Photo Diary: A Life of Creativity With Siblings James & India Stibilj


— September 18, 2020 —

Growing up in India and James Stibilj’s household, encouragements to stay true to yourself and your creative pursuits were as commonplace as air. 

Nowadays, a tide of creativity underswells everything they do, helping to guide their relationships with themselves, each other and the world around them. For James, this manifests in enchanting, pastel-saturated illustrations, and for India it’s bringing creative concepts and clothing to life as a model. Oftentimes, their paths intertwine. Most recently, a portrait James submitted of India was selected as a finalist for this year’s Young Archie competition at The Art Gallery of New South Wales—his second nomination to date. Many years prior, before they’d established themselves as Creatives with a capital C, they were two kids pitching makeshift runways in the backyard and directing photo shoots and short films together at home. 

We chatted to the duo about the evolution of their aesthetic tastes and style, the magic of living creatively, and how they’ve retained their independence as artists while also leaning into their unshakeable creative bond. Get to know them both better below. Meanwhile, we’ll be over here plotting ways to snag an invite to their next fam dinner—between India’s intuitive organic veggie-heavy meals and the long, wandering conversations that drown out any threat of silence, they sound pretty damn special.


What is your first memory of India as a kid?
A back-garden tea party. (She’s always been a great host). 

And, what are some of your best or most memorable childhood stories that involve her?
We made probably over 60 short films together as kids, which were always fun. I definitely took it too seriously at the time… 

How has your relationship with her shapeshifted over the years?
In a way, it’s stayed the same! it’s playful and an interesting blend of our similarities and interests. Watching her move from doing our photoshoots and runways as kids into professional campaigns has been amazing. 

In what ways are you similar to each other and in what ways are you different?
We both value artistry, creativity and passion. I love her empathy, and how she always finds ways to help other people in her daily life. 

How did you think your upbringing contributed to your art?
Creativity was always encouraged, as well as staying authentic and true to yourself, which I think should be the best qualities of any artist. Being raised with trips to the gallery and great books, films and music from my parents definitely informed my style and aesthetic. 

You are both so creative in your own ways. Have you always bounced ideas off each other?
There’s always been an independence within both of us. I think an artform, whether that be painting or modelling, will always be insync when approached with authenticity.

Can you tell us the story of how you got into illustration?
It was always very natural. It started as a hobby and outlet when I was really young. Encouragement from my family, a love of trying new things, and a desire to conceptualise my passions and ideas evolved my style. 

Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
It’s always changing, but artists who juxtapose inspirations, and create new ways to mix them across different contexts always resonate with me. I love the way Alessandro Michele of Gucci challenges boundaries and aesthetics, how Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette soundtrack mixes new wave and post punk with 18th century history and the eclectic photography of Tim Walker and his captivating subjects.

How did you arrive at your distinctive aesthetic?
It’s a mix of all things I find beautiful. I go through phases which tend to morph together. It could be classic films, then history and then an album, and then possibly a fashion collection which puts all these together.

What has been your favourite project to work on to-date?
Probably my wearable art pieces. To take my paintings further and see them move on fabric and people was something new, and brought them to life in a different dimension. 

What does the perfect 24 hours look like to you?
A lazy morning, followed by a day out to the gallery or painting, with India choosing the best place to have lunch. I’d then head somewhere for dinner and music; for a long night with friends. 

Can you share your favourite recipe with us?
India’s pistachio, pomegranate and orange cake. 

Any tips for non-crafty people looking to plan a fun crafternoon?
Find inspiration from wherever you like, whether that be instagram, a magazine or a book. Don’t be scared to interpret something, or try something entirely new. Start painting and drawing without a planned outcome or colour palette, and don’t throw anything away!

What are you most proud of in the past year?
I’ve taken a gap year, so it’s been a relatively quiet year for me so far. But, probably keeping in check with myself, staying on top of my projects when it’s been challenging and all the new things I’ve learned.

Describe 2020 in five words: 
Confronting, meaningful, temperamental, motivating and distinctive. 


What is your first memory of James as a kid? 
James was always the ringleader of any performance, dance or act that we were creating as kids. A true ‘creative director’ from birth, he’s always had a fascination with colour and fashion and ‘pretty’ things! I remember his distinct British accent which he eventually grew out of. (We grew up as expats in Singapore and the UK). Also, his ability to make any situation fun! 

And, what are some of your best or most memorable childhood stories that involve him?
I do remember that he was quite a little brat when he was younger, still so much fun, but a very annoying brother who lived to wind me and my younger sister up… When he was about six, he had an infamous imaginary friend called “Mister Ringery-Doo” who would conveniently take up all the space in the backseat of the car, when all four kids were trying to squish in comfortably. 

