September 1, 2017
Just add water
The artform of watercolour is saturating the design industry, adorning clothing and footwear, homewares and textiles, even wallpaper, stationery and accessories. At the centre of it all is Cass Deller, whose bespoke designs are proof that it’s never too late to change careers.
Blue and white watercolour wallpaper scales the main wall and over in the corner, beside the potted fiddle leaf fig, a colourful array of garments take pride of place.
“It was really dark in here and my dad punched those two holes into the wall for the louvres, so more light could get in,” Cass says, explaining they also whitewashed the floor and ripped down the crimson drapery to totally transform her home studio.
The talented artist has a flair for creating beautiful spaces, and not surprisingly almost pursued a career in interiors, having fallen in love with retail design while studying at TAFE in Brisbane.
“My parents have a hospitality background, they had coffee shops in Brisbane and later moved to the Coast where they bought and ran The Coffee Club in Coolum for many years. They’re retired now, but they’ve always been entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry and when I was studying interior design I fell in love with retail design, specifically the design of coffee shops,” she says.
Interestingly, Cass’s husband Brent now owns and operates a coffee roastery and espresso bar in Noosa, which has her talented touch in the shop fitout and design of their logo-embellished coffee cups.
Cass started working for a string of boutique retail design agencies before landing a job as Westfield’s retail design manager. But when the role grew to be more corporate than creative, Cass yearned for an outlet and enrolled in a graphic design course at Shillington.
In 2012, Cass and Brent were engaged and she immersed herself in wedding planning, while continuing to work full time and study at night. Within a month, her stars aligned and she found her creative path.
I naturally started using hand lettering in some of my designs and my teachers supported that individuality,” she says.
Alischa Herrmann, the owner of Bespoke Letterpress in Brisbane and one of Cass’s teachers, then approached her to design the hand lettering in the brand’s new stationery line, later offering her a job designing all of their wedding stationery.
“I took it and was working for her part time and that gave me the confidence to leave my full time job with Westfield because I knew I had some money coming in and would build my freelance clients on the side,” she says.
“I said yes to everything and only chose to show the world what I loved and by doing that, I started to establish a style – after 18 months I built up enough clients and a brand. The growth in my business and Instagram is attributed to the collaborations I’ve done. A lot of people ask me in my industry how I get that growth and exposure and it’s collaborating with amazing businesses and them promoting me and me promoting them.”
Cass found a niche when she revealed herself as a highly skilled watercolour artist, a talent she explored while studying graphic design.
I integrated my watercolour illustrations into wedding stationery, which people weren’t doing then, and it became really popular. Then I was approached by a swimwear company and people were saying my designs would look amazing on fabric and cushions and I was driven by them. I knew I loved doing it and I wanted it to grow organically,” she says.
Cass, aged 34, has gone on to collaborate with beautiful brands including Postcard Swimwear, Fawn & Finch, Pillow Talk, The Dairy, Plum Pretty Sugar, Matcha-Sol, Arc & Family, and The Brown Trading Co.
“To see my designs on fabric and textiles, that was next level,” she says.
One of her largest projects to date has been for One&Only Hayman Island, which saw Cass create the original paintings and design, and then manage the manufacturing and packaging, delivering the scarves and sarongs for their VIPs as a final product.
“I’m moving away from weddings and more into surface design like fabrics and prints, and I have developed a print and pattern library online called the ‘Cass Deller Collection’ where companies can access designs that have already been created,” she says.
“It’s a way to utilise all of these designs and paintings I’ve done over the years, that are just sitting there, I love the idea of giving brands the opportunity to have something unique without having to go through the whole customised process.”
For coffee aficionados out there, you may have also spotted Cass’s Intertwined Peacock design on Biopak’s Art Series 8oz cup.
“They do collaborations a few times a year and they saw the gift wrap I designed for Bespoke Letterpress and loved it, but I’d designed that for them, so I created something different and gave them the design and they went crazy with it. It wasn’t a monetary thing, it was just exposure and they don’t own the design, so I can reuse it,” she says.
It’s a bit surreal. With the fabrics, you don’t see people walking around in them, but with the cups, it was in my local coffee shop!”
Cass says she’s thankful to those early days when she said yes to everything, because they’ve led to so many opportunities. She says even having a passion project on the side and sharing it on social media can lead to collaborations and partnerships.
Her popular watercolour classes are an example – stemming from a one-off lettering class two years ago for wedding website The Lane. Cass now has a waitlist of people wanting to learn how to paint botanicals and florals.
“The watercolour classes came out of me wanting to interact with the people who follow me. I wanted to meet those people and not just be in my studio and only have contact via social media, I wanted that human interaction with the community,” she says.
But while she says it’s easy to become carried away with the possibilities, now that she has her darling two-year-old son Eddie, it’s more about finding a way to manage her work/life balance.
“Being a working mum has not been the easiest thing, juggling work and him,” she says honestly.
“Before I had Eddie I was, ‘Yes yes yes and go go go,’ but now I have him I need to prioritise, because family comes first and I can’t be burnt out.
“This is a time in my life where it’s good to be home with him, I can work while he sleeps and having that flexibility has been great. But I’m nearly at the point where I’m ready to spend a few days in another studio, surrounded by and collaborating with creative people.”
In the meantime, Cass is comfortable in her own dreamy design studio, I can’t wait to see what she conjures up next.