I am always deeply fascinated by people who can draw. Watching a simple illustration come to life on a page is something just so miraculous to me (am I the only one who feels this way!?). I guess, the way we make images these days has become so digitised, there is just something so engaging and so honest about creating a witty, moving or meaningful image using nothing but ink and paper.
One local illustrator who I have long, long admired is Kat Chadwick. She is one of my absolute all time favourite Australian illustrators, with an impressive list of commercial and editorial clients which includes the National Gallery of Victoria, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, QANTAS, InsideOut magazine, Taste magazine and many more.
Aside from being immensely talented, Kat is also such a truly lovely, generous and joyful person, who I have come to know a little through various collaborations over the years. In fact, if you have been reading this blog for a REEEEALLY long time, you might recall way back in 2010 (which feels like an eon ago), Kat’s punchy pink ‘Collingwood’ illustration (featuring Chopper Read!) graced the cover of our first ever printed product, The Design Files Neighbourhood Calendar! (Please excuse the formatting in this very old post!).
ANYWAY. Kat Chadwick is a star. She can draw anything, and she always injects a quirky sense of personality into her subject matter – even a ‘tray of raw mince’ (as mentioned below) makes surprisingly inspired subject matter when rendered in Kat’s signature style!
Kat has a workshop coming at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of the NGV Kid’s Summer Festival. Inspired by the current Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition, and the artists’ shared love of cats, young visitors can ‘Draw a Cat with Kat’ in a series of workshops running this Saturday January 16th until January 20th. All details here!
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming an illustrator, and to doing what you’re doing today?
While I was growing up in NZ, my mother — a self employed landscape designer, with a strong interest in art and design — was a major influence on me. She opened me up to the possibilities of both a creative career and running my own business. At 17 I moved to Dunedin in the South Island, and went to art school. I had a fabulous time — lots of freedom and exploration — and met many like-minded souls. After graduating with a major in printmaking, I set up a studio with some art school friends, each of us eking out a living from occasional exhibition sales, life modelling and yes, some government assistance.
I then joined friends in London, did lots of travelling, drawing, saw a lot of art, lived in a Peckham squat and made endless coffees for £3 an hour! 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 comfortable 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 so much over the four 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 graduating I spent a few years working in the design industry, first at a large corporate studio, then a couple of smaller ones. It was a valuable time. I learnt a lot and met some great people. However after a while I began to feeI a little disillusioned with the corporate nature of the work.
What motivated you and your partner, Andrew Budge, to start your studio Designland?
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 worked part time by my old job and spent 2-3 days at Designland. Andrew lectured at RMIT design school a couple of times a week. To begin with we didn’t really have any clients so we built up a folio doing low budget and pro-bono work. Projects like exhibition catalogues for artist friends, annual reports for not-for-profit organisations, 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 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, Andrew runs Designland and I focus on Kat Chadwick illustration.
How would you describe your work?
I suppose the common visual thread across my illustration style is the use of hand drawn, inky line. Sometimes the image consists of simple black and white line-work, often its combined with flat, slightly mis-registered colours and textures like watercolour washes. The feel is often whimsical, and sometimes humorous and a little quirky.
Subject matter wise, I’m commissioned to draw all manner of things… I really enjoy the variety and not knowing what I’ll be asked to draw next.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?
My process is quite simple. After receiving the client’s brief (usually by email) I’ll have a good read and jot down the first ideas that come to mind. I’ll then choose the idea I think works best and run it by the client, either in written form or via a rough pencil sketch. After the concept/rough has been approved, I might gather a bit more detailed reference online, if necessary, before drawing the final on paper with pen and ink.
Depending on what sort of illustration it is, I either draw freehand or use my light-box to trace the roughs. Freehand tends to give a looser line quality which I like, but sometimes its necessary to replicate the roughs precisely which is where using a light-box comes in handy. Once complete, I 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 in a series of layers.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I wake up, maybe go to the gym or do yoga or go for walk (or more commonly unfortunately, go back to sleep), before having breakfast at home. I head to work usually between 8 and 10am, depending on how many deadlines are looming. My commute involves a 30 second stroll across the road to the studio.
I share a lovely, sunny space with around 7 creatives, all of us running our own small design/illustration/architecture practices. We get on well, enjoy what we’re doing on our own terms and freely chat about each other’s work. As I don’t have many face-to-face meetings with clients (most of my work relationships seem to be by email and phone), I find it really important to have a lovely studio community.
Once I sit down at my desk I often spend a bit of time online, respond to emails, before starting work. I tend to have multiple projects on the go so I’ll start with whichever one is most urgent. Once I start working I usually keep going, for the rest of the day, except for popping home to make lunch or to do a studio coffee run.
After work I’ll generally relax at home with Andrew and our cat Puddin’, or catch up with friends, maybe for dinner or a gallery opening. On a normal day I’ll knock off about 6, but if I’m super busy I’ll just work whatever hours are necessary.
