Passing on a passion for illustration
A childhood visit to London’s Tate Gallery was a pivotal moment for Katharine Rattray.
But it wasn’t the large gallery spaces filled with famed artworks that intrigued her young mind.
Instead, it was the collection of children’s books she discovered in the gallery shop that sparked something inside her which would eventually lead to the career she has today.
“I grew up in England and I distinctly remember going to the Tate Gallery and I didn’t even care about the exhibition,” she recalls.
“They had their own publishing house with their children’s books in the shop and I stood for hours in there and got blown away by the artwork. I remember saying ‘I want to do that’.”
Kat now resides on the Surf Coast with hubby, Matt, and their three children and is living her dream of working as a full-time illustrator.
She started her business, Kat & Fox, in 2016 while living in Wodonga but says a change of scenery beckoned, prompting the family to pack up and move to Torquay.
“Love it, love it – best move ever,” Kat says of the seachange. “I love the people. There are absolutely talented people here.”
Kat illustrates children’s book and works with businesses creating avatars and characters they can use in branding, as well as creating illustrations by commission.
A few weeks ago she moved into Boom Studios in Newtown and she found her productivity went “through the roof”.
“I run it like a proper business now which is just huge for me,” she says of no longer working from home.
“Since I’ve come here Kat & Fox has gone ahead in leaps and bounds.”
It has been a busy start to the year for the gifted artist who has launched her latest project, Kat’s ART Club – an online illustration hub for kids aged 6-11 years where they can learn a range of skills during fortnightly online sessions, as well as interacting with other budding illustrators.
“The art club actually happened due to losing work with a really big publisher through COVID and I really freaked out thinking ‘I had all this work coming in and now I don’t,” Kat says.
Kat says a fellow woman in business suggested she do an online illustration class via Zoom and open it up for young people to use for free during the pandemic.
“I just put it out there and in the second week I had about 130 kids staring back at me,” she says.
“It was overwhelming. I got in at the right time because everybody wanted their kids to be doing something.”
Kat began charging a small fee of $4.95 per class which continued for about three months until a business coach encouraged her to pursue it as a permanent addition to the Kat & Fox offering. Kat’s ART Club was born.
“That’s been going properly since November,” she says. “I retained about 16 of my members and I’m slowly growing it back after slowing down over Christmas … I have lots of plans and it’s really exciting.”
Members of the club gain access to the fortnightly live sessions, as well as guided tutorials, prize draws and a private Facebook discussion group.
“I really love that I’m actually encouraging kids to draw, to read books and really start to think through scenarios and ideas,” she says.
“I just want these kids to hold onto their imagination for as long as they can.”
Kat cannot remember a time in her own childhood when she wasn’t surrounded by an array of textas and colouring-in books.
But it wasn’t just because she showed a natural talent from a young age.
“I was born in 1974 in the UK and back then medicine was a bit naïve about mental health,” she says. “My parents noticed that I would have a lot of tantrums and I would get very emotional.”
At age six a doctor suggested she might have a hyperactivity disorder.
“He told my mum to make sure I didn’t have anything with Tartrazine colouring in it, for example orange cordial – just keep her off that,” Kat explains.
“So that is what she did and I still ate everything else, lollies and other things with a high sugar content. They wondered why they couldn’t control it.”
Kat says she wasn’t treated for ADHD and her condition went untreated, causing many issues and mental health complications through the years.
“These days I would have probably been put on medication at a young age which would have actually prevented a lot of things that happened later in my life,” she says.
“As a result, I am a massive advocate for encouraging people if they have a child showing the signs to get them under the right treatment. It’s massive because what you can do is actually give them a calm mind so they can manage their future life better, rather than making crazy choices.”
Kat says the one thing her mum discovered could soothe her moods and keep her focused was art.
“When she sat me down with colouring-in books it sort of shut me up and I was calm afterwards,” she says.
“So my parents jumped on it and through my whole life they have encouraged me to be creative.”
Kat worked as interior designer for many years before finally finding her true calling as an illustrator. In the past few years she has illustrated about 15 children’s books and she has a dozen already booked in to complete this year.
Kat says book illustration appeals to her because of its need to mix performance with illustration.
“It’s the perfect combination between acting and drawing – two things as a child through to an adult that I always got joy from,” she says.
“When you are drawing for a book it is like you are the director for a movie or a play on the stage.
“You are given the text and you have to act out everything – where is that character going to be, what are they going to look like, how are they moving?”
She now has plans to start a YouTube channel while continuing her illustration work and building on Kat’s ART Club.
There have been sliding doors moments along the way, but Kat feels like she is where she is supposed to be.
“I went and did a Big Ideas workshop with Clare Bowditch and she made us do this thing where you imagine where you will be in five years’ time,” Kat recalls.
“When I walked into this studio space at Boom I had cold shivers down my spine.
“I thought ‘this is almost what I imagined’ five years ago – so I feel really good with where I’m at.”
Discover more about Kat’s ART Club at katandfox.com.au and follow Kat & Fox on Instagram @kat_and_fox