UK Lifestyle and Interiors Blog

Interiors, lifestyle, arts and culture blog by award-winning writer, Nicole Mullen

Meet the Maker... Kat Mannell, ArtHouse Illustrations

In my Meet the Maker series, I profile makers across the creative industries, chatting to them about their lives, backgrounds, passions and the stories behind their businesses. This month, I talk to Kat Mannell, founder of ArtHouse Illustrations, about the story behind her small business, and the joy of loving what you do…

"I enjoy sitting quietly and working away on something that, ultimately, is created by my own hand." I'm talking to Kat Mannell, owner of ArtHouse Illustrations, about her need for creativity. Kat is a creative person in all aspects of her life, from the clothes she picks to the way in which she decorates her home. ArtHouse Illustrations, Kat tells me, is simply another "outlet" for her creativity.

ArtHouse Illustrations, as a business, was somewhat of an accident. A few years back, Kat's dad was diagnosed with skin cancer, and had to undergo a major operation. Stumped as to what to gift him upon his return from hospital, Kat decided to draw the family home - a home that her mum and dad had lived in for 30 years. "It was so well received," she remembers, adding, "with it being around Christmas time, I asked friends and other family members if they were interested in me doing [a house portrait] for them." They were so popular that Kat set up an Etsy store, where she still sells her drawings to date. 

House Portrait 1.JPG

Family is an important one for Kat. The 33-year-old illustrator has two beautiful daughters, Ruby, 7 and Molly, 5. Her family is completed by husband, Dominic* and dog, Harry. Kat met Dominic* on a cruise around the Whitsunday Islands when she was 20, and they've been together ever since. "We live in Surrey in a Victorian house; I love all the area has to offer," Kat smiles. Growing up, Kat remembers watching her grandfather, Arthur at work as an artist. "Doing art with him when I was a child, was where I first realised how much I loved drawing," she notes. Kat's mum is also a watercolour painter, whose work has featured in several newspapers. It's no wonder, then, that she has such a gift for drawing and painting.

"Doing art with my grandfather when I was a child, was where I first realised how much I loved drawing..."

A quick glance over at ArtHouse Illustrations' Etsy storefront, and it's easy to see why her house (and human!) portraits are so popular. Every single one of ArtHouse Illustrations' reviews is positive. 'Kat created the most beautiful picture of my home; she paid so much attention to the details,' writes one reviewer. 'Fantastic to find such a talented person [who] conveys such a passion for their work,' writes another. "I am fortunate to have only ever had 5* reviews," Kat acknowledges.

"Kat created the most beautiful picture of my home; she paid so much attention to the details..."

Why does she think her illustrations are so well received, I wonder? "I love creating bespoke gifts for people," she says. "They are given as housewarming gifts, or to people who have had to move out of a much-loved home after many happy years there, or to people who are proud of how they have renovated their home. Each one is special, individual and highly personal."

Kat begins her process by really getting to know the home (and respective owner!) that she is about to illustrate. Part of this first step is ensuring she has clear photographs to work from. "I apply a high level of detail to my drawings, so need to work from good photographs," she tells me. Next, is a "quick pencil sketch" before "applying fine liner, and adding the detail in." The colour is added, either via Letraset markers, or by using watercolour paints. "Pen is my favourite, as I love the control these offer me, but watercolour is great for country cottages or homes with lots of flowers and foliage out front, as it has a softer finish." Homeowners are then offered the option to add some text at the bottom, to "further personalise" the illustration. As a final touch, Kat carefully wraps the illustration in tissue paper, before encasing it in a hard-backed envelope, in order to ensure its safe delivery.

House Portrait 2.JPG

Chatting to Kat, it is clear that she finds great joy in what she does. Being her own boss, she says, affords her the flexibility to work around her children's schedule. "I am there to take my children to school, and to pick them up," she enthuses. Save for the odd evening and weekend spent drawing, and the madness of November and December, working from her lovely studio, at home in Surrey, works "perfectly." Now selling not only via her Etsy store, but through Not On The High Street, Kat also delights in drawing family and pet portraits, as well as buildings.

"The level of work I have is just about manageable with two small children, but, as they get older, who knows? I may branch out or endeavour to expand, but I'll always be doing house portraits, as it's what I love the most." For Kat, doing what makes her happy is the cornerstone of her business. It's evident in the love she pours into her illustrations; in the glowing reviews, and in the way she talks about her small business. "There's a sense of achievement, and satisfaction that you can't quite get from anything else," she concludes. To me, that's all you can ever hope for. To be happy in what you do.

For more information, and to buy one of Kat's lovely illustrations, please visit: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/ArtHouseIllustration or search 'ArtHouse Illustrations' on Not On The High Street.

Keep up-to-date with Kat via @life_at_number_63 and also @arthouseillustrations.

Name has been changed due to the nature of Kat's husband's job, and to protect his identity.