Inspiring: Julie Emmerson {surface design}

Based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Julie Emmerson is making her mark in the world of pattern. And just like her location, her patterns are filled with sunshine too – bright colours, simple shapes and warmth.


 emmerson - vintage spring

emmerson – vintage spring


After a long career in graphic design, she says it was a natural progression. “Creatives are always looking for new ways to express themselves and learn so for me, exploring the freedom of drawing, painting and digital design then converting it to pattern has been my next step. I started approx 3 years ago, have sold patterns through my US agent and my dream is to have my own ongoing signature line of products sold worldwide and to also teach up and coming designers.”


julie emmerson - indian summer

julie emmerson – indian summer



julie emmerson - cutesy flowers

julie emmerson – cutesy flowers


Having that career background with constant hands-on in Photoshop and Illustrator has meant that some parts of the new career direction come easily and naturally – but not everything. “Understanding colour and loads of other technical skills have been helpful when designing, and knowing Photoshop and Illustrator have been invaluable in creating patterns and product mockups.”

“But Accounts … Web Coding … Marketing … these things make my eyes glaze over. My brain just switches off. When I do eventually tackle these things, I take a deep breath and get it over and done with. I leave my End of Year finances with my accountant and everything in between I manage myself, albeit grudgingly. Coding for my website makes my head spin so I outsource this and I am still pushing through with consistency in marketing. I’m quite shy so it’s a challenge for me to promote my designs and products on all the social media platforms but I’m getting better.”


julie emmerson - springtime buttercups

julie emmerson – springtime buttercups


She’s received recognition for her work already – design sales through a US agent, as well as subtantial sales of artwork locally, and she says that that acknowledgement of her skills and style has been really important for her. But her sights are set higher still – her desire is to secure a licensing deal with a manufacturer of globally distributed products.

Fortunately, fear of high places is not an issue for her – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. For real. Julie explains, “I experience “High Place Phenomenon”, not a fear of heights but the opposite, a desire to jump … be it a plane, hot air balloon, high building… Don’t worry, I’m not crazy! It’s more common than you think. Authors of a study on “high place phenomenon” at Florida State University’s psychology department concluded that this feeling is a positive trait implying “an urge to jump affirms the urge to live.” and this definitely sums up how I feel about life.”


julie emmerson - secret flowers

julie emmerson – secret flowers


Her best piece of advice? “One thing I have always missed in life is a mentor to guide me careerwise, so I have sought advice through friends, family and various books and online resources. The best advice that resonates with me in relation to my creative journey is from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art. ‘The more important a project is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance you will feel to it.’ ”


You can find more of Julie’s designs on her website,


Inspiring : Ben Conservato {illustration}

ben conservato - cloak and dagger V3

ben conservato – cloak and dagger V3


“I did struggle with taking photos at first; for someone who studied photography, it kind of baffled me that I couldn’t get it right.” So says Sydney-based Emma Kidd, artist, illustrator, printmaker, zine maker, and photographer, and the face behind Ben Conservato. She thinks she’s figured it out though – “Plain old white background and natural light never fails.”

Emma started drawing monsters “Because I don’t draw people perfectly. It just became more and more monsters… and sea creatures.” Her characters are whimsical and mostly friendly (but I wouldn’t want to meet some of them in a dark alley), and her menagerie has extended to include lots of wings – winged horses, monkeys, and men, and birds that don’t wish to fly at all.


ben conservato - orange birdman

ben conservato – orange birdman


“… apart from the time my mother, who worked at a business college, insisted I learn how to type.”


ben conservato - kingston - winged copper plumed horse

ben conservato – kingston – winged copper plumed horse


ben conservato - two characters from the 8 x paper doll pack

ben conservato – two characters from the 8 x paper doll pack


The name Ben Conservato  came about originally when Emma started up a jam-making business after travelling through Italy a few times. “Well preserved” seemed the perfect name then, and she still loves it now.  But it’s been a long {and sticky?} road between jam-making and illustration. Most of the time her journey has been a positive one, “Apart from the time my mother, who worked at a business college, insisted I learn how to type. … I’ve always been doing something in the creative, even if it is while I do some other job that I hope didn’t interfere with my own work. It sometimes does.”


