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April 12, 2024


Kate Pullen

Kate Pullen is a freelance letterer and illustrator based in Naarm (Melbourne), Australia with over 10 years experience working on murals, book covers, physical products, editorial illustration, and packaging design.

words by
Kody Deretic

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in illustration?

Looking back, I’ve always been creative. Not always drawing, but also music/dance/writing. I just really love storytelling, problem solving, and beautiful things. I think that might be my creativity Venn diagram.

What does a regular work day look like for you?

It’s a mix. A bit of admin (emails, planning social media posts, updating my website, preparing presentations); some brain-heavy stuff, like nutting out how I’m going to approach a new brief or problem-solving an illustration that isn’t working; and then the best bit – sitting and drawing (or painting), headphones on and blissfully unaware of everything else.

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Different communities have opened up so many doors for me. It is something I am so incredibly grateful for; being a freelancer can be really lonely, but these legends make me feel less isolated.

You mention on your website that you’re keen on community. What communities have you been involved with that have helped shape your career?

Yeah! Different communities have opened up so many doors for me. While I was still at uni I joined AGDA (the Australian Graphic Design Association). I started on their student committee and was later elected to their Victorian Council. Those few years introduced me to a lot of really wonderful people, leading to opportunities I’m not sure I would have had otherwise. Then, for five years I was a part of The Letterettes, a four-person girl gang that specialised in live lettering. The Letterettes (who were also Carla Hackett, Wanissa Somsuphangsri, and Eliza Svikulis) helped hone my hand- lettering skills, and allowed me to work on briefs for clients like Harper Collins, Nespresso, and Facebook.

More recently I have joined a small group of illustrators and we basically just chat about work, life, whatever. It is something I am so incredibly grateful for; being a freelancer can be really lonely, but these legends make me feel less isolated.

Pricing is the bane of every freelancer's existence. How do you tackle it? Project rates? Day rates?

Isn’t it! It’s like the, ‘what are we going to have for dinner tonight?’ question for the creative work world: necessary but frustrating, and somehow it never gets easier.

For the most part I charge by the project, and those fees will usually be broken down into 1) the creation of the artwork, and 2) where, when, and for how long it will be used. The cost of that first part will often be determined by the scope of work and its complexity. The second part will increase in cost as the client intends to use the work in more places. Sometimes they will ask for a complete buyout, which means they can use the work however they want and for all time, but to be honest this option is usually so exxy it rarely happens.

I’m fortunate that I’m represented by The Jacky Winter Agency who can help tackle this part with me. I think the more we’re able to chat about money and pricing, the better it will be for everyone in the creative world.

You have a great presence on Instagram, do you get much work through socials?

Thank you! To be entirely honest with you, I think I was just lucky that I joined Instagram at the right time. Kind of 2012ish, when it was really in its heyday and a perfect place for creatives. That’s not to say that I haven’t worked hard to continually produce and post work, but there’s no doubt that I jumped on at a time when the algorithm was my friend. So to answer your question: yes, I think a lot of people used to find me through Instagram. It’s a great place for art directors or clients to search for new work.

I’ve also made a lot of creative friends through the platform, which I am very grateful for. But these days? I mean, I’m still posting, but you’re putting a lot of energy into something that brings very little engagement. I’m also acutely aware that I’m putting faith? Trust? Reliance? Into a platform I ultimately have very little control over. So I need to bring it in-house, but I’ll have to get back to you on what that looks like.

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How do you stay creatively motivated and inspired, especially during periods of artist's block?

Like pricing, this can be a constant battle. I love what I do, but being a small business owner in a creative industry? That can be really tough at times. I’ve learnt that for me, I need to put my energy into being a healthy, socialised (lol), and curious human. It’s only when those settings have been optimised that I have a hope of becoming a lean, mean, creative machine (ideally not mean, tho). This is all the boring stuff your GP tells you to do and you roll your eyes at them once their back is turned. Like eating regularly, sleeping well (if you can), going out into the fresh air and maybe even talking to someone other than your pet. It all sounds so simple and obvious but do I remember to do it? Eh, sometimes. And yet, every time I’m grumpy and creatively blocked (hell, maybe also even digestively backed up), I ask myself if I’ve done any of the above lately, and the answer will most likely be ‘ughhh, fine, no I haven’t’.

Any exciting projects you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to share?

I actually just got accepted by a gallery to put on an exhibition! I am absolutely terrified, but it’s not until November, so I have a few months to stop spiralling and start creating. In all honesty though, I am super grateful that I have an opportunity to create something, purely for the joy of creating. It’s such a fortunate position to be in and I’m going to try *really* hard to just relax and, uh, maybe have some fun?!