For Melbourne-based illustrator Megan Hess, a friendly little mouse called Claris is so much more than just a fictional character in a book. A fateful day in Paris saw her create the adorable white mouse as an ode to the city of lights, her love of fashion and above all else, her two children...
“I always hope that Claris connects with children firstly because of her size. Claris sees the world from the perspective of someone small and I think that’s just how little children feel – the world is sometimes very big and overwhelming. I wanted her to be confident to be herself and regardless of her size (and the fact that she’s wearing a couture dress), she is brave and not afraid to help someone in need. Claris is optimistic, kind and always willing to help someone in need. The books are for both girls and boys but I especially wanted little girls to know that it’s ok to love fashion, it doesn’t mean that you’re frivolous or silly. You can wear whatever makes your heart sing and still be a great person and conquer the world!”
There’s a lot to love about the adventures of Claris (her second book, Fashion Show Fiasco, has just hit shelves and explores the notion of Claris following her fashion dreams to Paris), and the sentiment behind it certainly goes beyond the frills and frivolity of couture dresses. We loved stepping inside Megan’s colourful and artistic world which is not only filled with unashamed escapism but also relatable and grounding truths relating to motherhood, work and the life-changing practice of transcendental meditation. Keen to hear more? On y va!
Go to www.meganhess.com
“ About six years ago, I made a life-changing decision. It was to actually work much less and focus on only projects that brought me joy, regardless of the financial outcome. Ironically, it improved my business tenfold. This made me realise that focusing on what actually makes you happy is always the right direction. This also affected my family life - because I wasn’t stressed all the time, I was a happy person and that transferred to my children ”
We (and our children!) adored your first Claris book about the most chic mouse in Paris. What inspired you to create this story?
Thank you! That means the world to me. I had always wanted to create a children’s book and it was on a trip to Paris many years ago that the idea first came to me. I saw a tiny little white mouse scurry across a Paris rooftop from my hotel balcony and I thought… ‘How fabulous to live in Paris even if you are only a tiny little mouse!’ I then immediately imagined what her chic apartment might look like and then I imagined all the little couture dresses she would wear and all the adventures she could have.
Have you always been interested in writing as well as illustration? What prompted you to move beyond illustrations?
It was really just the story of this character that inspired me to write. After reading to my own children for so many years, I knew that I loved reading stories that rhymed and I longed for a book that was also fun for mums and had that fashion element as well. Creating a story around this little character is honestly the most fun I’ve ever had on a project.
Can you tell us about your second book - Fashion Show Fiasco?
In the first Claris book, she was fulfilling her dream of making her way to Paris and she met her best friend, Monsieur the cat. Now that she has her chic little Parisian apartment, she is ready to go on a big fashion adventure like no other – to Paris Fashion Week! This story takes her through the beautiful streets of Paris, she meets new friends and finds new challenges along the way.
What conversations do you hope your books will spark between parents and their children?
I always hope that Claris connects with children firstly because of her size. Claris sees the world from the perspective of someone small and I think that’s just how little children feel – the world is sometimes very big and overwhelming. I wanted her to be confident to be herself and regardless of her size (and the fact that she’s wearing a couture dress), she is brave and not afraid to help someone in need. Claris is optimistic, kind and always willing to help someone in need. The books are for both girls and boys but I especially wanted Little girls to know that it’s ok to love fashion, it doesn’t mean that you’re frivolous or silly. You can wear whatever makes your heart sing and still be a great person and conquer the world!
What role have your children played in influencing your work - particularly Claris?
I think having children changes your outlook immensely – and for the better. Suddenly you know every name of each aquanaut but can’t remember your own phone number. You discover what is missing in children’s clothing and what you wish existed. You realise what is out there in the children’s space and for me, I wanted to read a children’s book that also made my heart soar. My children have always been my biggest influence with Claris. I would test story lines on them. I would ask them if it’s too long or is this bit funny? Kids are great, they don’t lie or sugar coat. They also ask a lot of questions and it was so helpful when writing and illustrating Claris. They love spotting it in a bookshop and they always move it to a better position on the shelf, which is hilarious!
Your work takes you all around the world (including France, most recently!). Where are some of your favourite destinations, and how do they inspire your work?