ben conservato - four armed sea man

ben conservato – four armed sea man


Emma has always drawn a lot, and was encouraged as a child to be creative and do what she loved even if it didn’t earn any money. She completed an Associate Diploma in Fine Arts, specialising in photography and printmaking. “There I discovered photographic etching and at the time, in 1998, it changed my world.” She also completed a graphic design certificate a few years back. “I thought it’ll be good, it’ll be creative. But when you’re sitting there and doing work for other people and they’ll want you to make their logo bigger or use comic sans or something horrible. Then when you get home you’ll think ‘I’m going to paint now’, but I just have no idea what to do because I’m drained.” So, she says she mostly keeps hospitality as her fall-back position – “It is something I can do and rarely bring it home to the point I am unable to do my own work.”


ben conservato - cockatoo on a night adventure (without his wings)

ben conservato – cockatoo on a night adventure (without his wings)


“My workspace is generally (apart from the piles around our small flat) a stand-up desk in the corner of my once workroom, that is now my son’s room. He is only 2.4 years old, so he can’t kick me out yet, or at least hasn’t tried. It is messy and sometimes frustrating, but I like there is a place I can leave all my paint there, pieces of creatures and other things without having to put them away. I can paint things in passing throughout the day if there is limited time. I tend to work when he is doing his half day at “school” and when he sleeps.”

“In the business, I tend to try to do everything myself.  There are times we all financially struggle doing our own work and trying to stick to it. There are definitely low points in the year.” But it’s still worth it. “The best bit is being able to create and actually get some type of recognition that that is my style.”


ben conservato - shallows and deep sea - 5 piece nesting doll set

ben conservato – shallows and deep sea – 5 piece nesting doll set


What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Don’t let graphic design kill your style.”


You can find more of Emma’s wonderful work in her Etsy shop, BenConservato. And I totally urge you to check out this lovely video about her as well.



Inspiration : Carmel Debreuil {painter/illustrator}


carmel debreuil


Carmel Debreuil says that one of the greatest things about having been drawing and painting so long is that she doesn’t have to worry about whether the nose is straight or the eyes match. “I can spend more time thinking about the story. That’s a good feeling!”

And those stories fascinate; the clues are few and beguilingly inconclusive. We can only guess at what games of imagining those blue-skinned children are playing. They look serious, sometimes like they are downright displeased at being disturbed from what they are doing, but hints of other emotions show through – a bit of bemusement; a pinch of superiority. The characters become even more enigmatic when we discover that they are most often clad in a uniform of sorts – vintage glasses and cowboy boots, and a parade of strange headwear – viking hats, sombreros and crowns. “I see kids as these amazing creatures that are perfectly imperfect. Everyone seems to be in a rush to guide kids into adulthood and responsibility, but I’m happy if they want to hang out with a giant squirrel while wearing a Viking helmet and cowboy boots. I think childhood’s an amazing time and quite funny!”


carmel debreuil


Carmel’s cast of characters are drawn from a mix of many children that she has met, both past and present, but one she has been especially inspired by was from an old photo of her two older brothers, where one of them was dressed in similar vintage glasses and cowboy boots.

She paints directly onto plyboard, and utilises the grain and knots in the wood as part of the picture. Wood becomes patterns on dresses, animal skins, and an interesting textural element.



She is absolutely adamant about the need to have disciplined technical skills in the fundamentals of realism – drawing skills in perspective and proportion, and a solid understanding of colour theory.

“No child is just told to express themselves on the piano. They do scales. You learn the alphabet and spelling and punctuation before you write your novel.” It is an attitude that she learnt from her father, Canadian artist Marcel Debreuil, and those skills were honed when she lived in Paris, where she worked as a street artist drawing people’s portraits for a few years. “There was nothing quite like being nineteen and living in a hotel in Paris, eating out every day, living this fantastic bohemian life and paying for all of it being an artist. I not only paid for my lifestyle, but I saved heaps of money and travelled for a year afterwards. Dad was really happy that I had this skill that, no matter where I travelled and how much money I had, I could, if nothing else, barter a portrait for some food!”


carmel debreuil


Now Carmel makes her home on the NSW mid-north coast, where she lives with her husband and two small children. She paints full-time, but admits that it is a difficult juggle with family, and it’s important to stay focused on what you intend to achieve.

“I think my big advantage is that I’m ADHD and a bit OCD, so I have lots of energy but I can really focus it. It’s not unusual for me to paint for nine hours a day. Basically in the morning the kids get off to school, then I check all my emails and do some updates on social media. Next I would head to my studio and pretty much work steady til the kids get home from school. Sometimes if I’ve got a deadline, I’ll keep painting, but I generally stop so that I can make dinner. Dinner is family time and we really like to catch up and chat and connect. I do a lot of my business side of things at night in bed – I might start around nine or ten and then work til two in the morning. This means sending out query emails, updating social media, connecting with clients and that sort of thing.