How has your relationship with him shapeshifted over the years?
We were pretty inseparable from birth. Mum always said we were supposed to be twins—we’re only 14 months apart—and have always had similar interests in art and fashion… Over the years, I feel that we have become very independent people, giving each other the space to do our own creative thing, which is lovely, but have still remained so close. We’re always offering advice and seeking the other’s opinion before making a new wardrobe purchase. 

In what ways are you similar to each other and in what ways are you different?
I think we both have a very creative outlook on life, and definitely have similar taste in fashion, art and films. On the other hand, we are actually very different people, in different circumstances. James is very indifferent to most situations, which enables him to stay detached from the outcome, whereas I can be quite emotionally-driven. Oh, and he definitely has better music taste than me!  

How did you think your upbringing contributed to your art?
We grew up in, and still have, a very nurturing and loving household. Both Mum and Dad have always allowed us to be our most unapologetic selves. I feel that having the opportunity to express ourselves and the encouragement to continue down the creative path has allowed us all the space to really come into our own. Mum has always offered great spiritual guidance when I feel I need it most, which has allowed me to find balance and really ground myself during the moments that I feel lost. The support and love that comes from our close knit family has really shaped all of my experiences and I am so grateful for the relationship I have with my parents and siblings. 

You are both so creative in your own ways. Have you always bounced ideas off each other?
We definitely seek each other out for advice, but also let each other do things on their own. James is so intrinsically original, he often just paints from the heart and doesn’t need to develop a whole ‘conceptual’ practice. Whereas I feel that I like to come to the ‘root’ of why I create, the source of my expression and actively pursue a certain outcome. With work, with art, with anything I do…
Can you tell us the story of how you got into modelling?
James was actually with me when I got scouted. We were down in Melbourne for a weekend in 2017 with my grandma to see the Dior exhibition that had just opened at the National Gallery. We accidentally got off at the wrong tram stop and were walking down the street when the director of a Melbourne-based agency stopped me and offered her card. After returning to Sydney and a couple of emails later, they offered me a contract, but I decided to explore my options and reach out to some Sydney-based agencies before signing with them. Chic Management got straight back to me and organised a meeting. Since the beginning they have been such a beautiful family for me, with the greatest support. They’ve opened up some amazing opportunities for me. I am so grateful to them! 
What has been your favourite project to work on to-date?
Oh my goodness, so so many! Every experience has been amazing for me, from an amazing Hermes trunk show I did for three days in Melbourne to countless trips to Byron Bay shooting at stunning locations... I have even got to visit Marrakech for a few days shooting with some beautiful people… But essentially, for me all that matters is a great team, unique style and good music! I adore shooting with photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists who have an intrinsic love for their craft—you can tell they are perfectionists, but it ultimately leads to a beautifully unique perspective. 

What does the perfect 24 hours look like to you?
I’d wake up early and make my way to The Locals Market, held on Saturday mornings at Paramount Hotel, to grab the freshest fruit and veggies! When I get home, I’d unpack my goodies and start plotting an absolute feast for my family, as I always love to do... I adore going on little outings with my mum, so next, I would take her to an antique warehouse or market to peruse their offerings—collecting for my stash of weird and wonderful domestic goods along the way—and would then treat her to an extra hot cappuccino with one sugar. (I prefer a dandy chai). In the arvo, I’d go for a walk with the dogs, Athena and Marlo. I would start planning dinner, focusing on fresh seasonal ingredients. My family has a very chatty table, and my favourite thing is sharing conversations around a beautiful meal together. 

Can you share your favourite recipe with us?
I have so many! Most of my recipes are a response to what I find in the market, or what there is abundance of in the shops. I cook a lot for the family, and love planning meals and celebrations… I would recommend people who are looking for inspiration to follow some amazing chefs on Instagram, my favourite accounts are: @werebros @lailacooks @ottolenghi @giorgiaeugeniagoggi and @sian_redgrave. 

Here’s a quick pesto recipe that is an absolute favourite in my family! 
Blitz together: 
- A bunch of fresh picked basil leaves
- 3 crushed cloves of garlic, 
- 1 decent handful of lightly toasted pine nuts 
- 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste 
- 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
- 1/2 juice of lemon 

Taste and adjust seasoning. If it needs more acid, add more lemon and so on...
You can also stir in 1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese if desired… 

Any tips for non-crafty people looking to plan a fun crafternoon?
Don’t limit your creativity by setting expectations on yourself, we are all inherently creative beings, just have fun and stay non-judgemental! Also, go easy on the sequins, I know they are pretty but they also don’t break down in our environment! Try raiding an op-shop for some cheap and cheerful materials :). 

What are you most proud of in the past year?
Well this has been an interesting year to say the least! I think my ability to accept change and transition has been really challenged this year, for the better. Being able to accept these experiences and grow from them, is something that has really helped me. 

Describe 2020 in five words: 
Eye-opening, revealing, consciousness, rest, reemergence. 


Feature: Madeleine Woon    Photos: India & James Stibilj


Subscribe to Cool Pretty Cool Updates

Other Shoots