As a child, Kerrie Hess always loved to draw.
“I still remember asking Mum if I could go to art classes when I was five,” she says. “In school, I was that person drawing in their spare time. I never really thought that I’d end up having a career as an artist but I knew it was something that I loved.”
Growing up on Brisbane’s Southside, Kerrie attended Lourdes Hill College before studying graphic design at Griffith University.
“I thought well, at least graphic design is a real job – I’ll probably end up doing that,” she laughs. And she did – moving to London and working at The Independent for 12 months before her career took a rather serendipitous turn.
“It was the week we had to go to press and we lost an image for a fashion story. It was all very stressful, and so I ended up doing an illustration to replace it. There was some great feedback, and it all kind of went from there,” She says. “I decided I would make a go of illustration as a career, give myself 12 months and see how I go”.
And so, Kerrie’s journey from graphic designer to internationally-acclaimed fashion illustrator began, with Kerrie commissioned to create stunning watercolour paintings for the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Vogue Australia. “It was an awesome feeling,” she says, “I was this Australian artist – from Brisbane – painting these incredible campaigns.”
But, Kerrie says, the road to success wasn’t without its challenges. “I started over 16 years ago,” she says. “There weren’t a lot of fashion illustrators back then; there was no handbook, no one really to talk to. It wasn’t easy in the beginning – I was illustrating horoscopes, I was just illustrating whatever job came my way to pay my dues.”
“In the beginning, I was just thrilled to be able to illustrate. Then, some big jobs came along like Vogue Australia, the fashion group that owns Topshop in the UK, and I think it just takes a couple of really great jobs to make a really huge job in your career,” she says.
And it was a very different game back then. “I started out during the time of hand-couriering your work to the client,” she says. “I remember my first job with Vogue Australia. They said to me, “You know, people are starting to use email, so maybe we could work together and you could email your work to us? And I went, ‘oh, ok – that sounds easier,” she laughs.
Kerrie says she generally works with watercolour but has been branching out and trying new mediums.
“[Watercolour is] my favourite medium; it’s basically watercolour paper and then watercolour brushes, but I also like to do some big canvases – which I’ve been doing in the last few years – and it’s been really, really lovely. It’s been a challenge to teach myself a new medium, because you can’t really work in water-based paint on canvas; you have top use acrylic and oils. I’ve converted my garage into a painting studio just for that; a big, white canvas is a really exciting thing to start with.”
Kerrie relocated back to Brisbane in 2013 to offer her son the sort of childhood she had, and she says it offers her the best of both worlds.
“I can’t go to as many events that come up in Sydney or Melbourne, but it means I just tend to go to the events that I’m part of. And otherwise I’m just painting. I think being in Brisbane allows me to focus on my work a little more. I love the lifestyle in Brisbane and I’m very happy here. I have a little boy who needs a place to run around.”
She now divides her time between painting, school drop-offs for her five year-old son, and locking in new campaigns – her most recent, a shoe collection with Melbourne-based shoe company, Ballettonet which will feature a small collection of ballet flats inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, and a suede slip-on adorned with her illustration of a French Bulldog.
She offers advice for those looking to forge a career in the world of illustration.
“Having a go illustrating for magazines and editorials is a great way to see how the industry works and what the process is working with art directors and what they look for. Social media is also something I didn’t have starting out, and it’s such an amazing tool…people will let you know what they like, and often it’s surprising. Also, find yourself a mentor that you can talk to.”
She’s excited for the future, and says welcoming all opportunities in those early stages has been key to her success. “I can’t remember who it was, but I was told that when amazing opportunities come up and you think, ‘my goodness, I’m not sure I can do this’ you just have to say yes and figure it out as you go; just jump, and build your parachute on the way down.”
“Someone also once told me to be nice to everyone on the way up, because it’s all the same people on the way down – and I think that’s great advice to live by.”
Follow Kerrie Hess on Instagram and Twitter at @Kerriehessillustration