Why Vicki Lee and Ted O’Donnell are Taking Their Love, Life and Art into the Outback

Lauren Powell

We’ve been admiring and obsessing over Vicki Lee and Ted O’Donnell’s art collection, Tovl, for the past few years now, but since the launch of their latest collection, titled Night Rain—which was inspired by their one-year-old daughter, Yokie—our admiration for their creations and partnership has deepened. Motivated, passionate, and present are just a few of the words we'd use to describe this beyond talented artist and photographer duo who, since the birth of Yokie, have decided to divide their time between Sydney's frantic Eastern Suburbs and the simpler surrounds of the country. Setting up their camp and luxury bell tent on Lee’s sister’s picturesque property in the NSW Blue Mountains—a tranquil oasis located deep in the Megalong Valley that is reached by navigating through kilometres of scenic rainforest terrain—the trio are embracing the pure, calm, and completely inspiring environment of this remote location. Read on to be inspired by the duo’s refreshing new life plan, their joy and love for parenting, and the inspiration behind their breathtaking artwork.

Credits: Ted wears Bassike Compact Cotton Shirt ($295), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240). Yokie wears her own romper, Akubra Traveller Hat ($175). The Toucan Shop Large Natural Hammock ($225).

MYDOMAINE: You have both decided that you would like to simplify your life by spending more time in the country—what has been the inspiration and motivation behind this decision?

TED O’DONNELL: The main thing we want to do is spend more time with Yokie. We’re making a lot more art, and for me there’s been a focus on my commercial work, but together we’re starting to make more art together and that becomes a big part of our lives. It’s about getting away from distraction and being in an inspired space where we’re not so worried about where we need to be tomorrow.

VICKI LEE: For me, this new life we’re embarking on is a bit more about movement, experiencing new things, and not being held to one place. The idea of moving around inevitably leads to simplifying our lives, because we can’t take things with us every time we go away.

TD: A big part of it is also about being in nature—both for us and for Yokie. We don’t want Yokie to grow up just knowing what certain flowers, trees, and birds are without actually experiencing a pure sort of nature. It’s also pretty important for our inspiration, too.

Credits: Vicki wears Romance Was Born top (coming soon), Romance Was Born Cosmic Flute Skirt ($360). Ted wears Bassike Compact Cotton Shirt ($295), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240), Akubra Traveller Hat ($175), Ray-Ban High Street Sunglasses ($230). My Flower Man Floral Arrangement, Paddo to Palmy Wedding Blanket ($585), West Elm Mongolian Lamb Pillows ($89), Zara Home Teak Stool ($199), IN BED 100% Linen Duvet Cover in Dove Grey ($180), Freedom Kelso Cushion ($37) and stylist's own rugs and sheepskin.

MD: What are the benefits you believe this living environment will have on you all as a family?

VL: There’s a calm energy we all feel when we allow ourselves to be in nature. If you allow that to happen, something really special happens to all of us as one unit. It’s basically a calming element that is actually also invigorating—there’s so much more energy involved in that calm space.

TD: When the phone stops ringing and you don’t have somewhere to be tomorrow then all of your energy can be focused on the here and now and with each other—and that ends up being really good for us as a family. We always come together in a nice way, we feel really close, and Yokie responds really well. The benefits for Yokie are that we are going to be with her and that’s kind of half the battle I think of parenting; just to be present.

MD: What influence do you believe this lifestyle and environment will have on your art and creativity?

VL: For my painting, it’s definitely a connection with the land, as cheesy as that sounds—I don’t even care because it’s such a truth for me. I’ve always been really inspired by Aboriginal art, especially Aboriginal art made from the land on the land through the element of the rocks. And I guess just being immersed in that environment I’m hoping that something will be ignited inside me that I can feel is currently lying dormant and I want to activate that if I can.

TD: A big part of this for me is going away to commit a bit of time to Vicki’s art, as she supports me a lot here and has to spend a lot of time looking after Yokie. It’s about pulling back so I can take a bit more of that role and Vicki can have some more time to do art.

