Grad Spotlight: Kat Hughes
Kat Hughes just graduated from Jordanstone College of Art and Design where she spent four years studying for her BDes Illustration degree.
Here she reflects on her experience as a student living in a small community and how the nature of the course supported her pursuit of personal development as an illustrator.
We read that you studied BDes Illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design – what was your experience of studying like? What aspect of your course have you most enjoyed?
I loved the versatility and flexibility of my course. Undergraduate degrees in Scotland are four years long, and in DJCAD the course is structured so that first year is general art and design, followed by three years in your chosen discipline. First year was incredibly valuable to me because I started my course straight from school, and it gave me a platform to dismiss my preconceptions of what art and illustration can be. The facilities are absolutely second to none meaning that there is a lot of room for experimentation, and I was also very grateful for how patient the technicians were! Studying at DJCAD also gave me the opportunity to study abroad during my penultimate year at the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia in Spain, as part of the Erasmus exchange programme. This was personally, culturally and academically beneficial to me and the things that I learnt within and out with the classroom continue to influence and inform my work on a regular basis.
How do you feel now that you’ve graduated?
Ready for a holiday?! But honestly, when I first finished I felt quite mentally and physically drained, but now I feel refreshed and have a couple of projects in the works and loads of ideas for more. I chose to go to art school in the first place because of my constant desire to create, and that feeling hasn’t diminished.
Describe your working process? What materials do you most enjoy working with?
I have worked in a variety of different media over the four years of my course. The turning point in my personal style was at the very end of my second year when I decided to tackle a set brief by creating a large, one off gouache painting on board – I was just experimenting, but to my surprise I found I was able to really express myself through the medium. Painting with gouache in the way that I do feels very natural to me and I would say is my trademark (for now at least). When I am creating a piece intended for print I will scan my painting and work into it using my tablet and Photoshop. However, I do also relish putting myself out of my comfort zone and I enjoy experimenting with printmaking and ceramics, something I intend to do a lot more of this year. I particularly like working with texture through screen-printing and lithography as it is something I don’t generally incorporate into my paintings.
I begin each project with a lot of research, reading and note taking; a solid concept behind the work is important – as well as visual appeal.
Are you from Dundee originally? What’s the lifestyle like there?
I’m originally from Edinburgh, and I moved to Dundee about two weeks after I turned eighteen. Although I spent a large chunk of my final year alone with my sketchbooks and not having much of a lifestyle, I know I’m going to really miss Dundee. It’s a small city and I always felt more of a part of the community than when I lived in Edinburgh and Valencia which have a much larger populations. The artistic community in particular is established and thriving – Dundee was recently named as the UK’s first UNESCO city of design.
Do you keep a sketchbook? How to you record ideas for inspiration?
I do keep a personal sketchbook and I’m enjoying it more now that there isn’t the pressure of anyone grading it! I scribble a lot and use my sketchbook as a way of taking visual notes, in the same way that in a lecture you would just jot down the most important pieces of information. I especially like taking my sketchbook abroad or to museums as I find these are inspiration goldmines. After the initial information gathering stage, I will use my sketchbook to develop and finalise concepts and compositions. I also take a lot of written notes when I have fleeting ideas for personal projects, I tend to keep these separate in my Filofax so I’m incredibly dependant on that too!
Tell us about the last book you read/film you watched – is there a subject matter that interests you most?
The last film I watched was actually a documentary about famous gardens in Morocco and Spain to help inform a painting that I’m currently working on. I have found that I’m more often inspired by nonfiction and facts, rather than stories. Above all I am inspired by all things that are foreign to me, in particular European culture. I travel as often as I can, and I think my fascination with other places comes across quite strongly in my work. The last feature film I watched was “Mujeres al Borde De Un Ataque de Nervios” (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) directed by Pedro Almodóvar. It’s an 80s Spanish black comedy with a quirky but completely over the top storyline about a woman whose lover has just left her. I enjoy watching Almodóvar’s films primarily due to his trademark kitsch visuals, but also because it helps me keep up my Spanish which is my second language.
Are there any creative projects out there that you’ve seen recently that you wish you’d made?
That’s a tricky question; I often see projects that are just so simple and clever that I think, “That was under my nose this entire time! Why didn’t I think of that?!” I had that feeling most recently when I was exhibiting at D&AD New Blood Festival earlier this month. It was great, but also sometimes quite painful, to see the work of other designers who are at the same stage in their careers as I am.
Which creatives do you admire/look up to and why?
My artistic hero is Pablo Picasso. I admire the way that he never settled for a solitary style throughout his life and he always pushed himself in different creative directions. The magic really happens when you aren’t too comfortable and you are taking risks, and I believe his work is testimony to that. I have always been interested in art history and for this reason I am often influenced by more traditional artists and ancient art. As for contemporary illustrators, I am a huge fan of Rob Ryan. Although I have never tried my hand at paper cutting which is what he is probably most well known for, I feel we share the same bold and cheerful aesthetic. His work is very sincere and it never fails to tug at my heartstrings.
Where do you work? If at home how do you find it?
I’m currently in the process of moving into my new “studio” (my bedroom at home in Edinburgh) which has been okay because I’ve only been painting so far, I’ve not had to go digging through my boxes of art materials yet! I’m looking forward to getting myself properly organised and settled in. And I just acquired a new bookcase for my ever growing collection of reference book and guidebooks – it’s very important to me that these are easy to access. Ultimately I would like to work in a studio surrounded by other creatives because it always helps me to be able to talk through my work with people and bounce ideas off each other.
What would you most like to be doing with your illustration in 5-10 years time?
My dream commission would be to create work for a travel company, any project where my illustrations could help fuel someone else’s wanderlust! I would also love to have the opportunity to incorporate my knowledge of Spanish into my creative work – working on language learning materials would be very rewarding and also very fun. Another goal of mine is to produce a mural because I have never worked on a huge scale before, but I think my style would suit it.