Hey everybody and welcome back to this week’s episode of Brand Your Passion. I am very, very excited today to be joined by the queen of colour, the master of all things pattern, the incredible Evie Kemp. Welcome to the show, Evie!
Thanks so much Hollie!
Do you want to introduce yourself to people listening and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Hi everyone, I’m Evie and I am a self-employed designer, but I’m very much the ‘multi-creative’. I’m an illustrator, an artist, a designer, an interior designer. Basically anything creative that I can put my hand to, I will.
I’m really bad at describing what I do! I’ve tried so many times to figure it out, but it’s always bits of everything.
I love the ‘multi-creative’ as a good catch-all to cover the many passions. I was interested in how you would describe what you do, because I don’t even know how to describe it!
I think the principles are the same. I’m just applying colour and pattern to everything, so there are no limits on what my canvas is, whether it’s a room or a picture.
There are no limits on what my canvas is.
Amazing, I love that. With all of those things that you do now, have you always identified as a creative or an artist of some kind?
Pretty much in my whole working life, I have. When I first left school, I went to uni and started studying law and art history conjoined. I was very much into the theory side of art and feeling that I had the skills to do the practical side. But about halfway through that, I basically had a mental breakdown. I took some time out and then decided to apply to do graphic design. At the time, I thought graphic design was those ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ sort of moments and that I’d go and work in magazines. I love fashion and at the time, blogging was really huge so it was all tied in with that.
I had really great illustration tutors through my graphic design degree at AUT, and they really informed my work and how I went forward. That’s how I got into what I do now, which is illustrations.
Yeah, nice. Were you creative as a kid at all? Or did it just come through when you were doing art history, then taking that break and realising that's what you wanted to do?
I’ve always been very creative. My mum and dad are both very creative people. They’re not artists, but my mum was forever doing things around the house. Our kind of outings would be to go to the Natural History Museum and draw the animals.
I had lots of creative outlets to encourage me.
I was the oldest of five and it was a very busy house, so I always felt a bit left out, but I had lots of really cool women in my life. Our next door neighbour Diane was this amazing lady who was an incredible cake decorator. She’d have me over, we’d do cake decorating and I’d sleep over at her house. She lived in this little cottage and had this Laura Ashley wallpaper up and over the ceiling, with matching bedding and everything patterned. Another good friend of my mum’s was a photographer. Even as a little kid, she’d give me my own camera and we’d go out taking photos of cats in Whitby, then come back and develop the photos.
I was really lucky. I had lots of creative outlets to encourage me.
That’s amazing. It makes such a difference when you have that freedom as a kid to be creative. I think people sometimes think of creativity or being an artist, and think of painting or illustrating, but it can be cake decorating and baking. I always think of chefs as artists. So even doing those things like baking cakes and going out to take photos of cats is so creative. And obviously, it’s so powerful to have those creative women in your life too.
Yeah, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really thought about them and what they brought to my life, and it’s really special. I want to be that person to the kids that are in my life too and do these cool outings and craft activities - like I’m the aunty!
Yeah, the fun, crafty, kooky aunt!
Pretty much, if that could be my job description that would be great.
#Goals. Brilliant. So you did all that creative stuff as a kid and then got into actually studying to be a designer. A lot of people struggle with deciding whether to go to school or trying to learn on their own. How did you find the design school experience? What were the benefits or not-benefits for you?
That’s such a good, insightful question. It’s something I grapple with now when people ask me if I would recommend school or not.
At the time when I went into graphic design, I was a bit older than the other people in my class because I’d already been to uni so I felt like I was really mission-focused, which helped. There were aspects of it that I felt were so valuable, but there was also so much that I learned by myself and that I still continue to learn, as I’m sure you do. I think that’s also the nature of graphic design - so much is program-based and that’s always changing.
For me, it was really good to just have that time to focus on it and find what I wanted to do, but I also think you can do that as a self-motivated, independent person. I did 3 years and I don’t know now if I would rather have done shorter courses.
