Written by Jenny Griffin
When Minted artist Kelly Schmidt was a kid, she painted murals on all four walls of her bedroom. One year she painted another big mural in the kitchen for her mom for Mother’s Day, inspired by artwork she’d seen in a design magazine. All this creativity was highly encouraged by her Canadian parents who even gave artistic license to Kelly’s and her sister Karen’s friends. While most of her friends lived in homes with white walls, Kelly’s house had a special wall where not only she, but all of her friends were welcome to draw freely. Talk about setting the stage for a life in design.
Kelly would grow up to become a graphic designer at both an animation studio and a special effects studio; a creative director at a renowned fashion, makeup, and esthetics school; an aspiring potter; and an amateur bass player in a band with the Attorney General of British Columbia. Along the way she married a museum educator who curates exhibits for the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia and for the expanding Canadian coffee and tea cafe, Kafka’s. When she’s not busy making art, looking at art, or talking about art, she and husband Michael Schwartz are out exploring the scenic wilderness surrounding Vancouver. Whew!
Oh, and as of March 2018, she’s struck out on her own as an independent graphic artist, thanks in large part to what she discovered was possible with Minted. She’s having a good run and just recently won the Best File Prep Award at Camp Minted in Las Vegas.
We talked to Kelly about her work, her endless interest in trying new things, and the influences along the way.
Minted: You had some really influential teachers in high school. How did they help you?
Kelly Schmidt: I was planning to study interior design after high school, but my art teacher gave me some key direction. He had looked through my art projects and had discussed them with the graphic design and photography teacher. What they noticed was that a lot of my collage work revolved around communicating a message. They encouraged me to pursue graphic design instead. That meant dropping the drafting class I’d signed up for and switching directions to graphic design and photography. I loved it. If I could have dropped all my other courses and spent all my time in the photography studio or on the school’s ancient Apple computer, I would have been so happy. I didn’t even know graphic design existed until it was introduced to me.
After high school I got a scholarship to attend the Graphics and Visual Design program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. In college, I fell in love with typography and the marriage between communication and design, the way color and letterforms can shape the feel and mood of a piece. The program switched from a three-year to a four-year granting program after I completed my third year. I could have returned, but instead traveled for a year in Australia. I’ve always been very driven and goal-oriented, and this was the first time in my life where I was cut loose of all schedules and plans and could really be in the moment. It was incredibly valuable.
Why was taking a year off from school to travel so valuable?
It was good for me to see the power of being in the moment rather than always being in school and working toward goals. I’ve tended to live for my future self a bit more than being in the here and now, and it was eye-opening just to get up in the morning and decide what do I feel like doing, right this very moment? It was also the first time I’d ever been away from home for any extended period of time. I’d never even been on a flight before this trip. My parents traveled a lot with us, but it was all road trips in a truck and camper. I realized travel could be a way to escape the daily grind and revitalize my creativity. It paved the way to a lifelong love of travel with my husband, sister, brother-in-law, and friends.
After Australia, you threw yourself into an array of positions, including working for a number of years at an animation and special effects studio. How did you land there and what did you learn?After Australia, I decided not to return to school to complete my fourth year, and instead to focus on developing a strong portfolio. I was hired by an animation studio called Mainframe Entertainment. They were later bought by the special effects studio Rainmaker Entertainment. I worked in both companies as a graphic designer and a supervisor.
This is where I learned a lot of my technical skills, especially the ins and out of Photoshop. I worked with several other designers and production designers who developed the characters and environments for a variety of shows. I helped with our website and did company branding; created TV and movie pitch materials; produced print materials; and did some network TV show licensing projects. I even worked on the motion graphics for the 2003 and 2006 MTV Movie Awards, and in 2006 got to go to Los Angeles with a couple of colleagues to attend the awards ceremony and after party—a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In 2002, you went back to school for fashion design. What prompted that move?
Mainframe introduced a program where you could apply to work part time temporarily, but keep your full-time benefits and status. I’ve always been interested in all aspects of design, including fashion and interiors. I took this as an opportunity to keep my graphic design career going, while going back to school for fashion design.
At that time, I was looking for a change, a spark, some inspiration. I went to a school called the Blanche Macdonald Centre.
I planned to work at a local fashion company and then possibly start my own fashion line. But once I did some job interviews, I realized how limited the fashion scene was in Vancouver. It was also hard to swallow going right back to the bottom again career-wise to work my way up. That would mean taking a big pay cut and losing all seniority. I toyed with moving to get international experience, but that didn’t feel like the right path either.
My teachers there were very supportive of my work. They showed the owner of BMC my work, and I began freelancing on some projects. I had intended to stay at Rainmaker and Mainframe, but was offered the Creative Director role at BMC. That changed my course.
It was an exciting time as it allowed me to work both in graphic design and in the world of fashion. I was part of the creative team on fashion shoots and did event planning for the annual fashion show. Because I led the branding efforts, I worked on all of the print and web projects and oversaw the change from print advertising to digital marketing. My role was strategic and business-oriented, but also creative. I loved it. I worked there for 10 years.
You’re a constant learner—you’ve gone back to school, bridged disciplines, struck up new hobbies, and embraced growth. Where does this urge come from?
I’ve always been happiest and most inspired when I’m learning and growing. When I’m repeating the same tasks or the same way of working, I get bored and lose motivation. But the urge isn’t necessarily sparked by that; it happens organically when I see something I haven’t done before. I get inspired, and I want to learn more as I’m innately curious. I think it also stems from wanting to be better, wanting to improve. I’ve always been like that with my work: how can we make this better? I’m never one to be complacent and let things be.
