If there’s one thing creative people thrive on, it’s being in like company. Creativity thrives with creativity. Today I want to share 15 minutes with Kellee Rich, who is an artist, illustrator, designer, and all around modern maker.
Read her answers to sneak a peek into her studio, learn the (lengthy!) process of making her illustrated pouches, and best of all discover what she learnt from starting her own year-long project this year. Lessons come from unexpected places!
Where do you make?
I guess, like most, the whole house is a bit of a studio! I mostly knit and crochet in the living room, usually in front of a film or with the radio on, and do the rest of my work upstairs. My partner and I have moved house three times in the past year – from Brighton to rural Lincolnshire, and Lincolnshire to Norwich, and our first priority (my partner is an artist, too) has always been to set up studio areas and worry about the rest later.
I love my space. The light up there is so beautiful all day long, and our landlord and lady have immaculate taste and have kept the whole house simple and painted white throughout (which is my dream arrangement—magnolia walls, ugh) so it really feels like a bright, blank space for us to imprint our personalities upon.
We currently live in a beautiful old weaver’s cottage in the middle of old Norwich, which is the first two-up two-down I’ve ever lived in. These houses are small and functional, which suits us both perfectly. We did some research and found out that the families who lived and worked in these houses in the 18th century would have lived in the ground floor rooms, and have their enormous looms set up in the upstairs room, which is pretty big and airy. We’ve kind of followed suit: I have one end of the bedroom upstairs to do my work, and my partner uses one end of the living room.
My end of the bedroom is about three metres wide and a couple of metres deep. It houses a desk, some storage boxes and my equipment, including my trusty sewing machine. Most of my work is fairly small-scale and detailed, so I don’t need a huge amount of space. When I’m making pouches, the bed serves as a really helpful finishing table!
Your gorgeous illustrated pouches are a new line in your shop. How are they made?
Thank you so much! Yes, they are a new line – and not something that I’d considered making until really recently. Coming up with the idea for them was through a convergence of many things.
I love making functional objects, and I love pattern, and painting, and drawing. All of those things are required when I make these pouches. When I came up with the idea, I’d recently decided to try and step out of the definition of what I thought ‘illustration’ entailed – after a long time of puzzling over it. I think it’s really easy to box yourself in, and think ’I’d like to try that, but maybe that’s not the kind of thing an illustrator/writer/artist/dancer would do’. Once I stepped away from that kind of thinking, so many new ideas came to me.
The process of actually making the pouches is a long one: there are about ten stages all in all, including cutting, several washes of paint, each of which has to be dried and ironed, then the drawing, which can take an hour or two for each pouch. Then the sewing begins!
Rather than painting up a length of fabric and then cutting from that, I cut out the individual pieces of fabric for each pouch first, then treat each one as a mini-canvas. This means that every single pouch, even if it has a similar design to another pouch, is completely unique. I find the whole process really satisfying.
I make the pouches in batches, usually of about twenty at a time (though the most recent batch was forty, for the Clutter City Makers Fair I’m taking part in on 28th September in Norwich). I love going through each of the stages with care. The whole thing is like a dance. I’m there in my room, with music on, or podcasts, or old-time radio, and I really couldn’t be any happier.
I think making these items has actually slowed me down a bit and made me concentrate more. I can be quite impatient if I’m trying to do something new, but because there are so many elements to making the pouches. I have to slow down to get each one right. And hopefully, the more I make, the better I’ll become, so I feel like they also provide a great opportunity to learn and improve at new skills.
You started a creative goal earlier this year and you’ve said it’s been a learning experience for you. Tell us about that.
I did – I set myself the goal of posting on my blog every day for a year. I set out themes for each day of the week and went about making a corresponding piece of typography, lettering or calligraphy every day, or a piece of writing about the subject. My goal was to learn more and become more knowledgeable and skilled at typography.
