This month we chat to artist and printmaker Kathy Hutton about the delights of her ‘inky world’
‘It was a big moment,’ laughs artist Kathy Hutton, describing her first experience of printmaking, at the ripe old age of 9. ‘I’d gone with my family to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and we took part in a family screen-printing workshop. I clearly remember the magic of seeing my own image beneath the screen. That feeling of sheer wonder has stayed with me ever since.’
Kathy’s path to printmaking was set, and she went on to study Art at school and to take a degree in Printed Textiles at Dundee University. On graduation Kathy won the prestigious Habitat UK New Designers Award, which led to design placements with big industry names. ‘I mainly worked as a surface pattern designer, creating designs that would be reproduced on all sorts of products, from bed linen to ceramics and paper.’
Freelance life was challenging however, ‘I was so young and really lacking in self-confidence, and so I found freelancing very difficult,’ she says. ‘In the end I took a job in buying and product development for homewares, and that was that for a long while. I didn’t print at all during that time, but it was always on my mind, and I knew one day I would come back to it.’
That day came after a move from London to Wiltshire, starting a family, and signing up for an evening class in printmaking at a local college. ‘It gave me the confidence and freedom to start creating prints again. The move to our current house – which had space for a studio – is when I seriously started thinking about building up a small business.’
The small business has gone from strength to strength, with Kathy’s delicate, minimalist work gaining lots of fans. In addition to running her Etsy shop and working on specific commissions, Kathy also runs workshops in printmaking. How does she find being her own boss? ‘It can be difficult,’ she says, ‘the reality of working for yourself involves being the designer, creator, maker, admin, marketing and finance person all rolled into one. That takes discipline! At times I feel like it’s a constant juggle. Having said that, it’s wonderful to be able to follow my inspiration in whatever direction it wants to take me in.’
Do ideas and inspiration come easily? ‘I’m not sure about easily,’ Kathy laughs, ‘they certainly seem to wait until I’m in the middle of a big project, and then I’ll have too many, right at the point when I’m too busy. The result being many, scribbled in and over-filled notebooks.’
This scribbling away in notebooks takes place in Kathy’s home studio, a light filled space, tucked away in a corner of her home. ‘My children are still young so it’s perfect – because it has access to the house I can nip in to do something quickly, or they can pop in and see me. I think even if it was just down the garden I wouldn’t be able to use it as much. I love spending time in here, each of the three windows overlook the garden and fields beyond, so there’s inspiration every time I look out of the window.’
Pride of place in the studio is a large, antique table which Kathy salvaged from the shed in the garden, which, with the addition of a sheet of glass on top, is perfect for rolling out large areas of ink for Kathy’s mono-print work. Surprisingly, Kathy doesn’t own any professional printing presses; ‘It works for me. I do love to be able to show anyone who comes to my studio that you can do so much with printmaking on a shoestring.’
Kathy uses a range of techniques to create her work, but mono-printing is a firm favourite. ‘The process of mono-printing is completely magical every single time. It’s unlike a lot of printing processes in that it’s a direct and immediate way of printing so I feel very connected as I’m creating the print,’ she explains. ‘Using nothing more than a roller to lay down the ink surface and a pencil to draw with, I love the unique image that can be created. Even after years of working with this technique, it’s not possible to completely control it so there’s always that moment of anticipation as you lift up the print, it gets me every time.
With young children at home, Kathy currently works on her printmaking for two days a week, which can be tricky, ‘It’s difficult trying to fit it all in,’ she says, ‘a lot of my work is done in time grabbed during naps or in the evening. I do find it frustrating at times, but know I’ll get more time in a few years when she’s at school, so it’s a waiting game really.’ She makes most of the daylight hours for her creative work, catching up with admin in the evenings.
The variety of Kathy’s work means time on each can vary hugely. ‘A multi-layered stacking bowl print can take many days to complete from its initial sketch,’ she says, ‘It takes time to create the screens and slowly layer up each colour allowing inks to fully dry between each. Whereas a simpler print can take just a couple of hours to complete.’
Botanicals and nature feature heavily in Kathy’s calm and delicate work, it’s safe to assume nature is a source of inspiration? ‘Being outside is almost always where my inspiration will come from. Often it may be something that I’ve passed by and each day and thought nothing of it, then one day when the timings right, I’ll just see it in a new light. I find inspiration in nature-writing too, I love the descriptive and poetic imagery of Kathleen Jamie, John Lister-Kaye and John Lewis-Stempel.’
Kathy recently set herself a challenge of creating 100 different botanical prints, creating and sharing one a day – a treat for her Instagram followers, but has it been a useful project for her? ‘When I started I was worried I would run out of options really quickly, but it was the opposite – lots of ideas and not enough time to get them all down on to paper. I’ve relaxed the rules slightly, I’m no longer forcing myself to do one a day, but giving myself a bit more space to create the work and the ideas simmer away for a bit.’
Next up, Kathy it taking part in the Peacock Arts Trail a week long open studio event. ‘It’s really exciting, I love having an open studio, I always have some form of printing set up for people to try for themselves, it’s a great way to introduce people to my inky world!’
She is also in increasing demand as a tutor – does she enjoy teaching others? ‘Going back to that magical first time that I lifted the screen and I saw my own image printed is something that I relive each and every time I make a print. To be able to share that magic with other people is something I relish.’
‘I’m always closely watching the faces of my students as they lift up the screen or pull back the paper. The sheer delight and wonder is clear to see, and that’s the thing about printmaking – the delight it produces – is simply priceless.’
Describe your work in three words:
Simple, minimal & characterful.
What are your making rituals?
Fresh cup of tea in hand, radio on (usually tuned to Radio 5), sharpen pencils…
Tea or Coffee?
Always tea, strong with a dash of milk.
Mountains or Sea?
That’s a tricky one, I love both. There’s a sense of freedom, calmness and adventure in both environments, being surrounded by nature.
Night Owl or Early Bird?
I’m an early bird, I love to be in my studio listening to the birds foraging for their breakfast.
I wish someone had told me…
Keep sharing your work. Let others see it, put it out into the world.