"As an independent female creative lead, Tasmanian-trained and -based, it means a lot to be able to illustrate that you do not need to be a big agency with grand budgets to do good, inspiring work."
"I want to encourage more Tasmanian-based designers to look at a multi-faceted practice; one that incorporates the handmade, and an innovative, distinct approach to manufacturing with considerations for sustainability."
Design is in Megan Perkins’ blood.
It kindled early, although—in a classic act of teenage rebellion—she tried to ignore it at first.
Megan grew up in Franklin, a small township nestled in the hills of the Huon Valley. Her father built her childhood home; a wooden house overlooking the banks of the river and surrounded by markets and makers. Franklin is home to the Wooden Boat Centre, the only school in Australia that teaches traditional wooden boat construction, and while it may no longer be the biggest or busiest town in the valley, Franklin continues to foster a culture of creativity.
In addition to building his daughter’s childhood home, Kevin Perkins is considered one of Australia’s foremost furniture designer-makers. He lectured budding designers for 25 years at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) School of Art. He taught his young daughter how to design and make her own enamel jewellery. Megan was on the most obvious and comfortable path in her family and community, if not the wider world.
And then she stepped off it.
“I basically ignored this aspect of myself while I was at school,” she says. “I did art in Year Seven and then avoided it for many years. I was obsessively into athletics and pretty decent at it, I’m not sure if any of my records still stand, but I was very much on a path to have a sports-related career. And then I went exploring.”
Megan returned to Tasmania with a newfound love for travel and a renewed passion for the arts. She completed a Bachelor at the UTAS School of Art (although still avoided furniture design) and partially funded her studies through her contemporary jewellery line, selling to local stores and galleries.
Today, Megan’s practice remains multi-disciplinary. She’s a skilled jewellery-maker, an award-winning designer, and a practiced communications expert. She was responsible for branding Dark Mofo, Hobart’s winter solstice festival run by the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) until launching her own practice at the beginning of 2020. She’s won awards for her jewellery, her branding, and her packaging at state, national, and international levels. She’s also currently Chair of Design Tasmania, a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to support design in Tasmania.
Creatives often wear many hats. It’s not unusual for a photographer to dabble in design, or for a performer to try their hand at writing.
In Tasmania, it’s not always enough just to dabble. A small place has its challenges, and versatility and resourcefulness are often essential for success.
“I think it’s necessary in Tasmania,” says Megan. “That’s kind of how I’ve grown up; you need to be good at many things, because there haven’t always been other people to lean on. You just learn to do it yourself. It’s very unique to this place, and it took me a while to see it like that; to recognise that it’s not something you see much elsewhere. I’ve realised it’s a strength.”
Small places also have their misconceptions. Megan chose Tasmania to learn, hone, and practice her craft—a decision she says is sometimes met with surprise, or even confusion.
“I’ve reached a certain level of my career, and I’m often asked by people how I achieved my success. Sometimes, they can’t get their head around the fact that I trained here—that I haven’t been to some international design university, or that I’ve developed my profession outside a renowned design agency, or that I’ve built my career up from Tasmania. That notion really challenges peoples’ perceptions of what success looks like.”
Megan was recently awarded first place in the International Dieline Awards for Dark Spirits with her packaging design for Tasmanian distillery Taylor & Smith, an accolade closely followed by a Pinnacle for Packaging at the 2021 Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) Awards. A Pinnacle is the highest accolade the jury can bestow, requiring an aggregated score of over 95% for an original, engaging idea executed to the highest level of craft.
Her creation challenges the masculine clichés of traditional whisky packaging, championing influential Tasmanian women as ambassadors and using Tasmania’s environment for inspiration. The display case is reusable, designed to be purchased once and used often.
Megan says she’s an advocate for challenging things from the outside, and for choosing to work differently—and more Tasmanian.
“As an independent female creative lead, Tasmanian-trained and -based, it means a lot to be able to illustrate that you do not need to be a big agency with grand budgets to do good, inspiring work. I want to encourage more Tasmanian-based designers to look at a multi-faceted practice; one that incorporates the handmade, and an innovative, distinct approach to manufacturing with considerations for sustainability.
“Tasmania has such a unique industry of designer-makers. I think that’s inherent in our cultural identity; it comes from how we perceive the world. It’s what makes us Tasmanian. We’re not separate from our environment here, we are a part of it. It’s so present in ways that I haven’t seen in many other places.”