Portrait of Ngaio Parr and Adi Goodrich; illustration by Ngaio Parr

If you’ve ever found the creative community a hard nut to crack, or struggled to form real friendships amidst all the competition, take a cue from two successful, busy women who forged a deep personal connection despite living 10,000 miles apart. While popular TV shows would have us believe that the secret to being besties is to be tied to a never-ending string of texts (or in the Sex and the City days, to live in a perpetual state of cocktails and brunch), helicopter friendships don’t actually mean better, closer friendships. 

Today, more and more women are finding community in low-commitment groups like Girl’s Night Inwhich favor Friday nights spent cozied up on the couch, not out in a bar or club. Adi Goodrich, an L.A.-based set designer and art director, and Ngaio Parr, an illustrator, designer, art director, curator, and teacher in Sydney, credit their low-maintenance, long-distance relationship style for not just bringing them closer together, but for laying the foundation for one of their closest friendships, period.

This was put to the test last year, when Parr’s father unexpectedly died while she was in the midst of producing her annual creative conference, Make Nice; she later announced it would be her last. It was at the first Make Nice in 2015 that Parr met Goodrich, whom she tapped to be a speaker. They didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of a friendship that would see them through personal battles, professional hurdles, and the darkest stages of grief. Now, firmly on the other side, Parr and Goodrich sat down over a video chat to talk about how they manage their thoroughly modern friendship, and recount some of the unexpected places it’s taken them.

Make Nice identity design, by Ngaio Parr

Adi Goodrich: I have a hard time making friends and connecting with people. I’m sure we all do, but it’s really hard for me to find someone who’s as like-minded or has the same kind of energy towards life. And when I met you, Ngaio, it was an instant connection.

I felt really comfortable with you. You were open; there wasn’t any fakeness or a facade of like, I’m running a conference and I’m super busy.” Even before we met in person, our dialogue really honest and open. I think that’s why we maintained a friendship beyond the conference, which you don’t generally do with people you meet that way. Maybe you just stay in touch on social media or something.

Ngaio Parr: It was such an easy connection, and something I don’t experience much. Your way of thinking is actually what initially drew me to your work. You’re constantly learning about other artists and other people and other places—that’s where you get all of your inspiration—not from social media. You’re really curious and love learning. And it’s not like you sit down to learn one thing to do one project. It’s just like, a life thing. And that is how I live too.

I loved being able to curate such a intelligent and generous roster of women for both Make Nice conferences, I accumulate all these lists of amazing people in my head and it was wonderful to be able to put it to use in my own way.  For the conference, I thought that that was a really important thing that a lot of creative people don’t get exposed to very much. Instead at conferences, the presentations especially at that time were very prescriptive: “I did this work. This is how great I am.”

Instead, at Make Nice you talked about how hard it is to stay indoors all the time and focus on your work and do things that are opposite to what may be cool or normal at the time. It was about making really hard decisions in your career to make sure that you were living the kind of life that you want to live. It was so refreshing to talk to each other about all that.

Goodrich: I think both of us realized that we don’t have that many close girlfriends. I’m not one to call a girlfriend every day at all. I’m not one to call anyone, ever, every day. I’m really close to my family, my partner Sean [Pecknold], and a lot of the people I’ve worked with, like my [set] builder dudes who are like family, but I think both of us admitted to each other that we don’t have a lot of girlfriends, and that manages expectations in our friendship. I don’t think that works for a lot of people.

Parr: We’re quite independent and we aren’t people that call to talk about what their lunch was everyday. That, and we both have a pretty low tolerance for banal conversation. We’re also both driven in our work and it’s very easily understood when someone has a project that’s like three weeks straight, crazy hours every day and can’t talk. That’s not an issue. It also helps that both of our partners like each other too!

Goodrich: But a couple of months ago, you suggested that we should try to talk more, at least once a month, even if it’s just five minutes. There aren’t many people in the world that can get down with that, but when your philosophy, your work, and your art click, you don’t have to talk long or often to connect deeply. It can be a quick what’s up? What’s good, what’s bad, what’s happening? Those short calls are often really meaningful conversations.

I’m not one to call a girlfriend every day at all. I’m not one to call anyone, ever, every day.

