Fresh and feminine with a distinct coastal flavour, the designs of Cass Deller are colourful, chic and oh-so beautiful. In this interview we speak to the Sunshine Coast designer about chasing your creative dreams, heart-centred business strategies and the life-changing experience of motherhood.

Writer: Rebecca Walker, The Conscious Wordsmith

Were you a baby Picasso or did your hone your creative skills as you got older?

Haha, baby Picasso I wish. But yes, I did paint a lot as a child. My strongest memories are me as a teenager, painting with acrylic on canvas, and always inspired by our January School Holidays in Noosa. My sister and I were big into creativity and were always making something, whether it be making our own beaded jewellery or playing dress up. 

You worked in the corporate sector before studying graphic design in your late 20’s and switching careers. Tell us about the shift from corporate employee to creative entrepreneur.

Well I can say that it was the best decision I ever made, and one where I really just followed my intuition. In the corporate world I was bored, uninspired and felt like I needed to really confirm to a certain way of being, and operating. I worked as a Retail Design Manager for Westfield Shopping Centres, and although it might sound creative, it was more about meetings and spreadsheets.

I never intended to go freelance with my design as it seemed like a scary jump from a secure job, however when I finished my studies at the end of 2012, my design teacher offered me a contract role with her stationery company, which gave me the confidence to quit my 9-5 job and go freelance. I feel like there are just two completely different mentalities from corporate to freelance entrepreneur, and the latter just gives you so much freedom to be yourself, do the things you love and follow that bliss. It’s living life by your own design, and I couldn’t think of anything more fulfilling.

Do you have an artistic theme that runs though all of your work?

Yes, absolutely! For me, family holidays in Noosa have always been my biggest inspiration, and my work has just evolved from there. I’m always deeply inspired by my coastal lifestyle and surroundings and have always gravitated towards themes of summer, palms and the beach. I paint what brings me joy.

My personal design style has naturally evolved over time and what shines through is the coastal hues, feminine vibe and a modern approach to watercolour. I do like painting with detail, however I’ve found that I’m happiest when I paint very organically with loose brush strokes, and in a more abstract way. 

What advice do you have for other artists who are trying to find their signature style?

Uncovering your style is a topic I’m really passionate about, and a roadblock for so many artists and designers. I believe it’s a journey and our styles are constantly evolving as we evolve as people. Uncovering your style really just takes time. It takes a lot of experimentation, creating daily, and observing how your style is evolving and what you are gravitating towards. Following that joy.

With so much inspiration in our face these days (Instagram and Pinterest) it’s easy to “think” that you are being original, but really your just subconsciously following a trend or copying other popular styles. Your true style comes from your own stories, your own experiences, and what comes naturally to you.

When did you move from the city (Brisbane) to the Sunshine Coast? And how (if at all) did the change in lifestyle impact the aesthetic of your designs?

This era was a big time in our lives. I was 30, just married, and my business was my fresh new baby. My husband was also working for himself, and this was pre-kids, so we had a lot of freedom in our life. We worked a lot, pouring so much energy into our businesses, and then spent every afternoon at the beach, it was such a beautiful transition from the city, where we felt like we had ‘no escape’.

It’s interesting, because when I was living in the city, I still gravitated towards this coastal style. I was still painting in watercolour, and I loved designing anything that reminded me of summer. Back then I didn’t really know why I gravitated towards those things, but I just followed that joy. When we moved to the coast, it’s like it all just fell into place. I was where I was meant to be – my work was where it was meant to be. Finally, my work reflected my surroundings and that’s when my business really took off.

How has having kids shaped you as a person?

To my mama friends, you’ll get me here. Life Changer, right. Let’s just say, there is life before kids, and there is life after kids. And they look TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Most of all I’ve learnt the true meaning of unconditional love, how to truly be in the moment, how to turn work on and off, how important connection and communication is, what matters in life, how you can have fun and be playful everyday, and most of all it’s made me look deep within, and was definitely the point that I started asking the universe many questions about life.

You have 2 young children. How do you run a successful business and manage a hectic household without losing your mind?

I'm not going to tell you that intertwining mum and biz life is a walk in the park, that you can birth humans and still have a thriving design/creative business and it's super duper doable – I mean it totally is, but it's FULL ON (no other words)! Depending on the support you have around you, the care options available, and the type of work you do, it's all a maze (or obstacle course) that we're trying to find our way through daily.