“It helps to be organised so I make tons of lists. It helps to be obsessive and work til the job is done. I find the more I do, the more comfortable I am with doing a lot. I took a holiday to Bali last year and although it was great fun, I felt like it put me off my routine! I am most happy when I’m productive and the more productive I am the happier I am.”


carmel debreuil


Her father has been instrumental to her career in more ways than one. As well as learning skills from someone who worked as professional art teacher and artist in their own right, Carmel says it was really after her father passed away a few years back that things really started happening for her.


“Just after he died, he came to me in a dream. He said  “You need to be an artist.” That was pretty good advice.”


“In the dream he talked to me for about an hour about what I needed to do to make it happen. I followed his advice and things have not stopped getting better. It’s pretty freaking amazing. I wish he was here to see what those words meant to me and see how my life has changed as a result. Life is good.”

At the moment her studio is “a bit all over the place” as they’re smack bang in the middle of building it. “So in the meantime stuff is piled up here and there. I have staked out a space in a downstairs area that used to be where the kids played games, and I’ve moved the tellies into their rooms and so now it’s a space full of art supplies. We also have a big deck so sometimes I work out there if the weather is good. I’ve also worked on the kitchen floor on occasion! I’m not super fussy in some ways, ‘cos the desire to work is strong. But I tell ya, I can’t wait to have my own space. It’s going to be awesome! It’s going to be great ‘cos it’s going to be mine, mine, mine and only mine! I also want to teach classes there and have it as an open studio during holidays. Plans!”

“I feel so lucky and grateful that I’m making a living doing art again and supporting my family. Everyday I wake up and can’t believe my good fortune. Still there are highlights. I was stoked to be a finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Award – that was a huge achievement. I’m also looking forward to creating my Archibald entry this year. I have the perfect subject and although it’s a secret right now, I think it’s also going to be one of those things that makes you pinch yourself. And you know, there is this warm fuzzy feeling every time someone buys one of my paintings and brings it to a new home. It’s pretty cool when people like your stuff!”


carmel debreuil



Carmel has shown her work in over 32 shows in the last two and a half years, throughout Australia, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. She has also worked as a portrait artist in Paris, Amsterdam, Mexico and Byron Bay, and has had her work featured in a large range of publications, including Ink and Arrows, and Australian Art Review.

You can find more of her work on her website,, but if you’d like to see it in the flesh, you can! She’s got a new solo show opening on Thursday, 16th April, 4-6pm at M2 Gallery, Shop 4/450 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills NSW. The opening night will also be featuring music from DJ JoeSpoon (Grinspoon) and international DJ Ewol.


Inspiring : Whimsy Milieu {craft}

whimsymilieu - intense euphoria

whimsymilieu – intense euphoria


Jacqueline Chan finds inspiration everywhere, from the curiosities of the natural world to delectable French patisserie and everything in between. Wooden rings with painted diamonds, colourful leather concoctions of necklaces with names like “Sweet Success” and “Intense Euphoria”, illustrations of dogs and sharks and pouches with handprinted abstract patterns all find their way into her repertoire. She never stays focused on one medium (“my heart is pulled into many different directions and I love working with different materials”); so it’s really no surprise that she calls her business Whimsy Milieu.


whimsymilieu - wooden diamond rings

whimsymilieu – wooden diamond rings


Working out of her home studio in Orange, NSW, Jacqueline has made it her mission to spread happiness to the world; and what she makes is designed to do just that. Her aim is for you to “surround yourself with whimsical things that make you happy.” Producing work that achieves this goal makes her happy too.


“I love it that this job of spreading happiness doesn’t feel like work at all, as I wake up every day to do what I love and fall asleep at night thinking about more ideas for my business.”


Materials and process are a joy for her, even more than the designing. “What I love most about making is the process. Although I always feel intimidated before I start, when I actually do start, it is just exhilarating. It’s also enlightening when I make mistakes but work out how to overcome them.”


whimsymilieu - sweet success

whimsymilieu – sweet success


whimsymilieu - blockprinted pouch

whimsymilieu – blockprinted pouch


For someone who is as consistently inventive across wildly differing mediums as Jacqueline, it is surprising to realise that her life has gone in a big circular loop. She grew up in a very creative household in her home country of Malaysia, always drawing and crafting. “I remember making cards with my mother to sell at the school fair, and also representing my school in many art competitions.”