Parr: And being present in that time. So if we have five-minute phone call, that’s probably better than say, an hour-long chat where we’re distracted by our iPhones or doing something else in the same time. It’s much more fulfilling.

I don’t think you have to be in frequent contact to be a close friend with someone. I think what shows a close connection is if I can jump on the phone and we can chat about nothing or we can chat about something deep for a few minutes, and that’s totally fine. And then we can both be busy for the next two months but the next time we talk we just click straight back into that conversation.

I didn’t grasp that kind of connection for a long time. I think movies and television tell you that you have to be connected at the hip with someone to be close to them. And because we both have really amazing partners as well, that makes that difficult. Releasing myself from that Sex and the City idea of friendship with group chats and co-dependent levels of contact has really worked for us—for a long time I felt like I wasn’t doing friendship right because that isn’t how my friendships look, you and I spend time face-to-face and have quick calls, other friends I keep in touch with over shared Spotify playlists! We spend time when we can spend time, ask questions when we have questions, catch up when we have the time to catch up, but I don’t think either of us feels bad if we can’t do that. I think the bigger thing here is that we both want to live the same kind of life.

Goodrich: Yeah, what’s an example of that kind of life?

Parr: For one thing, we both really love nature and getting away from our studios when we can.

Goodrich: Yes, walking! We both like to go on walks in nature every day. Lately, Sean and I have been reading a lot just about how people like Darwin, and—now I’m drawing a blank on all the great thinkers—but how walking was a part of their life. It’s a way to get inspired, but also to calm down and make the brain stop. That’s a basic life thing that we both do every single day and I don’t think we even talk about it, but my most memorable times together were a couple of hour-long walks on Bondi beach. We just walked, and walked, and walked. It’s the best. There are runners and there are people that work out, but the walkers are a special group of people, I think, who are thoughtful. You’re just out there, contemplating life, and creativity, and giving yourself a break, and not getting sweaty.

Parr: Walking is essential. If your alone it gives you time to contemplate, and if you are with someone you love it is time you spend together that is uninterrupted by social media or life admin. Part of that is just getting older and figuring out what your life essentials are, because if you don’t, you’re going to get told what they are and they’re not going to be what you want them to be. I think people say, Oh yeah, I like going for walks, but I don’t have time.” But you can totally can! It doesn’t matter how busy you are. That’s something that comes out of our friendship, and it’s something that we both strive to do every day, to put the important things first and then whatever is left we can do after that. It’s actively making time to do it. No excuses.

I think that the opposite is rewarded in the creative industry. If you’re not busy and always doing too much stuff and producing so much work, then you’re not as worthy. I has swallowed that pretty whole, and then realized that that’s not the case. Or if it is the case, I didn’t want to be part of it.

I had to produce Make Nice about eight weeks after my father suddenly passed away, which was extreme, to say the least. At the time I had been doing an annual multi-day conference and online community on top of my creative work for the past four and a half years, and then also being the chief caregiver for my father when he was sick in a different state from where I live, a privilege to do, but not easy. I wasn’t spending time on my friendships or my health at all. About six months after my father passed away and I finished up Make Nice and had a little bit of time, I realized that I needed to change those priorities. I had spent a good part of a decade burying myself in work—and this most terrible experience of my life helped me realise that even if you love your work, it is never that important.

Make Nice identity design, by Ngaio Parr

Goodrich: I didn’t find out until you sent an email to all your friends and just explained everything. It was so like you to be so adult and professional. I’m often really inspired by the way you word things and react to things. It might have something to do with your beautiful accent. You’re often like very level-headed. In the email you said you’d rather not have anyone check in or call, and that you just wanted to make people aware because you would need time to get back to everyone.

Parr: I forgot about that email! In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have sent it. When something’s bad, I like to sit on my own with it and I don’t want help even though I probably should have asked for it. I think that was when I was still very, “This is a task that needs to be completed,” which shows I work when I’m busy. I thought I worked best under pressure, and that email was just something that I had to tick off because I was too busy to focus on it. Which is hilarious if anyone has ever actually been through anything like your favorite person in the world dying suddenly, because you obviously can’t ignore that kind of thing. Both our dads were really formative in who we have both become.

