I have worked with illustrator and textile designer Kate Marsden in various guises over the years – we share a love of my hometown Croydon so she often features on our community blog the Croydonist, Kate designed the 31% Wool Christmas card in 2019, and I even have a picture of our 1960s house drawn by her hanging in our lounge!
The most recent project we’ve worked on together is a new range of merchandise for the disco-punk band Bugeye. Kate’s brief was to be inspired by the artwork for Bugeye’s debut album Ready Steady Bang. Here we chat about her creative process.
Julia: Firstly what was your path to becoming a creative?
Kate: It was a slow and winding one! When I left school I went to art college to study Fashion and Textiles; but fast forward 2 years and I’m living in London, studying law, while working full time for a city law firm – as you do! I stayed there in various roles for 15 years, finally leaving to pursue this full time at the start of 2014. In the intervening years I took a variety of short courses in painting and drawing, printmaking, textile processes and ceramics, all of which have helped to lead me to where I am now.
Julia: How did you tackle the Bugeye merchandise project?
Kate: This was such an exciting project to work on, especially as I’m such a fan of Bugeye. It helped that I was already so familiar with the band’s music and aesthetic before I was asked to work on the merchandise project.
My starting point was of course the album cover artwork, and the general theme of the album tracks. My record player lives in my studio, and the album had been leaning up against the wall in there for a while, so I already had a range of ideas just from looking at it briefly every day. I drew up a short list of elements which could be taken out and used as stand alone motifs, then set to work finding source images to inspire my initial drawings.
I was really keen on the shopping trolley idea but it was such a pain to draw! I always have a knack of choosing to work on things which are deceptively hard… We went backwards and forwards finessing the drawings and cutting some from the list until settling on the final images. I’m particularly pleased with the TV pattern – I’d quite like it on my wall!
Julia: Do you have a different process for personal work to client projects?
Kate: Very much so and I think it does me good. I work to (usually fairly strict) briefs for client projects, whereas my personal work tends to go off on tangents and often breaks all the rules. I think this is a great way to develop new ideas and helps me to progress and learn more about myself and my artwork style. My personal work usually starts in my sketchbook – and sometimes stays there for a very long time before I do anything useful with it.
My personal work tends to go off on tangents and often breaks all the rules.
Julia: Do you have a favourite piece of work you’ve created?
Kate: I do tend to be super-critical of my work, and frequently my favourite piece is whatever I’ve created most recently. However I think I have to say my yellow Croydon pattern. It graces the walls of Fairfield Halls arts centre in Croydon, is my bestselling fabric design of all time, and I’m still pleased with it when I look at it!
Julia: What’s been your most interesting commission?
Kate: The house portrait commissions tend to be really interesting – I often find out so much about my clients and their families, frequently drawing multiple properties for every member of the family as birthday and Christmas gifts! I’ve drawn houses from all over the world and I love having the opportunity to do this. I’ve also turned these house portraits into greetings cards, t-shirts and all sorts of other things which has been fun.
Julia: How important do you think social media and styling is to the career of an illustrator?
Kate: I think it’s vitally important at the moment. There’s so much competition out there – if you’re not shouting about your work, and in the right way to the right people, you won’t be seen. Consistency in styling and branding is obviously so important too and a lot of artists and illustrators don’t appreciate how much this matters.
I’ve taught artists about social media, but it’s something that’s constantly changing – as soon as one tactic starts to work the algorithm changes. It can be time consuming and frustrating trying to keep on top of it but absolutely worthwhile.
If you’re not shouting about your work, and in the right way to the right people, you won’t be seen.
Julia: What or who has been an influence on or inspiration to your work?
Kate: It’s such a cliché but I am inspired by pretty much everything. I’ve realised in the last year that this really is true, as I’ve managed to come up with so many new and different things from the four walls of my home studio, when I usually love to be out and about.
The artists and designers who’ve always inspired me include Bridget Riley, Paul Smith, David Hockney, Bella Freud, Lucienne Day, Andy Warhol and Orla Kiely, along with mid-century and Brutalist architecture.
Julia: Has the last year affected how you work?
Kate: Definitely. I’ve become far more experimental, and strangely more willing to take risks. In the past I’ve been really cautious about launching anything new which requires financial outlay, but I’ve just gone for it on a number of occasions in the past year, mostly successfully (I have regular nightmares about my garage being filled with boxes of unsellable stock!) and I’ve been brave and tested out a few things which are a little off piste – I’ve enjoyed this so much that I plan to continue.
I’ve become far more experimental, and strangely more willing to take risks.
Julia: I feel I know your work quite well, and I think you have expanded and developed your style over the last year or so, and are now a regular life-drawer (if that’s a term!) What led you down this new path?
Kate: I think it is! At the start of 2020 I set myself the challenge to get better at drawing people – I lacked confidence and it showed (on the rare occasions that I did include figures in my drawings), so I started attending life drawing with my local art group, but then of course Covid struck. After a few weeks in Lockdown I discovered London Drawing and it’s all spiralled out of control from there!
They run weekly life drawing, portrait sessions, mindful still life, toolbox art technique sessions, printmaking, fashion drawing and all sorts of things. Not sure how I would’ve got through the year without them.
As a result of doing all of this my style has evolved. I’ve also been doing an increasing amount of printmaking and recently joined a local studio so this is influencing my design work as well.
Julia: Tell me some more about your Sketchbook workshops.
Kate: These have been so much fun! My sketchbook practice has been extensive in the past year (I’m on book number seven at the moment and I usually get through about one a year) and I’ve had a lot of compliments and people asking for advice, so I decided to go ahead and host some Zoom workshops themed around sketchbooks.
The first was a ‘make your own sketchbook’ session inspired by the old dread of the blank page – I encouraged people to make books from things they had around the house so they wouldn’t be too precious about them and would be able to dive straight in. The second one was inspired by the work of Bridget Riley and we had a very enjoyable afternoon of collage and drawing on graph paper.
I ran a zine making workshop a couple of weeks ago too which was also very enjoyable. I’m hoping to plan some more sessions in a few weeks’ time and to produce some on demand video workshops too.
Julia: What are you looking forward to particularly when life returns (fingers crossed) to some sort of normality?
Kate: I can’t wait to get back to visiting places and taking inspiration from the things I see when I’m out and about. Yes there’s the architecture, but also other objects, people and just the general atmosphere. Hoping it won’t be too much longer!
Julia: It’s been a pleasure chatting with you Kate – I think you’ve inspired me to sort out my own sketchbooks…
You can purchase the Kate Marsden Bugeye merchandise on Bandcamp here.