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July 15, 2019
I first met Kelly Graham at a Vancouver event for female entrepreneurs. There she was sitting behind a table displaying her eye-catching card creations with a huge smile on her face and a childlike excitement in her eyes. I knew instantly I needed to work with her on some creative project for Smartbite Snacks. Upon checking Kelly’s Instagram (which I highly suggest you follow cause it is a beacon of positivity, creativity and a dream of every stationery aficionado) and asking for her business card (which I kept until this day as it is a little work of art), the deal was sealed. Couple months later I found myself walking (okay, running) to Prado café on Commercial Drive to sit down with Kelly to discuss the upcoming project we were working on as well as rack her brain on what she does daily to stay creative. This gal is nothing short of inspirational and I am so happy we connected that evening.
Follow your gut. Follow your intuition.
Cute cats and dogs. When I pass someone walking their dog on the street, I’m usually smiling at the person’s dog like: “Hi, how are you?” And then I tell myself: “Kelly, the dog can’t talk to you. You should say hi to the person.” (laughs)
No but I wanna get one this year. It’s on my bucket list.
This one was hard as I don’t really have an actress in mind. Have you seen the movie To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before? It’s on Netflix. It’s really cute. The character in it, her name’s Lara Jean, I feel like she would play me, she would be me.
I love sfgirlbybay. She’s a photographer living in San Francisco, and she takes beautiful photos that tell really nice stories.
I just bought a new record yesterday. It’s from Kacey Musgraves, she’s kind of a country artist. The song’s called "Oh, What A World."
Who is Kelly Graham?
Creative, maker, big heart, introvert, quirky, observant, very colourful, rebellious. I don’t like doing what people tell me to do. (laughs)
On your website you mentioned that you spent 7 years working in video games as a digital artist, production manager and user experience designer. What drove you to work in this type of industry?
I originally went to school at the University of Victoria for Geography and Sciences which is the opposite of art. (laughs) I didn’t really know you could have a job in art! I did that for a couple of years and found it just wasn’t creative enough so I didn’t finish that. I eventually made my way to animation school and did a two-year program in commercial animation. It involved lots of drawing and flipping the animation paper like they did in those old Disney videos!
After my schooling, I got offered a job at this small indie game company. So I just fell into that job, but I think it was a really good fit for my animation career. It was a small company when I started, I got to wear lots of different hats, and work in small teams where we had a lot of creative freedom and responsibility for what we were making. I always really liked that. I learned a lot working there.
You currently work as a freelance artist at The Funky Fresh. What is The Funky Fresh, what inspired the idea for The Funky Fresh in the first place and how did you come up with a name?
The name is a slang adjective that I love from the 90’s hip hop era. My favourite Urban Dictionary definition is “a term used to describe something that is cool, likeable or enjoyable that is also new.” I love this definition. I associate my business, The Funky Fresh, with being fun, colourful and unique. That’s what it means to me. The business started about two years ago after I left my nine to five job working at the game studio. I was looking for a big lifestyle change. I wasn’t necessarily planning on becoming self employed, but it started to turn out that way so I just went for it. The business actually started as an interior design and organization service to help people be happier in their space, help them use what they have and de-clutter. Then helping them with their art and decor as well.Since then it has evolved into an art based business.
I’m now working as a freelance artist and creating art for my online shop. I am really excited about getting back to my artist and maker roots! That’s my natural state of bringing joy to the world. If you really like what you’re doing, other people are excited about it too. Imagine if everyone was doing what they really love doing, the world would be so cool.
You collab with local businesses on their creative projects. One of them is Smartbite Snacks. Tell us about your creative process and where you draw your inspiration from.
I’ve learned to break my creative process down into stages. At different points in a project I’m using different parts of my brain, and when those parts compete it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the whole thing. The whole project can seem really big and daunting. So I start with the research and exploration stage. Sometimes there’s already an idea rolling around in my head. Sometimes I’ve got to find the inspiration. Collecting references, doing sketches, thumbnailing out ideas, making brainstorm maps.
Next step is usually translating that into something for my client to see. If I hand you a paper with a bunch of chicken scratch all over it, you’d be like: “Girl, I don’t see what you see. What’s going on?” But in my head I’d be like: “Yeah, that’s great, right?” (laughs) So I need to put it into a format to help my audience, to help my client envision what I envision. At this stage, I’m thankful for my UI experience from working in games. It helped me become a streamlined visual communicator. Then the execution stage bounces between doing the artistic work and problem solving to create a finished piece.
