I’m Kat, and I’m a designer/printmaker from Aberdeen, now living and working in South East London. I make quirky, story-filled linocut prints… I came to printmaking late, and almost by accident, following the birth of my daughter in 2015. I was keen to make my living as a creative working on my own terms in order to find some kind of genuine work/life balance, but I had originally envisaged starting a business designing ceramic homewares. That fell by the wayside when I realised how much I loved linocut, and how much easier it is to accommodate a press at home than a kiln.
Describe your printmaking process.
I’m slow and precise when designing and carving, then fast and messy when printing. I don’t work much in sketchbooks – I tend to seize upon ideas from nowhere and scribble quick thumbnail sketches on whatever scrap paper I have to hand before they get away. If one of these looks promising, I usually work it up in a little more detail before either moving to the block to flesh it out at full scale, or, for particularly nervewracking pieces, developing a full-size sketch on paper that I then trace and transfer in reverse to the block. I don’t use anything fancy – just and HB pencil and some tracing paper. I fix the design on the block by redrawing it with permanent ink (I like Faber Castell Pitt drawing pens), reworking and refining the details and composition as I go. Some details don’t get decided on until after I’ve carved a good portion of the block – I like to wait for the perfect idea to present itself naturally, rather than forcing it at the start, and I don’t mind having some unknowns as I carve. Once carved, I’ll run a few test prints, clean up any unwanted marks from the blocks, decide on paper dimensions (more test prints), colour/s (yet more test prints) and then get busy with the run!
How and where did you learn to print?
I’m mostly self-taught, although I did a foundation year in 2010 at London College of Communication (which used to be the training ground for typesetters and the newspaper print industry). They had a set of amazing basement workshops full of old letterpress machines and hulking great cast iron presses. I signed up for every session I could so I could try out all the different processes, and spent a lot of my free time down there. Funnily enough, I really wasn’t into linocut at that point – I was determined to master screen printing because it felt much better suited to working as a graphic designer (which is what I hoped to do when I left – I was a 27-year-old career changer, taking a year out from my previous work in tech start-ups to retrain). Suffice to say, I’m still rubbish at screen printing (and pretty rubbish at graphic design), but picked up lino again about six years later on a whim. Most of what I know about linocutting I learnt by getting it wrong over and over again, until I got it right. More recently, I’ve found it really helpful being part of the printmaking community on Instagram – people are very generous with their knowledge and I’ve learnt a lot from my fellow makers over there. We’re basically a massive bunch of geeks who love sharing tips.
Although I can draw competently in many different styles, I always found it a little boring – possibly because I was so unfocused in my approach, flitting from one style to the next and always too impatient to put in the work necessary to develop my own visual language. No matter what I tried, the results always felt like they were missing some vital ingredient. That changed when I began printmaking – it makes my brain operate in a different (much better!) mode. I find my drawings come alive in print in a way that they never did on paper. For me, there’s a new sense of energy and fun that comes entirely from working within the boundaries of a block, playing with the balance of light and dark, and testing the limits of what can be carved or printed – it’s like a game. I like puzzles and have a fairly scientific brain, so the technical side of printmaking and all the troubleshooting is one of the things that makes it enjoyable. I also love that the outcome of my playing happens to be a product that’s ready to send out into the world – no digital interference required, just a signature to say “I made this”. It feels very honest and direct.
Where do you work?
I’m currently in a temporary studio due to renovations, but I usually work in the spare room of my house, which my husband (and anyone who stays in that room) kindly tolerate. There’s stuff EVERYWHERE, on every possible surface, and then more stuff on top of that. I’m not tidy. Piles of lino. Leaky ink tubes. Rollers hanging from every available surface. Cutting tools lurking unseen in places where I’m bound to stab my hands on them. Stacks of paper torn by hand to all the different sizes I use. All the packaging materials required to send prints of varying sizes all over the world. A million tiny, fluffy curls from the torn edges of my paper, which stick to socks and get trodden through every other room of the house (it’s like having a very fibrous, white cat – all our clothes are covered in tiny strands of paper). I have boxes and boxes of prints, from firsts through to embarrassing rejects, along with all the paraphernalia of the printmaking process, because I’m incapable of throwing anything away. Ink on the carpet. Ink on the door. Ink on all my husband’s music gear which lives in the same room (eek)…
Describe a typical day in your studio.
