Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with designer and illustrator Betty McCready to learn more about her career path, recent move home to New Zealand after living in the UK and how her extra-curricula interests informs her practice as a designer.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?
I grew up in Hawke’s Bay, and stuck around to study Visual Art and Design. This was quickly followed by a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. I jumped straight into a position as a Secondary School Design & Visual Communication/Art Teacher when I was 21 — I was young, optimistic and passionate about changing the world one teenager at a time. Looking back I think it would have been much more beneficial to spend some more time in the art/design industry, then bring that passion and experience to a teaching career later in life.
I eventually returned to study in 2015, gaining First Class Honours in Graphic Design at AUT (specialising in repeated pattern/textile design). Since graduating I have juggled work in retail management with freelance design and styling projects.
You recently moved home to Aotearoa from London, how has your travel and experience overseas shaped your practice?
Prior to moving to London, I had never even visited the Northern Hemisphere. The day after we touched down in London, I went to the Tate Modern where I had a happy panic attack standing in front of works that I only had only ever seen in books. Travelling through Europe and the United States I encountered so much amazing art and design, visiting amazing galleries around the world and plugging into the design scene in London. Walking the halls of the Guggenheim and the Stedelijk, and even visiting the Bauhaus in Dessau.
It has made me realise that the world is smaller than I used to think, and online connections make it so easy to keep involved with projects all over the place.
What are you enjoying most about being home in NZ?
Those pizza flavoured Arnotts Shapes — haha. Proximity to the ocean has been fantastic, I didn’t realise how much I missed being around salt air and sunshine!
It has also been so nice to be able to slot back into a warm and welcoming design community in Auckland. All the openings and talks that are available have really made the transition back a lot smoother. The design community in this part of the world is really strong, and there are some great things happening.
How would you describe your particular style of illustration?
It varies depending on the project. I go for a loose sketchy vibe with my Hipster Animals, but keep a limited colour palette to keep it all cohesive. I like these illustrations to be cute with a hint of darkness. My repeated patterns tend to be a lot tighter and more formal. I am hugely inspired by vintage colour combinations, but try to give them a fresh twist.
What excites you about what you do?
Making people smile. I do a lot of work just for fun, and I get a buzz out of other people relating to something I’ve created. I’ve been doing a whole lot of commissions of people’s pets lately, and it feels so great to give them something they will treasure. I always get a kick out of providing solutions for clients where we are both feeling a similar vibe, but they trust me enough to put my spin on it.
What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
Probably the first children’s book I designed for my niece Lucy. It was a tale of Lucy’s kitten going to the local farmer’s market and purchasing organic and artisanal produce off all the other animals in Lucy’s life. Although it was an amateur start into children’s books, I had so much fun and it has set me on a path to more children’s book illustration in the future.
What have you been working on recently?
I had a bit of time on my hands while looking for work after returning from London (I like to call it being ‘Funemployed’), so alongside freelance and Hipster Animals illustration, I started a project where I was creating patterns based on objects around the house (like a cheese grater, a tangle of power-cords etc.). I started posting it online and people really loved the idea, so I think it’s something I will have to carry on.
Where you do you draw inspiration from?
Loads of places really — wandering around vintage stores and touching the fabrics, watching weird and beautiful films (I’m that cliché Wes Anderson fan girl), finding weird and irreverent children’s books in gallery gift stores.
I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2014. The more I share my feelings, the more I realise how common it is — especially among creative types. It can be really hard to work up the confidence to put yourself out there when you’re having a day (or week or month) of paralysing depression. If I’m feeling really uninspired, just having 10mins around any animal will get me excited about life again. Going to the beach at ‘dog o’clock’ (4-6pm) is the best strategy for me. Just observing their mannerisms and joy for the world is glorious.
And finally, where to next for you? What does 2019 hold?
I have just landed a job with Citta, so I’m exited to get stuck into that, while chipping away at all my creative side hustle projects. I’m hoping to illustrate another children’s book and collaborate on a few more projects.