Today I am delighted to share an interview with visual artist, designer and filmmaker, a fellow participant in the Marie Claire Inspire & Mentor campaign last year, who won a mentorship from interior design guru Kelly Hoppen.  Madeleine was born in England but emigrated to New Zealand with her family when she was 10 where she grew up.  She now divides her time between London and Perth, Western Australia.  Today Madeleine shares her thoughts on juggling three careers, and on the highs and lows of setting up her own design label.

Madeleine Casey profile

1. Can you share a bit about your creative journey to here?  

I have always been really creative since a child and started out determined to have a career in music until some very honest friends told me I was a much better painter than a singer. I studied art history and film at university and am self-taught as far as painting goes.  I have been painting professionally for over ten years and had several successful solo exhibitions and participated in many group shows.  Painting is my number one love but I also like to branch out and express myself in other areas creatively.

'Maria' Oil on Canvas, 40 x40 cm, Madeleine Casey‘Maria’ Oil on Canvas, 40 x40 cm, Madeleine Casey

I have been working as a freelance homewares product developer and designer for about five years, which led me to establish Madeleine Casey Design.  Still in its infancy, Madeleine Casey Design incorporates a bespoke interior design service, an art consultancy and my own product range of homewares designed exclusively for the business.  I’m completely obsessed with architecture, homewares, textiles and design in general. The homewares brand will include dinnerware, art objects, wallpaper and a luxury organic bedding range. The head office will be in Australia, but the idea is for it to be a global company.

Alongside my art career and design business I also work in film. Two years ago I made a short film in New Zealand with a former partner that was selected to premiere at the Berlin Film festival. I was fortunate enough attend the premiere at the 2009 Berlinale, which was an amazing experience. The film was also selected for several other major international film festivals around the world.  This is also something I would like to continue with – I want to write and direct films and documentaries.  So many things to do and not enough time!!

In terms of any career milestones or “aha” moments, ten years ago in 2001 I went temporarily blind and that was a scary experience. I was living in New Zealand at the time and as my father drove me to hospital the predominant thought that ran through my head was that I would never be able to paint again. I’m definitely a visual person and that unsettling experience was the catalyst needed at the time for me to gain leverage on myself to work harder. I try not take anything in life for granted.

'I Was Told There Would Be Cake' Oil on Canvas, 122 x 138 cm, Madeleine Casey‘I Was Told There Would Be Cake’ Oil on Canvas, 122 x 138 cm, Madeleine Casey

2. You were pretty set on a career in music before your honest friends advised you to paint instead, which seems like it was good advice!  How do you know when to take advice like that, and when to ignore it and just follow your instinct?

Oh, that seems like several lifetimes ago now! That’s actually a great question but also a difficult question to answer too. I think I am lucky enough to have some very intelligent and honest friends and family around me that don’t mince words. My closest friends are people I’ve known since I was really young, so I trust their opinions and I’ll definitely take any criticism or advice on board without taking it personally. That said, however, it is incredibly important to also trust your own intuition as an artist but you also have to be realistic. There is definitely a fine line between idealism and realism and it can be hard to find the balance sometimes.

Perseverance is paramount to achieving your goals, but also in this day and age you need to be flexible and be able to realise when something isn’t working. I’ve certainly never been precious about any creative endeavours and feel lucky that I am able to be brutally objective about my own work, a lot of creative people don’t have that ability and their ego can get in the way. There have been many times when I feel like I have  been battling against the current and it is sometimes hard to know when to give up and change tack or to push on through. I’ve never been afraid to scrap something that isn’t working even if I have spent hours and hours on it. There is no point deluding yourself if something isn’t up to standard. That said though, I don’t think I have ever been fully happy with a piece of work…..I’m certainly my own worst critic!

'Valley of The Frozen Tears' Oil on Linen, 122 x 61 cm, Madeleine Casey‘Valley of The Frozen Tears’ Oil on Linen, 122 x 61 cm, Madeleine Casey

3. What is it that you love so much about painting?

Art has been my first love since I can remember. My mother and my aunt Cath were both really good artists so I think it was encouraged by them from a young age. One of the great things about painting is that it is just you and the canvas. In many other creative pursuits, whether it’s making a film, playing music in a band or designing an interior, they are all collaborative efforts and you are reliant on others and also continually making compromises. That kind of collaboration in the end can be challenging and also immensely rewarding, but the solitary aspect of painting means it’s just you and your ideas and you’re not answering to a boss or working to the specifications of a clients brief. It’s the ability to step into a pure stream of creativity and self expression. I also find painting quite meditative and surprisingly grounding.

