Kirsty is an award winning artist who is passionate about working with kids and teaching them to draw. She grew up and now lives in Adelaide but her most valuable career lessons were learned during her 6 years spent in Sydney. Kirsty worked at ArtHouse Gallery for 4 years and worked with some of Australia’s most successful artists. She left the gallery to pursue her dream of running her own kids art classes in Sydney (and later in Adelaide). Generous with her time, Kirsty has held several volunteer roles throughout the years, such as Surf Life Saver, Camp Quality ‘companion’ and as an artist at Sydney Children’s Hospital creating artworks with kids in the oncology ward. Kirsty was responsible for the creation of an enormous kids mural for the Prince of Wales Hospital in the radiation treatment ward which was unveiled in 2009 and also worked as Captain Starlight at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital with the Starlight Children’s Foundation. She’s had 5 near-sell-out exhibitions, works with kids in South Australian schools with her Artist-in-Residence programs and in 2012 she created Artventure (online kids art classes) which now has clients in 146 countries.
Tell me a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
“I can’t draw a stick figure!” … Does that sound familiar? So many adults were never taught to draw as children and now they lack the skills to teach their own children. My ambition is to change this and teach kids everywhere how to draw. I remember saying this in 2007 but I couldn’t conceive how it was possible so I started a business running kids art classes in Paddington (Sydney). 2 years later I sold the Sydney classes, started up new classes in Adelaide whilst also doing Artist-in-residence programs in primary schools. In one school session, I was asked to do an art class with 91 students (3 classes) at once. I couldn’t physically fit all those students around a table to show them my example artwork so I decided to film the lesson first to show them on the big screen. The results of that class were incredible! Filming the lesson first meant that each and every student was watching and listening to the ‘best version’ of my teaching and because we could watch it once and then replay and pause the lesson, each student experienced success. I needed no more proof of how best to achieve my dream of giving the gift of art to as many children as possible, filming my lessons was the answer. My only other concern was “what would make teachers use this?” A wonderful teacher at Goodwood PS said to me: “Link it to the curriculum. Teachers have so many boxes we have to tick if you link it to the curriculum you’re saving us more work”. So I set out to build a website full of kids art classes linked to the Australian National Curriculum as an art resource for classrooms, homeschools and also by children at home. I finally launched the first version of the website in 2012.
Please explain your business model
Anyone can sign up for an Artventure licence (3, 6 or 12 months) which gives you access to the entire library. The maximum cost is $79 for 12 months.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
In August 2016 we launched version 2 of my website which I’m so excited about because it works like a well-oiled machine (the first version was very labour intensive for me). I now have a lot more time to focus on planning and creating the art classes instead of working through administration. I release a brand new lesson each week and I’m currently up to 241 for my clients to choose from within different levels of difficulty (rated 1-5). We’re currently focusing on getting the message out to homes and schools and next year we’re looking at collaborating with professional artists.
Tell me how you make your ideas happen?
Tiny little steps. I was taught a long time ago that I need to look at the big picture and then break it down into smaller pieces and smaller pieces until I can answer the question “what can I do today to work toward my big picture”? It might just be 1 phone call, but that 1 call will get the ball rolling toward my next step. I try to do as much as I can on my own so I’m not relying on others too much.
What role have mentors played in your business life?
I’ve had 2 incredible women show me that being a great mother doesn’t mean you have to forfeit your work/career dreams. These women are Ali Yeldham at ArtHouse Gallery and Nicole Smith from TinShed Marketing. As friends and mentors, they showed me how to run a company and they taught me the importance of keeping things simple. Another person who I’ve taken advice and guidance from is Basil Sellers. He’s taught me that big business starts small and that it’s always important to remain true to yourself.
What does your typical day look like?
Crazy, disjointed and never routine! I have a 3.5-year-old and a nearly 2-year-old at home with me full time. My day revolves around setting up activities that will keep my kids busy so I can sneak into the studio (in our back yard) to work. Sometimes my day will start at 7am in the studio (in my PJ’s!) while Daddy is still home and my day can end in the studio at 10pm when the kids are sound asleep. I can basically get everything done in small windows of time throughout the day but the filming requires total silence so that part I do while the kids are away or asleep.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Money is always the main factor when starting out. Lots of people have these great big ideas but they all require funding. In the beginning, I had an offer from a wealthy investor to get my business off the ground but he wanted 50% of my company. I wasn’t willing to compromise and I believed I could do it on my own anyway. So my budget was smaller but I’m glad I took that path because now I grow the company on my terms, not anyone else’s. I also can’t look past the fact that I’m a full-time mum. It’s really hard to find the mum/work balance. I’m a self-confessed terrible housewife but I choose to have our kids at home with me till they start kindy, so that’s just the way it is!
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
The Education sector has so many opportunities to engage students in new and different ways. Someone could create an online classroom, which brings in resources for all subject areas to make the teacher’s job so much easier. It’d be a massive job but if it was done properly, it could take over the world!
What companies do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Creating resources for students is making education interesting for kids and I love HistoriCool and Mulberry Magazine. These publications are being created by innovative and passionate women, which excites me too! I also love the new and improved Duthy Street Art Supplies. It’s recently been bought and converted into an awesome art space for artists to run art classes.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Businesses are becoming so flexible, they don’t have to be 9-5 office jobs. I have several offices: my home studio, the 2 local cafes and my car! My 2 work-buddies are aged 3.5 and nearly 2 … it’s this kind of flexibility that changes social happiness. Flexibility with work allows people to spend time with their families and that’s the whole point of life, isn’t it? Building relationships with those who matter most make for happy people, which in turn makes for creative and innovative humans!
Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?
I was a Surf Life Saver in Sydney and I worked with the Starlight Children’s Foundation for many years, both are organisations I hold close to my heart. I’ve run Artist in Residence Programs with Starlight and Artventure has an exciting proposal for them in the pipelines!
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
My favourite artist, Joshua Yeldham
My favourite website, Tin Shed Marketing
My favourite illustrators, Watermark
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?
I’m always looking for people to review Artventure on their blogs or websites. People with an online presence talking about their Artventure experiences is how Artventure grows … Do you know anyone who wants to give it a go!?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
I often take our kids to the Clare Valley so I can grab a couple of hours work while my sister looks after the munchkins. We eat at The Sevenhill Hotel, which also happens to belong to my sister and her husband.