Credits: Ted wears Bassike Compact Cotton Shirt ($295), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240), Akubra Traveller Hat ($175). Yokie wears her own romper and necklace. Vicki wears Ginia RTW Emma Halter Neck Cami ($140), her own jeans. The Toucan Shop Large Natural Hammock ($225).

MD: How would you describe your ideal life in the country?

TD: It’s mainly about getting rid of all the clutter and living in a way where you just don’t need as much, and that outside influence—such as advertising and media—is not there constantly telling you that you need more [things] to be happy or you need more [things] to be fulfilled. When you move away from that constant media barrage you suddenly realise that those thoughts don’t enter your mind.

VL: I don’t think that it’s necessarily about moving anywhere permanently, it’s definitely a frame of mind, and I guess our dreams of going on these adventures is actually a reminder of how to live here, because we have an amazing life here. Sometimes you need to experience something different just to be reminded of how to live.

TD: It’s about getting away from things. It’s not about the creature comforts we might want to take with us, it’s about removing ourselves from the those comforts and just being happy to be where we are.

MD: What are you looking forward to most being away from the city and in a more remote, relaxed location?

VL: The colours. The red desert in the middle of Australia and all of the shades [of colours].

TD: The horizon, just enjoying the horizon.

Credits: Ted wears Bassike Compact Cotton Shirt ($295), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240). Yokie wears her own romper, Akubra Traveller Hat ($175). Vicki wears Ginia RTW Emma Halter Neck Cami ($140), her own jeans. The Toucan Shop Large Natural Hammock ($225), Tovl artwork (POA).

MD: How has parenthood changed your perspective on life?

VL: I thought that being a mother would limit me, I honestly thought this even though it’s probably not good to say, but I’ll say it. When I was pregnant I was scared that having a baby would limit my capacity to do the things I want to do and I think I so was surprised because it’s been the most expansive experience I’ve ever, ever had, which is why I keep wanting to have more. I’ve thought about it a lot and I think it’s a really simple idea—I was always thinking about myself and how I felt, what drove my passion, and I’d sit there all day and think about it. Whereas now, I wake up and it’s so beautiful—I see Yokie, I see my beautiful man, and we have this beautiful life and I don’t have time to sit there and be self-indulgent.

TD: It’s become very important to be really, really honest with myself and Vicki about what is it we want out of life because there’s this realisation that if you’re not presenting a really honest version of yourself to your child it’s unfair for them. I feel a real responsibility to be really genuine and honest now and I feel there’s a real reason for me to do that. With that, comes a greater level of self-understanding and general happiness once you know yourself more and acting in that way with an honest, genuine purpose a purpose based on who you really are and not trying to find it elsewhere. That’s also probably one of the reasons why we want to go and live a simpler life as well.

Credits: Yokie wears her own top and jeans. Vicki wears Bassike Crepe Long Sleeve Minimal Top ($295), Balmain pants, Ray-Ban Icons Round Sunglasses ($210). Ted wears Bassike Compact Cotton Shirt ($295), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240), Ray-Ban High Street Sunglasses ($230).

MD: Ted, what is the best thing about being a father?

TD: Its pretty simple really, having an object of love outside yourself that allows you to love so much greater than you ever knew you could. You could never love yourself as you love this thing, and that makes you feel good about yourself, it makes you like yourself more when you know you have that much love inside you. That’s the best thing about it.

MD: Vicki, what is the best thing about being a mother?

VL: Probably the same thing, I’d just describe it differently, but it’s exactly the same. Sometimes I feel so much sudden love for Yokie that I just want to bite her. Sometimes I’ll go closer and put my mouth on her arm and have to pull myself away. Our new collection is based on that feeling and that sudden surge of love. That’s the best part—if you can feel more love every day, whether it’s to yourself or to another person, increasing that in your life is probably the goal of everything.

MD: What is your number one parenting tip?

