Design Your Life- Artist Interview with Die Empty organizer Katie Lee Gretch

Hangin’ with Miss Katie Lee Gretch over the past few years, we’ve had countless chats about our love of art and potential projects. Many of them revolved around the possibilities of Die Empty, so when it came to putting plans into action I couldn’t consider getting started without her involvement.
Having been in awe of her artwork as well as her ‘get up and go’ since we met, I knew her input and experience would be priceless to Die Empty. And it sure has been!
Seeing what she’s achieved while ditching the daily grind makes her one of the most inspirational people I know- this was a great opportunity to share some of Katie’s gold with all of you.

Arludick Gallery

Arludick Gallery

1. You have an exhibition coming up at Arludik Gallery in France. Where else have you had your work shown overseas and how did these opportunities come up for you?

I joined an art group based in Hollywood this year called Girls Drawin’ Girls. It is run by a Simpsons animator Melody Severns, who created the group to showcase female talent in the entertainment and media industry. Since joining, I’ve taken part in pop culture conventions in Chicago and San Diego, as well as the exhibition in Paris last month.


Mermaid by Katie Lee Gretch

Mermaid by Katie Lee Gretch

2. Which mediums were you working in prior to graphic art? What attracted you to graphic art?

I used pencils and pens mostly, sometimes watercolour. I was getting into acrylics when I started studying animation, but fell in love with digital art. I was attracted to it because it’s so versatile and quick to use (once I learned how to). I was being trained as a video game artist, so it was important to get ideas out quickly. I’m quite impatient anyway, so I loved this new medium.


Ryan Vella- He Died With A Felafel In His Hand

Ryan Vella- He Died With A Felafel In His Hand

3. Die Empty isn’t the first community art project  you’ve been involved in setting up- Ashcan comic is  also one of your babies. Tell us what drove you to start  Ashcan. What were some of the challenges involved?

I wanted to make a creative space for artists to interact, born out of my own needs to network with other artists. I was reading a lot of comics in college, and I had been a fan of Ryan Vella’s work (He Died With A Felafel In His Hand – Comic Edition) who was taking part in comic collaborations, and I guess these combined things inspired Ashcan.

I had a hard time finding passionate artists and writers to contribute to the comic. I found myself almost begging everyone I knew to generate content for us. I did contact many established comic artists that I didn’t know like Ben Constantine (Plump Oyster Comics), and some of them did contribute thankfully! After about a year and 3 issues, we were well known in the Australian comic community and we didn’t need to work so hard to get great content.

Ashcan issue #1 cover by Katie Lee Grech

Ashcan issue #1 cover

Money was a problem, as it always is for artists. We had just enough between us to print 50 comics and host the first launch party. One of our writers loaned us $300. We couldn’t even give our contributors a free copy of the book, we were so broke. 30 people were involved in the production of that first issue, and we all had something invested in it. So we promoted the crap out of it and it was a huge success. At one point there was a line up of people outside waiting to get in. We sold all the comics and we made enough money to cover the cost of the next issue.

I’ve since left Ashcan because I wanted to focus on my own work. I found that I was spending so much time on the administration of Ashcan, that I didn’t have any time to contribute artwork to it. My comics were always left to the last minute and I was disappointed in their quality. It was a hard decision that took 6 months to make. I miss being in the spotlight with Ashcan, but it’s more important that my art skills are improving and I’m progressing as an artist.

Pin-up Girl at a Cocktail Party by Katie Lee Gretch

Pin-up Girl at a Cocktail Party by Katie Lee Gretch

4. What inspired you to be so involved with Die Empty? What do you hope to gain from starting up and exhibiting with Die Empty?

I think the drawcard of collaborations and group projects for artists is to share the costs and responsibilities. As well as that, each new artist brings at least 50 new audience members so groups are a great way for me to reach new people.

5. What other projects do you have running / in the pipeline at the moment?

I’m working on my new website and have just added a shop feature for selling my wall art prints. After the exhibition, I’m going to start work on another video game with my fiance. I love making games!

Katie making Clear Conscience soap

Katie making Clear Conscience soap

6. A while ago you quit your day job to follow your heart’s desire. How is that going for you and what challenges have you faced along the way?

I quit my day job last year and have been experimenting with various home businesses. I chose four things that I did best and unleashed them into the world: commercial art and design, software development, homemade soap and personal art. It’s very difficult to start a business when you don’t know what you’re doing, even harder to start four! Because I couldn’t decide which I wanted to focus on, I decided to test them all out for a bit and let them organically sort themselves out.

The most challenging thing about it is learning how to change my perspective on failure and how I define success. I struggled with fear and anxiety too, a fear of failure and loss. It was a very painful time, but it wasn’t as painful as being stuck in a job where my work wasn’t being appreciated. Which is why I started my own business in the first place.

Katie's teeny tinies

Katie’s Teeny Tinies

I will always be doing personal artwork and making video games as a hobby, but it’s not always profitable and I can’t rely on that income. The homemade soap business is doing really well and has become my day job which I love because I’m really passionate about protecting the environment and ourselves from toxic additives in our cosmetics. We’ve stopped using synthetic fragrances, and are currently researching how to make our own alkaline naturally out of wood ash.

Smooth Sailing by Katie Lee Gretch

Smooth Sailing by Katie Lee Gretch

7. A lot of your work is very cute and quirky- how did you formulate this style? Do you feel it represents you/ your personality?

I don’t know, do you think I’m cute and quirky? That’s very interesting. I know that my themes change as my outlook on life changes. I used to have a bitter attitude and my work was scary and violent. I feel like I’m more in control of my life now, so I’m happier and my art style is more approachable. I guess it’s quirky because I like to be different, I like to create unique characters.

8. What’s your personal process for producing your artwork? What do you get out of it that makes it such an important part of your life?

I can’t tell you why it’s so important to me … it just is. I’m sure everyone can understand that, everyone has something they love ‘just because’. A perfect evening for me is putting my headphones on and listening to documentaries while I digitally paint.

The Animator's Survival Kit

The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams

9. What advice do you have for budding artists? Are there any resources that you recommend?

If you can afford to go to art school, make sure to find one that suits your direction and specific needs. I’m a practical kind of artist so I got a Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment where I learned how to create art for video games. If you want to teach yourself, study animation techniques because it gives you a better understanding of how things move and work. The best animation book available is still “The Animators Survival Kit” by Richard Williams. Study your favourite artists and copy their work for the purpose of learning how they create a successful piece. I have studied hundreds of artists and merged many different styles into my own work. There is an abundance of tutorials on Youtube, I would only recommend that you like the artist’s work before taking their advice.

Ice Cream Girls by Katie Lee Gretch

Ice Cream Girls by Katie Lee Gretch

10. Where would you like to be with your art in the next 5 years?
As things are right now, I’ll have made a few indie video games and had 5 major exhibitions. I want to be established as a solo artist by then and have my work for sale in at least one Brisbane gallery.




You can see more of Katie’s artwork at rapidly expanding empire also houses the Clear Conscience Soap Company  -and Appelli- interactive advertising and games

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