Stay Sunny Girls Interview Series

Who is the Stay Sunny Girl? Pt. 1 Kelly Thompson

Who is the Stay Sunny Girl? Pt. 1 Kelly Thompson

What makes a Stay Sunny Girl?

Here at Stay Sunny Chicago we’re inspired by women all across the globe who are individual, creative and passionate. Not only are these girls the trend setters and jet setters of this world but they also have determination, confidence and perseverance. Over the next few months we will be interviewing a number of the women around the world who keep us motivated and inspired, and who we think will help you feel the same way about your own projects.
Welcome to part one of our interview series, where we introduce you to Kelly Thompson, one of the founding directors of UNA, a creative agency based in Melbourne. UNA has worked with brands such as FIA Racing, Tag Heuer, Escada, M.A.C Cosmetics, Covergirl, Nike, Maybelline NY and Apple.
Here at Stay Sunny Chicago, Kelly’s fashion illustrations have been on our radar for a long time. The feminine and delicate style Kelly favours captures the essence of who we believe the Stay Sunny Girl is.

Kelly Thompson Illustrator
Kelly Thompson. Photo credit:

How did you get in to fashion illustrating?

To be honest I got in to fashion illustrating because I was poor and bored! It happened after I graduated, I had left my job to pursue photography and at the start it was tricky to get in to, expensive and the work was irregular. Due to all of those factors I was pretty broke and too poor to party so I stayed home and started to draw!

When you were starting out, what kind of projects were you working on?

The worst ones! haha usually just helping friends who had real jobs, doing small spot illustrations for animations, custom portraits for family members and the occasional terribly paid editorial. 

How have things changed for you since then?

Now I am in a position where I can be selective about what I take on, if the client or budget isn't right I won't do it these days, it's not worth it. I like to work on things that align with my interests and goals, and I like to make time to focus on my agency and also personal projects, things are a lot more secure now so I can be in control of my choices and options more which is nice. 

Do you feel you’ve developed your style in different ways over time?

Oh yes definitely, both my work and my personal style have waves of change. I constantly edit my folio and pull things out more than I put things in, it's always fun to look back though and see how things change and remember what was happening during those times . I always have different focuses and interests and I definitely see that when I look back, even if nobody else does.


Who, if any, have been your major influences?

I don't really think I have had many people who have influenced my work to be honest. I have people who I admire and wish I could draw like, but they don't really change my way of drawing, I just feel jealous of their skills! When I was just starting I really wanted to be like Audrey Kawasaki like many girls do, but since I got over that I've been more interested in just working my own way and hoping for the best! At the moment I'm going through a bit of a phase where I feel like I need fresh inspiration, so maybe I will still find some influences yet!

What has been your favourite project to work on to date?

It's getting old now, but the Escada Born in Paradise project is still a top favourite. I felt a huge sense of personal achievement at the time of that project, it was massive and lasted many months, including a pitch against 7 or 9 others. That was one of the first times I really felt like I was seriously kicking goals so it has a special place with me. 

ESCADA Born into Paradise

Is there such a thing as a typical day for you and if so, can you describe it?

The days change all the time, but a standard day starts walking the dog, then I get to the studio around 9 and usually spend a couple of hours on admin, emails, invoicing, accounting, replying to people, organising studio projects. Late morning I usually get in to creative work, either generating ideas or researching for projects, doing rough sketches. I stop for lunch for an hour around 1, which Andrew (my business partner) and I usually spend together discussing projects or studio goals etc. Often I have a lunch time or early avo meeting, and then I usually spend my afternoon sorting projects in relation to said meeting, or if I'm lucky doing some drawing for someone. Leave the office around 6 or 6.30 depending on what's on and then I usually come home and do about an hour of personal emailing, work on personal projects or spend some time on my blog. Dinner around 8 or 8.30. Often we have night conference calls or skypes as we have an international agent and 80% of our clients are overseas. Somewhere in there I will try and do pilates a few times a week!

What is your favourite city to travel to for work or play?

I've only really get to travel around Aus or NZ for work so far, so Auckland and Sydney would be my favourites, maybe even just Auckland because I know so many people there and it always seems so relaxing and low key to fly in for work.... bit of a boring answer! I did get to fly to Broome once for a campaign and that was bliss...not much of a city though. I haven't travelled for play to Japan yet, and I have a feeling that may win when I do. In the meantime I don't want to say Paris, such a girl answer, but I really love Paris nightlife, good wine, dimly lit bars, strolling the streets - I love how they just do their own thing there, who cares about the law, if the staff want to smoke in their restaurant they'll do it, I like that. 

They say that no matter how successful you are, you always find new things to learn, new challenges. What is the latest major thing you learned?

The most recent thing I learned today, well that was pointed out to me today was that I say "I feel like I should" a lot and that a lot of my feelings about myself or what I am doing are based on what "I should" be doing, but I don't know who made the list of these "should" things. So from now on I am asking myself what I actually want to do and not what I feel like I should do. I feel like that's a major personal realisation and I'm interested to see where it takes me. ... is that a crazy person answer? I did learn how to draw a straight line in Photoshop the other day using the shift tool, considering I used to try and do it by hand my entire career I would say that is a MAJOR realisation...FML

What are two pieces of advice you would offer girls or guys who would like to get into fashion illustrating?

1.My biggest piece of advice that I say to anyone is to be you, be inspired by others yes, but find your own way. If you copy another artist you will only ever be compared to the original artist and you won't receive or feel any personal satisfaction or outside glory. Sit down and draw from you, not from all the artists on your screen or paper in front of you.

2. It can be lonely working by yourself as an illustrator, so find your crew of like minded people in similar situations, lots of your friends won't understand your life, so it is important to make friends with people who do.  

Where to next for you? What are your plans for the future?

For UNA Studio we are really focussing on expansion at the moment, lining up our ducks so we can have more staff and don't have to do absolutely everything ourselves, we are also stepping much more heavily in to creative direction and consultation these days which I love. We have a new agency branch launching within 2 months, can't really tell you what it is yet, but soon! In a couple of years I still really want to have a sub-brand and release some fashion items, but we want to do it properly if we do and will be looking for investors and waiting until it is the right time financially before we do anything different like that.

Personally I am focusing on building my blog up and a creative community with it and I am about to start my first personal project in a while called Everyday Girls. It's a celebration of all the gals, doing everyday things and trying to do their best in the world, and so far it is incredibly interesting meeting all of these women and hearing about their lives and stories, I'm so excited!



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