In My Studio: Multi-Hyphenate Evie Kemp Has Made Colour Her Calling

By Leanne Moore
Evie’s living room boasts lavender walls and pops of neon.

Evie Kemp’s Auckland home studio, where she works on everything from art to interiors, heroes riotous, bold patterns and eye-catching prints.

Evie Kemp is not afraid of stepping outside the familiar into something different. A self-titled visual thrill seeker, she has amassed a global community of followers who adore her

“As children, we are obsessed with colour and how it can enrich our lives, but over time we have that simple joy crushed out of us. I love to inspire others to find their own way back to colour as a form of self-expression.”

Since she began living by her motto “more is more”, her career as a multi-hyphenate has taken off, and she has a diverse work portfolio that includes interiors, design, art, fashion, DIY and beauty. The decor of her Auckland home is an immersive experience that brings her immense joy, with its riotous colour, bold pattern and eye-catching prints. Evie, who lives with her husband, Sam, a medical doctor, two cats (Maeby and Tweed) and two dogs (Biggie and Pebbles), is currently working on a book about her adventurous personal style and DIY projects, due out later this year.

Quirky pieces abound in Evie's studio.
Quirky pieces abound in Evie's studio.

Describe your studio and how it inspires you.

I don’t like being shut away so my studio is right in the middle of our house. It’s not a big space but it opens on to the garden. It was originally our dining room but my work took over so we decided to move our dining table to another room and now it’s officially my studio.

I have shelves full of objects and a colourful selection of art on the wall, some my own, others pieces I love. Quirky pieces like my banana light, giant scissors and pencil — it’s important for it to feel fun. There’s also a colourful Moroccan rug, and my pride and joy, a Ligne Roset Togo chair by the window.

What is it about your work that gets you excited?

Problem solving. It’s why I love to do different things, it keeps my brain whirring and I increasingly find I can apply something I learned on one project as a solution to another. There’s nothing better than figuring something out, and I love to learn and upskill — so any opportunity for that is what really excites me. I don’t really want to keep repeating the same thing and knowing exactly how to do it.

“I don’t really want to keep repeating the same thing and knowing exactly how to do it.”
“I don’t really want to keep repeating the same thing and knowing exactly how to do it.”

Have you ever had a setback that you’ve learned from?

Early on in my career, I started a business with one of my best friends, Amy. We had big dreams to make screen-printed homewares but no real plan and it all fell apart. At the time it felt like the most awful, embarrassing failure but it really wasn’t. I learned a lot about my strengths and what I really love to do — I love designing, but managing people and stock is not for me. Amy and I saved our friendship, in fact we strengthened it. And it gave me an invaluable insight into what is right (or wrong) for me when it comes to business opportunities.

Have you ever considered giving up at any point?

I’ve been self-employed since I was 24 (13 years) and my fear of not being able to get a “real job” has probably stopped me from seriously considering giving up. I’ve also found the lows usually lead to a high that drags you back in again. An exciting opportunity, a big dose of inspiration or even just a good payday and a day off can make it alluring again.

Creative Evie Kemp. “Put yourself and your work out there, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready.”
Creative Evie Kemp. “Put yourself and your work out there, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready.”

Have you ever had a business mentor?

No, though perhaps I should. I have had lots of kind advice and guidance from friends and others in creative business though and always feel very supported. I never plan more than one step ahead — which I realise isn’t advisable.

I do sometimes take a step back and assess what’s working and what’s not and think more broadly about my goals and the steps I need to take to get there. That usually results in producing more of the work I want and turning down the work that doesn’t lead me in that direction. Honestly though, this changes year to year and I really am still figuring it out.

Any tips for other creatives wanting to launch their own business?

Put yourself and your work out there, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready. You need to show people what you’re up to and what you offer. A slick “website coming soon” Instagram post won’t inspire anyone to give you a follow or sign up to your newsletter, but some behind-the-scenes shots will.