I always thought that when I have kids I might have to give up my work or give up my business, but when push came to shove, I didn't really give myself that option and just ploughed on through (it’s a choice). Looking back, I'd definitely change some things (like asking for more help) but I now know that it’s 100% to do with mindset and how you look at the world. Yes, there are sacrifices, however if you look at your life and say “I get to do this” rather that “I have to do this” then you really can do everything (or as much as time will allow) with so much more positivity and optimism.

There are plenty of struggling artists in the world who find it hard to convert creativity into a stable profession & solid income. What are your top tips for running a successful creative biz?

Yeah, it’s a big question, but such an important one. I think the biggest hurdle is that not enough people believe in themselves. We’ve been conditioned to think that choosing to pursue art is not really a great/stable career decision. This narrative has been told to us for generations, hence the “starving artist” mentality. We’ve also been taught to “work hard” for what we have, however for us creatives, when we are doing what we love, we aren’t actually “working hard” so then surely this can’t actually be the answer, right? WRONG! Doing what comes easy and naturally to us IS the answer to your abundance. I am so passionate about changing the story, and giving creatives the confidence to put themselves out there, in order to attract the right audience to work with them or purchase their art.

Charging for our talents is another hurdle for artists and designers to overcome. For many of us, painting and drawing comes so naturally to us, so surely we can’t charge thousands for that?! A narrative that desperately needs shifting, because we are bringing extraordinary value to the world, and that should be compensated for.

‘Human Design’ has played a pivotal role in your personal and professional growth. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

100%!! Discovering Human Design (also known as the ‘Science of Differentiation’) through my dear friend Kate White from The Soul Tool Kit was a game changer for me and a time in my life where I finally received the permission slip I was looking for to be 100% myself. It’s become a beautiful guide in my life and has allowed me to just be me, unapologetically.

[editors note: Human Design is a holistic tool or ‘map’ that provides you with a detailed blueprint of your unique gifts, inclinations, traits and needs, called a ‘BodyGraph’. It includes physical, psychological, environmental, professional and relationship insights that assist in empowering decision making, based on your individuality and distinct personality idiosyncrasies. In short, it is a system that teaches you how to better understand yourself and your life purpose.]

You describe your business as a ‘heart-centred design practice’. Explain what this description means to you. 

Coming from corporate, I know exactly what it looks like to not truly care about your customers, and just care about the bottom line – hence why I ran for the hills (or beach!). Building my own business, my own way, has allowed me to focus on the fundamentals that are truly important to me. “Heart-Centred” just refers to the fact that we truly care about our work and our clients (we literally have the best clients in the world) and we do everything with honestly and integrity. We wouldn’t be doing this work unless we truly loved it. 

What mantras are on your mood board right now?
  1. Create from what you see
  2. What would your higher self do?
  3. No one is you, and that is your superpower!
What has been your favourite project to date and why?

Oh that’s like choosing a favourite child! Soooooo many, honestly. I am so grateful for all the incredible projects I’ve been able to work on. I recently completed a local mural and that’s honestly been such a beautiful experience of creating something out in the wild. It’s added so much vibrancy to the community and I really feel a connection to people through that. I don’t paint large murals often, however when I do they always have a big impact on me, and everyone who gets to experience them.

The other project that is special in my heart is the Noosa Icons print I created for Palm Noosa. It was like that moment, when all of the puzzle pieces come together. All your inspiration, everything you’ve ever worked towards, just came together so beautifully. All my memories and inspiration came from Noosa, so to design a Noosa Icon print in watercolour, on a gorgeous dress for an incredible brand was such a ‘pinch-me’ experience.

What is your ultimate mission as an artist?

This has evolved over time. In the beginning, I just wanted to continually create and then share my work with the world. I wanted to share my take on things, bring beauty and light to the world in my own way. I see my work as happy and light, and so my intention is to just spread that light and inject people’s lives with joy. I can see my mission as an artist evolving, and I have a deep desire to show other creative what’s possible for them, if they believe in themselves and share their work with the world. The world needs everyone to shine their light, so I hope to be that example to some.

To see more of Cass’s work, visit her website https://www.cassdeller.com.au/