Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Kelk - an abstract painter and co-owner of the Australian homeware brand Hello Polly. I first came across Sarah's work through stylist Aimee Tarulli and instantly fell in love with the beauty of her pieces. I was intrigued to learn more about her and her work and how she has turned her passion into a business.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I grew up in Invercargill, a small town in the South Island of New Zealand. While we lived in town, we would spend a lot of time at my grandparents’ farm a short drive away. Along with our cousins, we would spend hours working on the farm, collecting things, building forts and generally being free to roam. As kids, we were often out exploring, fishing, swimming or skiing – we spent a lot of time in nature. I still feel very connected to New Zealand, particularly the landscape, even though I haven’t lived there for well over a decade.
Have you always been an artist?
I’ve always loved painting and have painted since I was young. My parents have a pretty big collection of my work from kinder days through until now (some of it more cringe worthy than others). I knew I wanted to study and work in a creative field, and after school, at the ripe old age of 17, moved away from home to study both Design and Art History at University.
After studying, it started by someone giving a fresh out of Uni, driven and enthusiastic girl a chance, and I was lucky enough to get work in various gallery and design spaces, as well as some time spent working as an Interior Designer. From there, I’ve put my head down and worked incredibly hard in every role I’ve worked in since.
In 2002, my partner and I decided to travel the world, and after 2 years, ran out of money in Edinburgh, which was, in hindsight, a great place to run out of money in. We ended up living there for the next 7 years and have such fond memories of our time there.
Whilst in Edinburgh, I was fortunate enough to take up the role of running a gallery space, dealing with talented artists and designers. It solidified the fact that I really wanted to work with and alongside creative people, as well as showing me that I enjoyed working for myself. I knew from them on, that I wanted to stay working in the creative industry.
When we decided to move to Melbourne in early 2011, I was still passionate about continuing a creative business, so decided to start the online store Hello Polly. Being online made things a lot easier with a young family and after 7 years running a physical space (in Edinburgh) it was a nice change to be predominantly online. Not long after we started, my sister Helen joined the team, and we often talked about creating our own homewares brand within Hello Polly. It wasn't until I began painting again and Helen dived further into the textile industry that our initial Hello Polly Home collection starting coming together. Since then they have worked together on every element along the way.
As far as the painting side goes, I started selling paintings whilst I was studying at University, although once I started travelling, running a business and having a family, painting naturally took a bit of a back seat. I was itching to spend more time with a brush in hand and used painting as a starting point for our Hello Polly Home range. I loved painting again, and with some amazing support from Melbourne’s creative community, I haven't stopped since.
What inspired you to start your business? Do you run your business full time?
I have a huge passion for independent design and love being able to not only support Independent designers, but being able to share their product with design loving customers too!
Yes, running both businesses (Hello Polly and my own painting practice) is more than a full time job! The saying “the busier you are the more you get done”, definitely applies to me, and I often work really well if I have a deadline. I’m also a firm believer of the do it now policy, I use it everyday and thank my sister for sharing this great bit of wisdom with me.
Where are you based? Can you describe a typical day in your studio?
I’m based in the Inner North of the wonderful city that is Melbourne, Australia. I’m really lucky to have my studio above our garage, which just a hop, skip and jump across the yard from our house. I love working in an upstairs space, as it has loads of natural light and even though it’s so close to our house, the space feels completely separate. Ill usually get in the mood for a painting session by making a big plunger of coffee, which I'll drink even when its cold (yeah, I know, but I really don’t mind it like that). Ill pop on either the radio or a podcast so that I have some background noise, but nothing that completely distracts me. I try really hard to give myself an internet ban when I painting, but sometimes the power of instagram is just too much, and I’ll take a quick inspiration break. I love when I get in a long stretch of painting, but the reality of living with young kids and running another business means lots of multi tasking! When I do get time to be ’in the zone’, hours can literally fly by and before I know it, its school pick up time!
What does the future look like for you and your business? What are you working on at the moment?
More of the same to be honest, as I really enjoy what I do! Other than that, I have a few, really fun, collaborations in the pipeline (all secret squirrel at this stage, I’m afraid)
Why do you think it is important to shop independent?
It’s so satisfying connecting directly with designers and makers or anyone for that matter who runs an independent business. It adds so much more meaning to shop this way, whether it be grabbing a morning coffee from your local café, some fruit from your green grocer, or a painting from an upcoming artist. Every purchase helps create a strong sense of community, which I think is really important.
Have you got any advice for aspiring designers/artists who have an idea for a business but have no idea where to start?
Start with putting together a strong business plan. Make sure you chat to lots of people about your ideas as you go and in the end, don’t forget to trust your gut instincts.