It’s hard - I felt like I did waste a lot of time at uni doing typography exercises that I was crap at. Nothing gave me nothing, but then other things are really, really valuable. I also still took other classes while I was at uni. I did one on textile because I really wanted to learn how to make repeat patterns, but they didn’t teach that at uni so I still paid for that separately.
It was really good to just have that time to focus and find what I wanted to do.
I’m always really mixed on it. It’s really hard to know without knowing who is teaching the course at the time. You studied at Massey, didn’t you?
Yeah. It’s so much to do with the course that you choose to do as well. I looked at a few different universities but the way they taught design was so different from Massey. It depends what course you do and what you’re looking for in a learning experience.
It’s been 6 years since I left and back when I started, there weren’t as many online opportunities or self-driven courses that you could follow. Whereas now, especially with COVID, everything has gone online so there are so many workshops, webinars, classes and courses you can do that just didn’t exist 10 years ago.
So true. I always get the ads for Masterclass and Skillshare and they look so good. If you break it down cost-wise, you can totally just plan a year of that.
Another really cool thing that some people might be interested in is that the V&A Museum in London does online courses now. They look so cool. I’m going to try and take one of those in January. It’s a really different approach to education and it’s really exciting.
It’s really cool. There’s a Masters of Branding that Debbie Millman does and it always felt like a total pipe dream for me to go to New York to do it. But with COVID, they’re moving that program online so it’s way more accessible to people all around the world. It’s a very exciting time to be learning. I love the fact that anything you want to learn is probably available online.
Yeah. Despite the rising cost of university fees, I suppose in a way it’s bringing the fairness back to education. You don’t need to spend $100,000 on a fancy degree if you don’t have that and I’m all for that. I think that’s awesome.
Me too. Anything that makes creativity more accessible.
Let’s move on from the education side of things. We could talk about that forever! When you were going through this process of starting to be a designer, when and how did you start sharing that online? Was it a conscious decision or were you already doing that?
The beginnings of Instagram pretty much happened around the same time that I was leaving uni. I’d been on Twitter a lot and I’d made a really good community of creative friends through that, and when Instagram came up, I was sharing things through there too. It was pretty much from there that I was promoting my business and got my first stockist, who was the wonderful Martha from Wanda Harland in Wellington. She’s still a really good friend of mine today.
So I used Instagram from the very beginning, which I think works in my favour, but I never imagined it would become so integral to my brand and my business. It meant that I didn’t come with a brand and start an Instagram account - I started with an Instagram account and I made a brand. It makes it a bit easier that way.
I didn’t come with a brand and start an Instagram account - I started with an Instagram account and I made a brand.
I’m super interested in how people do that. Some people do just start posting on Instagram and then start figuring out how to build a brand, and some people decide to start growing their brand and use Instagram as a way to do that.
When and how did you realise that you wanted to try and turn it into a brand and build it?
Before I left uni I’d kind of decided. For my final exhibition, I’d done all these fabrics and put the pictures on Instagram. All my 30 followers thought it was so cool and gave me that boost. Then Martha from Wanda Harland asked me if I would want to sell them and I signed up to the market.
As soon as I left uni, I worked at the New Zealand Herald as a Mac operator. For anyone who is not that old, a Mac operator is pretty much just the hands moving the pieces around. I was making all the adverts for the Herald, which was a really good job in terms of experience and becoming efficient, but not very creative.
While I was doing that, I was always itching to get back to my fabric stuff. I had a little online shop on Felt and was posting stuff on Etsy as well. Fabrics were just too expensive and I couldn’t really sell them. I turned them into paper prints and they just went off, so I basically became a print shop for my own designs.
At the time, I was printing over 1,000 prints a month. I bought my own printers from Trade Me. I was just packaging and printing, and I did that for about 5-6 years. That was my bread and butter business.
I basically became a print shop for my own designs.
Wow. That's incredible. How did you decide that you were going to expand or change what you were doing?
It was a two-way thing. Firstly, sales just dropped. It just became a more saturated market and it was harder to get the sales. I hadn’t created enough work so I was really depending on my old work and just reproducing it. I wasn’t very happy in myself because I wasn’t being creative again, I was just a packing, dispatching machine.
