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Design Journey

Design Journey

How I became a full time motion designer & illustrator

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Welcome! I'm an Illustrator, Art Director & Motion Designer with a passion for sharing knowledge & teaching designers how to find their unique voice as a creative.

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Hey! I'm Kelly 

It’s far from a linear journey, as I’m sure yours is as well. This is about my story on how I became a full time freelance motion designer & illustrator. So, grab a coffee & pull up a chair, friend.

The early days…

I was never one of those naturally talented artistic kinda kids – I was into sports & scouts, and loved being outside. I loved doing crafts and making things, but I didn’t identify as an artist until I was 34 (that’s a whole other story…)

Making, designing & creating things always interested me – I loved learning calligraphy, leatherwork & painting woggles in scouts. I designed and sewed my own Barbie clothes. My mother gifted me her sewing machine at age 9 as I could sew better than her and she liked to cook more than sewing. My fav subjects in high school were woodworking class & phys ed. And I LOVED photography. I didn’t pursue art because I believed I needed “natural talent” which I clearly didn’t display. I was no prodigy. My brain created a pre-requisite that didn’t exist so that I wouldn’t fail in front of other people.

I also assumed artists made a living by selling paintings in galleries – and to be fair full time motion design didn’t exist when I was a kid.

Ohhhhh the stories I told myself and didn’t know at the time. I didn’t consider myself creative, or an artist for a LONG TIME. I was definitely fed the “you can’t make a living as an artist” narrative by the spoonful, and largely believed it until later in life (sound familiar??).

Expedition guiding, photography & adventure tourism

After high school I went to University to become a wilderness expedition guide and outdoor educator, and photography was my obsession during this time. Both in taking beautiful images, but also in the storytelling aspect. I loved documenting my guests’ experiences while on trip – and they loved receiving the images after the trip.

For 12 years I worked seasonally guiding adults on 7 – 12 day multi-day backpacking, canoeing & rafting expeditions all throughout BC, the Yukon & North West Territories. In the spring and fall I found work as an outdoor educator to grade 9 – 10 students, introducing them to outdoor living & leadership skills. The winters I spent as a ski instructor, supervisor and eventually a manager of the Cypress Mountain Snow School responsible for 165 staff, a team of supervisors & a team of trainers. This was in a time where technology was advancing rapidly, and I was fascinated at creating systems to make life easier for both staff and customers. I started working with an internal blog for staff to keep them up to date with ongoings at work, eventually I created a Squarespace site that took over the blog for staff onboarding & resources that they could access from home (this was 2010-2014)

If you’re more visual like me, check out my About page for the full timeline 😉


I knew I didn’t want to be working seasonally forever. Figuring out that next step in my early 30’s was not something that I took lightly.

I met a freelance brand designer who was previously a kayaking guide and outdoor educator. She was able to control her workload and set her own schedule. She spent more time with her two daughters during the summer and worked more in the winter months when they were in school.

Mind blown?. I could see my future, I just wasn’t sure how or what I needed to change in my life to achieve it.

With technology starting to really shift, I was curious about graphic design. I wrestled with this idea for about two years, but was often too intimidated to apply. I needed a portfolio, which I felt was my work was not good enough (common thread here…)

When I finally found the courage to apply to various local design schools, I was accepted immediately to many schools. I ended up having my choice of where I wanted to attend.

Vancouver Film School

In the fall of 2015 I started Digital Design with Vancouver Film School. For the first half of the program you participate in all the courses, and then the second half you choose your specialty. I assumed I would go interactive as I enjoyed creating the staff sites when I worked for Cypress Mountain. But 3 weeks into the program things took a 180 degree turn. That’s when I fell in love with Motion Design.

The first project we had was a stop motion project . It was the first time I opened up after effects and got to see all the images I took be stitched together into a sequence to make something MOVE. It was SO DANG AWESOME!

Term 2 – I started to learn Cinema 4D, and somehow my brain could think in 3D – not something that I expected.

In Term 3 we got to work in teams to develop an animation for real life non-profit.

During Term 4 we created a motion title sequence, and this is where my love for illustration and curiosity for motion really became blended and solidified.

Terms 5 & 6 we work self directed on our graduate project, our portfolio & reel, and prepare for industry night and graduation. A very intense one year that was incredibly memorable and life changing for me. I could see the possibilities of what being a full time freelance motion designer & illustrator looked like.

Group of full time motion designers & illustrators holding diplomas at graduation

My past influenced my future

I love that motion design is as artistically driven as it is technical. It requires constant problem solving yet there are so many ways to solve the same problem. Years of photography during my guiding years helped me with the storytelling, composition & balance side of motion design. The inner creative in me got to be artistically fulfilled through digital illustration.

The work that I submitted as my portfolio to apply to VFS were doodles, watercolour artwork & 1 acryllic painting. I didn’t have any digital skills whatsoever. The program was there to develop those skills from wherever I started. To be honest, the work that I submitted, was SHIT. My advice to you is to not discount the crap work you create. It might not be as crap as you think, and there is ALWAYS something I learn from my work.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard

A former classmate used to always say this, and I have loved it ever since. Even though I wasn’t the artistic kid, I had a creative side that desired to be fed. Photography was the first time I considered myself creative, and it took me halfway through an intensive digital design program to identify as an artist. The narratives we tell ourselves are strong, whether positive or negative.

Do you need to go through formal education to become a freelance illustrator & motion designer? That’s a hard nope from my opinion. It was what I needed at the time, but times have changed. But that’s a topic for another post 😉

We are all on our own journey, and none of us have the same timeline or roadmap. Know that if you are curious, and have good taste – THE REST ARE SKILLS. You can learn skills. That’s where I come in. I’m not here to share just the win’s, I’m here for the failures too. I’m here for it all.

I’d love to know how you found yourself here, and where you are really wanting to stretch your creative legs. Drop me a comment below, I’d love to get to know you and where you are headed.

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