I drop my daughter off at nursery around 9 and head back to the house to start work. It varies from day to day, but I tend to do things in intense bursts because I’ve discovered that I’m most productive when I knuckle down and focus on one thing. I can work intensively on a block for days to the exclusion of all else, including eating, and follow that with a fortnight of doing nothing but printing and re-printing from my stack of blocks to try and build up a healthy stockpile for my Etsy shop. When I list a big batch of new prints I tend to get a flurry of orders thanks to Instagram (where I post all my work in progress) – dealing with these can eat up the next week or so in terms of quality checking, signing, dealing with enquiries, packing them all up and getting them down to the Post Office. I often wish I were better at spacing tasks out and mixing my days up a bit – I always intend to do a bit of packaging prep each day, a bit of printing, a bit of working on new designs, but in practice I fail at that and end up sprinting from one enormous task to the next. There’s a domestic element to deal with too – because my studio is in my home it’s a constant battle to prevent life admin and chores encroaching, because they really mess with my concentration.
How long have you been printmaking?
I’ve been at it ’seriously’ for about two years now – I began in earnest when my lovely in-laws gave me a set of Pfeil carving tools for my birthday. I had been dabbling with lino for fun using a set of wonky student tools and could feel the pull of it even then, but I became addicted when I realised what I could achieve with my new kit. I had no idea at that point that it would become my living!
What inspires you?
I’m a storyteller at heart, and find a constant source of inspiration in folklore, fairytales, nursery rhymes and the natural world. The more esoteric the better – I like disappearing down spooky rabbit holes, and I especially like ideas that feel like the beginning of a longer tale. I try to inject a sense of story into everything I do – the thought that people might use my prints as a jump-off point for their own stories makes me extremely happy, and is one of the reasons I try to pack in so many little details. I want to give people reasons to look again and again, in case they miss something!
What is your favourite printmaking product?
Is it a cop-out to say “all of it”? My favourite carving tools are my Pfeil ones, although I recently got the Flexcut micro palm set and am getting to grips with them. I find them less comfortable to hold, but they can achieve a slightly finer level of detail. I think in a fire though, I’d save my Pfeil ones first. I use an Xcut Xpress die-cutting machine instead of a ‘real’ press (I don’t have room for one) and it’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my life, because 90% of the prints I sell are printed on it! It took a bit of trial and error (and some frustration) to get it working exactly as I wanted, but I get really sharp, clean prints with it and it folds up when I need to get it out of the way. The only downside is the limited size you can print.
What have you made that you are most proud of?
The thing that cemented the idea that perhaps I could be a ‘real’ printmaker was a set of eight element-inspired figures that I made over the summer of last year. It started with one (the Man of the Sea), who acquired a brother (the Man of the Land), and then two others (Fire and Air). Of course, I couldn’t do the blokes and not do the ladies, so four female figures followed soon after. Lots of people followed their development via Instagram, and when I finally uploaded the full set for sale things went a bit nuts, which enabled me to take a deep breath and declare myself a full-time printmaker. I’m so happy with them as a set – each one possesses a distinct character. People pair them and group them in all sorts of ways, and tell me all kinds of stories about which is their favourite and why – they seem to find lots of details to relate them to themselves and those they love, which is amazing.
Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?
The best place to see my work is on Instagram (www.instagram.com/flintkat) – I’m pretty active and my feed is mostly work-in-progress. I sell online via my Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/uk/shop/KatAndKin) and at occasional makers’ markets in and around London.
What will we be seeing from you next?
I have a lot of Big Life Things happening this year which are rather limiting my creative plans, but I’m determined not to let that stop me. I’m currently working on my largest linocut to date for a lovely group show that I’m doing on the Sussex coast in August (https://www.wearescip.co.uk/the-green-show/ ). It’s inspired by the coastal fishing towns that featured heavily in my childhood in the North East of Scotland, so it feels very personal and I’m going a bit overboard as a result. I decided to test the limits of what I can do after two solid years of carving lino and I’m so excited to print the block when I (finally!!) finish it. It’s taking aeons! Other than that, I’m working on a series of new blocks inspired by vintage magic shows and the circus and frantically trying to restock my Etsy shop in the midst of a house renovation, because it’s looking pretty bare at the moment.
Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?
Find your own voice – being distinctive will serve you well, because the people who like your work will like it for the right reasons, and will stick with you to see what you do next. Don’t chase trends all the time, but if you do, make sure to do something unique with them that could only have come from your brain. Practise. A lot. Don’t give up when things go wrong – invent solutions, seek advice, share your mistakes for a laugh… and don’t stop.