What have been one or two favourite recent projects or commissions?
I really enjoy editorial illustration and the diversity of magazines I draw for. My clients are lovely to work with and I enjoy the monthly briefings. I try to foster an individual version of my style for each of the magazines, customising things like characters and colour palettes. For InsideOut magazine there are always cute sassy gals immersed in their first world design dilemmas, accompanying text written by hilarious interiors agony aunt Meg Mason.
‘The Places in the Heart’ column for QANTAS magazine requires three quirky snippets of illustration, content gleaned from well-known Australians’ favourite travel destinations and experiences. I’m particularly fond of Margaret Pomeranz’s Kashmiri Yeti.
I get to draw lots of food for Taste magazine. I REALLY like drawing food. The only exception was during my short-lived experiment with 5/2 fasting, when gathering reference online inevitably meant scrolling through endless photos of luscious food/ingredient imagery. Doing this on a fasting day is torturous! I also like the challenge of turning an unappealing ingredient, such as a packet of raw mince, into something charming.
For a column in Parenting magazine I’ve been drawing the funny monthly sagas of the author’s family for a few years now. Over that time the kid characters have grown older and another baby has joined the brood.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Sarah Crowest, Artist: Her mound sculptures are mental, we’ve got a little one and it always makes me smile! I like her apron works too. Recently, before moving out of her space at Gertrude St Studio, she ran a series of giveaways on Instagram. I was very chuffed to score another of her works, a strange peanut shaped papier mache creature. It now has pride of place in our living room. Our cat Puddin’ isn’t too sure about it though.
Tai Snaith, Artist: I especially loved a show I saw of hers at Bus Projects earlier this year called Portrait of a Sunday Painter, I would have happily gone home with one of them. I like her picture books too.
The Jacky Winter Group: I find the entire roster of JW illustrators inspiring, in many different ways. Jeremy and his team are wonderful too, I love being represented by such a warmly supportive yet professional agency.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Instagram: I have discovered so many inspiring illustrators I might never have known about otherwise. My current favourites are Jean Jullien, Sarah Andreasson, Joana Avillez, Liana Finck and naughty, hilarious Joan Cornella.
Galleries: I love checking out exhibitions, mainly around my neighbourhood and also at both the NGVs. The VCA grad shows are always full of inspiring work too.
Books: My favourite store is Readings in Carlton. I always head to the kids books and cook books first!
Pinterest and Google image search: I spend a fair amount of time trawling through gathering reference. Such amazing resources for an illustrator.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
To be honest, my proudest career achievement is not one particular project or event, its the fact I’m able to earn a living doing what I enjoy, in a nice environment, working with and for good people. What I do makes me happy.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’ve often thought, that if money were no object, I’d like to spend 6-12 months somewhere like Barcelona or NYC and immerse myself in workshops, with lots of other illustrators, just spending days responding to fantasy briefs and exploring mediums and techniques. I’d be curious to see how that would add too and alter my own practice.
What are you looking forward to?
I’ve been commissioned by the NGV to run a public workshop for a week this January as part of the NGV Kids Summer Festival. Connecting with the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei summer exhibition, ‘Draw a cat with Kat’ is inspired by these two artists’ love of cats. I’ve developed an activity so children and their families can learn simple illustration techniques to draw their very own cat.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Although I love Melbourne in general, it’s Fitzroy and the surrounding suburbs where I feel most at home. I’ve lived in Fitzroy in three periods of my life. First above a Brunswick St restaurant, as a young artist visiting from NZ, on a 3 month working holiday over one long (and very fun) summer in the early ‘90s. Then in a formerly-grand, rambling George St share house while I was a student at Design School. Finally, all grown up, 7 years ago we bought a little house a few doors down from my former share house. And a year or 2 later, rented a studio in the building across the road. I can’t get enough of the suburb obviously! One of my favourite things is simply wandering around my neighbourhood. There is always lots going on and plenty of interesting characters about.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
Tipo 00 in the city. My partner Andrew and I had been working really hard and decided a spontaneous getaway was in order. We packed an overnight bag and checked into a luxury hotel 4 blocks away from our home. On a recommendation we went to Tipo 00 for dinner. We loved it. It was unpretentious, cosy and had super lovely staff. We had the chef’s menu and it was course after course of deliciousness. And that Tipomisu desert, oh my god!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Having a bit of a lie in, with an old-school newspaper if I’m lucky. I think I’m the last person on the street to still have the paper home delivered! The actual delivery has become a pretty haphazard affair, sometimes I find it neatly tucked in our front door, other times its splayed on the footpath or even the middle of the road! And often its not there at all. Maybe it’s daggy to admit this but it always feels like a bit of a victory returning to bed with my newspaper, probably more so since I’m aware the days of this ritual are numbered.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The Japanese toilet, to the left, out the back of Teriyaki Anarchy Sake. Bliss. Say no more.