind Sam on a regular basis, allowing me some muchneeded weekdays to work. When I am with Sam, I try to ignore any pressing work related issues, however this is easier said than done. Aside from play dates and park trips, I also like to involve Sam in the day to day tasks like stacking the dishwasher, doing the food shopping, the washing, the cooking etc. I think it’s important he sees this is how things work and get done. As soon as Sam goes down for his day sleep, I switch to business work mode. I have always been organised but since becoming a mother I have had to turn that dial up to top notch. Organisation is key. Every evening I create a list of what needs to be done the next day, I find this helps me focus on the task at hand and maximize my day. Of course, some days all plans fly out the window as I spend the day snuggled on the couch with a sick baby. In these moments I tell myself nothing else matters, my baby just needs me to hold him.
We have been in our home for seven years
We bought it as a run down old workers cottage and did a complete overhaul renovation, adding two more bedrooms and bathrooms and a new upstairs floor. My taste in interiors is slightly eclectic. I am drawn to the 1920’s period with its stunning Chinoiserie influences, I also love mid century Danish design as well as classic Australian country antiques.
The hardest part of becoming a mother for me was letting go of my slightly obsessive control over everything
When you become a Mum, life gets really messy and it has been liberating to be able to create real chaos, sit back and say, I am ok with this and actually I really enjoy it! The best part is the feeling you get when your little person wraps their tiny arms around your neck and squeezes you with all their might, I wish I could bottle that overwhelming sensation of love.”
Alexandras little list of loves:
Curled up on the couch with Sam reading books.
My morning cup of tea.
Cookies and cream ice cream.
Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo Words: Georgie Abay