Megan and Joshua McKean are the duo behind behind contemporary souvenir and accessory shop McKean Studio.  I met the wife -and-husband team at the Modernism Week's opening night party for the Hidden Frey home. By trade, Megan is an illustrator and Joshua is an industrial designer. We got chatting over cocktails and I quickly learned about the couple's love for Palm Springs, their quirky and colorful aesthetic and the city-based keepsakes their turning out of the Sydney, Australia-based studio. Naturally, yours truly took immediately to their delightful twist on urban-themed souvenirs.

 Joshua and Megan McKean of McKean Studio

Joshua and Megan McKean of McKean Studio

I recently sat down with Megan over coffee (me in LA, she in Sydney) to chat about their wildly popular mini cities, their extensive travel, Megan's forthcoming book, and much more.

What’s your favorite coffee shop in Sydney? What do you love about it?

We love Daisy’s Milkbar in Sydney’s inner west. We’ve been going there for coffee and breakfast since they opened, and have become good friends with the owners! We love the creative way they approach everything (they’re always inventing a new milkshake or jaffle flavour!) and it’s the cutest spot for a coffee date.

*hot tip*: "jaflles" are toasted sandiwches, think America style "melts" or "paninis"

Images via Daisy's Milkbar

You’re known for your mini cities. Can you tell me about what the creative process is like from conception to the final product?

The Mini Cities are a lot of work — they look deceptively simple, but every time I make a new batch I’m reminded just how much work goes into them. 

mckean studio palm springs

We start with sketching the shapes we’d like to see in the houses, and brainstorming the additional elements that will sit alongside the hero piece. Once we’ve got a feel for what we want it to look like, I draw the designs digitally and plan for how they’ll work on a 3D scale. Using layered sheets of timber means we can add different levels to the pieces, and all of the finishing touches (like cactus spikes and car windows) are planned for at this stage too.

Once we have all the pieces cut, we assemble and glue them, then undercoat everything, ready for their base colours. Base colours go on, then the final elements are glued on too (things like chimneys and breeze blocks). Separating these pieces means we get a nice clean finish. The final step is the hand painted touches — painting car tires, gold doorways, and tiny feet onto the seagulls. Phew! It’s quite a process, but well worth it because they’re just so cute when they’re all finished!

What Makes a city a good mini city candidate?

Every city is a good candidate in theory; it’s mostly about distilling the best bits of a city down to just a few pieces, and considering the heights and scales of those pieces. We try to pick the parts that are iconic about a city and represent it so that it’s easy for someone to identify the city, but also with a sense of humour about it — such as the giant rat or fire hydrant in our NYC sets, or the pink lawn flamingo in our Palm Springs design.

Throughout your extensive travels which city have you found to the most inspiring? Why?

We adore Palm Springs, and try to make the pilgrimage there once a year now. Being able to see so much amazing architecture in one place, combined with the permanent vacation feeling, it’s a hard city for us to top!

That said, we do love Stockholm, Venice, Tokyo, Melbourne…. All for different reasons, but all so inspiring and so much fun to visit!

 McKean Studio's Palm Springs scarf

McKean Studio's Palm Springs scarf

Megan you’re also an author. Tell me about the publishing process and what drew you to children’s books.

The publishing process for me has been incredible, and I was also in the supremely fortunate position to be approached to create a book, rather than me having to pitch to different publishers. Having such a strong existing body of work with the pieces we produce at McKean Studio, it was almost a given from the outset that it would be city or travel related. We concepted a few different books, and landed on my first, ‘Hello, Sydney!’ which was published at the end of 2016. Working in children’s publishing is so much fun, it’s honestly such a joy to create colourful, rich illustrations that are also informative and with a good element of surprise hidden in there too. Doing book readings and signings has meant I’ve been able to meet lots of families and children who are enjoying the books and learning about their cities, or who have sent the books off to friends in Paris, or family in Brazil… it still blows my mind to think that my work is part of people’s childhoods all around the world!

mckean studio mini cities

In what ways has social media, and the content you create, helped you share McKean studio with the world?

It’s been interesting watching the online world develop alongside our brand, and in many ways we’ve been very fortunate to have had many of our business growth and changes happen at the same time as new developments in social media. Instagram is our biggest and most important platform for the sharing the brand, as it’s the best chance to chat with customers and followers directly and get feedback on what they’re wanting to see more of. Since much of our product is travel-based, it’s always exciting to make content around the world, and to give a platform for our pieces to be seen anywhere our audience happens to be living (or traveling to). 

What’s next for McKean Studio?

We’re always cooking up something new at McKean Studio, but this year we’re taking things a little intentionally slower. We often do a lot of market events throughout the year, but have taken a step back from that this year to focus more on production and brand building. I’ve got lots of new illustration projects in the pipeline, and also a new book on it’s way later this year!
We’re always scheming of how to get more travel in the calendar, and are visiting Japan in the middle of the year which always brings a fresh boost of inspiration!

Mckean Studio Megan and joshua Mckean

// All photography courtesy of McKean Studio

"Coffee With..." is a regular series where we share a cup of joe and a chat with an inspiring creative from around the world. Want to submit yourself or someone you know?