Kerrie Hess turned her passion for painting into a highly lucrative business venture.
Her fashion illustrations have graced the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, featured on the covers of books (including her own, Shoestring Chic), and been used by the likes of Cartier, Kate Spade New York, and Louis Vuitton in their high-end marketing campaigns.
She’s had an 18-piece solo exhibition in the ballroom of Le Meurice hotel, Paris – the same place where both Dali and Picasso exhibited their works – and she’s sold thousands of original prints to buyers all over the world. Kerrie Hess has done what many creative types only dare to dream of – successfully turn her hobby into a full-time career.
Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, Kerrie studied graphic design at university before landing her first job with a London-based newspaper. There she had an unexpected opportunity to show off her illustrating skills when she put her hand up to draw something after a stock photo didn’t come through at the last minute.
The lucky break turned into a regular column with the publication, and her unique style quickly garnered the attention of others. It wasn’t long until she had interest from a variety of fashion publications and brands, all wanting to commission her for work. Here she shares the business rules that have helped her navigate the business world, while staying true to her creative side.
Kerrie Hess's business rules
Do what you love, but know your own value
Don’t sell your work to every brand that wants to work with you. You can’t work with everyone, so sometimes it’s okay to politely say, “Thank you, but it’s just not the right fit at this time.” Put your work out there on social media and see what people respond to.
This is a really good indication of what your community likes from you. Make sure there is a market for what you love to do. Don’t oversaturate yourself as a brand. If art is your main thing, don’t veer too far from that, otherwise you can lose the magic and romance of why you started. Love what you do and look at every mistake as something to really learn from.
Don’t always say yes
The best decisions I ever made were turning down adverts for cigarette brands, and not selling my work to a mainstream homewares chain in the US. The homewares offer came up when I was just starting out, and it was for a large amount of money at the time.
Something in my gut told me to turn this down, and I think it’s the best thing I have ever done. Your instinct is always right. I think it’s sometimes the things you turn down rather than the things you say yes to that can define your career path. Putting your work on candles and pencil cases may give exposure, but it may take something special away from your art. Choose collaborations very wisely.
I think I have just found my way as I have gone along and learned from my mistakes over the years – Of which I have made many – but they have helped me.
Create your own happy space
I think creating an office or studio that you love is very important to starting the day in a positive mood. I am also generally most productive in the morning, so I try to schedule painting and drawing then, and emails and phone calls in the latter part of the day when I don’t generally feel as creative. Music, coffee and dark chocolate also make me feel happy in the studio.
Learn to prioritise and slow down
Do the most important thing that needs to be done first. Anything else is a bonus. I also think sometimes that slowing down and not multitasking helps to get more done. I sometimes put my phone away from my desk too, if I really need to concentrate.
Don’t overthink things
Sometimes it’s best to say yes and figure out how you will do it later! This was definitely the case with saying yes to painting and shipping 18 original pieces to France to exhibit. That was very tricky, but I made it work.
Find what brings you real joy
While I love collaborating with fashion and beauty brands, my main happiness is creating my own limited-edition prints and original art pieces. For me, this is where the real joy is. While I have had an online store for art prints for some time (kerriehess.com), I have recently started an online gallery for original works.
It was just something I wanted to try. When it launched, four out of six pieces sold in the first hour. I was completely surprised! Since then, I have shipped original pieces to the US, Germany, Russia and France as well as within Australia.
Don’t be afraid to evolve
My painting style has really changed. I started out working with a fountain pen, and now I am much more about brushes and paint for most of my work. It’s probably a little less detailed but, hopefully, a lot more romantic. I moved over to this style about 10 years ago and did have to teach myself how to work in these media by hand, but now I love working with paints and brushes. Large canvasses and watercolour are my favourite medium.
Strike up relationships
Making sure all the work that I do is true to my heart, as well as something that the client loves – if there is a client involved – is important because it leads to long relationships. Some years ago, Lancôme Paris asked me to paint an image for their packaging as a one-off. It was so successful for them that we ended up doing this same collaboration, internationally, six times per year for three years.