Art direction and set design by Adi Goodrich

Goodrich: My dad taught me everything about building, and the history of architecture. And four years ago we stopped talking. I don’t want to get into that, but there is a certain amount of loss with him. I don’t know if I ever told you that at the time, but I did understand the connection with a dad who was a really important person in your life.

Parr: I didn’t know that, I’m sorry because I know it so hard. Not talking about it at the time was a way to push people away so that I didn’t have to be vulnerable, because I’m not a vulnerable person to a lot of people—the exception being you, my partner, family. I’m a strong, capable person, and I probably unconsciously didn’t like being considered a victim.

Goodrich: I remember talking to Sean about it after I got your email. At the time were doing design set design for the world tour Fleet Foxes [Sean’s brother’s band]. The first show was in Sydney and I was like, we have to get Ngaio there. It felt like the the perfect thing to do. Their music is so wonderful and soothing and so spiritual in a way.

Parr: That album came out when my dad was really sick, and I had listened to it a lot. It’s the right kind of music to be listening to when you go through something like that. That’s so you to bring me out to that concert. Whenever I have a shit thing happen, I know you’ll get it because you’ve probably been through something similar. And more importantly, you would deal with it in the same way I would, which is is more relevant, instead of someone just saying, “Hey, it’s okay.”

Goodrich: I think we’re subconsciously connected in that way. Remember my talk at Make Nice was all about quitting. I traced my timeline of becoming a set designer and then working pretty consistently with two photographers for a few years. I realized that I had kind of hit a ceiling and I was like, I can do it forever and that’s fine, but I really want to be the photographer. So I gave up my woodshop. I told all my guys I was out of set design and I focused on photography, and that how I ended up starting a studio with Sean. In my talk I was very open about all the emotions I had, how scary and dramatic it all was. I had some legal issues, too, and friends stopped talking to me—still don’t talk to me—over my decision to get into photography.

Parr: That is all so wild. Unimaginable!

Art direction and set design by Adi Goodrich

Goodrich: I know! Everyone reacts that way. It’s like, really? When I started doing sets there was really no one doing that kind of set design, especially in-house. Most set designers will design sets and then work with build houses, so budgets get really big. I was building and designing in-house, and making what I think are really wonderful handmade graphic sets. So I had been making sets for all these photographers for years, and then when I decided to focus on photography, all of a sudden they had no one. On top of that, they felt like if I started doing photography and set design, which is what I do now, I was going to take their work.

The moral of the story is I went through a lot of loss and drama for the first time, mostly with two female photographers. I kind of hate to call it girl drama, but it really was. And it was my first time going through something like that.

Parr: Pettiness. It’s something I’ve experienced too. So unnecessarily personal.

Goodrich: Yeah, really personal. Like I said, all my guy friends are my builder friends, who I’ve been friends with for well over 20 years at this point. We just tell it how it is and we’re not out to get each other. With these other people, it felt like we’re out to get each other in a way.

But the connection with you, Ngaio, is such that I was able to talk freely about loss and professional hurdles that I had to get through. Maybe that’s why we’re able to get along so well, because we can talk about that honesty right away. We both have a pretty low tolerance for that kind of petty behavior and I’ve never been part of it. That’s also where our kinship came from, because that kind of behavior was so foreign to us, so being able to talk to someone else about why it’s confusing because you just can’t even imagine that people work in a disrespectful manner to those around them.

I was able to talk freely about loss and professional hurdles that I had to get through.

Parr: Being able to talk to each other about these things has been key. I do wish we hadn’t both had these experiences, but they make it so wonderful when you then work with people that are on the same wavelength. Working with clients and other collaborators who are kind, strong, and respectful makes that lesson one worth learning.

Were you ever worried about fear of failure, or fear of failing your crew going through those big changes?

Goodrich: I was really nervous to let my crew down, and nervous for my guys who relied on me for all their freelance work. I took all my guys out for a steak dinner and wrote them all love letters and said I’d help them in any way possible—making connections, helping with their websites, helping them put together budgets, and just be there as a mentor or to answer any questions about pricing or getting paid or whatever.

Parr: That practical, getting paid thing is such a tricky thing as a freelancer, especially when you’re just starting out. Like, my invoice hasn’t been paid for like three months, what do I do?