I’d also been using my Instagram to share what I was passionate about and that opened up some other avenues of work for me. It coincided with that so I could switch tracks and slide over, so I decided to call it quits on my prints completely. It was a clean break so I could focus on other stuff. Then I was doing all sorts of event styling and interior styling.
I wasn’t very happy in myself because I wasn’t being creative again.
Wicked. And so you were doing this part-time at this point?
Yeah, I was doing it part-time and working full-time. Then I went down to four days a week, then three days a week, then two days a week. Then when I was secure enough, I left. I had an amazing boss at Herald who was really just keen to have me there when I could be there. It worked out perfectly. That’s a really lucky situation to be in.
Yeah, that’s so great to have a boss who’s like, “Yes, please go take the days off and follow your dreams.”
I think he was more like, “Please just work here at least one day a week, then at least we’ll get one day out of you rather than not!”
Tell us about the evolution of the Evie brand. At what point did you start having a logo and branding? Tell us about how you originally did that and how it’s changed over time, because I know you have just done a new logo.
It’s a pretty slow evolution. I probably did my first logo myself about 12 years ago. It just said “Evie Kemp” in Caviar Dreams typeface - very of the time.
When I look at it now, it seems like it had no connection, but I really liked stamping my name all over everything. I’ve still got the stamp for that one. I also had these really thin plywood blank business cards that I stamped my logo on. I’ve never been a branding expert in any way, so it was just taking bits from things I liked at the time.
I’ve never been a branding expert in any way, so it was just taking bits from things I liked at the time.
When I started getting a bit more into it again, I switched to a hand-drawn logo. It was just my name in scratchy letters on a colourful shape background. That felt a lot more me, because most of my work involves my own hand-drawing and it’s quite scratchy and bold. It started to feel like it was getting somewhere.
It wasn’t really until my latest iteration where I felt like this was really me and really going somewhere.
It wasn’t really until my latest iteration where I felt like this was really me and really going somewhere. I went to an art camp last February and one of the activities was a branding workshop with Rose from Rumour. Before then, I’d never really done branding and just thought I needed something pretty to stick on my stuff. I’d never actually sat down and thought about it. Between that workshop and this podcast, it started me thinking about what my branding is, what my logo specifically needed to look like and what my brand is.
I’d never really done branding and just thought I needed something pretty to stick on my stuff. I’d never actually sat down and thought about it.
I think I’m there and I’m really excited about it, but I’m a bad brander because I haven’t really applied it to anything else yet!
That’s alright, you’ve done step one! The hardest step, which is actually designing the thing.
How did you know that it was time to have a new logo or step into a new evolution?
It’s because I pretty much just ditched my old logo ages ago. I’d changed my website to just have my name in a web font. I just wasn’t feeling it, so I knew the time was right.
I just wasn’t feeling it, so I knew the time was right.
But it’s taken me two years to actually make one… This might not be the advice that people come on for!
No, but it's the reality, right?
It’s the reality. It’s that whole thing, isn’t it - a builder’s house is never done and a designer’s branding is never done.
I think it was just having the right inspirations for it. So firstly I had that workshop with Rose, and then listening to your podcast and following you online has been really influential for me and has got me thinking about really big stuff. Even though I’m a bit lazy and I don’t always put it into practice, it’s there ticking away in my head.
It was just having the right inspirations for it.
Well, that's all I can ask for.
I just feel like there’s so much value in what you say and what you offer. Sometimes you need to hear things 1,000 times for it to click in your head.
I’ve had so many well-meaning people tell me that nobody knows what I actually do, how to work with me or what I’m about. I suppose this is my first step in dealing with that.
Sometimes you need to hear things 1,000 times for it to click in your head.
It's a brave step. What made you decide to do the logo yourself?
That’s a really good question. I’ve had other brands in the past, I’ve had collabs and I’ve hired a designer to do a logo, and then I just ended up redoing it myself. It felt so rude but I think it is just that essence you feel in yourself that makes you think, “I can figure this out”.
It is just that essence you feel in yourself that makes you think, “I can figure this out”.
