I am so proud at how the artistic and creative community has been coming together and rallying at this unprecedented time of….well it’s nothing short of a Black Mirror episode of crazy that I keep thinking I might pinch myself and wake up from at some point. I am more determined than ever to use my platform and voice to help and support artists – I want to show you the talent that exists in the world, how bright and beautiful creative humans are and the amazing things many artists are doing even when the chips are down….
Kathryn Robertson – is one of those artists doing lush amazing things. I wanted to interview her long before this COVID-19 thing kicked off – but having a little bit more down time has provided me with the ability to get through my “must interview” wish list and start reaching out to folks. And what a better place to start than Sunderland muralist, illustrator, graphic designer and all round gloriously talented Kathryn! #ganonlass
Head over to @kr.illustrates on Insta to get a flavour of Kathryn’s work – it’s so lush and if you’re familiar with Sunderland, you’ll see lots of lush sites and re-imaginings of things you might recognise. Kathryn has also collaborated remotely with @martintype (Insta) on a screen print to raise funds for North East food banks during their time of arguably greatest need. Head over to HERE to see it and purchase – it’s Pay What You Decide.
I had the pleasure of recently, remotely catching up with Kathryn and here is our interview…. It’s lush one!
Hiyer, so tell my Culture Vultures who you are?
I’m Kathryn Robertson, 25, some kind of artist from Sunderland.
Standard Vulture question – what was your journey into the creative industries?
It was a bit of a winding road, apologies in advance for the long answer. I went from: Apprenticeship in Design & Print when I was 18 then unemployed then worked in bars/cafes then an apprentice chef (for a very short but painful while) then realising I was a bit awful at all of these jobs.
Ben Wall (HI BEN), gave me some work in designing event posters for Independent (Music Venue & Nightclub in Sunderland), I worked behind the bar at the time, but I basically ended up quitting the bar to design the posters and other things instead. I registered as self-employed, went to uni in 2016 to do Graphic Design at 21, carried on with illustration/graphics on the side, did a bit of hustling/selling my own printed products/couple of art fairs here and there.
I structured my final project at Uni around public artwork and illustration, and since then I’ve worked on commissions and public artworks with University of Sunderland, Sunderland Libraries, The Council, Pop Recs, Holmeside Coffee, Vaux and many others! I’ve been lucky to have been supported, and to have worked with some great orgs like Sunderland Culture and The Enterprise Place along the way.
I love your illustration – when did you fall in love with drawing?
I liked it when I was little because my sister is an artist, and she would give me drawing lessons and take me to The Baltic, and out to see street art when she lived in Manchester. I used to draw/try to emulate things like the typography off food and drink labels quite a lot. I properly fell in love with it when I was around 17, when people started to ask me to draw things for actual purposes, like gig posters, and stuff for fanzines etc.
You do SO.MUCH; tell me about your practice?
This is something I’m not very eloquent at. I usually look to others to describe my work back to me (lol). I’d describe my practice as: Graphic Design, illustration, and painted murals, sometimes/mostly heavily influenced by my surroundings in the North East.
How you finding “lock down” as an artist/creative? Any advice to creatives struggling right now working from home?
I’ve never been the *best* at working from home, but it is something I got used to when I was freelancing as a graphic designer, so I’m mentally prepared for it. I’m easing myself into it at the moment and feeling very lucky that I have the option to do so. I’m doing organisational things that I’ve been putting off for ages, stuff like backing up my work up 7 million times, organising folders and filing receipts. I find that “getting dressed” in the morning is a canny good start though.
SAME – terrible working at home; a dynamic learning situation! You’ve got quite a recognisable style in terms of design work – how did that develop?
Thanks! I guess just a lot of practicing makes for the natural development of your own style really. Everyone has a unique style, so the more you work, the more you iron it out and make it your own. We’re all just an accumulation of our other influences as well though, innit.
You were awarded University of Sunderland 2019 Design Student Award, how did that come about? How did it feel to win?
I did a mixture of sort of hands-on things as part of my final Graphic Design Project at University. It included an illustrated surfboard which is on display in The Beam, an entry in Vaux’s beer label design competition, and a mural of Sunderland in The Priestman Building, along with some other things. The award was for Creativity & Individuality – probably just because of the weird mixture of not-very-graphic-designy things I decided to do (lol).
Thoroughly deserved! You create fantastic murals – tell me about the mural connected to Holmeside Coffee in Sunderland and the process behind creating it?
Joe from Holmeside got in touch as they wanted something to jazz up the doorway of their take-out shop when it first opened. We struck up a deal of a doorway mural in exchange for me selling my merch in the shop. That was sort of the first ‘mural’ I did really, (other than a terrible one I did in Independent in 2014).
It’s a mash up of Sunderland buildings in HC doorway, and it was kind of made up as I went along, and drawn in paint pens, it was snowing at the time, so I went delirious with the cold. When people ask if the made-up-buildings are certain places I’m like “yep, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be, definitely didn’t make it up”.
HAHA! How does it feel having your murals pop-up all over Sunderland bringing it to life? Do you ever lurk and watch folks looking at it to get a sense of what they think?