But life shifted, and “somehow, I ended up studying engineering at university and eventually became an engineer.”


However, you can’t suppress your true self forever. “The urge to lead a creative life started bugging me incessantly and I went back to university and obtained a degree in design. It has certainly enabled me to look at the world with new eyes.” During their studies, her and her friends started making things to sell, and it was this small taster that fuelled Jacqueline’s dreams to start her own business. Whimsy Milieu became a reality in 2012.


whimsymilieu - blockprinted pouch

whimsymilieu – blockprinted pouch


whimsymilieu - amazingly awesome

whimsymilieu – amazingly awesome


“I have learnt a lot through this journey – not only in terms of creativity and business, but also about life and relationships. It is such a blessing that doing something I love also enables me to live a more meaningful life and to spend more time with my loved ones, wherever they may be in the world.

“However, one of the most important things that I learnt is not to compare myself with other designers/artisans – we are all different and we satisfy different needs of all our lovely customers. I am very happy to create things that make people happy, and I also hope to prompt awareness of living a more creative and meaningful life.”

You can find more of Jacqueline’s creativity in her Etsy shop, WhimsyMilieu, and on her own website.


whimsymilieu - snowy mountain wooden rings

whimsymilieu – snowy mountain wooden rings


Surface design : Maze and Vale {Leslie Keating}

Leslie Keating of Maze and Vale is a serial creative, picking up ideas and inspiration from “absolutely everywhere. I try to keep track of them in a sketchbook, where I also keep a ridiculous number of lists of things to do and projects for consideration.”


maze and vale - quill in peacock - certified organic cotton

maze and vale – quill (peacock) – certified organic cotton


Named for her two daughters, Maze and Vale grew out of Leslie’s intense love of fabric and her background as a graphic designer. Hand screen prints on natural fibres, in a range of muted tones punctuated with bold, her designs are clean, simple and graphic.

“About 7 years ago I fell in love with sewing in general but particularly with quilting and wanted more control over the prints and colours I could use in my work. I’d worked with a lot of hand printed fabric before and decided to use my graphic design skills to create my own textiles. I started carving stamps and using them to print on cotton and linen and then moved onto screen printing as a way to cover larger areas more quickly. Screen printing was way too much fun to stop, and so I decided to start selling the fabric I was creating.”


maze and vale - seedpods in perfect red - organic cotton

maze and vale – seedpods (perfect red) – organic cotton


To keep her ideas fresh, Leslie uses a variety of techniques with her original sketches, working between hand-carved stamps, pen sketches, or even working straight into Illustrator. All her prints are pulled by hand in her one room studio, and all the colours are custom mixed by her using environmentally friendly, water based textile inks and are printed on natural, sustainable fibres of hemp, organic cotton and linen.

Her list of favourite artists and designers is long. “I honestly couldn’t name them all but a few that immediately spring to mind are Lotta Jansdotter, Julie Paterson of Cloth, Arounna Khounnoraj of Bookhou and Lara Cameron of Ink & Spindle – all amazing designers who screen print their own work, as I do.”


maze and vale - tiny forest in alabaster

maze and vale – tiny forest in alabaster


I asked Leslie if there was anything quirky or curious about her that she’d like to share. She replied, “I very often get my rights and lefts wrong which I thought was pretty ridiculous until I read an article a while ago that said it was a common trait of highly creative people. Now I see it as a badge of honour! I’m also terrible at remembering people’s names unless I see them written down, another quirk of being so visually oriented, I guess.”


Leslie never lets the bad experiences get to her. “I tend to just roll with the punches; it makes life a lot easier, and some really beautiful work can come out of ‘mistakes’.”



maze and vale - verses - overcast - organic cotton

maze and vale – verses – overcast – organic cotton


I love Leslie’s description of her design, Verses.

“Hand drawn marks that resembled text; I added and sketched until I had two paragraphs of unknown words. The paragraphs’ spacing is a bit random and wonky and it somehow makes my heart ache just a little bit, like there is something life-changingly important written there, if only you knew the language.”


maze and vale - xox - velvet black - organic cotton

maze and vale – xox – velvet black – organic cotton


Her best piece of advice? “To ignore what other people are doing and follow your own style. If your work is from the heart and you put 100% into it with no shortcuts, your audience will find you. (Well, you also have to put it out there in order to be found 😉 )”

You can find more of Leslie’s gorgeous fabrics in her Etsy shop, mazeandvale.