When you live in the same space you work in, it can be tricky to create a work and life balance. But artist DEBORAH MCKELLAR is thriving in her East Coast home studio.
Who lives here: Deborah and her seven-month-old ragdoll cat, Shnu Nuu Nu.
Time in Singapore: Seventeen years.
Size and type of home: A two bedroom colonial black-and-white bungalow that includes a creative working studio and retail space.
Décor style: Eclectic Bohemian, with a dash of African safari.
Deborah McKellar’s home is tucked at the bottom of a quiet, traditional street in the east. When the houses here were originally built in the 1920s, they were right at the edge of the sea but today the land has been reclaimed and the ocean is just across the ECP.
Her colonial-style black-and-white cottage has a tranquil front courtyard surrounded by tropical plants, and if you weren’t aware of its dual purpose, you would never tell it was a thriving home business.
After Deborah gives me a quick tour of her home and creative area, we settle down to chat about her time in Singapore, and her career.
“I was pretty young – only 20 – when my parents announced they were moving here. So, my sister and I were given the choice: did we want to stay in South Africa, where I had only completed one year of university, or did we want to come to Asia?”
The very close sisters unanimously decided this was a much more exciting adventure, despite having lived in the same home in Johannesburg their entire life. “We knew it would be difficult saying goodbye to our whole world. I didn’t know much about Singapore before we came. But I think this is what made the move so exciting. The whole discovery process I went through really helped with my career and creativity.”
Deborah is the artist behind the successful business, Talking Textiles, which she launched after completing her education.
“When I received my degree in fine art from Lasalle College of the Arts, I felt there was something missing. When I was little, I always thought I’d be a textile designer – I knew I wanted to work with colour and patterns! So, I went to Sydney and competed my master’s degree in textile design. I didn’t know at the time that this would lead me to creating these mixed media pieces using both fine art and textile design!”
Knowing she wanted to be her own boss, Deborah headed back to Singapore and saw a gap in the market. “There weren’t enough little creative spaces here, like I’d seen in Sydney. From a business perspective, I knew it would work. I started just printing and creating soft furnishings – cushions, tea towels and table runners.”
When Deborah began Talking Textiles, she started working part-time in the fashion department of the university she’d studied at. “I needed to lecture to pay the rent and start the business, but now I just go in one half-day a week because I enjoy teaching. I love the link it gives me to the students and the fact that it keeps me studying. It also ensures I’m not too isolated!”
Not long after she started lecturing at Lasalle, a few of the other lecturers were having a group exhibition. “Generally, this would mean ‘putting something on a wall’. It triggered me to work with my screens and to put prints with images on a canvas. That exhibition actually pushed me to say, ‘Hey, I can use this screen-printing tool to start doing something on canvas again’ – something I was familiar with after attending art school.”
Deborah slowly started adding fabric and merging other techniques she’d learnt into her artworks. It had its own natural evolving process – especially as she had the fabric in the studio already. “I didn’t have any idea I was going to be a full-time artist at any stage. I always thought I’d be a designer!”
Today, she creates bespoke multi-media art for homes and is being sought out for commercial work,.
After initially occupying a less-than-ideal studio and retail space above a hostel, the Talking Textiles business moved to its current East Coast location – Deborah’s new home – a year ago. “My sister was actually looking for a new place and found it first. I always thought my next studio would be in more of an industrial space and not a colonial bungalow!”
Her sister immediately fell in love with the house but it was too small for her own family; she knew it would be perfect for Deborah. “As soon as I saw it, I knew too! I loved the idea of living and working in my studio and thought it would give me more flexibility. The character makes it a great space to create in.”
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