Interview - Kat Chadwick

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
22nd of October 2010
Masterchef illustration by Kat Chadwick, Extra - The Sunday Age.
Traditional kitchen gadgets - Epicure, The Age.
Diane/Curves Fitness Nuance Multimedia - Celebrating the resurgence of old fashioned values and home spun activities.
The Age (M magazine) Fairfax - Illustration for a feature on Melbourne fashion archetypes.

As you can see I am having great trouble selecting which of Kat Chadwick's incredible folio of work I should share with you here...!  Because she is so FREAKING AMAZING it really is impossible to choose!  I mean honestly, have you seen a more incredible illustration folio recently!?  I didn't think so!

Kat Chadwick is a NZ-born, Fitzroy/Collingwood-based illustrator... her work is regularly commissioned by many high profile clients and publications including The Age, ACP magazines, Hallmark, Penguin Books and many more.  Most Melbournites would have spotted her amazing work in The Age I'm sure... I clearly remember her wonderful Masterchef charicature which popped up in the weekend papers a few months ago - so BRILLIANT!  I love the detail and kooky observations in so many of Kat's illustrations... each has such a unique sense of personality and humour about it.. yet at the same time is polished and clearly resolved.  Seriously accomplished work!  It is Kat's greatest dream to illustrate for the NY Times one day - what on earth are they waiting for!?

I have long admired Kat's amazing detailed work, and it is so brilliant to get an insight into her creative world and process  She has been SO generous with her responses to my questions... I really feel I have gotten to know her just by reading her words and cheerful descriptions of life and work in Collingwood / Fitzroy!

Huge thanks to Kat for sharing all her beautiful work with us here!  Ps) I wanna move in to that shared office!

Kat Chadwick is represented by the Jacky Winter Group illustration agency.

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to freelance design and illustration?

While I was growing up in NZ, my mother — a self employed landscape designer, with strong interest in art and design — was a major influence on me.  She made me open to the possibilities of both a creative career and running my own business.  At 17 I moved to another city and went to art school.  I had a fabulous time — lots of freedom and exploration — and met many like-minded souls for the first time in my life. After graduating with a major in printmaking, I set up a studio with a few other artists, each of us eking out a living from occasional exhibition sales, life modelling (and a little government assistance). I then joined friends in London, did lots of travelling, drawing, lived in a squat and made endless coffees for £3 an hour! This wore a bit thin after a couple of years. I decided to move to Melbourne and return to study. I figured Graphic Design would allow me to earn a decent living doing something creative. Initially I was overwhelmed by the Swinburne course, it was VERY intense and we worked very long hours. But I learnt heaps over the 4 years, I developed a strong work ethic and found I really enjoyed responding to briefs and problem solving. I also met my future partner in life and work, Andrew Budge.

After a few years working in the design industry, first at a large corporate studio, then a couple of smaller ones, I was feeling a little disillusioned. When a couple of friends asked me to join them in sub-letting a small 50sqm studio space in Prahran, it was the push Andrew and I needed to start Designland. During the first year I was still employed part time by my old job and just spent 2-3 days at Designland. Andrew lectured at RMIT design school a couple of times a week.  We didn’t really have any clients at first so we built up a folio doing low budget + pro-bono work — projects like exhibition catalogues for artist friends, annual reports for not-for-profit organizations, promotional material for festivals and so on. There were some very lean times financially but it was also very exciting and liberating.  Slowly we built up our (paying) clients and by the second year we were earning a living doing what we loved! While I enjoyed being a graphic designer, I was very keen to get illustration work too. I posted wee handmade promotional mail-outs to people I wanted to work for and got my first real illustration job doing monthly editorial illustrations for a magazine.  An agent saw my work and I starting getting a lot of illustrated greeting card and stationery projects from her.  I also incorporated illustration in as many Designland projects as possible.  Over time the illustration side of my business grew. I moved from doing 50/50 design/illustration to 100% illustration. Nowadays, side by side, Andrew runs Designland and I focus on Kat Chadwick illustration.

Diane/Curves Fitness Nuance Multimedia - The benefits of an organised pantry.

You have worked for some incredible clients and publications – what have been one or two of your favourite projects/clients recently?

I have been doing occasional illustrations for Melbourne’s The Age newspaper for a few years now. I really enjoy these projects. The articles are generally interesting and fun to interpret visually, plus I secretly get a buzz when I see my work on the cover of M magazine!

M Magazine covers by Kat

Scholastic: Last year I collaborated with author Janeen Brian and illustrated my first published children’s picture book, Shirl and the Woolomby Show. It was an amazing experience. I’m used to quick turnaround projects so the drawn out process of doing a book was a surprisingly refreshing change. It was nice to have the time to refine and craft the illustrations. I also got really fond of all the characters in the story, even annoying Gertrude the goat!

Kat's first published children's book - Shirl and the Woolomby Show!

Do you have a favourite illustration from your enormous back catalogue?! (please supply image if possible!)?

