Leaning towards drawing: Artist and Designer Kate Linforth
“I start all my sketchbooks at the back.”
Kate Linforth with her work Hive – Portrait by Robert Greshoff
Read Time: 7-9 minutes
Kate talks to me about her work, influences, and her Tiny Book.
Hope Fitzgerald: How did you get your creative start, Kate?
Kate Linforth: As a child, I was always making. My parents married young, and my father was quite an aesthete. He would buy wrecks of houses, renovate them, and move on. He would sit down and draw the concept of how he wanted to design the garden and the house and he’s an incredible draughtsman. Incredible. I suppose it’s because I adore him – I wanted to be as like my father as possible, minus the smoking and the whiskey.
HF: So did you start drawing as a child?
KL: Yes. I was quite an unwell child and spent some time in hospital. I remember the picture books that my father would bring to hospital to read to me – Gulliver’s Travels and The Butterfly Ball. The Butterfly Ball is quite bonkers. Hyperreal, imaginative illustrations. I remember drawing in (the margin of) those books and thinking what I had drawn was just fantastic. When I say that I think that the drawings are amazing they were literally a circle with two circles in it, and I thought I had absolutely nailed it. (laughs) I was quite little. At school, I had a natural leaning towards drawing. I’d get up at 4:00 in the morning and be drawing my hamster, copying pictures of Brambley hedge. Just always drawing. I was a quiet, shy child. It was a way to be left on my own. I was also a weirdly religious kid. I had Bibles with illustrations that are off the scale. They are insanely gorgeous. I mean, it’s obviously a whitewashed version of religion but just beautifully rendered.
HF: And did you carry that art interest on?
KL: Yeah, all the way through prep school. I was always in the art department. My art teacher would take me off painting – we’d go into the woods and paint tonal pictures of trees, or she’d have me back after school and I’d be painting in her front room as well as painting in the studios. She got me through my common entrance exam for secondary school. I was awarded a full scholarship to my secondary school based on my portfolio.
HF: How did the scholarship impact your education?
KL: That was quite weird, actually. I kind of don’t agree with scholarships now that I’m working in education. Getting the scholarship was a lot of pressure to be good. At that age, between 11 and 14, there’s a lot of growing up to do. You start comparing yourself. And it’s like Theodore Roosevelt said comparison is the thief of creativity. So you get social anxieties, and the internal voice asks those questions – am I good enough, or just a little bit ****. It started becoming much harder. Up to that point, it had always been so easy. I wasn’t self-conscious about it. Secondary school meant I had to perform and I became quite private about it.
I went to Art college and did a Foundation course in Hastings and had a blast. I always kept an artistic practise going but I always felt a bit like a fraud as an artist because I didn’t go on to do the degree at the time. I did do a Fine Art Degree after having my children. I’m not actually sure how much it taught me, but I did learn to have more self-belief. There’s a bottomlessness to my creativity. I can keep generating ideas and making and doing things and creating and inspiring. Art college gave me back my unselfconsciousness. I was painting with wax and working with encaustic. With hindsight, being an artist, being creative, is part of who you are. It’s not because you’ve got a piece of paper that calls you an artist.
HF: Tell me about some of the work you’ve made.
KL: I received funding from Ideas Test to work on a couple of projects. One of these was Hive, an installation using more than 500 wax tiles based on the floor at Rochester Cathedral. The floor tiles are called encaustic tiles, making a link with working in wax. I liked the link with the words.
Hive focused on ways people with visual impairment enjoy art. I worked with the artist Wendy Daws (who works creatively with people with visual impairment in Medway). Wax is such a sensory material. You can smell it, you can feel it, you can eat it. It feels like life itself. My tiles were cast, and then there were blanks casts that were carved by members of the public. There were different repeat pattern tiles plotted together quite randomly. When you go into Rochester Cathedral and look at the layers of flooring you can see some bits that have worn out – all these wonderful things that interlink.
I loved that work, but I missed drawing. That idea of pattern had emerged with Hive and I started playing around with it on the computer. As Artist in Residence at the Wealden Literary Festival, I focused on the wildlife in the garden, drawing and making patterns. I drew the creatures around Boldshaves House (the Wealden Festival site) – there were slow worms, newts, goldcrests, frogs, dragonflies. I researched, started drawing, and made them into patterns that were printed onto linen.
We moved house not long after this, and then of course, COVID which coincided with the renovation of Apple Tree Farm. We lived as a family of five in two caravans and my work became much smaller because I had no studio space. I was making drawings and digitising them and making patterns. I was designing stationery. I also had a new job (as an Arts technician). I didn’t know where I was creatively, because I could do so much. I can throw pots. I can take photographs. I can develop photographs. I can sculpt. I can draw. Which one do I do? Do I choose all of them? It definitely is useful as an educator.
HF: What’s the impact on your own work of time with students? KL: Term time, it’s all consuming. I think about the students a lot. I try to manage a balance by condensing my working days. In time for myself, I’ve been much more regimented. I feel that I’m more relevant to them if I’m doing my own work because they can look to me as somebody who actually sells work. I look to them for inspiration, as well. It’s symbiotic. It’s harder to make work. But I’m still managing to do it and I’m rarely idle.
I made a promise to myself moving into the new house that it would be my patterns I would furnish it with. It’s surrounded by farmland and has an amazing garden that hadn’t been touched for ages. I’ve been drawing on various plants in the garden for inspiration and creating patterns from those. Apple Tree Farm is the centre hub of where the creativity comes from; I draw on that and bring it back into the house. It’s going to take years. I want to furnish the house with the natural flora and fauna that surrounds it.
My confidence goes in peaks and troughs. I think I’m building up my confidence about the design work now. I’ve built my website — I describe myself as both an artist and designer. It’s quite a tricky one in my head. Which way do I go? Can I do both? You know, lots of other artists did. I’ve had a couple of commissions. One of the wallpapers is in a bar in Sydney. The slow worms from Boldshaves are decorating a beautiful downstairs loo in a very nice house somewhere. (Interior designer) Amy Maynard saw my fig drawings and commissioned me for a client of hers. My trailing fig wallpaper just featured in Homes and Antiques in July.
What I like about pattern and fabric and wallpaper is it’s art you don’t see, but you see it every day. It’s like a secret. It’s on your wall and you’ll walk past it every day. Things get covered over and then they get rediscovered, wallpaper and pattern can be a sort of echo of a past time. It’s something that perhaps I could leave behind that might get rediscovered in the future.
HF: Tell me about your tiny book?
KL: It terrified the life out of me because it was so beautiful. It was such a beautiful thing in its entirety, with pristine innards that I was just going to **** up. I was nervous about it. We all doodle unselfconsciously, so that’s what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to doodle without thought. I found a gigantic empty Wasps’ nest outside our kitchen window. I took it apart, laid the insides of the nest on the inside of the book and then started building up layers inside my book, just with my black pen…
HF: So that cut through is like an entrance! All this time… I never got that!
KL: I don’t know where it’s entering to, but mad patterns and doodles, concentric lines, lines that join. There’s something for me about monochrome – the black and the white, and line. It can be so powerful. The patterns in the Wasps’ nest suggested the mark making. Once I started it was fine. A lot of my students find a new sketchbook really frightening. I tell them to start the back. It drives some of the teachers around the bend. But it works. I start all my sketchbooks at the back.