For our July feature we would like to introduce Kelly Thompson a photographer, illustrator, founder and director of Makers Mgmt and somewhat of a model herself. Kelly is deeply entwined with the creative landscape and has been sought after not only for her freelance work but also for her knowledge of the industry; being invited to speak at many public events on her work and experience within the industry. With such an incredible creative and entrepreneurial background we asked Kelly to share with us a further insight into her career.

You are a woman of many talents from photography, illustration, makeup, clothing and now an agency. Was branching out into so many areas something that you planned to do or did it just evolve organically?

Nothing was really planned at all, I just followed my interests and it really just evolved organically with each interest feeding the next. All of the little things I am interested in seem to compliment each other and I now find that I pull on each interest in different ways. I started out wanting to be a fashion photographer and then trained as a makeup artist with MAC purely so I could communicate with my hair and makeup team on set. At the start of my photography career in NZ I started to draw in quiet times when money was tight, and the inspiration came from the models that I photographed. I guess all of the above was influenced by an undercurrent of love for the fashion industry, but it was the illustration that really took off for me at the start and lead me to leave everything else as secondary interests. Maker’s Mgmt (the agency) was never one of my life plans, but it came from a desire to step back a bit from the tools and instead help foster the careers of others like me.

Tell us a little about your agency Maker’s Mgmt, where do you see it going?

I want to keep Maker’s Mgmt as a boutique artist agency with a limited number of artists so that the artists and the clients always receive that extra amount of attention and focus. It’s really important for me that I’m not just answering incoming client calls, but also educating people about the possibilities, hunting out exciting opportunities and growing something positive in the creative community. If I can somehow pass on this bubble of enthusiasm I have for even one of my artists to a client then I feel happy that I’m doing something positive. Soon we will have Maker’s Mrkt which will showcase artwork and product for sale by my represented artists, and also a selection of products made by other Maker’s outside of the roster with focus on sustainability, locally made items, and limited edition items. This will include artwork, prints, clothing, jewellery, ceramics and homewares.

I guess overall I want to build in the creative community I know already and create a little pocket of inspiration that anyone can appreciate, shop or commission work from.

You began as a fashion photographer and then branched into illustration with a fashion twist. What is it about fashion that draws you to it?

I really love fashion’s transformative properties, the colour, the texture and how with a splash of makeup and a beautiful item you can completely refresh yourself. I love putting an item on and just feeling that magic “click” when it’s right. It’s so fun for me, and it is the perfect way of expressing yourself to the world without uttering a word.  I am constantly off on new fashion tangents, on the hunt for something special nobody has and having the complete opposite of a “capsule wardrobe”.

Illustration with the help of computers seems to be fairly standard in the industry these days, how much of your technique is physical drawing and how much is digital?

I’d say I’m about 50/50. All of my work starts with a pencil sketch…so far I haven’t mastered the art of drawing line work directly on screen, but I really enjoy the physical act of sitting down to draw so I’m ok not being a digi line pro. Once my line work is sketched I then scan and take it to the computer to colour digitally. When working with clients in particular, this is the best way for me to colour as it’s very easy to change things if required.

Would you consider yourself an artist or commercial illustrator? Considering your more advanced skill set how much is done out of love and how much is commissioned now

I think more of a commercial illustrator… although I’m not sure if that’s just because I’ve been told by many self proclaimed “artists” that I am definitely not one haha. These days I sadly don’t have much time for the love projects, this lack of time was also one of my motivators when starting the agency too, I wanted to step back from the tools so I could get the love back. I got so caught up drawing everyday for everyone else on tight deadlines with no creative time that I just felt like a cog in the wheel and had no desire left to draw at all. Launching the agency has provided me that breathing space between my own commercial work and personal work and this space has started to inspire me to get back into personal work again. I’ve really realised the importance in having hobbies that are separate from work this year!

Although you dabble in many different areas your style comes out in nearly everything you do, is this a conscious effort or something that just happens?

These days it just happens. When you are just starting you sample from everyone you admire and everything you see, but as you get more experienced and confident (or even more under time pressure) you start to edit and things that were once done with effort become more natural. Now I just do it and it turns out this way without me thinking.

Considering you come from a photographic background, did illustration give you a larger sense of freedom in image making now that you are not constrained by the physical realm?

I originally loved it because I enjoyed the mediative quiet of it all and the moment to personally study something in depth. I also felt restricted by my technical ability with the camera, at the start I was very eager to be very “tech”… I don’t think I would be that way today. One of my problems is that I have lots of ideas, but I am constrained by the physical realm and my personal technical ability, so my illustrations are never really what I hope them to be! This is also somewhat satisfied by the artist agency…I can pitch an idea and then find the perfect skill match to have it come to life just as imagined….ahhhh the satisfaction.

When did you take the freelance jump? Was it gradual and unnoticeable or was there a defining moment?

It was gradual, I actually always wanted a job, but as a photographer at the start – you don’t really find those jobs on !  In the beginning I just worked retail and did photography and slowly phased out the retail as the photography picked up. I did have a “normal” job in an agency for a while which I LOVED, but the pay wasn’t great and there was no future in it so it wasn’t worth me giving up my freelance work for. I would still secretly love for someone to swoop in and offer me a job to be honest!

I’ve noticed you feature a lot in photographs yourself, does modelling give you a better relationship with the models you work with from your experience? 

Yeah I do a lot of social media work with brands and fashion brands and also have some great ongoing collaborations with people which is fun. I feel like it’s the other way around, working with models helps me out a lot in photographs! I can imagine how an angle must look and think about how I would direct someone else in that position/pose. I can never do it as well as a real model, but it works for the purpose intended.

What does print mean to you? How relevant is it to your industry considering you work in a commercial atmosphere?

Print is very important to me, you can’t capture the tactile pleasure of print on a screen. Print is still very relevant, but it’s quality that deems something relevant or irrelevant, the junk is slipping away and the quality is coming through stronger and more respected.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?

Get an awesome accountant on day one!


Written and edited by Georgia Quinn

Art Direction by Joanna Nixon

Illustrations by Kelly Thompson