Women in Design — Kate Hursthouse, Freelance Designer, Author & Calligrapher

3 years ago by

In this series, we celebrate Women in Design as they share their work, processes, their day-to-day routines, diverse career pathways, and how they achieve balance.
Today we hear from Freelance Designer Author & Calligrapher Kate Hursthouse.

Can you tell us about your career milestones and creative journey so far?

So I originally was an architect. I gave 8 years of my life trying to give that ago, feeling that I ‘should’ be pursuing architecture because I had the degree and that it would be a waste if I didn’t use it. In my late twenties, I finally acted on a feeling I’d had for many years and I took what I like to call “early retirement” and left my full-time salary paying job as an architect to go to design school.

To this day going to design school is the best decision I ever made. I was getting to draw every day and learn things that actually excited me. I started learning calligraphy and hand lettering on the side through workshops and courses and really loved it.

After I graduated I worked in a creative team at a marketing company. I worked on a lot of corporate design projects and spent a lot of time on the computer. On the side I picked up freelance jobs and kept working on my calligraphy and hand lettering portfolio. On my social media I would just post work that I wanted to get hired for, and slowly people got in touch about hand lettering and calligraphy jobs. I went out on my own in 2014 and have been freelancing ever since. In that time I have also had my first solo exhibition, exhibited overseas, published an illustrated children’s book and had a baby.

What were your first years industry like, and when did you begin to feel more confident in your work?

For the first couple of years I picked up all sorts of odd jobs. I said yes to pretty much everything that came my way. And there have been some very unlikely jobs along the way, such as working at the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

I think it has probably been in the last couple of years that I have begun to feel more confident in my work. I started teaching calligraphy and hand lettering workshops and had a really positive response. And also got to work on some great projects with some more high profile clients.

But, you know, I haven’t been working much this year after having a baby and I think that affects your confidence a bit. It ebbs and flows!

What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?

In 2016 three of my contemporary calligraphic artworks were selected to be exhibited at Talente in Munich, Germany. I love creating these more abstract calligraphic artworks but sometimes I feel people aren’t that interested in them. So to have work that I really love exhibited overseas was so exciting. Creative New Zealand supported myself and 6 other artists to fly to Munich and attend the exhibition.

What does your typical workday look like for you since you have become a mum?

Ummmm this can vary hugely from day to day haha. But now he is nearly one we have a pretty good routine going.

Two days a week my amazing mum is looking after Arlo. They go and have fun while I usually get on the computer with a cup of tea, look over my calendar to remind myself what it is I actually need to get done that day (it takes awhile to switch from mum brain to work brain!). Sometimes the list of things gets a bit overwhelming but I have gotten much better at just starting with the first thing on the list and ignoring the rest. If that is the only thing I get done that day then that’s ok, there is always tomorrow.

When my mum isn’t here I will often check social media, any emails, get things organised in the morning while my partner is around. Then it is adventures with Arlo until 1pm. Then he usually sleeps 1 – 3pm and this is my time to try and get as much done as I can. After 3pm it is more adventures with Arlo until he goes to bed around 7pm. I will often work on various business-related things after dinner until bedtime.

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

In 2014 I left my corporate design job and went on a dream trip to Italy where I had always wanted to go since studying art history in high school. This trip is probably the second-best decision I have made career-wise. I did a week-long workshop in the studio of Italian calligrapher Monica Dengo in Arezzo, Tuscany. This whole trip was kind of like my version of the book Eat Pray Love. I ate pastries, and did calligraphy in this renaissance era studio with frescoes on the ceiling, saw manuscripts that were 1000 years old. And after a week of this my whole perspective on what working life could be like had totally changed. I decided there was no way I could go back to working in an office 9-5 in front of a computer – I wanted a studio, I wanted to do calligraphy, I wanted to create art. So I just leapt into freelance without much of a plan, or much money put aside, and have just kept at it ever since.

What is unique to the female design experience that no one talks about but should?

Purely from my current experience I would say the impact of having children on your creativity and your ability to create. I saw a great post from artist Emily Jeffords recently that talked about how we cannot create when we are exhausted. That fresh ideas take intentional time and quietness. None of which is really available for many years when children are little. They take nearly every bit if your energy. My brain definitely did not work the same for a long time (possibly still doesn’t!). And I think by not creating you can lose your confidence in your abilities, which can then affect your ability to create.

What does career/creative success look like to you?

To be able to live a sustainable creative life by making an income from the creative work that I most love to do.

You recently spoke at the Typism Conference in Australia – what did you enjoy most about that experience?

The creative community! I met so many great people, and connected with all these other creative mums. Everyone there is all geeking out on type, hand lettering and calligraphy in one place. The weather was perfect. Just a great combo of things!

What advice do you have for other designers invited to speak at an event?

Start a note on your phone early, even the day you get asked! And whenever thoughts and ideas pop into your head for topics or themes or things you want to say, add it to that list. And when it comes time to write your talk out in full you should hopefully have a good structure of key points ready to go. I always had thoughts in the middle of the night, or when out walking, and if I didn’t put them in my phones note app straight away I would forget.

Also, practice heaps! Talk it over and over and over and over.

How do you find balance between work and life?

I think it is a bit of a mythical beast the idea of balance! Especially with a little person involved. But I am trying to separate my work time and my mum time, so when I am working I am focused on that, and when I am being a mum I am just doing that, so I am not distracted trying to do both at once. There are areas that cross over, for example if I am painting and experimenting and Arlo can be involved in some way, then that is fun for both of us.

But I really avoid being on the computer, iPad or phone around him as much as I can. Mainly because when you are looking at a screen you aren’t interacting with someone.

Also I have a really organized, colour coded Google calendar which is so key to making anything happen.


Is their a female in New Zealand’s Design field you admire that you would like to see profiled in this series? We would love to hear from you – email nicole@designassembly.org.nz

*(DA’s defines female as anyone who identifies herself as such).


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