Bomb café is around the corner from our studio. In my opinion Matt and Jules make the best coffee and chai lattes in town. I illustrated a little postcard to promote their wares and was paid in caffine of course! The little dog is a portrait of their beloved terrior Rusty who had just passed away.

Cute illustration and design work for Bomb Cafe in Abbotsford.

Can you give us a little insight into your creative process – ie do you work first on paper, then in llustrator? What favourite materials and tools do you use?

My process is quite simple. After the initial pencil roughs have been approved, I draw on paper with pen and ink, scan the image, tidy it up in photoshop and save it as either a bitmap tif or grayscale tif (depending on the quality I’m after). I then embed the file in illustrator and apply the colour/texture on a series of layers below.

Materials -

- Pen: Ink dipping pen with speed ball c-6 nibs - Ink: Winsor & Newton, Calligraphy ink. Sepia coloured, I like the way it looks on the paper, though once scanned I usually make it black. - Paper: nothing fancy, generally I just use photocopy paper, reflex ultra white - Brushes: a box of various Japanese brushes that belonged to my Granny Ann (she also drew). - Scanner, lightbox, computer

Dressing Table - Text Publishing

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Bike to work around 8.30/10am.

Say hello to my studio mates — Andrew and I share a lovely space with friends who all run their own small design/illustration/architecture businesses.

Turn on computer, music, heater (winter), fan (summer) — our top floor studio is beautiful but not air conditioned or heated, alas!!! Ah well, as Andrew says, at least the studio is perfect for 6 months a year!

Before starting work I usually spend a little or sometimes a lot of time perusing the net (including the Design Files!), then I’ll get on with what is most urgent.

Once I start working I usually keep going working through until I go home, with a wee break for lunch (usually eaten in front of computer I’m afraid).

I don’t have many face to face meetings with clients… most of my work relationships seem to be by email and phone, so its really nice having lovely studio mates. We all know each other well, enjoy what we’re doing on our own terms and freely chat about each others work. Its great getting feedback, especially from people you respect!

Kat's offices in Collingwood... swoon!
Kat's busy desk!

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – nature, travel, books, the web etc?

Web Books (we’ve got a big collection of them) Galleries Op shops and markets My clever friends and colleagues

Home Renovation - Remodel Magazine (US).

Which other artists / designers / creative people do you admire at the moment?

The Jacky Winter Group illustrators…a great variety of Australian illustrator talent.

Andrew Budge’s typography

Chris Bond’s clever and skilful painting

Anna Walker’s divine picture book illustration

Trisha Garner’s exquisite book design

Ortolan’s super gorgeous design (and Kat Macleod’s illustration of course!)

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

I would be tickled pink if I got to do editorial illustrations for the NY times!

Stemware, House Magazine - Nuance Multimedia

What are you looking forward to?

More of the same… continuing to get a great variety of work

New challenges…I’ve been approached to hand paint an illustrated site map on the entrance wall of a large shopping complex in the city. No ‘command z’!

Plucking up the confidence to write my own picture book

Melbourne Questions -

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

An even tie between Collingwood and Fitzroy. I work in Collingwood and live in Fitzroy.  Although I love Melbourne in general, these are the parts of town I feel right at home.  I really enjoy the bike ride to and from work everyday, usually via George and Gore streets which are quiet, wide and gracious — in a slightly derelict kind of way — and especially gorgeous as the large trees transform in spring. I also love walking through the seedy bustle of Smith St and into the back streets of Collingwood. There is always lots to look at and plenty of interesting characters, plus of course great places to eat and window shop.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Gigibaba on Smith Street. I love the food here, especially the cauliflower and pomegranate salad, with lots of mint and parsley! It’s a nice place to go with friends, fresh tasting food with a Turkish bent, dark and cosy atmosphere. Worth the wait to get a table — no bookings — if possible it pays to get there early.

Formica  - Illustrations for Formica’s updated online and printed collateral. Commissioned by George Patterson Y&R.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

We usually sleep in until about 8.30, then look after our nieces Coco (6yrs) and Babette (4 yrs). This how it usually goes: we get a knock at the door around 9am, open the door and no one is there, just sounds of giggling. Then from around the corner they jump out and go “BOOO” and rush in for big hugs!!  Sometimes we stay at home and make things — last week it was paper Halloween costumes — other times we’ll go to Arcadia on Gertrude St for coffee and a treat, then head out on an excursion, sometimes the Collingwood children’s farm, via a cup of tea and more treats with Maria at her Milkbar in Abbotsford.

Halloween comes early for Coco and Babette!
Gorgeous Coco and Babette with Maria at the Abbotsford Milkbar!

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Aurora Takeaways on Hoddle Street Collingwood.  Andrew can’t understand my one eyed enthusiasm for Aurora’s fish and chips but their taste and texture (soggy, aided by lashings of vinegar) bring back memories of the ones I enjoyed growing up in NZ. I think we had them most Friday nights during my childhood but these days they are an occasional treat — still, Aurora’s owners seem to know me well enough to cheerfully proclaim “Ahhh, salt and vinegar, hello” when I walk into the door!

3 dots vs 1 dot - and ode to 'Puddin' Budge' !!

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