Image by Adi Goodrich

Goodrich: It’s often scary to talk to people about it. At that time, I’d been at it on my own for about six years I was like, “Fuck those people, here’s what you’ve gotta do and here’s who you’ve gotta call.” But the fear of leaving, that is something real. I don’t have a family that’s ever supported me financially or has ever supported me at all, in any way. I’m always like really scared about making it because I don’t have anyone to fall back on if something crazy happened.

It wasn’t a fear of letting anyone down, especially on social media because that is mostly annoying. It was a fear of: how will I pay my bills? With you deciding to shut down Make Nice to focus on your illustration and design, it’s so different because that was a very public thing.

Parr: I felt like Make Nice had changed how the world perceived my abilities — the conference took over but I wanted to keep making creative work. I’d spent so long building up this community with Make Nice and so much amazing stuff was happening with it, and I felt terrible taking that away from people. And while I love curating the speakers and the creative direction, I didn’t like the remaining 95% and I was spending so much time in the stuff I didn’t love. Coming back to what we talked about our life essentials, mine don’t include budgets and sponsorships and social media. In retrospect, Make Nice also worked as an excuse if I couldn’t put all my focus into my creative work. If I failed I could say to myself, “oh, it’s because I’m working 60 hours a week on this as well as everything else you’re seeing”.

I’m still working at that, to be honest. Even though I’ve shut down Make Nice, I have a tendency to overcommit to things and say yes and then realize, oh shit, now for the next two months I can’t do my own artwork. There are those projects that sound great but end up being much bigger than you’ve anticipated. So if you’re not focused on what you want to be doing, it can be easy to say yes to things you maybe shouldn’t.

It is so reviving to focus on the work you want to be doing. Being able to give all my attention to illustration, art, and design has been energising. I’m still scared though! I don’t have a safety net to catch me either if this all goes south, I’m supporting myself—there is no one else to fall back on.

But you’re going to be scared whether you do it or not, so you may as well just do it. And then at least you don’t have the feeling of regret on top of it all. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

If you’re not focused on what you want to be doing, it can be easy to say yes to things you maybe shouldn’t.

Goodrich: I remember when you asked me how you should announce that Make Nice is done. In the end, you did it exactly how you would do it. Our conversation was more of a place not to listen to my advice but more to listen to yourself. Right?

Parr: Yes—like a mirror you sometimes need to hear your own thoughts.

Goodrich: I mean, often when you talk to a good friend it’s not necessarily in the hope that they’re going to have the right answer, but it’s the fact that in talking with this person you are going to come up with the answer yourself, and that’s enough.

Still, I was wondering, is there anything I’ve said to you that echoes in your head? For me, it’s when you told me that you decided to not do commercial work and to just say no to all commercial work for a while. And when I asked you how that was going you said it takes a couple of weeks to feel okay about not making anything for anything. To get used to the feeling of just being with yourself, for yourself, making work for nothing.

It rings in my ear all the time. I’ve been trying to do that more. It takes weeks to remove yourself from that regular work and from social media and to rid yourself from any kind of action done in reaction to other people’s prompts. It’s not just one day, where you can spend a day in the studio and you’re like, I’m back!

Parr: Maybe it resonated because it’s such a constant balance! I feel as though both of us love the commercial work we do, and it affords us the chance to work with some wonderful people on projects we believe in—but to be able to step away for a good amount of time to work on our own art—it’s both impossible and mandatory to keep it all going. The mix is where it’s at— a fast-paced client job where you have to think on your feet and create with restriction, and our own creative work that lets all of those restrictions go. I’m still working on that.

So many things you say swim around in my head! But perhaps the first one, is when you and Sean stayed in our house, and as a thank you, you gave me a notebook. You both wrote the most lovely things, but being so unsure of my direction at the time what I needed to hear the most and have on my phone’s home screen to remind me still, you said, You’re an incredible women with superpowers that you don’t even know exist yet.

I mean, could you get a nicer compliment? At the time, not feeling like I knew what I was doing, it the best thing that anyone could have said to me at that time.

Goodrich: I didn’t even know if you got the notebook because you never told me!

Parr: I’m sorry! I didn’t tell you because you wrote another note in it that said,“Draw in this every day” and after a break from my creative work I was too scared to even draw in it at first! I didn’t want to let you down. But it was so sweet. It was exactly what I needed to hear. You’re the ultimate hype woman.

Illustration by Ngaio Parr