Happy Birthday, McKean Studio! We're 5!
Look, I know I say this every year, but I honestly can’t believe it’s been another whole year that’s zoomed on by — somehow, we’ve arrived at the HALF DECADE in business, and it’s moments like these that I’m so glad I’ve chronicled so much of what we’ve done on this blog. Looking back over the last few years coming out of our ‘business infancy’, I really feel like I’m starting to get a better handle on the mental side of things when it comes to running a business.
Since last August, and the celebration of our 4th birthday I’ve had a myriad of different things happen both in and out of the business, and they’ve really informed where we’re at now and what decisions we’re making in the company going forward. In the middle of last year I took on a teaching position at the University of Technology in Sydney and as much as I adore it, it was undeniably a big time commitment away from the studio. The second half of 2018 was a big, jam-packed time, as I was finding my feet in a new professional context, and figuring out the balance between studio projects and client briefs, alongside the McKean Studio range of products.
My third book Hello, Australia! was released in October, so I spent most of the year prior to the publication preparing for the promotion and other work connected to it. I developed an entire range of product for wholesale, and it was a really wonderful experience to see my work go on to be carried in so many beautiful gallery spaces that I’ve shopped in and admired for so long. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney Living Museums, the National Gallery of Victoria, gorgeous boutiques in Hobart, Perth, Newcastle and more… it was so fun to offer my designs in a way that was more ‘real life’ and accessible for customers instead of needing to rely on market events or online. The specially developed collection ‘The Land of the Rainbow Gold’ was a big declaration of love for our country, and it really got me out of my comfort zone to work on such an array of product. Pins, key rings and silk scarves were all product I had experience in designing and producing before, but I upped the ante a little more and also added the decks of playing cards, art prints and hand painted sculptures to the collection. Creating such a big range that all worked well together was a brand new experience (most of my work until then had been city specific) and a great chance to flex my creative muscles on projects I’ve never had the time (or finances) to afford to do. It was a huge risk and massive undertaking , but so rewarding to come through to the other side successfully!
Alongside the wholesale and distribution work, I was also so lucky to work with the Art Gallery of New South Wales to host the official book launch of Hello, Australia!, and it was an absolute dream come true. I’ll never forget the experience of roaming the AGNSW after closing with bunches of balloons!
In November I took off on a ridiculously short, ridiculously jam-packed trip to London to research a new project and get some fresh inspiration for the year ahead. It was my first time travelling internationally on my own, and while it had its challenges, it was also really fun to have the chance to explore on my own schedule. It was also a really great lesson for me in making decisions quickly, putting myself in situations where the opportunities were unsure, but the only way to find out was to go! I then teamed up with The Big Design Market at the end of 2018 to create artwork for their kids play spaces during the Sydney and Melbourne events. Seeing my work on such a massive scale was a real thrill, and it was so heartwarming to see little kids and their families enjoying the artwork and participating in the workshops.
I didn’t take any time off over Christmas or the New Year period (my ultimate life hack is working through the Sydney summer holidays because it is a ghost town around here!) while I was putting together new work for a show in Palm Springs in February. After deciding last year to discontinue the Mini Cities because of the time and labour intensity they involved, I developed some one-off art sculptures in a similar vein, to show in Palm Springs during Modernism Week. I partnered with Palm Springs Style to display them during Modernism Week, and was elated to find out they had all sold before I even made it to Palm Springs to see them in person!
All through September to December I was working on my next book release - Hello, New Zealand! arriving September this year - and felt like I just had blinders on, focussed on one project to the next. Things were wrapping up with Hello, New Zealand! and I was moving ahead with another project for 2020, almost without time to breathe. We spent some time in February holidaying in New York and Palm Springs, and thinking about the future of McKean Studio and what we wanted to achieve (both personally and in the business) and I think the busyness of the several months before really caught up to me. Coming back to Sydney in March and starting the university teaching semester again, I honestly felt adrift and unsure of my direction. I was really enjoying the teaching work and connecting with students, but was starting to feel less and less connected to the work I was doing in McKean Studio. After a lot of wrestling with the idea and the uncertainty of where it would take me, I decided in May to discontinue almost all of our product ranges. The current political climate, environmental concerns and a general feeling of uneasiness about continuing to contribute to waste in the world has informed my decision, and even though it’s scary, it feels 100% right for where we are right now. I’m focussing more on illustration projects, and wanting to do more client briefs and design work that has less of a physical footprint.
A trip in June to Hong Kong and Tokyo, and just recently a trip to NY and Paris, was a great reminder about what I love working on the most - travel - and thinking about new ways of how I can still work in this area without producing the same volume of souvenir inspired pieces that we have for the past 5 years. I am extremely conscious of the negative environmental impact that air travel has, and still wrestling with how to work within that and what responsibility we have as consumers to cut out unnecessary travel, and to what extent do I deem it unnecessary or necessary for myself and my work? I certainly don’t have an answer just yet, scaling back on the production feels like a good compromise for me personally, for now. I’ve got lots of plans for new work in all sorts of formats, and looking forward to dedicating more time to these ideas going into our 6th year of business. Who knows what things will look like another year from now! I’m so grateful to so many of our beautiful customers and supporters who have been following along since day dot. It’s an extreme privilege to create for a living, and to have so many of those creations be so well received is the sweetest icing on this business birthday cake; it’s allowed me to continue making and exploring and trying to bring a little more joy into the world. Thank you!
Happy birthday to my business baby, McKean Studio! You can celebrate with me by taking 30% off all orders over $30 for the next 3 days by entering the code BIRTHDAY at checkout! You can read all of the past birthday posts here:
1st birthday | 2nd birthday | 3rd birthday | 4th birthday