Like many before him, John Kaye spent a lot of his time in school drawing when he should have been paying attention in class. Unlike many before him, he has been able to turn this penchant for creativity into a sustainable career. The self-styled nomad has rejected the trappings of a conventional desk job in favour of a dedicated pursuit of his passions.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is John Kaye, I’m an artist from Australia. I’m currently based on the Gold Coast, but I’m back and forth between here and Melbourne. I do a lot of spray painting, drawing, and graphic design—a bit of everything.
You dabble in so many different mediums, how would you describe your output?
I get bored really easily. Spray paint is probably my most comfortable medium, but I definitely like trying to do everything. I try and cover every base.
You’re self-taught right?
I studied fine art for a little while at uni, but I dropped out. That was a couple of years ago in Melbourne. Other than that it’s all YouTube, books, and asking people for help.
Spray paint was the first medium you started working with, right?
I’ve always drawn and painted, even as a kid. I didn’t do very well in school because of it—I was always scribbling. I’ve always been interested in art, but it was always a hobby up until a couple of years ago. It became a way to pass time because I was travelling a lot, I didn’t have a laptop or a TV or whatever, so I’d sit and draw and paint. From then I got into graphic design and was working at an office, but I got sick of that pretty quickly. I decided to work for myself as a graphic designer and started getting more and more work that revolved around illustration. Now I pretty much just paint pictures and do whatever else comes up.
Was there a point where you turned around and said, “Wow, I can actually make a living doing this”?
Not at all. There are weeks and months that are going really well, but I always expect it to just stop. There’s never a point where I’m like, “Yes! This is working.” Everything just comes up one thing at a time. I pick a project, work on it, and then I have no idea what’s going to come after that. I make my mind up once the last one is starting to wrap up. It’s perfect because I like not really knowing what’s next; it’s the opposite of what a desk job was like. I could predict a year ahead of me—there was no excitement. Now so many opportunities pop up that I can pick and choose what I want to do depending on how I feel.
It’s definitely not a standard career path.
No, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone who enjoys stability. It’s trial and error, you learn from your mistakes. But so far, so good.
You’re really prolific, do you put a lot of value in being productive?
The stuff I’m working on, it’s always a project that I’ve decided to do or it’s a friend’s project that I’ve been able to work on. It doesn’t feel like hard work, but I’ve got so many things coming up that the quicker I work on them the better. I tend to put a lot of effort into everything I do so I don’t really have much down time, but that’s just because I enjoy it so much.
To be working without it feeling like work sounds like the ideal situation.
Exactly. I’ve had to turn down a lot of work that isn’t as fun, even if it’s better money or things like that. I find that I get more done this way, and it works in my favour. There’s no guarantee, a lot of it doesn’t pay very well at all but because I’m getting so much stuff done it work out for the best.
What are your criteria for taking on a job when someone approaches you with an offer?
If it appeals to me, and if I think it’ll be fun. That’s all it comes down to. I enjoy a challenge, so if it’s something I haven’t done before I’ll be keen to try it just to see how it goes.
Is that diversity important to you?
Anything creative or hands on I’m interested in. I like watching the whole process. There are lots of things that I’m not very good at like web design and video editing, but I’m really interested in trying to be a part of that process to see how it all fits in together. I’ve found lately that I’ve been working on all kinds of things that I wouldn’t have thought I would be doing. Things like clothing, or the other side of businesses that don’t have anything to do with the design part. I used just do a drawing, scan it in, email it, and not have a clue what happened after that. I’m just trying to do everything.
What’s facilitating these projects?
Now with the internet the world is a pretty small place. I’ll paint a wall and someone will put a picture online, then a friend of a friend will be like, “Oh we can probably do something like that with you.” You go back and forward a few times and a new idea comes up, and it just goes from there. I just paint a picture or do a drawing, and it snowballs from there really quickly. I find myself lost sometimes. There’s a lot of risk involved in terms of stability, but that’s what keeps me intrigued.
You travel pretty much constantly. How important is that to your work?
I’ve set myself so that I can do that at the moment. Because it’s been one project to the next lately and it hasn’t really slowed down, it’s a lot easier to get on board with whatever. I don’t have any responsibilities, so it’s easy to say “yes” when things come up. A couple of years back someone would have an idea to do something cool but it’d be like, “Oh I’ve got to pay my rent, and I’ve got a car, so I probably can’t do it for a year.” Now I’ve slowly positioned myself so I can do whatever I want. I’ll get an email from someone somewhere and I can say, “Yeah, I can leave in a week.”