Friends often comment that they can’t believe how many things I have going on at the same time. I’ve questioned it at times too: Am I not really mastering any one thing and spreading my attention thinly across multiple things? But it’s really part of who I am. I also find a real benefit to this approach in that all of these influences and inspirations cross-pollinate and inform my work in unexpected ways.
Who influences you, and who are your design and art heroes?
Stefan Sagmeister is a design hero, for sure. He has such a unique point of view. He has a couple of Ted Talks that I highly recommend watching! My influences really come from all over. I follow lots of interior designers, artists, letterers and graphic designers. Emily Henderson, Megan Gonzalez of MaeMae & Co, Lotta Nieminen, Bri Emery of Design Love Fest, and Jen Gotch from Bando are just a few of the people I follow. I love their taste and aesthetic.
You mustered up the courage to leave your creative director job in March 2018 to focus full time on Minted. How did you decide to make that move?
I’ve always been entrepreneurial with lots of ideas spinning around in my head. I’ve wanted to start my own business for a long time, but I didn’t know what form it would take. When I started designing for Minted and having some success in Wedding, it gave me the confidence to consider making a move into stationery design, specifically Wedding.
After my Modern Marble suite launched a couple years ago, I woke up one morning to a lot of activity on my Instagram. I learned that Megan Gonzalez from MaeMae & Co had partnered with Minted and The Mrs Box on a shoot that included my wedding suite, and it had been featured on Style Me Pretty. I had followed and loved Style Me Pretty, and MaeMae & Co, for years, so it felt like a pivotal moment for me and Minted really made it possible. I am so grateful for that.
To pull off my transition, I saved up for a couple of years before leaving my job. I’m a pretty calculated, methodical person, and I wanted to make sure that I had some financial security behind me for the first year of being on my own. I’ve been working in more corporate settings for over 15 years so it was a huge shift, and I wanted to make it as smooth as possible. I also plan to launch a website and have started doing custom wedding work this year.
What’s life been like since becoming a fully independent designer?
Quite fluid. I’m driven and like to be busy. I threw myself into Minted’s Holiday card competitions this year, which hasn’t been a strong category for me in the past. Because I left my job in March, I was able to jump right into Holiday with Minted, so it was a great way to transition. It also helped that I’d been working with Minted for a couple of years before making the leap.
I also knew that I wanted to have a place to go to work outside of my home. I’m renting space from a friend who has a digital marketing company in a historic area of downtown Vancouver called Gastown. I’d worked at home periodically over the years and always felt less connected, a little bit isolated. I’ve learned that I function better if I get up, get ready, and leave the house and am around other people. It keeps me in the game of what’s happening in the industry. I’m surrounded by creative people, and I end up talking to them about their projects and their ideas. I feel more connected and more productive, especially with production work like file prep. With creative work, I still often work when the inspiration hits, and that may be at home. I have a sketchbook with me at all times because once the creative flow starts for me, I think about it all the time and need to jot down my ideas on the fly.
Can you tell us more about your interest in thinking about the big picture in your work?
I always make connections between things, and I want to understand how everything fits and works together. I want to know the why. In my last job I didn’t want to just be in a silo working on design; I wanted to know about the business and the goals for the whole company. Because I want to get my hands into everything, I’m always asking questions. This can be great, but it can also be a curse, because you can find reasons not to do things, or become overwhelmed at times.
In approaching new projects, I’ve learned to view the big picture and to scale things down to smaller, more manageable chunks. I look at the desired end result, and then break it down into specific pieces, mapping them out over time, leading up to the deadline. That way I know I’ve always got an eye on the big picture, but have the freedom to think about the specific tasks on a given day or week.
Final fun questions. If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would they be and why? And if you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be?
I’d invite Stefan Sagmeister to start. He’s a design hero, and I think he’d be a great conversationalist, someone really fun to have at a dinner party. I’d also invite David Bowie. He was so informed, intelligent. and charismatic, and his knowledge and thoughts on other musicians were brilliant and insightful. My third guest would be Iris Apfel. She’s lived such an interesting life and is so creative in how she expresses herself. I love that she’s 100 percent herself and doesn’t hold back who she is.
And If I could spend the day in someone else’s shoes, I choose Kim Deal, during The Pixies heyday. She’s one of my bass guitar heroes. I’m pretty reserved, and I don’t like being the center of attention, so I’m curious to know how it would feel to be up on stage playing to a huge crowd of fans. Normally I would find that very intimidating, but maybe as Kim Deal I could experience the rush of that moment.
Kelly’s Top Sources of Inspiration
- Milanote: “I use this for mood boards and organizing my inspiration into themes.”
- GoMoodBoard: mood boards that are easy to share with clients
- Fellow Canadian Danielle Krysa’s blog The Jealous Curator and podcast Art for your Ear
- Elizabeth Gilbert, especially her book Big Love
More About Kelly Schmidt
About the author: Jenny Griffin is a freelance print and broadcast journalist and the founder of Silverplume Press. An avid art lover, she’s also a museum educator at SFMOMA in San Francisco. She lives with her husband, three kids, two cats, and one dog in San Francisco and works out her artistic impulses at the ice skating rink.
Published August 28, 2018Comments Off on Fashion. Bass Playing. World Travel. Kelly Schmidt Weaves an Adventurous Path to Career Independence.