That’s just where I was at and because it’s such a floaty, up-in-the-air thing, I couldn’t really give anyone a brief for it. It just had to happen. It was also why it was so slow.
Now, I’m at the stage where I feel like I’ve found my tone and it would be good to work with someone else to develop it and flesh it out. I feel like I’m much more on the art side and less on the design side. You know what you’re good at and you know what you’re not good at, and it’s always cool to work with people who are good at what they’re good at.
I feel like I’ve found my tone and it would be good to work with someone else to develop it and flesh it out.
And you have that creative director styling skill that’s about the vision and the creative direction, and then somebody else can implement and expand on that.
Ideally. I love seeing people when they develop or change their brand, like you have just recently. I loved how you talked about why and how. I think that’s really valuable for people, because so many of us have been doing this for years and years and we can get really stuck in our ways whilst the world keeps moving, and suddenly we go, “Hold on, this has nothing to do with what I’m doing!” It’s really cool to think of it as an ever-evolving process.
It’s really cool to think of it as an ever-evolving process.
Yeah, definitely. When you are so close to it, it can be hard to see that it’s not clear or it doesn’t relate. When you’re so in the weeds of it, it’s hard to see the big forest. Sometimes you need somebody from the outside to give you that perspective of what you should think about.
I know. You could spend 100 hours looking at it and then you’ll have a branding expert spend two hours and say, “I know exactly what you need to do.”
But it’s cool. It’s fun. Branding should be fun and most importantly, it should feel like something that you’re really proud to share with the world. That’s what it’s there for and that’s what we need to do with it. It’s no good if it’s something you tuck away at the back of your website or on a pile of old business cards that you keep in a cupboard. You want it to be something really cool that people resonate with and are drawn to. That’s the fun of it.
Branding should be fun and most importantly, it should feel like something that you’re really proud to share with the world. That’s what it’s there for and that’s what we need to do with it.
Definitely. That’s why I love it. So obviously your logo is one part of your brand, but your actual work that you share on Instagram and online is such a big part of your brand. Tell me a little bit about how your style or your work has changed over time.
I’ve just become super, super maximalist. That’s kind of just age and becoming really comfortable and more confident in myself.
I think having a really cool online community has been a massive part of that as well, in terms of feeling like you’ve found your people. They inspire you and you feel like you can inspire them. You don’t have to fit in a mould or try to create something that everybody likes.
That’s always my key saying - you want to be like Marmite. People either hate it or they love it. If you’re trying to get everyone to like it, then nobody cares.
You want to be like Marmite. People either hate it or they love it.
I think it’s just being more Marmite in life and sharing all the parts of it. I’ve gone through phases of trying to be more niche and edit down my profile. People say you’ve got to stick to one thing or you’ll lose people, but I don’t. My follower count has probably suffered for that, but ultimately I’m true to myself and the people that follow me hopefully enjoy the fact that I do share all these different things. Sometimes it’s fashion, sometimes it’s clothing, sometimes it’s art, sometimes it’s books, sometimes it’s body positivity. It could be anything.
People say you’ve got to stick to one thing or you’ll lose people, but I don’t. My follower count has probably suffered for that, but ultimately I’m true to myself.
Yeah, totally. I know that so many people, myself included, have so many different passions and so many different creative things that they do. In another interview with Fem, I said that I wish I had nine lives like a cat so I could live nine different creative lives.
I’m curious about how you found that experience of building a brand when you are so multi-passionate and multi-creative, and what you’ve done to tie it all together.
I’ve struggled a lot with it. Sometimes I feel like I could be so much more successful if I focused on one thing rather than being a jack of all trades and master of none, which is how I feel I am.
I usually just come back to the fact that I can’t stick to one thing because I get bored or something catches my eye and I do it, and how lucky am I to get to have all these passions and have them all as part of my job? I just don’t think that my brain would work for me to do it any other way.
How lucky am I to get to have all these passions and have them all as part of my job?
I was listening to a podcast just the other day with someone who has lots of different creative things. They asked her this question and she said, “I do have a thing, and my thing is joy.”
