For someone who is still quite young, Laura McKellar has worked in a variety of different mediums from illustration, to textiles to embroidery and graphic design – the results heavily influenced by nature and animals, with a whimsical, vintage vibe. I just love how she creates digitally printed fabrics and then embroiders them. The slightly bizarre thing about this interview is that when my daughter introduced me to Laura’s work, little did I realise that the homewares I had recently bought from the Australian homewares brand Mozi for a gift was Laura’s handiwork! Naturally, I had to get in touch and find out more behind the creative fingers of this talented Melburnian.
Tell us about yourself and your background
I’m from Melbourne, Australia. I studied printing and graphic arts, and graphic design and then went freelance. I just recently got a full-time job as a graphic designer for a new homewares company.
You say on your website that you’ve always been creative. How did you decide graphic design was the direction you wanted to head in?
I loved all my art classes at school and my parents always encouraged creative projects at home. When I was finishing up at high school, I really had no idea of what I wanted to do or which courses would suit my interests. I took a total stab in the dark at a Printing and Graphic Art Diploma at RMIT, applying last minute and I really enjoyed it! TAFE was really hands on and the lecturers were amazing. I decided to continue with a graphic design degree at The Australian Academy of Design which is when I realised I could be really creative in a technical and structured way.
You’ve done a variety of different work – from commissioned homewares illustrations for Mozi to embroidered artwork. What’s been your favourite project to work on?
I loved working with Mozi. They gave me a lot of freedom and taught me so much. One of my all-time favourite freelance projects was illustrating for the Robert Gordon Kitchen rebrand. A local Melbourne studio, Wicreate, was designing the range and I was working from my bedroom in Los Angeles. It’s one of my favourites because I loved working with the Wicreate guys. I absolutely love anything Robert Gordon and visually I think it turned out to be really beautiful.
Who or what inspires you?
My friends and family. I see what everyone is working on or thinking about and achieving. They get me in the spirit of working hard and working towards making my ideas come to life. I also love things like vintage books, plants and flowers and, of course, travelling and thinking of past adventures.
How do you like to work best? What are your ideal working conditions and environment?
A room full of natural light is my number one want in life! I have a playlist on Spotify that I have on repeat when I’m working. It’s nothing exciting but puts me in a good mood. And ideally being alone in a space where there are no distractions as I lose attention faster than most people.
What is or has been the hardest or most challenging part of what you do and setting up your business?
I have no business background and honestly I have never spent time looking into how to run a business. It’s been the number one most challenging part of my career. I wish we were taught more about it at university, or I’d been smart enough to take the time to study it in depth before deciding I wanted to freelance. I am absolutely comfortable when it comes to creating and doing my work, but negotiating and chasing up clients is not my strong suit.
What’s some advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?
I’ve realised recently that the advice I want to give people may not apply to their journey. It comes from a place of good intention and experience but what I think might be good for someone may be the exact opposite of what they need to experience for themselves. So my advice is do things your way, don’t regret your choices because they were 100 per cent right at the time, and don’t ever stop learning from your experiences and people around you.
What would be your dream project?
Having enough time, dedication and money to invest in knuckling down and starting my own company. I find it extremely challenging to overcome the concept of disposable product. I want to create a brand that is not only fulfilling creatively but is also socially and environmentally aware, can give back to community and create awareness about our consumption. A couple of friends and I discussed starting a meaningful and highly conscious brand and that is my dream project. I don’t want to leave this earth knowing I have played a part in creating and designing so much waste and product just for the sake of being on trend that season, without doing something to counteract that.
I’m currently working on … Illustrations for the kid’s shop Naughts & Crosses. The owner and I are redesigning the website and I’ve made lots of wacky collages and darling pictures – the type of thing I would love to embroider. But it’s so detailed it looks better on a screen or paper!
It’s not very cool, but I really like…
Staying at home on Saturday night and painting in my dining room. I have a cup of tea and enjoy my own company. My boyfriend hates me being too anti-social but I find it really hard in the week to come home after working all day and feeling relaxed enough to work on my personal projects. So, Saturday night it is!
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Who’d have thought I would ever be commissioned to paint people’s cats? Maybe that’s my dream project! I absolutely love cats and started painting them for fun and uploading them to Instagram. Now I have a lot of kitty friends and it’s totally bizarre, but I love it. I’ve sent cats all over the world and there are stories for each one. For example, I feel so honoured by Wei, a Chinese woman, asking me to paint all her cats, past and present. There were ten all together and she had married and was moving into a new home with her husband where she wanted to hang all the cats on the wall.
Thanks for an insight into your creative life and how you started, Laura!