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Creative table turn

Mike Hutcheson.
Dominic Hoey talks to Mike Hutcheson about his upcoming show, and how he hopes to encourage New Zealanders creatively.


Educator and entrepreneur Mike Hutcheson met gallery owner Fiona Cable through the Big Idea Mentorship program. Mike was mentoring Fiona on her new venture, to set up artist residencies in business enterprises. For example, a painter working in an insurance company, a sculptor creating in an accounting firm.

“They’d be given an office,” Mike says, “and be commissioned to do a work, which would then be hung up in the board room or office to demonstrate people do things differently."

Tables turn

Mike, who has a background in the arts, was taken with the idea. He made some introductions and encouraged Fiona to pursue the idea. But then something unexpected happened. 

After showing Fiona some of his sketches on his phone, she suggested that he exhibit them at her Railway Street Studio. “I realised the tables were turned, I helped her and now she’s helping me by giving me a platform to show my work.” 

“I realised the tables were turned, I helped her and now she’s helping me by giving me a platform to show my work.” 

The exhibition is called Inplore/Explore, and featres sketches that Mike has done of buildings from around the world. Mike talks fast when he’s discussing his work, doubling back to clarify points and add details. 

Sketching stories 

“It's all about story,” he says of the exhibition. “It’s not about the drawings, I'm OK at drawing but there's lots of people who can draw better than me. But I believe in my drawings. So when I sit down to sketch an old building I don't just look at it, I see it.”

One of the stories is a sketch he started of Notre Dame several years before the fire that destroyed part of the cathedral. Part way through his sketch, it started raining and Mike was forced to abandon the artwork. But after the fire in April last year, Mike decided he better finish it.

“I grabbed the sketch book and luckily I’d taken photographs at the time. My little grandson who's aged 10 came in and I said why don’t you draw it too. He said I can't and I told him just copy it.”

Mike now uses the drawing his nephew did when he speaks to his class at AUT, where he teaches a paper on Practical Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“I often ask people I work with 'who thinks they’re creative?' and one or two hands will go up. I’ll say: 'that’s bullshit - you’re all creative'.”

Mike Hutcheson sketch from Inpore/Explore 

Doing what makes you happy 

The power of a little encouragement, is something Mike knows from first hand experience. At high school he excelled at painting and sculpture, earning himself a place at Ilam in Canterbury. But he ended up choosing Law School instead, something he now regrets. 

“After a couple of years I was bored shitless. I then got into advertising by mistake, I didn't even know what an advertising agency was.”

He describes the 70’s and 80’s as the halcyon days in advertising, but concedes he stayed too long. “They kept offering me more money.” 

During that time Mike was still sketching and painting on the side, but it was one of his co-workers who suggested Mike pursue his creative interests.

“One of the guys who worked for us in the early 90s, he was leaving and he said, 'Mike I want to give you a present' - it was a beautiful leather sketchbook. He said stop doing advertising, you’re not happy, you should take this sketch book and do what you're good at.”

Mike put the book aside for a decade before picking it up in 2001 and began taking it on his travels, filling it with the sketches that would later make up the exhibition. 

Mike says his mission in life is to make people look at things differently. He compares himself to Elwood from the Blues Brothers.

“I'm on a mission from god to teach the country to look creatively at the world. The most important skills required in the next decade are creativity, complex problem solving and critical thinking.”

That's why he called the exhibition Inplore/Explore, to encourage people to go deep rather than wide. 

Opening night Wed 29 Jan 5-8pm. Exhibition runs 29 Jan-18 Feb Railway St Gallery, 8 Railway St, Newmarket, Auckland. Visit

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

28 Jan 2020

The Big Idea Editor

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