Those of you that have followed Studio Home for any length of time will know that I cultivate a pretty public admiration for the work of kiwi born, Melbourne based creative; Kelly Thompson. What I perhaps need to explain now – is that this has ballooned into a full blown crush following the morning I spent chatting and kicking around her warehouse apartment in July. I learnt A LOT about this pint sized talent and the importance of realising that the gloss and shine of the internet rarely communicates the hardwork and passion that goes on behind the scenes. Read on my friends…
The first time my jaw dropped was stepping inside the downright dreamy Collingwood apartment that Kelly shares with husband Christian and Billie the Beagle. The second time it dropped was when the bright and confident woman began her story by describing her 18 year old self. Quiet and the target of bullies, the Rotorua teenager honed her drawing skills early due to the amount of time she spent alone! In 2001 she put as much distance between her and high school as she could by enrolling in a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Otago Polytech. There she emersed herself in the widely creative foundation courses of that first year as well as the loose, unrestricted life of a student.
A second year of that didn’t seem like the best of ideas so she moved back up country to Wellington where she cross credited to enroll at Massey University and completed a Bachelor of Design with honours in Photography. With her friends fleeing the country on their big O.E’s, Kelly stayed behind to begin chasing the first of her passions – fashion photography. Holding down a managers role at a sunglass store, she relentlessly fired out emails to magazines, searching for someone to give her a break! Results were slow to arrive to say the least but she began to pick up jobs that included shooting coffee cups (!) and hairdressing. Her patchwork of opportunities eventually built up to allow her to leave the shop.
By 2006 she was “officially” freelance – but living the existence of a starving artist. Like many of you might sympathise, work does tend to come in waves leaving Kelly so broke much of the time she simply had to stay at home. This reality had an interesting side effect! The pencils were back out and she had buried her free time in hours spent drawing again. It wasn’t until a random housemate spotted one of her pieces (this one!) and passed comment that someone would actually buy that! Listing heroes like Audrey Kawasaki, it simply hadn’t occured to her that her own illustration could possibly be a source of income. Her first step in that direction was submitting her work; “Nocturnal” to Curvy and being accepted!
With her confidence building she then approached old employers; Good as Gold to host her first exhibition called ” Women of my Dreams”. This was met with a super positive response and all 30 of her limited edition prints sold. Around the same time her photography work began to get a boost in the right direction. She was contracted by RED11 in Auckland to fly up and do some model test shots. The initial plan of 6 turned into 20 and Kelly found herself totally utterly swimming in her lack of experience and preparation…but the way she handled it and the resulting shots impressed the agency and so began what has been a longterm collaborative and supportive relationship. Illustration wise she continued to work toward exhibitions and soon could list brands such as Mimco and Telecom as clients. In 2009 she even took up a tutoring position with fine arts students back at Massey University.
By the time 2010 rolled around change was in the air. Kelly’s partner, Christian McCabe sold one of his two successful Wellington eateries (the Matterhorn – he still owns Mighty Mighty) and the couple decided it was time to fly the coop. They packed their life into storage and explored Europe and Asia for 4 months before arriving in Australia. While neither were total newbies to the city, Kelly made comment that they were both surprised at the incredibly positive, enthusiastic and collaborative culture they found. They settled in for a few years with the plan of “feeling this town out”. Christian sussed out the restaurant scene which he has since entered in a massive way with the opening of The Town Mouse this year. Kelly began working in a super expensive fashion store (think Usher popping in while in town!) but took a whole new direction when she applied for and beat 180 applicants for the role of account manager for prolific creative agency; Jacky Winter. The only experience she bought with her was the fact that she had been represented by an agency as an illustrator herself.
From 2011 – 2012 she learnt every in-and-out of licensing, money, percentage usages and managed the delicate balance between high level clients and talented freelancing creatives. Often with 30+ projects on the go, she was enjoying the excitement and security of her job…then an international illustrating opportunity she had put her hand up for came to fruition! While the lid is still on that (watch this space) the workload of that contract combined with further personal and corporate collabs meant that it was time for her to return, once again, to her freelance roots. This time with far greater security and minimal struggle than she has experienced to date!
A browse through Kelly Thompsons site in 2013 reveals a few things. A prolific artist. An in demand photographer. A creative collaborator. A modern and savvy, multi faceted woman who has been making the internet work to her advantage with great success. An example of how to be professional and accessible while acheiving personal creative goals.
Yep. I’m sold….when do classes start Kelly?
WHO: Kelly Thompson and Christian McCabe. Kelly is most popularly known for her illustration work these days, but is also quickly becoming recognised for her personal style. Christian is a restauranteur, owner of the Mighty Mighty in Wellington NZ, previously of Matterhorn fame and now owner of The Town Mouse restaurant in Carlton, Melbourne. Billie is a Beagle and number #1 drawing assistant to Kelly.
WHAT: The space is part of a converted wool mill. The apartment is true to its warehouse roots boasting open plan living (read one huge room with separate bathroom), double height ceilings and expansive windows along one side. It’s really good because we get the morning sun, it’s still really light in the afternoon, but without direct sun, which is great in the Melbourne summer when we hit 40 degrees. Its also really warm in the winter, surprisingly draft free and a lot of the time we don’t need the heater. We have maintained the open feel of the space, choosing instead to create nooks and areas with furniture and bookshelves, not to mention an expansive collection of plants! We don’t have any outside space, so feeling garden sad I decided to bring the garden in, now some of the plants are so large I fear how we could ever move them out! Prior to us moving in the space was used as a photographers studio, so we also have a little darkroom in behind the bathroom. The fun thing about the space is that I can change it around all the time, it’s fun not being restricted by walls. Whenever I am procrastinating I re-arrange the space, I work here too so it is important I keep refreshing things.
WHERE: The apartment is on Oxford Street in Collingwood in Melbourne. It takes 15 minutes to walk to the city and 15 minutes to walk to The Town Mouse, it’s a great spot. We are lucky to have about 4 different foodstores/ supermarkets on the street that our street joins with so it’s super handy. There are lots of cafes and pubs around, along with the art store down the road and parks near by.
DESCRIPTION: We previously lived in a skinny little Victorian town house and I was determined to find something with a bit more space and air. This one had been listed for a while, but had been photographed empty so it just looked like one giant room for rent. I decided to take a look and as soon as I saw the floors and giant windows I was sold and applied the second I got home. I think due to the fact that there were no rooms other than the bathroom it put off people with flatmates or families which helped with our odds. We are now in our third year of living here. As Christian is in hospitality he isn’t here a lot, so living in an apartment feels safe for me. I really appreciate being able to have a great big workspace and hold classes here and spread out if needed, it’s good for a creative mind! Occasionally I do get a bit of cabin fever when I am really busy, so I think I might look for a secondary office space that I can share with someone else just to get out a bit more. It is a really lovely space to be in though, light and high ceilings changes everything!All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM KELLY:
We are not defined by our teenage selves… in fact we are not even defined by money or location – just how much passion and patience we can muster to go after our creative dreams.