Kelly Anna spoke at Forward Festival Vienna about her work-life balance as a mother in the creative industry. She knows how to manage not only herself, but also the life of a mini version of herself and her projects as a designer all together. Kelly not only manages to do that, she also gets inspired in every way possible and is not afraid to take on new challenges. This interview gives you a sneak peek into her life as a designer, sports fanatic and mother.


How did your style develop through the years? How did it start and what adapted?

My Dad was an artist so I think it’s always been there. I went to London College of Fashion to study illustration, and while there I won a competition to live illustrate front row at London Fashion Week. I ended up doing this four seasons running. It’s where I really fell in with figure and form. I spent six years working in various fashion houses as a print designer. Eventually I decided I wanted to push my own work instead of continuing to create work only for other brands. I felt like I had something to offer and started working on personal projects on the side and it went from there. I can still see so many of the fundamental figures and shapes in my early work appearing in the projects that I am realising now, it’s really nice to look back.


Where do you get your creative insights from and how do you normally organize your process?

I have so many places of inspiration, but my main source is sport and dance. I have always been obsessed with graphic art and artists like Matisse and I also get a lot of my inspiration from Olympic memorabilia, Mexican and Greek art. I think it’s good to make some space around a brief, I like to take a walk or take some time to browse through reference books before putting anything down on paper.



You have developed unique visual styles that define your creativity over the years. What range of analog and digital tools contributes to revealing your visual language?

I always start with a pencil and sketch pad; I often use collage and when I am happy with a composition only then I take it into digital format.


What do you think is the key to a successful artistic career?

Be stupidly confident! It’s always been my motto. If you are confident and believe in your own work others will follow.


Sport, movements, colorful and bold illustrations are key elements of your work. What else inspires you and your work?

My son – it sounds like a cliche but seeing him explore the world for the first time can’t help but make you see it differently. His naivety when he paints and draws has really helped me loosen up, I think all too often as artists we forget to play and have fun!



Any new and exciting projects or upcoming plans you wanna share with us?

Loads in the works I’m super excited about but none I can talk about unfortunately!


Your talk at the Forward Festival Vienna this year was a real hit. Many creatives – especially female* – felt understood, heard and empowered through your talk. If you could share one thing with everyone that was not there, what would that be?

For the soon to be or new mums, there are days when you will feel completely defeated and look at your peers that don’t have children and think they are running ahead of you but be patient, cut yourself some slack and use the days when you have the energy to push yourself forward. You can do it!



The projects with @nike and your sport collection started while you were pregnant. How did the process of being pregnant affect the work relationship?

It didn’t affect the project necessarily as I had to keep it a secret. I was feeling awful in my first trimester and had to travel to Portland to work on the collection. I spent the time so concerned about anyone finding out, worried I wasn’t going to be capable of doing my best work and letting them down. When I eventually told the team, they were thrilled for me and even sent a pair of mini trainers from the collection for my son. It turns out I had nothing to worry about. It really impacted future projects, I am now much more upfront with clients about how mum-life alters the way I work now and from that project on it has always been really well received.


How was it especially in the first year of having a baby and working on projects at the same time?

I had to ask for help, which was hard but good for business. I started working with an agent and took on a studio manager Jess, most days we took turns between entertaining Noah and working and I got through it!

As you said at your talk at the festival, your son is mostly with you while you work right? How much does your son influence your work? And is it easier for you to have him around than being apart?

He was in the first year and it was tricky, I did what I could in the days and tried to work when he was sleeping. My partner was working from home then too so we shared the childcare which helped a lot. Now he’s in nursery it’s much easier to balance work and home life.



What does your daily work and mommy life look like?

As a mum, 24 hours look a lot different than it used to. I am up at 5am with my son. We eat breakfast, I drop him at nursery, go for a swim and head to the studio. I down a coffee and prioritise my day around meetings. I work on brand collaborations and any personal projects. I try and take a walk at lunchtime in the fresh air and make sure I eat really well. When I finish for the day and collect Noah. Head home and put him to bed. Sometimes friends who live nearby might pop in for a glass of wine. Then I try and get some sleep.

Some days are definitely easier than others. Some days work is just impossible. I make sure I am realistic about this at the outset of a project so we can set timeframes to accommodate those days. Most clients tend to be really understanding of this unpredictability.


What advice would you give soon to be parents, especially working in the
creative industry?

Speak to your clients, peers, bosses. There’s a good chance they will understand and there are lots of small tweaks that can make your life a little easier and ultimately the outcomes of the projects your working on better! I have found most people want to help.



Kelly Anna was one of our key speakers at the Forward Festival Vienna in October. Her talk was very inspiring and is still available on our Videoplayer until 31th of October.