I do travel quite a bit for work and I find travelling in any context such a huge inspiration. I think as soon as you leave your daily space and routine it turns all your sensors on and your eyes are open to see so much more and discover more. I’m also very inspired by people in general… I love to ‘people watch’ in all cities. I love all the little details and those eclectic things that make us all interesting. In terms of cities, I have to say that Paris is so special to me and I find its beauty endlessly inspiring. That’s why I set Claris’s life there – there’s just so much for a chic little mouse to do!
You have worked with some of the world’s most iconic brands and publications. Could you name a favourite or a highlight?
I have so many favourites and all for different reasons! I just returned from illustrating for Chopard at the Cannes Film Festival in France. That experience as incredible! I literally had to pinch myself that it was really happening. Another favourite project was working with Fendi on the SS18 Collection last year. It started with sketching live at their show in Milan Fashion Week – then it was creating a series of illustrations based on the collection for Karl Lagerfeld – and then it was turning that into an animated piece. The campaign was global so it was incredibly exciting, I loved every second of it. Every project brings something special and most of all I love working and collaborating with new creative people all over the world.
How have you approached your career? Do you set ambitious goals? Or do you adopt more of a go-with-the-flow approach?
Over the years my goals have shifted. In the beginning, I wanted to do everything and immediately! But I realised it’s actually not that much fun achieving things if you’re permanently exhausted. I’ve realised real success for me is enjoying the process, actually just enjoying the moments day to day. About six years ago, I made a life-changing decision. It was to actually work much less and focus on only projects that brought me joy, regardless of the financial outcome. Ironically, it improved my business tenfold. This made me realise that focusing on what actually makes you happy is always the right direction. This also affected my family life – because I wasn’t stressed all the time, I was a happy person and that transferred to my children. Just doing less in day, opened up space for the kids to also not feel rushed and we all could be happier.
“ As women, we are just so hard on ourselves. The thing I would say to new mums out there is that at the end of the day when you go to sleep - no matter how the day has gone, tell yourself that you did a great job! ”
Megan with her children
Having built your incredible business while raising two children - what has been the biggest struggle?
The biggest struggle for me is probably the same for every mum – just juggling it all. I think the moment you have children you feel like you never quite finish anything. I always feel like I could have done everything better. When my kids were little I had constant doubts and guilt. Everything from not feeling like I’d cooked the best meal for dinner to feeling guilty that I should have read them one more book before bed – it’s ridiculous. My daughter is now 13 years old and I not only love her to bits, but I’m so proud of the person that she is. I look at her sometimes now and I realise I really should have worried less, I should never have felt guilty, because it’s a pointless emotion. I realise now that whatever I did when she was little was just fine. As women, we are just so hard on ourselves. The thing I would say to new mums out there is that at the end of the day when you go to sleep – no matter how the day has gone, tell yourself that you did a great job!
What helps you to manage the juggle? Do you have any hints or tips for mothers trying to make it work?
My biggest tips are to trust your gut and do what feels right for your family, regardless of how anyone else does it. I gave up on perfection early on and accept that most days are crazy and that’s ok. The biggest thing that changed my life with juggling a career and family is learning to practice Transcendental meditation. It sounds complicated but its absolutely simple and it has completely transformed my life. I do it for 20 mins in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. Now I know that sounds like A LOT of time but I promise it isn’t once you work it in. It just gives you so much mental energy and calmness. I really recommend it.
Constantly surrounded by such beautiful brands and clothing - how do you go about dressing each day? Do you subscribe to a uniform?
When I’m working in the studio I wear comfortable pieces that also look acceptable if a well-dressed client drops by! I do need to be comfortable to draw. When I’m travelling or illustrating at an event I wear dresses with a polished look and feel. I love fashion at all times and it’s nice to switch between the two.
How do you make time for you? Do you indulge in any particular self-care practices? Yoga? Meditation? Wine?!
Ha, well I’ve already told you about my meditation. My favourite thing at the end of a long day is a lovely glass of wine, a hot bubble bath and a great book. My day to day is pretty busy and luckily pretty exciting so winding down is all about the simple things in life.
Megan's little list of loves?
Billions on Netflix
Milk cakes (Google it)
Bally shoes (always)
Aerin Lauder Beauty (everything)
Double espressos with whipped cream (straight to hell)
Grand Budapest Hotel (film)
Transcendental meditation (inner peace)
Pyjama days (with my kids when it’s raining)
Chanel Couture (always dreaming)