Where do you usually find inspiration? Do you scroll through Pinterest, do you walk around, hit local coffee shops or maybe open your coffee table book?
Totally! (laughs) All of those things I would say. I think if you ask most artists, inspiration can come from anywhere. Nature, going for a walk like you said, a film, music, looking at what are other creative people doing, interior design, colour combinations and patterns that you see. All those things. I think it’s always smart to look for inspiration outside of your own industry because otherwise everything will start looking the same, right? So it’s good to get outside of that box.
I am obsessed with the cards you showcase on your Instagram and sell through your website. How did The Funky Fresh Art Shop come about?
It was a very natural step for me. I’m always making stuff. I love design and illustration. I have an epic stationery collection of my own. And I’ve always made cards for people. Friends and family always tell me: “Oh, I kept that card that you gave me five years ago.” And I’m like: “Really?! That’s so nice!” So I started the shop with a card collection as it was a very natural thing for me to do. But I’m looking forward to making more artsy products like stationery and art prints.
When did you start the Art Shop?
I just opened The Art Shop in the last few months so it’s new. I’m really excited about it!
What do you love most about your job?
I think I like the unconventional lifestyle of being self-employed as it allows me to be my most creative self. Which makes me really happy. I love that about my job. It definitely comes with its own set of challenges like I’m sure it does for any entrepreneur – you’re always working and if you work from home it’s hard to turn off. All that stuff. But I really like the freedom of it and possibility of it.
I’m definitely a morning person. I wake up pretty early. I feel like lots of creative people are night owls but I’m a morning person. I don’t have an alarm clock so I wake up the same time during the week and the weekend. (laughs) I like to revel in some quiet time in the morning. I may do some light work or get some creative inspiration through books or by watching videos. Then I eat breakfast. I usually have cereal or granola with fruit and yoghurt. I love cereal. Then I’ll have a cup of coffee with my man. His name is also Kelly. We are the Kellys. We are getting married next year and I still don’t know what we’re going to do about my last name. (laughs)
And then I get ready for the day. Every day is little bit different which is why I love it. Sometimes I’m at the craft store getting art supplies for a project or doing design work on my computer, emailing with clients, packing and shipping orders for my online shop. I’ve started to work on my YouTube channel which involves shooting and editing videos. I am always trying to look ahead and plan for the upcoming month. I also try to go to a couple local events every month to just meet other entrepreneurs in the city. I feel like Vancouver is a really good place to do that. In the evening, Man Kelly gets home and we make dinner. Sometimes I’ll get back to work, sometimes I’ll just chill.
It’s so easy as an entrepreneur to get sucked into feeling exhausted or frustrated. How do you maintain an optimistic attitude in the face of setbacks?
There’s a really good quote from Jen Sincero. She’s the author of You Are A Badass. She said that: “The only failure is quitting. Everything else is just gathering information.” I really like that. It’s important to give yourself a break. No one does it perfect the first try, right? Don’t give up and if you really want it, just keep going. It’s gonna pan out. Maybe not the exact way you envisioned it to, but it will. If you really want it, don’t give up.
What would you say to someone who’s trying to follow in the same footsteps?
If you’re feeling really stuck, make a change. You won’t be stuck forever. Yolo. Just go for it. Get started. You won’t have all the answers so just follow your gut. If you feel unhappy, what do you have to lose if you make a big change, right?
If you could time travel and meet your younger self, what advice would you give?
I try not to have any big regrets because I feel like you’re always doing the best you can with the information that you have at the time. But I would give myself a hug and a fist pump and say: “Good job girl!” because I want to live in a world where people encourage each other to be awesome.
Keep up with Kelly on her Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
Portrait photography by Wendy Shepherd
WHAT IS SMARTBITE COLLECTIVE? Smartbite Collective shines a spotlight on changemakers in our community that live according to Smartbite principles. We started Smartbite Snacks because we want to live our lives on our own terms while creating a positive change around us. We don't wait for things to happen, we get up and happen to things. Roadblocks don't discourage us, they fuel us. We believe that life is what you make it, how you impact it and also how you look at it - rice cakes are just rice but wine is just grapes. To us simplicity, boldness, kindness and giving a shit (yes, we said it) are everything and when we meet someone who embodies all of the above, you bet we'll ask tons of questions.
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