Interview by Lisa K. Salerno, Art Editor and Columnist
Katie Smith is an artist and textile designer based in Madrid, Spain. Katie’s formal education began at school on the Isle of Bute, Scotland where she began to take interest in painting and illustration. And, though an easily distracted student herself, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Textile Design with Honours from the prestigious Heriot-Watt University where she gained experience in woven and knitted textiles before specialising in printed textiles.
She is inspired by a variety of sources, chiefly the skill of drawing and painting in a detailed and exhaustive manner. Discovering all possibilities is an important aspect of her method; working closely with subject matter ensuring all qualities are captured and then translated onto paper or fabric. Katie’s work is based around detail, colour and subject matter tends to be linked to nature or emotion. Katie works with variety of media although always leans towards the fluid and romantic textures created by watercolour painting.
Katie enjoys wandering Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park in search of coffee and inspiration and is altogether too enthusiastic about nature, attempting to paint, and procrastinating with regards to learning Spanish.
Lisa: Your textile piece “Tulips” intrigues me. Would you tell me a little about this piece?
Katie: “Tulips” was the rebirth of a project brief set whilst I was studying at university. The pieces are part of a series of textiles I created based around the poem “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath, the Poet was recommended to me by a close friend and the particular poem “Tulips” resonated with me although I wasn’t entirely sure why!
Initially I took the poem too literally and in true painterly style painted beautiful watercolour flower tulips and my intention was to screen print these to fabric. It was too easy!
After stepping away from the project for a while and revisiting the poem I realised I was missing some interesting clues.
They’re not ordinary tulips.
“The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly…”
So I revisited my initial drawings and ideas, they completely changed by analysis of the poem. Sylvia Plath is writing from her hospital bed.
The redness of the tulips pains her, and she believes she can hear them breathing lightly through their wrapping paper. The colour also speaks subtly to the colour of her wound.
And so my project changed completely.
The fabrics used within the textile are all simple canvas, bandages, swabbing and papers to create a clinical feel. I’ve used vivid red beads, hand sewn embroidery and decoupage to create wound like imagery or the oxygen bubbles you get behind your eyes, “breathing behind the paper”, with subtle pieces of the lines of the poem sliced throughout. There are around five A3/A2 pieces in the series detailed and unique in their own simple, persuasive way.
It became an unusual and emotive piece. Very clinical and different from other pieces of textile work which were much more fluid and of a painterly style. It’s a piece of personal work I revisit when I need to think outside the box, this makes me think it’s possible to step away from your creative comfort.
Lisa: I also like “Dorothy’s Sewing Box”. It brings back memories of me peering into my grandmother’s sewing box as a child. Will you tell me a bit about this series as well?
Katie: “Dorothy’s Sewing Box” began within my final year of university. I was interested in the fabric archive which lived at University but felt I had exhausted my time with it and it’s beautiful laces which had featured heavily in a previous project.
So whilst looking for new inspiration I literally stumbled upon “Dorothy’s Sewing Box”. It was a large mahogany box which peaked out from a shelf at second hand store, I knew I had to look inside! It contained old sewing and embroidery tools; the kind which are mounted on beautiful old card backing.
The box came home with me and I took about drawing and sketching some of the items. I experimented with new paint materials on paper to try and obtain the aged effect of the pieces within the box creating contrast from the shiny hooks and the card mount and the tangled threads which had unwound over time.
Transforming the painted studies to fabric was experimental which is always nice in the print studio. I decided to create three boxes intended as installations with complimenting lengths of fabric for interior use, some of these can be seen on my website however the original pieces were retained at university.
The techniques used were basic screen printing alongside resist dying/printing, hand painted method with dye and foil transfer. It was quite precise but experimental. I was determined to obtain the aged nature of the bobbins of thread alongside the cardboard backed poppers and pins. I combined this with some imagery which I obtained from old sewing pattern pieces which really provided structured arrows and measurement prints which brought some pieces up to date creating another look almost intended for fashion textiles.
So a diverse range overall.
Why the name Dorothy? Inside the box lurking underneath all the sewing treasures was an old card of a floral garden handwritten to, who I believed to be the previous owner, “Dorothy”.
Lisa: What is your favorite medium to work with and why?
Katie: It has to be watercolour!
I enjoy the fluidity of watercolours and how they can be quite diverse. They give you that unpredictable burst of colour when applied to wet paper but at the same time you can control them and lift colour to create fine detail.
Overall I like the romantic, natural motion of watercolour which is like a little dance on paper.
Lisa: Your portfolio is filled with beautiful renderings of birds, butterflies and flowers…What do these subjects mean to you?
Katie: They mean different things for different reasons.
Flowers are easy, I love drawing and painting them! So much so I try to think of other subjects to test myself more. Working with flowers is beautiful capturing their delicacy, textures and patterns; with petals almost like fabric.
My love for birds is very similar, I enjoy drawing little duos because I like to capture their relationship in my work. How they interact with each other, like a dance in mid air (particularly the hummingbirds) or a conversation. It’s nice to try and detail their textures on paper which is almost a link to my love for textiles.
Butterflies is an unusual subject. I have small detail of a larger piece “Fears” on my website which is based around my fear of moths. I started to draw/paint the moths detailing their fuzzy textures, delicate wings, beautiful patterns and prints soon realising drawing them actually wasn’t so bad. To evolve this subject I decided to venture to butterflies. Sadly I didn’t overcome my phobia!
Overall these subjects have close links to the natural essence which I like to capture in my work. I like to focus on the finer details and delicacy sometimes we often don’t see in real life.
Lisa: You recently (in October 2016) relocated from Scotland to Madrid, Spain. Has this move to a new city changed your art in any way?
Katie: Yes. I’ve certainly seen things through new eyes, mainly the most simplistic things we don’t stop and take a moment to appreciate. I believe this is based on my love for my new local park, Parque del Retiro, I explore there most weekends!
Additionally there are a multitude of art galleries to explore in Madrid which host some of the most exclusive paintings in the world. I’m fortunate to have been able to take some time to visit and see some of these paintings from art eras which aren’t so common to stumble upon in Scotland.
I think because of these I have certainly became more experimental with colour particularly bright backgrounds featured in some newer work created freely and loosely before deciding what the overall piece transforms into! I have also been working with new and previously unexplored mediums including oil and acrylics painting. They always seemed quite complex and scary to use to me before but you can get some really nice techniques and retain the same detail I like to attain when painting or drawing. Finally some new sketches I’ve been working on are dreamlike and almost imaginative whereas previous works have been fairly realistic or close to subject matter. It’s been good to consider unexplored creativity which has been loosely inspired by my gallery visit to see the work of Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy.
Lisa: Anything else you’d like to share?
Katie: I do like working with new topics, briefs or subject matter as I think it helps keep things fresh and new! If anyone reading has a suggestion or title they think could work with my style please do suggest by sending it on to me to work with.
I am available for commissions or enquiries. My work is on display at galleries throughout the West Coast of Scotland and shortly in Madrid, Spain.
Lisa K. Salerno is an Art Writer with the London-based publication Niji Magazine, and Art Editor and a regular Art Columnist at Inigo Online. Her art and writing has also been featured in the Autism Speaks website, the Artful Vagabond, The Connecticut River Review and in several other online and print publications.