If you're a parent, chances are you're all too familiar with the tales of Ruby Red Shoes...
The little white hare is the star of some of the most beautifully illustrated children’s books available and takes both children and adults on a journey filled with whimsy, kindness and nature. It’s no surprise to learn that the woman behind the fantasy, illustrator and author Kate Knapp, is just as kind and gentle in person filled with an endearing amount of imagination.
“Some of the most vivid memories came from three Christmas trips we made to the UK to see our grandparents. These holidays illuminated our lives and formed much of the inspiration for the Ruby Red Shoes books. My grandmother greatly influenced the character of Babushka Galina Galushka. She was quirky and interesting and used to feed strawberry jam on toast to the foxes from the back door. The whole of my childhood was great fodder for creating children’s books.”
We’re so thrilled to go behind the scenes with Kate at home in Brisbane and find out how her simple childhood filled with imaginative play lead to a career spanning painting, books, homewares and much more…
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in the quiet and leafy western suburbs of Brisbane, Queensland. We had and still have a close family. My sister Samantha and I had a simple and peaceful childhood, for which I am very thankful. When we weren’t at school, our days were spent wheeling around the streets on our bicycles. We played with other kids in the neighbourhood amusing ourselves until it was time for dinner. My sister and I were very imaginative and our play used lots of creative thinking and performances. My fondest memories come from the simplest things. We ate dinner together and chatted every night at a round wooden table in a room with emerald green carpet and striking Marimekko curtains. It was the 70’s!
Some of the most vivid memories came from three Christmas trips we made to the UK to see our grandparents. These holidays illuminated our lives and formed much of the inspiration for the Ruby Red Shoes books. My grandmother greatly influenced the character of Babushka Galina Galushka. She was quirky and interesting and used to feed strawberry jam on toast the foxes from the back door. The whole of my childhood was great fodder for creating children’s books.
When did you first start painting - did you paint a lot as a child?
I painted a little in childhood and more in the last years of high school. Watercolour was my preferred medium and they were usually paintings of flowers, small animals or country scenes. As well as painting I made all sorts of creations including small sculptures from modelling clay. They were individually packaged with hand painted labels which I sold to toy shops for pocket money.
What lead you to set up Studio Twigseeds?
After a few years of having an art gallery and selling pieces of original artwork, I decided my real passion was using my art for everyday products that were accessible to anyone. This lead me to create the Twigseeds and Ruby Red Shoes brands.
When are you at your most creative?
I am most creative when I have a deadline! That’s why I always have deadlines. Ideas are easy. Bringing them to life takes a lot more work and high voltage creativity because it requires creativity in business, production and self-management. The fuel that drives my creativity is my desire to contribute something that the world needs.
How long does it take you to complete a book an what's the process behind each book?
It takes about a year to 18 months to complete the story and artwork for a Ruby Red Shoes book. Then a further six months in the layout and print production. It can be a couple of years gestating before a book has life. The story has to evolve from a concept in my imagination to a definite form with a start and finish. Then it then goes through an editing process with the publishers and once we commit to the storyboard the illustrating begins. This is a lengthy and devoted process taking anywhere from seven months to a year.
What inspired Ruby Red Shoes?
Ruby Red Shoes is a character that wandered on to my page many years ago and I was instantly taken with her. Her world is somewhere I often dream of wandering into for a few hours or days to escape the fast pace of life. It is peaceful, gentle, and moves at a pace where there is time to digest all that one feels and sees. I would say it is Ruby that inspired me and continues to inspire me each time I paint her and get to know more about her.
How long have you lived in your home?
I have been in my new home five months after leaving the home I had been in for twenty years. The area I have moved to is vibrant and exciting and I’m enjoying discovering my new surrounds.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your space?
My home and studio are both cozy, comfortable, nurturing and a little eclectic. Most important to me is a comfortable lounge where I can see the sky to daydream or stardream. I need to be able to say hello to the stars at night. I enjoy an ordered space and display collections of things that are meaningful to me, like art, seashells that were collected in childhood, lamps, candles, ceramic pieces, books, flowers and plants.
What's your philosophy when it comes to decorating?
Do whatever makes you happy and make your own rules. Decorating and arranging your space is such divine creative expression and I believe, very important to your wellbeing.
What are some of your favourite local places to go?
I live near the river so I enjoy walking by the water especially at sunrise or dusk when the sky dresses in colours that are so magnificent they’re almost unbelievable. My local coffee shops and restaurants are wonderful and plentiful. Sunday mornings I visit the organic farmer’s markets where I often sit in the gardens and pretend I’m Ruby Red Shoes.
What's up next for you, career-wise?
There are lots of wonderful projects I’m working on this year. For Ruby Red Shoes, there are four early learning books published by HarperCollins. The illustrations are accompanied by poems to assist our new little readers with learning the alphabet, counting, time and about feelings. I am also working on Ruby’s fourth book which is a story of Christmas in the Caravan and due for release Christmas 2019. Also very exciting is our expansion into overseas markets. The Ruby Red Shoes books launch into the UK at the end of May, published by Pan Macmillan and Twigseeds cards are now available in North America.
How would you describe your personal style? What are your staple pieces?
I like comfortable and natural. Jeans with boots in winter and cool pretty cotton with sandals in summer. Some simple jewellery and soft scarves. I like moving around so don’t want to feel constricted in impractical clothes however good they look.
What's your beauty routine like?
My beauty routine is very simple. I use all natural products. Ruby and I are firm believers in organic, cruelty-free, earth-friendly products for our skin and household products. I use rosehip oil for my face and mineral makeup with the odd facial when I can. I like faces with character, they’re interesting. For me, the holy grail of beauty is a kind soul with peachy pink cheeks, a sunny smile and a relaxed face and body from healthy food and a good night’s sleep.
What advice would you give to someone who's beginning a career as an artist?
Be authentic. Be adaptable. Be committed. And if it’s your calling do whatever it takes.
What are your time management tips?
I’m not sure I should be giving any advice on time management. Not my strong point. With that warning, my insights are:
Less clutter = less time searching for things and cleaning. Also helps the mind to focus when there’s not so many visual distractions.
If you’re a bit creative or dreamy then double, triple or quadruple the time you allocate to do something.
Time is not manageable.
How do you tackle those times when you feel overwhelmed? What are your strategies for coping with stress?
I am often stressed and anxious and the worries catch me mostly at night, especially if I am overtired. The magical discovery that changed my life and insomnia was audiobooks. I found that it wasn’t possible to worry and be engaged in a story at the same time. At bedtime, I set a timer for 8 or 15 mins and nearly always fall asleep before it ends. Finding not only good stories but a narrator whose voice you like can transport you straight into the world of sleep! It’s rather like the comfort from being read a story as a child. I am also a great believer in the practice of meditation to still the mind and calm the body.