Kelly Maker: “I went from unknown to known in three months”

The Stone Fox’s Kelly Maker is the Melbourne-based artist you need to follow if your eyes know what’s good for them. A photographer and designer, Kelly manoeuvres human frames on backdrops of foreign literature, paving her edits with colours, glitz, and linear brushstrokes. For any lover of vintage reads or modern fashion, this is a collision of old and new that you’ll gladly get around.

We’re touting her the Queen of the Collage, and can’t get enough of her digital prowess. With a burgeoning following on Instagram, and a stunning online portfolio for us to pore over, we can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for Kelly.

Today, we’re quizzing the creative on all things art, some major accomplishments of late, and what advice she would spill for fellow movers and shakers of the Australian design scene…

You recently crafted artwork to grace the pages of VOGUE. What did this opportunity represent for you? 
I’m still pinching myself that this happened. Vogue is one of, if not the most, well known publication in the world. I watch The September Issue at least once a month, and being recognised by the Australian Constituent was such a surreal and strangely validating experience in the sense that I started doing this as a hobby. I never expected anything worthwhile to come out of it, least of all for this to become my full-time job. It represented that following my dreams and going against what everyone was telling me to do was absolutely the right choice.

Talk us through the kind of artwork that you create. What is the typical process you go through to create a new design? 
This depends on the circumstances. If I’m creating something for fun – like a new piece for social media or just because I have a spare few hours – I’ll either start with an image and form the idea from there, or have an idea already in my head and go hunting for the perfect image to apply it to. Sometimes I spend hours just looking for the right image. When I have it, I take a lot of time perfecting the piece. For example, glitter pieces look careless and abstract – when in reality I’ve spent hours choosing where every single bit of glitter will go. Everything has purpose. Other pieces like my paper or invisible bikini pieces are a lot more straightforward, but the precision it takes to create these is what makes them so intricate.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your artwork from?
I certainly let it come naturally. I’ve always struggled answering this question because of course I am inspired by so many things. Other artists, models, creatives, the weather, music, and paintings – the list is endless. It’s more the sum total of these inspirations that come together and sit in the back of my mind. I think I unknowingly draw on small aspects of these every time I make something new.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 
My Dad continually tells me to try everything and anything regardless of whether I succeed or not. Knowing I tried my hardest is all that matters. He certainly leads by example in this regard and has never been one to shy away from trying new things, which has given me the confidence to do the same.

Where did your love for photography and design stem from? 
I’ve always had a lot of trouble expressing myself. I grew up very shy, quiet, and feeling misunderstood often. I think I was drawn to creative outlets as a way to escape my mind. I started with creative writing, studying that all throughout school. I wanted to be a novelist until Year 12 when I was given total freedom to create my final art piece as a part of my art elective. I went nuts and created a very personal, mixed media piece that just allowed me to pour everything I had been feeling into this tangible, visual thing. Through this process I started combining text with photography, but in a very different way to how I do now, and it really built the foundation for what was to become this new collage style.

Artistry is wildly competitive. How did you find your ‘break’ in this kind of industry in Australia? 
I was very lucky and didn’t suffer the long period of thankless work that a lot of artists I know go through. I think it was a matter of right place, right time, and right style. No one was doing what I do when I started, and this made it so unique and appealing. My break came when very well-known models, photographers, magazines and celebrities started seeing my work and posting it to their own Instagrams and online. I went from unknown to known in a matter of two maybe three months, which was very surreal but extremely exciting.

What advice would you give to budding artists who are creating content in a similar vein to you, but feel disenchanted? 
This is a tough one because like I said earlier, unique art is usually what is going to get you moving up in this crazy competitive art world. I’m often asked by creatives (who create similar work to mine) why they aren’t as popular as they had hoped they might be, and my response is always to follow your gut and try something new if you feel what you’re doing now isn’t working. Inspired works are amazing and are a great way to find your feet, but once you allow yourself to let go and fall into your own style, no matter what it may be – painting, photography, digital art etc. – you’ll find yourself being recognised more because your soul is in your work and people can see that.

We’ve noticed a lot of your designs are backed upon old literature. What books / magazines are on your nightstand at the moment? 
I have an unconventional nightstand which is more of a bookstand next to a bookshelf with a lamp on it! I’m an avid book collector, usually old foreign paperbacks found in tiny markets in Europe with covers missing and pages ripped. I just finished reading The Talented Mr. Ripley which is still sitting next to my bed. I have my favourite and most cherished books which is a collection called Women Who Made History. These are really hard to get, so I only have Queen Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette and The Last Great Empress of China, but I’m hunting for more copies all the time.

What’s a typical working day in your life? How do you settle in for a day of designing? 
I start with a very large coffee in the morning. Depending on the weather, I will either sit in my little office nook with music blaring, or on my balcony in the sun. Because I spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen, I’ve learnt it’s important to take regular breaks – take my dogs for a walk and rest my eyes. This helps me avoid creative blocks – not something you want when a deadline is nearing.

What’s your ideal ‘day off’? Where could we find you?
At the beach! On the rare day off I have, if that day is even remotely warm – I’ll jump in my car and head to a specific beach about two hours away from the Melbourne CBD. Even if it’s just for a couple hours, it’s perfect to de-stress and get back into the creative mindset.

What have been the highlights of 2018 so far for you? 
I’ll overlap 2017 and 2018 here. My recent highlights have been traveling Europe until late December of last year, getting the phone call from VOGUE whilst in Rome (which transferred over to the publishing of my art in Feb of this year). I just signed with new management – which has been amazing for exploring new avenues for my art and photography. It’s so early in the year still, so I’m sure I’ll have more highlights to come soon.

What’s next for you? What do you envisage for Kelly Maker in a year’s time? 
I have big dreams, but the main one is to move myself over to NYC, LA or Paris and start working full-time there. Also creating some kind of exhibition showcasing my work in print on a grand scale.

All images via: Kelly Maker | Interview by Genevieve Phelan

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