I have loved Kat Macleod‘s work for years and year and years. She is a truly gifted and endlessly versatile creative, and also happens to be one of the sweetest and most humble people I’ve met. With her friends Simone Elder and Chloe Quigley, Kat runs Ortolan, a graphic design studio in Carlton whose impressive client list includes Country Road, Trenery, Myer, Dotti, KW Doggett and many more. Aside from this, Kat is also a respected artist and illustrator in her own right, known for her pretty, painterly mixed media works and commercial illustrations, which over the years have been commissioned by Chinese Vogue, The Age, Delicious Magazine, Vogue Entertaining & Travel, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Collette Dinnigan, The Australian Ballet, Bonds and Third Drawer Down.
Back in around 2008, I was commissioned to interview Kat for a magazine, which was a bit exciting, as it was a wonderful reason to meet this talented girl I had long admired. In person, Kat had me smitten. She looked like one of the girls in her paintings, all sparkly eyes and colourful clothes. In her lovely light-filled office, alongside pantone charts and computer screens were vibrant paints and wet paintbrushes, and little jars of sequins and beads. She was a proper grown up, co-running her own company… but there was also something wide-eyed and full of wonder about Kat.
That sense of wonder is something which still drives Kat’s many creative endeavours today. Though her daily routine is a little different these days with three young boys at home, Kat is still as passionate as ever about the simple act of making beautiful things, whether that be creating a clever design solution for a client, or bringing one of her willowy, illustrated ladies to life, with a perfect splash of watercolour on a sheet of velvety paper.
Next week in Melbourne, Kat’s solo exhibition, Under Nightshade, will open at Lamington Drive in Collingwood. Inspired by deep sleep, the show comprises 23 original mixed media works on linen, incorporating Kat’s distinctive mix of gouache, watercolour, hand stitched embroidery and beading. Fittingly, each work has been painted in the quiet hours after dark.
Join Kat for the exhibition opening on Wednesday 18 November, from 6.00pm.
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming an artist, illustrator and designer, and to doing what you’re doing today?
I’ve always loved painting and drawing, but I was a bit lost when it came to choosing a creative career path. My high school teacher suggested I apply to one of the graphic design schools, and I’m really glad I took their advice. I studied graphic design at Swinburne University and worked at a number of design studios before starting my own design studio, Ortolan with my two friends Simone Elder and Chloe Quigley 10 years ago.
I like the structure of graphic design projects, I like to answer client briefs and collaborate in our team of talented creatives. Some projects call for a very clean design approach while others need a more illustrative style, and I love working on both.
I realised I could be both a graphic designer and an illustrator when I worked on my first book, Bird, 15 years ago. Being young and uninhibited, I was adventurous with trialling all sorts of mediums and styles, and especially loved the result of using embroidery in my drawings on paper, something I have continued to explore ever since.
In addition to being a graphic designer and commercial illustrator, I have also had a number of exhibitions of my illustrations.
Much of your work features women and botanical life. How did you originally become fascinated with this subject matter?
The female form is a subject I am familiar with and often draw, experimenting with line drawings of limbs, poses and shapes. It started with an interest in fashion illustration, like those of Rene Gruau and Andy Warhol, and has continued on as a favourite subject.
The human element in an artwork is always engaging and tells a story. Flowers and plants are fascinating to draw, because rather than focusing on proportion and anatomy, there is a much wider scope and range of forms, shapes and colours to be inspired by in the botanical world.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively? Do you work on multiple paintings at one time?
I use pencils, watercolour, gouache paint, and sew with embroidery thread and beads. I normally work on paper, but for my upcoming exhibition I have worked on linen.
I approach each drawing very intuitively. I have a subject or a theme I am exploring, and then draw from reference material, from life or from my imagination. I work on lots of pieces at once, laying or hanging them all around me and I selectively work on whichever one inspires me at the time.
Next week, your exhibition Under Nightshade opens at Lamington Drive in Collingwood. What inspired this body of work?
Under Nightshade is collection of pieces created around the theme of deep sleep.
I was inspired by the botanical world as a means of expressing how sleep can be beautiful, calm, quiet, enchanting, unreal, unusual, unpredictable, weird, dark, wild and elusive. Sleeping female forms are concealed by plant life, the human form representing a figurative interpretation of sleep.
I’ve continued my use of embroidery in this collection, with densely sewn areas and meandering stitch lines that start and stop seemingly without reason. The compositions are ambiguous, like dream fragments.
Each one-off piece is a collage of my illustrations, printed onto 100% linen, creating the base of the artwork. The linen was then stretched and I’ve added layers of paint, hand-sewing and beading to each piece. I chose to work on linen, the soft, tactile fabric we use for blankets and bedding, it was the perfect canvas for my sleep series.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Mornings are pretty crazy in our house! I have my hands full getting myself and our three little boys ready for the day. My four-year-old and two-year-old twin boys are very loud and messy!
I currently work part-time in the office. So if it’s a work day, I listen to podcasts on my commute to work, then relish in the silence and gentle girl-chatter in our lovely calm office at Ortolan.
I am currently working on the branding of a restaurant in Goa, India. The client is contestant Sarah Todd from Masterchef 2014. I catch up with our amazing team and we have a work in progress meeting, and a general catchup on Ortolan business with Chlo and Sim.
Then it’s the drive back home with more podcasts, a quick play with our boys and the beginning of our chaotic night-time routine. Once they’re in bed, Cam and I have dinner together and chat about ancient Roman History and who might get kicked out of The Bachelorette that night. Then I will set up my art stuff on the kitchen table and start drawing or painting until very late every night. It’s during these ‘after hours’ that I work on my exhibition pieces.
What have been one or two favourite recent projects or commissions?
At Ortolan we recently designed a paper promotion for K.W. Doggett, for Rives paper. I drew a lot of botanical and bug illustrations and worked with Ortolan-designer Holly Canham on creating a beautiful letter writing set. Our theme was ‘snail mail’.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Miranda Skoczek: I adore Miranda’s beautiful colourful paintings, and dream of owning one some day. Being a Mum of three boys, I definitely want a really pink one!
Emily Ferretti: Her paintings are sublime and I am in awe. I want one of her pieces too. I wish this list of Australian artists was my Christmas wish list!
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
1. Books. I have a few treasured botanic illustration books that I often refer to and find inspiring drawings in every time.
2. Podcasts. My current favourites are This American Life, The Moth and Reply All. I recently listened to all the episodes in the Magic Lessons podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert. At first I didn’t realise she is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, which I haven’t read! But I do find her interviews really inspiring and encouraging.
3. The internet. An obvious one. There’s always something good to discover.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
Each exhibition I feel very proud and terrified, and this new one is no different. Very proud. Very terrified. Exhibiting is definitely out of my comfort zone, but I do feel a great sense of achievement that comes with each show.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d love to create a print line for Marimekko, but unfortunately I’m not Scandinavian!
What are you looking forward to?
Summertime fun with my boys.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
North Carlton. It was home for a number of years until recently. Good memories, good coffee, lovely streets and parks. Luckily I still get my North Carlton fix as that’s where my office is located.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Cam and I went to Le Bon Ton for my birthday in August and had a delicious feast of fish tacos, fried chicken, chilli fries, the works. I’ve recently given up being a vegetarian. Fried chicken is amazing!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Running around with my boys at a local park (with coffee).
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
A picnic in the gardens at Heide Museum of Modern Art. It’s hardly a secret but we love it.