What I found was, the commitment to the project became more important than the project itself. I started to resent the subject, which was the opposite of what I’d intended! Also, my interests started to change. I started to become more interested in pattern, and wanted to have time to explore that more, which just didn’t feel fully possible with a daily typography deadline.[pullquote align=”left”]I learnt I don’t have to publish every little thing that I make online.[/pullquote]
I think stepping away from something that isn’t working, no matter how many ways you’ve tried to make it work, is really important. Life is short. Time is so precious. There are ways to leave a thing that mean you left it with love and perhaps a few lessons learned. I think this is particularly important for creative people: everyone I know who’s creative doesn’t just have one thing on the go at any time – they’re usually juggling several projects at a time.
In the end, all we have is time, and we have to decide how best to use it.
I learnt I don’t have to publish every little thing that I make online – in fact, in a lot of cases, it’s better to hold back, give yourself permission to make mistakes and not feel like you have to share them with the world. I learned that I don’t perform well under certain constraints: in this case, making something every day to put online – it distracted me from the things that I really wanted to do.
It made me rush certain pieces that I would rather have spent a few days on and gotten them to a better standard, just so I could meet the 12am deadline. And it taught me that I am at my best when I’m free to chop and change as I see fit. I think I’m naturally rebellious, so making rules for myself, rather than just making up a fun spontaneous project, made me want to immediately go the other way. All useful life lessons!
Top tip for exploring creativity?
Well, just that, I guess: explore! Try not to box yourself in. Be free: draw, or make, or sculpt, or write the most outlandish or ridiculous or mundane thing that comes into your head and go with it. Don’t judge it. Make work that YOU love looking at. If you love it, that love will be embedded in it, and humans with similar hearts to you will love it too. ♦
Thank you so much Kellee!
If you’re in Norwich on Saturday 28th September, check out the Clutter City Autumnal Market.
Kellee will be there!
What about you? What have you learned from starting creative projects? What does your making space look like? I’d love to hear about it. Get in touch and tell me about your modern making!
Oh, and psst. There are a couple more answers below if you’d like to hear more from Kellee. Click ‘expand’ or the + symbol to see her answers.
What inspires you?[spoiler title=”Expand this box to see the answer” open=”0″ style=”1″]
So much! Conversations, a walk through my town, light at a particular time of day. The sea, which I really miss since moving away from Brighton. Other artists and other art-forms – I love TV drama (what will I do when Breaking Bad ends? I’m trying not to think about it), film, music, talk radio, photography.
I’m inspired so much by pattern – mostly in nature, in science, on the street outside. Recently, I started to think about what was common across all the things that inspire me, and figured out that it all boils down to composition. I love a slightly off-kilter composition, whether it’s musical (Throwing Muses, of Montreal, Joanna Newsom); or filmic (David Lynch, Ben Wheatley, Vince Gilligan) – a line that doesn’t quite meet a block of colour it’s circling.
The brain wants the notes to harmonise perfectly, or for the frame to be perfectly balanced, or for the block of colour to be neatly encircled by the line, but the eyes and ears are saying “Sorry, this is how it is, you can’t make it perfect”. This imperfection, and the tension between how-it-should-be and how-it-is intrigues and inspires me.[/spoiler]
What else have you learnt about creativity since you started selling your makes?[spoiler title=”Expand this box to see the answer” open=”0″ style=”1″]
Well, I’ve been selling on and off for a couple of years now, but have had my Etsy shop active since January this year. I’ve learned that people are really supportive of handmade work. Almost everyone wants to enjoy something unique and well-crafted, that they know was made with skill and love.
Something that I already knew, which it can feel very tempting to stray away from: make what pleases YOU. It’s so easy to trawl the internet and see trends – particular shapes that are fashionable to draw, or animals that are fashionable to draw – and start thinking “Hmm, maybe I’d sell more of X,Y,Z if I put those motifs in my work”.
But I really think that latching onto trends, though potentially temporarily profitable, provides a hollow victory. After all, trends fade. But you know when you look at a piece of work that comes straight from the artist’s heart – if it appeals to you, there’s just this immediate connection with it; their authenticity shines through.
I’m a firm believer in this connection and it only occurs when you’re doing what truly pleases you, and not paying any mind to what other people might think of it. The minute you have an audience in mind, the magic dissolves.[/spoiler]