Career Lessons From An Artist: The Vivid Sydney Lighting Designer

Want to be a novelist? A painter? A designer? You may know a little about the hard work that goes into practicing your art – but what about making it into a business?

“If you’re a creative person, you’ll find an outlet no matter what but making it into a career is a whole other beast,” says Renzo B. Larriviere, cofounder of creative lighting design practice Amigo and Amigo, taking centre stage at Vivid Sydney from 25 May to 16 June. “Nothing will come without effort, so it’s important that you seek out opportunities and take them.”

Renzo B Larriviere vivid sydney

Renzo B Larriviere of Amigo and Amigo

Making art into a career

Renzo always intended to work in art, and began studying sculpture in his home country of Peru. He had noticed that creative careers weren’t among the top-paying careers there – even more noticeably than in other countries – so ended up in Australia, where his sister already lived.

“I chose to study industrial design at the University of Technology, Sydney, as it married my love of art with the more practical aspects of physically creating something,” he says. “This worked out to be a good decision, giving me the foundation to forge a creative career.”

Both Renzo’s parents already had long careers in architecture, so he felt a natural inclination towards design, and he loves “being able to take something from a quick sketch and see it finally brought to life in the flesh.”

Stepping into lighting design was an “organic progression” for Renzo after meeting his future business partner, Simone Chua, at uni. The pair found that designing together and adding light and animation took their designs to a whole new level. It also brought about demand for their work.

“Our first job came about by chance after Simone met one of the people behind TedX and asked us to do their stage design,” says Renzo. “Once we’d created this, we realised there were opportunities for similar work at events such as Vivid Sydney.”


Birds of Lumos, by Amigo and Amigo, for Vivid Sydney 2017

Don’t be afraid to take the leap

Renzo acknowledges that making the switch from full-time work to creative practice is not simple. It takes a bunch of courage and a step into the unknown.

“When turning art into a business, it’s important to compromise, but also essential to stick to your guns when you disagree with an artistic decision.”

“When we started the business, I was working a full-time job as a head designer for another company,” he says. “As we got more involved in the studio it quickly became a full-time job in itself. Ultimately, you have to take a risk and just jump in to make it work.”

He says he spends a lot of time on work that has nothing to do with the art – tasks like managing budgets, sourcing suppliers and project management, the same as any small business.

“The ability to wear different hats for different scenarios is something we had to learn quickly,” he says. “You need to deal with stress and hard deadlines – when it’s your own reputation, money and business on the line, this reaches new heights. Also try and learn to function on five hours of sleep!”

A render of Fugu, an artwork by Amigo and Amigo

The business side of art

“When turning art into a business, it’s important to compromise, but also essential to stick to your guns when you disagree with an artistic decision,” says Renzo.

Balancing being realistic and listening to advice with pursuing your creative vision is essential. Especially given, as Renzo has learned, surrounding yourself with people who know more than you is the only way to take your business to the next level.

“Although it was just Simone and I at the beginning we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have without new faces and inspiration,” he says. “Our technologist Chris Daniel for instance, who is involved in designing Fugu for this year’s Vivid Sydney, has brought his technical know-how to make our work better.”

In giving advice to fellow artists who want to take their art to the next level, he quotes advice he himself had heard.

“I always remember a quote from the cartoonist Scott McCloud: ‘Learn from everyone, follow no-one. Watch for patterns. Work like hell.’”

If you’re feeling inspired, find out how to establish your own agency, or how to make money as an artist.

Check out work by Renzo and Simone at Vivid Sydney, running from 25 May to 16 June, including Astral, Fugu, Octopoda and Crank Zappa Jellyfish.

Mitch is Editor of The Cusp. Catch him on Twitter @MitchBrook.