It’s great 🙂 I like having my work so visible, but I’m very shy, so when I see people looking at stuff it’s nice to just wander past in the knowledge that they don’t know that I made it (if that makes any sense) (creepy). I like hiding (figuratively) behind the artwork I guess, that’s probably why I’m an artist in the first place, to let the drawings do the talking for me. I’m bad at talking.
I’m QUEEN lurker/introvert/socially awkward and shy – I hear you! As a social media professional I LOVE your personality on Insta and that you’ve got the breadth of your practice (including yourself!) on there; loved the @teatowelontour Insta channel – how did it feel finding out about that? (Reminds me of the Innocent smoothie stapler going across the world!)
Yeah it’s great to see Helen (@lifeouels) travel with the Sunderland Tea Towel, just a really canny idea to take a bit of home with her around the world, love seeing the updates 🙂
In addition to tea towels – you sell some of your work and your available for commissions (loved the design for Lamp Light Festival graphics!) – where can people buy stuff from you and get in touch?
Thanks!! My online shop is partially down for the time-being while I figure the whole ‘freelancing whilst social distancing’ thing out, but I’ve got something out now with another artist pal (Andy Martin) at the moment, a print – you can get it HERE. Other than that it’s: @kr.illustrates (insta), @krillustrates (FB) and firstname.lastname@example.org for work enquires!
I feel like you’re really making waves and your mark on the Sunderland creative scene – what do you think of the creative scene in Sunderland? Any Sunderland peer creatives you admire that I should check out?
I love the creative scene in Sunderland. Here are some names/instagrams of Visual artist pals based in Sunderland (I think) : @heatherchambersart, @chris_cummings_art, @saragibbesonillustration, @mar9ntype, @mariegardinerphoto, @sue.loughlin, @maverickartjo, @cwnutsandseeds, @charliepasquali , @faostyles.
There’s so many more but my brain is not working. Need coffee.
Speaking of making waves….tell me about the “City by the Sea” exhibition and your piece in it?
There was an open call for artists based in Sunderland to design a surfboard to part of this exhibition in The Beam (that building on the Vaux site). I proposed a very Sunderland themed design of past and present buildings. I was picked as one of the artists to be commissioned.
They delivered this 6ft surfboard to me and I drew on it in paint pens, they lacquered it, and now it’s upstairs in The Beam, alongside some other local artists versions, and they got some schools to do a few as well. Canny!
Can you tell me about Rebel Women Sunderland – what the project is and how you got involved?
Laura Brewis (Sunderland Culture) is the mastermind behind The Rebel Women of Sunderland project, and I believe it was inspired by a book called Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as her daughter. It’s a project to shine a light on notable women from Sunderland, and to tell their stories in an engaging way. We created illustrations and stories for each of the selected women. I was commissioned to do the illustrating, alongside writer Jessica Andrews who wrote their wonderful stories.
How were the notable women selected?
Sunderland Culture put a post out for people to nominate women or give suggestions of notable women, or women that have shone in their field, or gone somewhat unsung, I believe they got a huge list of suggestions, and had to condense it down (which will have been very difficult!)
Why are projects like Rebel Women important in 2020?
It’s important to tell the stories of all of these women, and I think it’s particularly nice to be able to show and tell them in this way, there’s been a lot of RW themed events where people can get involved, the exhibition has been around a couple of different venues in the city – and I’m sure the stories will have inspired some young people to think “I can be that too”. As Laura quoted at one of the past Rebel Women events, “you can’t be what you can’t see.”!
I love that – Brewis is such a lush human! And rebel lass in her own right! Tell me about the new recent additions to Rebel Women Sunderland for this year’s International Women Day?
What’s next for Rebel Women Sunderland as a project? Where can we see the pieces in the future?
It will expand in the future hopefully, there’s still plenty of lasses to feature! Laura wants to make a book, which I’m so down for. I’m not sure where the pieces/stories will be available to see next, maybe we should make it into some kind of virtual exhibition though (!!?)
I am so here for that – so tell me about a few illustrators or muralists you admire and suggest I check out?
Sheffield-based artist Jo Peel @jo_peel (obsessed with her), James Gulliver Hancock, @gemmacorrell @vicleelondon @mul_draws, @pandafunkteam, @sophie_roach, @mr_aryz @ashwillerton
What’s next for you? What projects do you have in the pipeline?
As with everyone, I’m a little uncertain for the next however many months, as public work is off, art fairs either postponed or cancelled, but I’m hoping to have plenty of new illustrations by the end of this, and if I’m dreaming about the future, then I’d love to have my first exhibition of my own work somewhere one day – if it was something people wanted to see.
I’d love to carry on with public artworks too. Also I have this (maybe slightly ambitious) dream of doing a stop-motion animated mural, inspired greatly by Jo Peel, check this out HERE
Love what you do and thanks for the great questions!
That love is right back at you and I am so excited for what you do next! You are a glorious human! Check Kathryn’s work out…
That’s all for now Culture Vultures! I’ve got a great list of blog posts coming!