4. I am fascinated to know more about the ins and outs of being a homewares product designer.  Can you describe a typical day?

As I work freelance, there is really no such thing as a typical day! Usually it starts with a brief, perhaps with an idea for a dinnerware range.  I will be given the initial ideas or feel for the product range, often with suggestions for a colour palette in keeping with the season forecasts.  I then come up with a few ideas based on the brief and I’ll then email them for review.  I may be asked to make some changes or expand on my ideas. Sometimes I will hand render some illustrations or patterns but about eighty per cent is computer-based. The designs then get mapped onto decal wraps and then get sent through to the factory for sample manufacturing.

5. How did you get into that and what is the best part about it?

I really fell into product design and was quite lucky. I have been obsessed with anything to do with interiors, textiles and home design my whole life, and as product development is a very niche industry, positions don’t come up very often. About five years ago after doing an Adobe CS refresher course,  I applied for a freelance position for a company called Omni Presence in Australia. I think I was chosen more for my creative background in art as opposed my technical skills. There was a lot of on the job learning and the position also involves designing the packaging for the product ranges too.  It has been a great learning curve and I’ve learned so much about the industry which has been invaluable for branching out on my own.

6. How different is it designing products for your own company, compared with designing them for someone else? 

Designing products for your own company is great in terms of creative autonomy and freedom. I’m not working to a brief or creating something that is someone else’s vision, so that is very freeing and rewarding from a creative standpoint.  The main disadvantage is that if you create a product or range that is not viable from a commercial standpoint then the failure of that range and the financial shortfall rests solely on your shoulders. It is important to research and know how your product will work in the market place.

7. Not only are you a painter and a designer, but you are also a film-maker.  Can you tell us a bit about that and how it complements the other work you do?

Film has been something I have loved forever. In some ways it incorporates all the things I love – visually speaking it can be a work of art, with the photography and set design, yet it also tells a story and takes you on a journey.  I have a couple of short films in the pipeline and I am working on a script for a feature length film. Film is more of a labour of love at this stage and tends to be more of a financial drain than a money making venture. I’m so fortunate that the other parts of my career allow me to be creative and express myself in this area. In the future I hope to focus a lot of my energy into making films. I started out in my late teens just helping out the art department on music videos and then went on to study film at university for three years. Film definitely complements all the other creative work I do on several different levels. Often I will get an idea for a story that will evolve into a script that will then perhaps inform an idea for a painting. Creatively speaking I think the various things I do bounce off each other and a concept can always be reworked in the different mediums.

8. What are you most proud of? 
There is not one particular piece of work that I would say I am most proud of as I am so self critical and never 100% happy with anything.  However, there have been some rewarding moments in my career, such as being five minutes late to my own art show and walking in to find all the paintings had already been sold! There were people jamming the phonelines from overseas wanting to buy a work without having even seen it. Walking the red carpet at the Berlin film festival was also another really rewarding experience.

I think the thing I am most proud of would have to be my resilience and perseverance. In the creative industry you constantly face rejection and it can be quite disheartening at times. I’ve definitely had the occasional Rumpelstiltskin moment when every door has seemed closed, or where things are not working on any creative level whatsoever. That can be frustrating and challenging but I imagine it would be much more frustrating not knowing what you wanted to do in life. I feel so lucky and blessed that I have always had a goal or something to work towards. I’m also certainly a lot tougher than I used to be. To be a creative person you have to maintain a certain level of sensitivity to be open to ideas and inspiration.  You almost have to be a psychic sponge. Yet ironically to make your creativity work in the real world you also have to learn to be a good business person and develop the ability to separate business and emotion.

[All images courtesy of Madeleine Casey]

9. What is the big dream for your creative business?

Oh…I have too many. Presently I am establishing my business Madeleine Casey Design.  I’d like to create an identity with my own brand of homewares within the design industry. I also want to pursue my art career and continue to exhibit my work internationally.  At the same time I’d also like to see several film projects come to fruition in the near future. That’s the plan anyway. I’m juggling a few balls in the air I guess which is challenging but never boring!

See Madeleine’s website to learn more about her and her work.


See here for more Do What You Love interviews with inspiring people doing what they love.