An Auckland artist shares her vibrant new direction after a year of upheaval

Artist Kate Hursthouse’s experimental new works are a lockdown silver lining. She discusses how she pivoted during Covid and embraced the online space.

With the release of her new collection, Auckland artist and illustrator Kate Hursthouse has come full circle. Although she spent her school years painting away in the art department, she was encouraged by career counsellors to study architecture, but after graduating and working in the field, she realised it was too “regimented” for her.

A subsequent move into graphic design turned out to be similarly restrictive. It wasn’t until she did a calligraphy workshop in Italy that Kate began to find her calling. She went on to make a name for herself for beautiful hand lettering and illustration, but a foray into more abstract art with her latest collection has seemed like a natural next step. “I honestly feel like I’ve gone full circle back to where I was in high school,” she says. “This is what I should have done all along.”

Over the years, Kate has worked with numerous high-profile clients, including Karen Walker, Auckland Council and Spark. She has created art that was gifted to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Kīngi Tūheitia, the Māori king. She’s painted murals for clients including Eden Park and TEDx Auckland, published a children’s book (A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies & Other Such Collective Nouns), created illustrations of 125 extraordinary New Zealand women for the corresponding anniversary of women’s suffrage, presented a keynote at a typography conference in Australia, and travelled to Germany for her first international exhibition, with help from Creative New Zealand. Another grant helped to get her to Japan for a calligraphy workshop.

Kate Hursthouse wearing black in her art studio
IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERSIt’s a culmination of the last two years, she says, which included having a son, Arlo, and returning from maternity leave with new priorities and a new person to fit work around – and then coming up against Covid-19.

As Kate’s clients began to drop off during the pandemic, she took the chance to play with paint. After completing two online abstract art courses, she took part in a social-media typography challenge called 36 Days of Type. Her experimentation from the courses and the challenge led to her series The Abstract Collection, which includes small and large paintings and various repurposed objects, all transformed with beautifully bleeding colours and layers of paint, ink and pen.

Hands painting bright colours on white paper
Taking two short online abstract art courses inspired Kate to move away from her usual calligraphic style and start to experiment more with colour, leading to her art collection. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

It’s a culmination of the last two years, she says, which included having a son, Arlo, and returning from maternity leave with new priorities and a new person to fit work around – and then coming up against Covid-19.

Colourful art on various mediums by Kate Hursthouse
IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Typography still features in her new collection, in the form of repurposed lettering and greetings scrawled on skateboards. She says it’s almost like she’s bridging her two passions. “I’m really loving the colour and vibrancy of the abstract stuff, and I want to keep doing that. It might be a move away or I might decide to incorporate the two.”

Caligraphy art on repurposed skateboard by Kate Hursthouse
Kate’s West Auckland studio is filled with works from her new collection, with repurposed skateboards and letterforms acting as canvasses. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Having recently bought her first house on the Te Atatū Peninsula with partner Darren Foster, who works in media production, Kate is thrilled to have a converted area of the garage to use as a studio. The space enabled her to “keep chipping away at my art during a really crazy year”.

Colourful square paint palette with brushes
Kate creates art using paint, pen and ink. “My current favourite colour palette includes Resene Irresistible Kitsch, Romantic and Surfs Up.” IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

“So often, if I’m playing in my studio, I’m doing it for me,” she says. “I’m just trusting the process and I don’t really know how it’s going to turn out.” With this collection, at the beginning I couldn’t have envisioned what it would turn out like. It developed as it went along, through experimenting.

Colouful painted disc next to shelve of plants and books

There are other silver linings that came about as a result of the tumultuous year that was 2020. Kate had time to start an online art business course and think about the future of her own business. “It’s given me space to allow me to move my business forward in the direction that I want it to go,” she says. “I’ve been able to focus on areas that I’ve always pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.”

When she’s not painting, sharing her process on social media, or working on client commissions and custom pieces, Kate teaches workshops to share her calligraphy, hand lettering and business skills. After an uncertain year, she has been inspired to take the workshops online in 2021. “You have to pivot and not have all your eggs in one basket,” she says.

“Being able to have multiple income streams is important. Covid has shown how much you can do online. There are a lot of people around New Zealand that don’t have access to in-person workshops.”

Kate Hursthouse wrapped merchandise and cards

She also plans to launch a podcast highlighting other creative mothers. Motherhood has changed her own process and made her more discerning in the work she takes on. “Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a tiny person, you don’t have a lot of headspace to yourself,” she says.

Another collection is in the works too, seeing as she so enjoyed the process of painting and launching this one. It’s this freedom to choose what she wants to do that she enjoys most about being an artist. “I love that there don’t have to be any rules, or you can break rules.”

To see more of Kate’s work, visit katehursthouse.com.


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