VL: To make a good parent I think you need to think of yourself as well. I think something happens along the line and I experienced it as well when I first had Yokie, this sort of pressure within myself to give my whole self to my family, and what I realised quite quickly is if I don’t look after myself and do some things for myself only, I’m going to end up resenting everything. I might take a trip to Paris this year!

TD: Yes, if you don’t re-energise then you won’t have any energy to give.

Credits: Vicki wears Bassike Wide Rib Neck T-Shirt ($100), and her own velvet vintage pants. Ted wears Bassike Compact Cotton Shirt ($295), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240), Akubra Traveller Hat ($175), Ray-Ban High Street Sunglasses ($230). Paddo to Palmy Wedding Blanket ($585), West Elm Mongolian Lamb Pillows ($89), IN BED 100% Linen Duvet Cover in Dove Grey ($180), and stylist's own cowhide and throw.

MD: How would you describe your latest art collection? What was the inspiration behind it?

VL: We called it Night Rain, which is the definition of [how we feel about] Yokie. The collection represents the feeling and surge that’s involved when you fall in love with something or someone and how it feels inside. Technically, production-wise, it took us a long time, but we loved doing it.

MD: What is your overall inspiration behind your work and creations?

VL: I’m inspired by movement. I think the thing I love most about being a bit more still in nature is how much you can feel the movement within yourself, and I’m really inspired by that in people, in nature, in everything.

MD: How do you both work together on Tovl—how does that partnership work?

TD: Vicki does her own work, I work as commercial photographer, and then we have a moment where we sort of cross over where we work together.

VL: It’s actually always moving, it's changing as we kind of explore and as we change and move as a couple.

TD: I think that it’s more that we both live lives that are consumed by art and creating things—it’s what we both do for work and for life. So it’s not really an effort for us to do it, it’s just happening all the time and it grows with our relationship and with our lives. Inevitably we go through the process whenever we make something, we have an idea and we're working together and we probably hate each other for a while during that. We’ll probably argue about it for a while and then we’ll come together and sort of click, and when it clicks that’s when we make what we really love, you know. So it’s very fluid and it’s just happening all the time for us.

Credits: Ted wears Bassike Slim Basic T-Shirt ($90), Nudie Jeans Co Grim Trim Best Coast Blues Jeans ($240), Akubra Traveller Hat ($175). Vicki wears Balenciaga Textured Leather Jacket ($2515), Interval Low Scoop V Neck Tank ($120), One Teaspoon Romantic Bandits Shorts ($109). Yokie wears her own bandana and jeans. 

MD: What is the best thing about working together?

VL: The best thing about working together, besides having fun, is seeing the result when you put two energies together—feeling the effects of positive things happening feels really good. It feels good that its working and people are responding, and when we make stuff together I’m always blown away by it. It’s just obvious that we work and our work works.

TD: And also there’s always an element of mystery, because when you’re dealing with someone else there’s always an unknown quantity there and you don’t know what’s going to come out of it.

MD: What is your number one tip for couples that work together?

VL: Just have that respect and space for that other person, and remember why you’re collaborating with them. I think it's really easy to embark on a collaboration and then ego gets in the way. I think to really create extraordinary stuff with another person, not just art but with anything including your relationship, is to put yourself aside where you need to put yourself aside and then don’t when you don’t. Just knowing the balance of those two things.

TD: I agree. I think it’s important to have an open mind in regards to the outcome and realising that it’s about the process and not what you get out of it—it’s about the outcome in a pure creative sense, not the outcome in terms of what rewards am I going to reap. Just because if you go in with that attitude you’re going to cause friction, so it's about being creative and very open.

VL: And on a simpler level being openly complimentary I think always works, because we know that we love each other’s personal art, but it’s important to remind each other. It still feels nice when you hear it and then it makes you want to try harder.

Are you inspired by this creative couple's new approach to life? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Photographer: Kelly Geddes

Styling: Lauren Powell

Fashion Styling: Amanda Stavropoulos

Hair and makeup: Fern Madden

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