Mairead Murphy never thought she could make a career out of illustration. “Drawing pictures for a living really does sound too good to be true,” she says. “It wasn’t until I went to Semi Permanent a couple of years ago and saw all of these amazing and inspiring people speak that I started to seriously reconsider it.” It is also the perfect foil for her design work. Mairead is a trained interior architect and runs the Melbourne-based design studio Maike. She started the illustration offshoot in April last year. “As a small start-up I have been really blown away by how much support and encouragement I’ve had, particularly with the illustration - in a completely new industry where I had no connections or background.”

Which five words best describe you? Cheerful, ambitious, enthusiastic, imaginative, hard-working.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? After finishing my interior architecture degree I worked in large architecture companies and taught at Monash University. The scale of projects tended to be relatively big, peaking with the Royal Children’s Hospital. Coming off that project I landed my dream job at an incredible firm and started my Masters of Architecture, but I was completely burned out. When the opportunity to do a project on my own came up, it seemed a perfect way to be able to manage my various time commitments with enough flexibility to get my health back on track. So I took the plunge and launched Maike Design Studio.

I have always had a whole range of different creative interests, so alongside my design work, in April last year I added an illustration stream to my practice. To be honest, it was a mini turning-30 crisis! It had been in the back of my mind as something I would get around to one day and I just thought if there hadn’t magically been time for it, when exactly was there going to be? So I started drawing again. Other than little doodles in the margins of my notebooks I hadn’t really done any drawing since high school and after dealing with straight lines and construction drawings for so long, it look me a long time to loosen up and not be intensely bothered by things that weren’t perfectly straight or symmetrical. I even change my handwriting style in my illustration sketchbook from my design sketchbook to flick my brain into a different mindset! 

Illustration contrasts the longer project times of my design work perfectly. I love the immediacy of creating characters and scenes, they become real as the pencil lines become more exact and their little personalities emerge.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Sometimes, you’ve just got to have a little sleep and then everything will be okay.

What’s your proudest career achievement? Spending every day doing something I genuinely love doing.

What’s been your best decision? I think the best decision has just been to get started. Start drawing, start building, start my practice, start the studio - all of it. I think once you’ve begun something... well, you’ve just got to keep going. It can be too easy not to start something new and daunting, but I’ve found once I get going, daunting turns into exciting and all sorts of new opportunities open up.

Who inspires you? It’s a long list that is always growing. Every day inspiration comes from my husband, who is my all-time favourite person, my family who are all kind, hardworking and terrifically intelligent, my talented friends who produce incredible work of all descriptions and are fun, wonderful people - what more can you ask for!?

What are you passionate about? I love seeing a creative process unfold - something that starts as nothing but the tiniest beginning of an idea is investigated and developed until it is something actually real, functional, thoughtful, and beautiful.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Robin Boyd, Roald Dahl.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? Design: I would like to build our own house. I’d like to see what I come up with to frame a lifestyle I am so familiar with. Or design an Aesop store, that would be ace too. Illustration: I’d like to write a book – but given my incredible lack of writing skills, I’d be more than happy to just illustrate one.

What are you reading? Why We Build by Rowan Moore.

images courtesy of mairead murphy