That covers everything. I thought that was a really good answer. If you approach everything with the same gusto, then it all fits together in its own way.
If you approach everything with the same gusto, then it all fits together in its own way.
Like I said at the beginning, when I think about you, I’m not sure how I would describe the million things that you do. But I feel like when I think of Evie, I think of the feeling of Evie.
Aww! Oh I hope that’s a good feeling, not like a headache.
Definitely a good thing! Even though you do so many different things, there’s a very consistent style and feeling that ties all of them together.
I think that’s probably the thread that holds everything together, once I accepted that. It was being true to my own voice and not trying to do this like this person or do that like that person. If I do everything as myself, then everything should mesh together somehow.
If I do everything as myself, then everything should mesh together somehow.
Amazing, I love that. Just quickly, I was scrolling through Instagram yesterday to think of what I wanted to talk to you about and I read that you got a D in colour theory at design school. You failed design school according to the tutor, which I just think is so funny now that colours and patterns are your whole thing.
That's a badge of honour for me now.
Yeah, you get to say, “I stayed true to my voice, which is apparently wrong to you”. You're definitely living that Marmite life.
I stopped doing art at high school as well because of my teacher. We’d go to the museum and draw mouldy artifacts and things, and I was putting pink where there wasn’t pink. I can’t remember what she said, but she basically crushed my spirit and I quit doing art for years.
So she’s done that, and then I did this stupid colour theory thing, which was the thing I was most excited for at uni, and failed that as well! But you know, colour is subjective. Nobody can tell you that you’re good or bad at colour. If you like it, then you like it. If it works, it works. Grades be damned.
Colour is subjective. Nobody can tell you that you’re good or bad at colour. If you like it, then you like it. If it works, it works.
Yeah, showed you.
Anyone who went to AUT will have had this experience - you had to paint a really long strip of colours next to each other. The teacher reckoned that you could read it like music and he would be in class singing up and down the scale of how he read the colours. Mine was like a horrible song.
Oh gosh, wow. Okay, as we wrap things up, one last question. What is either the biggest lesson that you’ve learned about branding your passion, or a piece of advice that you would give to other creatives who are branding their passion?
One of the best things was when I switched to deciding I wanted to be a designer. My mum gave me a card that had the quote “We must always do what we love or we risk doing nothing at all”. I always held that dear to me.
My mum gave me a card that had the quote “We must always do what we love or we risk doing nothing at all”. I always held that dear to me.
I always think that when you’re branding your passion, you’ve got to stay in your lane and focus on what matters to you and what appeals to you. If you love it, then that will reflect through. Be true to yourself and be unafraid to find your own voice and to push your own boundaries, because that’s when the magic happens.
Be true to yourself and be unafraid to find your own voice and to push your own boundaries, because that’s when the magic happens.
Beautiful. I love that. What a great card from your mum.
I know. What a sweetheart.
What a gem. I love it. Do you want to tell people where they can find you and how they can work with you, buy something from you or support you right now?
You can also find me on my website where I’ve recently launched an eBook called Much, which is all about living out our maximalist life. It’s got lots of practical tips as well as just inspirational things. I personally wrote it for anyone who feels like they want to bring a bit more into their life and find themselves a bit freer in design. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be full blown, there are ways to tell a story through your home and that’s what that book is all about.
I also have a selection of prints on my website as well.
Wonderful! Everybody make sure you go and check out all those goodies. I cannot wait till I have my own home and I can start plastering wild wallpaper and colours everywhere.
Thank you so so much for joining us today. I know that I have learned a lot and had a great time hearing your experience and your approach, so thank you for sharing that! I’m sure all the people listening will really love to hear it too.
Thanks so much for all the work you do and all your help, and thanks for having me on!
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Evie Kemp on Balancing Multiple Passions, Creating Full-Time, and DIY-ing Your Brand Identity
Hollie Arnett on Honouring Your Introversion, Transitioning Your Business, and Changing Your Brand Name
Sophie Timothy on Growing Community, Adapting Your Brand, and Leaning Into Your Uniqueness