What It's Really Like to Be a Professional Artist in the Modern Day

Updated 04/12/18
Kelly Anna interview: Kelly Anna sketching
Courtesy of Nike

Kelly Anna has a job most people would love: She's a professional artist and print designer. And a successful one at that, having collaborated with brands like H&M, Stella McCartney and just this week Nike. Kelly Anna loves running, so it made complete sense for the artist to reimagine the brand's iconic running shoe, the Nike Free. Her work is bright and ballsy, and not only do her designs stand out, but she also pairs some of her artwork with inspiring slogans like "never tame your game." Here, here.

To coincide with her Nike collab, we grabbed some time with Kelly Anna to find out what it's really like to be a modern-day artist, where she draws her inspiration and what advice she'd give to women who want to follow a more creative career path—plus, the one beauty brand she'd love to design for.

Kelly Anna interview: Kelly Anna sketching on an iPad
Courtesy of Nike

When did you first discover you had an artistic talent?

My father is an artist himself, so it's always been in the family. My parents are also ballroom and Latin dancers—it's how they met. So the art forms have always been there—they are part of my DNA.

How did you become a professional artist?

I knew from very early on that I wanted to be an artist. I actually wanted to be a dancer, but I later felt that art was the real route for me. I started plotting very early on to try to find a way to get into London. I am originally from Suffolk and left school at 16 to go straight into art and design.

How has your style evolved?

My style has changed and evolved with the times. As an artist, it is integral that we keep our passion and stick to what we really enjoy doing. Then we can work around and evolve without falling behind yet keeping our voice and authenticity. When I first started out in my career, I would even sit front row and live-illustrate at London Fashion Week.

What challenges have you had to overcome?

Confidence has been my biggest challenge. As an artist, you naturally self-doubt. It's because you are putting something out into the world that has come from such a personal place. With the world being so open nowadays and the competition being so huge, this just adds to it! However, over the years, I kept my head down and continued to practise and focus on what I truly enjoy doing. In time, confidence comes through persistence. I am confident that I have worked hard enough to earn the respect for myself.

What inspires your art?

My dad has always been my biggest inspiration in terms of technical drawings. His figure drawings are incredible. People in London also inspire me—everyone I have met here truly has something going on and so much passion and fire—that's what keeps me going. Knowing that someone is as passionate about their work as you are is always inspiring to watch. Obviously, Mattise plays a huge part in my work as my favourite artist of all time.

Kelly Anna interview: Nike Free running shoe annotated drawing
Courtesy of Nike

What's a typical day like for you?

A typical day varies for me. It depends what I am working on at the time. One day I could be working on an apparel piece, the next a shoe silhouette. However, most days start out with a run or a workout, which really helps me to get some headspace before I start my day. Then I like to do an hour's research, reading or looking at interesting things to get me really pumped up for the day of work ahead.

You've worked with a few brands now—how did you turn something creative into a real career?

It took a good few years to even be noticed. I think it starts with putting yourself and your work out there. It can be a double-edged sword because, as an artist, we can be incredibly critical of our work, but you need to be seen to be able to get work. So most of it came from just posting what I feel passionate about.

How did your collaboration with Nike come about?

The relationship started a few years ago and quite naturally. I know that a few of the team had been following my work for a while, and a lot of what I post and work on is so inspired by sport and fitness that it has felt like the most authentic relationship. I genuinely believe that if you work on things that you are passionate about, things will fall into place because it's coming from a really authentic starting point. You can't pay for that. It's why the brands that stick around longest are the ones that are born from a passion of sport, music, art, etc.

Kelly Anna interview: Nike Free running shoe
Courtesy of Nike

Your Nike design encompasses an eye using the iconic swoosh—what was the idea behind that?

I started by creating sketchbooks filled with doodles of mini graphics, and one of the motifs that came from these doodles was the eye swoosh! I wanted it to represent London through my eyes and the link to the London Eye.

Are you a runner yourself? If so, what do you like about it?

I run or work out five to six times a week. For me, it's really important to be active with what I do, as a lot of it is sat at a desk drawing or staring at the screen. It's also really healthy for your mental state, as working in the creative industry can be quite exhausting, so you need to give yourself a break.

Kelly Anna interview: Kelly Anna on a run
Courtesy of Nike

What advice would you give to women who want to follow a more creative career path?

Make sure that you are always working on a personal project. Even if you are working a full-time job, make sure you are working on at least one personal project a week. Most of my work came through interest in my personal projects—this is because it's what I was most passionate about, and that really shows.

What do you do on days when you just can't get in the flow?

This can happen a lot and can be incredibly frustrating. The best thing for me is to get out, put my headphones on and listen to my favourite track. To let myself daydream and start getting excited about ideas again.

Being creative there is no right or wrong answer—how do you deal with critics?

Most of the time people are generally quite positive and encouraging, however, you will always get people who don't like what you're doing. Most of the time I'll listen to the critic, take it on board and see if it is something I truly need to listen to. If I feel it's not right for me, I will ignore it and carry on. If you start listening to everything you hear negatively, you'll likely get discouraged from doing what you truly love.

Many people use art as a hobby for stress relief, but does your job ever make you feel stressed?

When your passion is also your work, you have to take the good with the bad. But the good always outweighs those stressful days of meeting deadlines.

What do you do to reduce stress and why?

Running is one of the best methods to free my mind when I feel very stressed; it just helps me to disconnect and maybe even come up with new creative ideas. I also love doing dance classes, a workout or going to a gallery. Colouring is another helpful distraction (I made a colouring book last year). It's the best for stress relief as you really don't have to think about being creative—you're just focusing on colouring, and it is a good way to get your mind off something stressful.

If you could design the artwork for any iconic beauty products what would they be and why?

It would be Ciaté. They are a vegan beauty company. I have been a vegan now for over a year—more for my health, as I still wear leather. However, I really respect companies making movements in this direction. it is so important to look at how we can improve our planet one step at a time.

Ciaté Boudoir Paint Pot
Ciaté Boudoir Paint Pot $9
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When it comes to beauty, being an artist, are you quite creative? What are your go-to looks and products?

I actually wear a lot of menswear. I feel the most comfortable and empowered when I wear it, and I love all the small details and tailoring. Also, Nike has got a lot of oversize and loose fit product, which I like to wear. My go-to beauty brands are Malin+Goetz and Dermalogica.

Shop theNike x Kelly Anna collection below.

Nike X Kelly Anna Free Rn 2018
Nike X Kelly Anna Free Rn 2018 $95
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Nike X Kelly Anna Dri Fit Running Tank
Nike X Kelly Anna Dri Fit Running Tank $22
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Nike X Kelly Anna Dri Fit Men's Running Tshirt
Nike X Kelly Anna Dri Fit Men's Running T-Shirt $22
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