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A fine balance: Kelly Thompson on dipping into real and digital ink pots

Illustrator and art director Kelly Thompson couldn’t create her works of art without using tech. For her, it’s all about striking that elusive balance between the old and the new.

By Maya Breen | September 27, 2017 | features

Kelly Thompson has felt the creative pull for as long as she can remember.

I always had to be making something,” she recalls. “When I was a kid my granddad taught me how to draw. My brother and I used to draw heaps.”

And although the humble pencil and paper were the tools used for honing her early creative talents, these days the sought-after illustrator, creative director and public speaker does half of her work traditionally by hand and half digitally.

I think technology almost plays more of a role than I want it to these days,” she says laughing. When she gets a creative brief, she first spends ample time researching online, then builds up a reference using Photoshop, prints it, does a hand-drawn sketch, scans it and colours it in digitally.

"All of my work now wouldn’t look like it does at all without the computer because all of the finishing and colouring at the end is added with the computer.”

The last time she had a PC was in high school but her involvement with Microsoft’s launch of its Surface Studio product has changed all that. Working on a project, she can be fully involved with the screen; tilting the monitor and adjusting the height to find the perfect angles to work from, spinning a dial to sweep through colour palettes or using the pen to draw directly onto the screen.

"I really enjoy that process,” says Thompson. “Because sometimes if I’m drawing digitally I feel quite a lot of disconnect between the feeling that I have when I’m actually drawing on paper and the screen, so actually having a pen to draw on the screen kind-of bridges that gap. I quite like how it’s technology but it still has an element of the old to it.”

The digital components of her creative process also save valuable time for Thompson, especially working with clients. If they don’t like something, she explains, it can be changed quickly to a different option rather than having to redo the whole thing if it was, for example, presented in watercolour.

"I never really planned for it to become my job,” she says, on being an illustrator. “It was just something I enjoyed doing.”

Fresh perspective . My draft for the @fusedmagazine cover that's out now

A post shared by Kelly Thompson (@kellythompsoncreative) on

Drawing was clearly something she couldn’t stop herself doing, picking up a pencil again about two years after she graduated because she was too poor to go out and do anything else, she laughs. As her friends went out partying, she stayed home drawing. “It was bound to come out eventually, I just put it on the shelf for a little bit.”

Based in Melbourne for the past seven years, she is now the founder and director of Maker’s Mgmt, an illustration agency and creative consultancy (nearly reaching its first birthday) where she is able to culminate all her experience into creative direction.

"I really love that now,” she says. “In my time I’ve worked as a photographer, I used to work as a makeup artist for Mac, I’ve done illustration and worked with advertising agencies and all these fashion people - so it’s really nice to bundle all this experience and then put it to use for other people and whatever they are doing for their brand.”

She points out that technology is a necessity in being a successful commercial artist.

“You need the speed, you need the output and you need to be able to work with agencies and other people who are using technology and you need to be able to be in sync with them.”

At the same time, however, she explains that creating and owning your own style is the most important thing. “So it doesn’t matter if you are drawing things in crayon – if you have a whole folio that’s all drawn in crayon then that can become the cool thing. I think that technology is really helpful but I don’t think it’s 100 percent necessary.” It also depends if you are a fine artist or a commercial artist, as she says the latter will always need the help of tech otherwise you will be unemployable.

Thompson firmly believes tech and creativity are only becoming more intertwined and you can hear the excitement in her voice as she imagines the heights she hopes it could reach one day.

"I really hope that one day people will somehow connect our minds to a computer for creativity. Heaps of times I’ll have a vision or an idea in my mind and think ‘oh that’s amazing’ and then my hands can’t physically create it to look how it does in mind. There’s a huge gap between the idea and the actual finishing – I wish I could just make the stuff that’s in my head because everything would be so much cooler but I just can’t do it!”

Even though tech is essential to her work, Thompson says it’s important to keep a balance in check. So, when she finds she just needs to take a break from everything, be it digital or the drawing pad, she’ll renew her creative energies by going for a half hour walk with lunch.

"It’s so refreshing to get away from all your work, not use your phone and go for a stroll – just have a random little stroll with no purpose. I find that’s really good for just clearing my mind and separating myself from my desk and my chair and technology.”

  • This story is brought to you as part of a content partnership between StopPress and Microsoft. If you are a business interested in experiencing Surface Studio, for a limited time Microsoft is offering an opportunity to experience it through an in-person product demonstration session or trial Studio for a week. Register your interest here.

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