Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview - Kat Macleod

The first Michi Girl book, Like I Give a Frock - released this year by Penguin

Kat Macleod's beautiful page spreads for Like I Give A Frock

Bird Girl illustration

If you live in Melbourne, then chances are I can't tell you anything new about illustrator and artist Kat Macleod. That's because this exceptionally talented lady is well and truly flavour of the month in Melbourne right now - if somewhat reluctantly so. Her current exhibition at Lamington Drive in Fitzroy, endearingly titled The Tiniest Spark, sold out in a matter of days. (It's still up 'til the 29th though, so you must go and see it if you haven't already.)

...and then there was that fabulous article in The Age 2 weeks ago - a stunning double page spread dotted with Kat's unmistakeable 'three fingered ladies', and her beautiful work also graced the front page of the A2 section, if you don't mind!

What you mightn't know about Ms Macleod is that she is truly the most lovely, friendly, modest and unassuming girl you could ever hope to meet, despite her incredible body of work and all the recent accolades. In person, Kat is thoughtful and just a little bit shy, though still very warm and easy to talk to. At just 29, her work is well known and in high demand both here and overseas - she's been instrumental in the popularity of the cult Michi Girl fashion and weather forecasting website, and her stunning work has helped propel the recent Michi Girl book Like I Give a Frock into instant best-seller status.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kat only last week, and I am already secretly planning on becoming her very best friend. sshhh. I'll keep ya posted :)

Look at this great little video of Kat's creative Process, put together by her agents Jacky Winter to accompany her current exhibition at Lamington Drive. I just love seeing her pieces come to life on her desk! Gorgeousness. Interview below.

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I studied a Graphic Design Degree at Swinburne University, I finished back in 2001. In the third year of the course I did an Industry Based Learning year at 3 Deep Design. Among the many interesting projects I worked on, I was given a studio-based project to illustrate a collection of drawings which would later be published in 2002 as my first illustrated book, Bird. The book was a limited edition release with a hardcover and slip case, different paper stocks and also some real embroidery throughout. It was a really special project and the beginning of my illustration career.

After graduating from uni I worked at Fabio Ongarato Design for two years. I worked on lots of great projects there, including some international accounts. After FOD I worked as a freelance illustrator and designer for two years for many great clients including Collette Dinnigan, The Australian Ballet (for 3 Deep) and Big by Fiona Scanlan. In 2006, I started Ortolan with my two good friends Chloe Quigley and Simone Elder. We met while working at FOD, we always really admired one another and already knew we loved working together, so it was a smooth step when we decided to start up our dream company.

Kat's limited edition printed/embroidered tea towel design for Third Drawer Down

In the last few years your work has become more and more well known in Australia, and it seems these days that your unique illustrative style is instantly recognisable to many. How do you feel about this recent surge in interest and popularity? Has it affected the way you work, your relationship with your clients, or your creative freedom on certain projects?

Any interest in my work is great and I appreciate it so much. I don’t feel it changes the way I work, it’s just all very lovely and encouraging. I still work the same way I have always worked, and I feel lucky that clients choose to work with me and are supportive of my style. I never feel in a position where I am pressured to change my drawings or create something I’m not happy with.
Album cover and artwork for Australian singer Clare Bowditch

You’ve worked for some great clients and have illustrated some extremely popular books – what have been some of your favourite projects/clients?

I loved illustrating the Michi girl newsletters and the new Michi book. The book was a great project where Sim, Chloe and I could all bring our skills to the table, with Daniel Pollock (Michi co-writer) too of course. I’ve also really loved working with Clare Bowditch on her album artwork, she is a very inspiring and charismatic artist. It’s been great working with Natalie Bloom on her new skincare and tanning ranges, she is a wonderful, beautiful woman too. Other favourite clients are Third Drawer Down, Real Simple Magazine (US) and Vogue Entertaining + Travel.

Illustrations for US magazine Real Simple

How would you describe your artistic style?

Messy, girly, layered and watercoloury.

Your output is incredibly varied – you’re part of boutique graphic design agency Ortolan, and also collaborate on super-popular website Michi Girl… not to mention having recently staged your first solo exhibition. How do you balance this variety of creative projects? Is it difficult to manage your independent illustration projects with the day-to-day demands of working in a busy graphic design studio?

All illustration work I take on comes through our company, Ortolan. I spend my days working on a mix of illustration jobs and graphic design work, I really like the balance. It’s what I love doing so it’s not too difficult to manage. I have been working on my exhibition outside of work for the last four months. It has taken up every weekend and spare moment, so it’s been a very challenging and busy time, but definitely a great opportunity to work on a collection which was for my own show instead of a client for a change. I think I might be the hardest client to please though, but in the end I couldn’t be happier with how the show has turned out.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

Illustrators throughout history - Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham, Rene Gruau, Quentin Blake, Julie Verhoeven, Tina Berning. These are just a few, I have many many favourites.

Where else do you find inspiration – ie books, magazines, your environment, travel, your family and friends?

Looking through books in our Ortolan library, or a big university library, or a great bookstore. Of course travel is really inspiring too, something I hope to do more of soon. I have visited the big galleries in New York, London, Paris and Barcelona, it’s amazing to see the original works of famous artists, and also to wander around the cities and become immersed in the fashions, styles and art in the other worlds out there. It’s inspiring to be outside your neighbourhood and comfort zone. But not for long, I get homesick.

London - illustration for The Cocktail book

Paris - Illustration for The Cocktail book

What are you most proud of professionally?

Co-running Ortolan with my wonderful business partners. And also my first solo exhibition.

What would be your dream project?

Most of the projects I work on are dream jobs, so I just hope I can continue to work on really great jobs with more lovely clients.

What are you looking forward to?

The Christmas holidays and having a rest.

Pillowcase designs for Third Drawer Down

Melbourne Questions

Best gallery to see the work of artists/illustrators like yourself in Melbourne?

Lamington Drive

Where do you shop for the tools of your trade in Melbourne? (ie pens, paints, paper, collage ephemera etc).

I get all my pencils, paints, inks and paper at Deans Art or Eckersleys, and all my fabrics and oddments are from everywhere and anywhere - Maria George bead and trimming store, any fabric shops, op shops, garage sales, the Camberwell Market, the supermarket, newsagencies... Sometimes friends give me their fabric remnants which is really lovely - it’s nice when the materials come with their own story and history.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I had dinner at Tiamo on Lygon St the Friday after my exhibition opened. We go there all the time, but it was a mix of the bustling Tiamo-atmosphere, the relief of the exhibition completed and opening night over, and the excellent company made it the best meal and night of the year.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At The Breakfast Club in Northcote. Or maybe hanging out at home with our cats.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Our front garden. It’s peaceful, overgrown and drinks taste good there.

Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful work Kat! :)


  1. hi!
    my name is caitie and i am doing an art project on Kat Macleod because i absolutely love her work but i was trying to reference this webpage and i was wondering who was the interviewer?

  2. Hi Caitie,

    I interviewed Kat myself... I write all the content on this site and conduct all the interviews. :)

    If you need anymore info please feel free to email me -

    Thanks so much for reading! Lucy x (full name Lucy Feagins) x

  3. awesome interview! i've been in love with kat's work for a while now & it's lovely to see that so many other people feel the same way, & that her gorge pieces are getting out there! the video is AMAZING! thanks so much for sharing x

  4. wow can't believe i only just found this interview. i ❤ kat macleod! thank you!

  5. Would love it if you did an interview with Rebecca Wetzler as well. She is one of my favourite illustrators. She illustrated the "Beauty in Bloom" book for Natalie Bloom !