Success just round corner in Kay's country venture

17:28, Nov 09 2012
FINE PRINT: Laura Kay with a hand-drawn pencil portrait of her grandfather in her new Waitomo graphic design studio.
FINE PRINT: Laura Kay with a hand-drawn pencil portrait of her grandfather in her new Waitomo graphic design studio.

A country detox cleared the air and the head of creative professional Laura Kay. Kashka Tunstall takes a closer look.

When Laura Kay returned to the peace and quiet of Waitomo earlier this year, she never expected to apply her urban art school education in the rural Waikato.

The 23-year-old had just finished a four-year stint studying fine arts at Massey University in Wellington and her plan was to go to Auckland, get a job with a magazine and continue living as a city girl.

But a brief visit home to her parents' farm in Waitomo and a temporary job rearing calves on a dairy farm reminded Kay of the peace to be found in country living.

It was like a detox, she says.

"It changed everything for me. I realised I love this, I love being in the country and not being in the city. It was such a good, refreshing change.


"After living in Wellington for five years I was over city life."

When space underneath the Waitomo eatery Huhu Cafe became available, Kay knew she had found her place to start as a self-employed artist.

Toby's Corner was born - an art, design and photography studio where Kay does wedding, engagement and event photography, pencil portraiture and drawings, styling and graphic design.

Named after her 15-year-old labrador Toby, the business is just six weeks old.

It was a big leap of faith for the recent grad to set up the studio in a small Waikato town but removing herself from the city provided a bit of clarity for Kay.

"Being a creative person, especially in the King Country and the Waikato around that area, it seems like quite a hard thing to do starting that kind of business but I'm doing everything I can to make it work."

The new venture is keeping her busy - clients have come in with wedding photography projects, graphic design work for ads and wedding invites, styling for print publications and portrait commissions.

Kay specialises in large-scale pencil drawing portraits, a talent that she spent most of her time at Massey perfecting.

"It takes me hours but it's satisfying to do," she says. "I like drawing old wrinkled men, things like that, where there's so much detail. When you draw a baby or a child, there's nothing really on their face except for their eyes."

The realistic style of her drawings translates through to her photography, a passion she's has had since her sixth birthday where she got her first camera, a plastic disposable.

"I like to make photos look really good but that's on the spot, how I take them, rather than spending hours on the computer taking away marks," she says.

Kay has also established the magazine Collectif with her cousin Sophie Peacocke, a fine arts student in Christchurch. It's a quarterly magazine, self-published and advertising funded, that is a showcase for young up-and-coming artists.

Collectif, offered free in Hamilton at the fashion boutique White Room and the Design Depot, has been printed for more than a year, and is breaking even.

It's a side project now for Kay with her focus on establishing a name and client base for Toby's Corner.

But the time setting up Collectif has taught her a lot about hard work and dedication, she says. "We've got no journalism skills or advertising or design backgrounds so we just had to teach ourselves."

But the steepest learning curve has been to not let her creativity be undervalued. "Creative people, especially freelancers, often end up doing work for free," she says.

Kay knows that establishing a name is vital to sustaining a living as a creative professional.

"Five years from here I just want to have a really good name for myself creating really good work and be running a really successful business in the Waikato."

Waikato Times