Evie’s dog Biggie in her hallway. The artwork on the table behind him is by Chloe Blades.
Evie’s dog Biggie in her hallway. The artwork on the table behind him is by Chloe Blades.

Describe your creative process.

I ruminate on an idea, a lot. Once I have a brief from a client it generally consumes my every waking thought and I let that sit for a few days at least.

I find myself gathering ideas or inspiration from everyday life as viewed through the lens of what I’m working on. I then usually create a mood board based on all the ideas and feelings I’ve had to make visual sense of everything swirling around in my head.

From there I’ll start sketching things out, first in a notebook and sometimes on my iPad and see what bites, before expanding out. Sometimes an idea just arrives fully formed and I dive in, but more often I find myself chewing it over until something clicks.

Biggest life lesson?

Not everyone will like you, or your work, and that’s okay. As a recovering (early stages!) people pleaser, this is something I struggle with but try to keep in the front of my mind. If everyone liked what I do, chances are it would be boring and no one would really love it — me included.

Show me your shelfie: The green lamp artwork by Evie Kemp.
Show me your shelfie: The green lamp artwork by Evie Kemp.

What self-care strategies do you have in your life?

Stomping it out on a good walk, talking things through with family and friends. I’m trying to get better at this and to not feel like I’m being a burden. (See above: people pleasing.) Being aware of my limits and saying no to things. Guilt-free trash TV time. Op shopping. I also try and do crochet or embroidery in the evenings when I can feel myself becoming overwhelmed — it keeps me off my phone and my mind focused on something practical.

What inspires you?

Nothing inspires me more than art. A visit to the art gallery is almost always the answer for me when I’m feeling creatively flat. Practically though I find inspiration in the everyday and I’m just looking for colours, patterns and shapes in everything.

Evie has given her bathroom a colourful makeover.
Evie has given her bathroom a colourful makeover.

You originally went to university to study law before switching to art and design. That’s quite a pivot, how did that come about?

I’d been dissuaded from doing art by a teacher at school. I also loved debating so I thought law was for me. It wasn’t. I suffered badly from depression around the same time and took a semester off. As I got better I realised how much creativity meant to me and that I needed to do something that made me happier so I applied to study graphic design. Because I hadn’t done any kind of art or design at school I had to make my portfolio from scratch and initially wasn’t accepted, but got a place on the waitlist at AUT about a week before the term started.

I think it’s impossible to expect kids to come out of school and know what they want to do with their lives. There were so many options I wasn’t even aware of and if I’d taken a year or two to travel or figure myself out I think that would have been better. I was SO young and so worried about failing, which in hindsight just seems kind of ridiculous.

Have you always had the confidence to use colour so joyously, boldly and creatively?

Yes and no. I was definitely a very creative child and loved to create, but as I got older I felt intense pressure to fit in, especially at high school in the UK where bullying for standing out was rife. (We moved to New Zealand when I was 14.) For a few years I really shunned colour and being different, but I do think it’s always been in me, and I found my way back to my love for colour and now just continue to push and explore it. I grew up in a pretty colourful home. My mum has always loved colour, so there’s definitely that influence.

The boots in Evie’s wardrobe are as colourful as her home decor.
The boots in Evie’s wardrobe are as colourful as her home decor.

Do you get negative feedback for daring to be different?

I don’t — I think people just don’t comment — which is how it should be! I love that we’re all different and find joy in seeing how others express their style in their homes and the way they dress. You don’t have to want that look for yourself to be able to appreciate it.

I do think New Zealand is far more wary of colour and pattern and generally more decorative design than almost any other country, and that does impact the work I can do and the opportunities I get. Having said that, I’ve definitely found my people and have had some brilliant opportunities. It allows me to stand out, I suppose.

Looking back, any words of wisdom you’d give your 15-year-old self?

Don’t let others tell you what you like. Our lives can be consumed by trying to live up to expectations. Follow your instincts, start your own style and the confidence that comes with that will ripple across all facets of your life.

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