Rather than focusing on selling art prints or originals, Kirsty Baynham has built a product design business around her illustration work. Kirsty’s designs feature intricate linework and geometric patterns to depict flora and fauna. Her images lend themselves beautifully to their application on paper goods and fabric, which happens to be Kirsty’s primary focus at the moment. In her interview, Kirsty talks about her path to becoming a designer, tells us what tools she loves best, and explains how she has discovered both the importance of social media and alternately using old-fashion print mail to to set herself apart. Make sure to check out Kirsty’s Etsy shop Prism of Starlings for beautiful products — it is one of my go-to places for gifts! Thank you Kirsty for sharing this view into your life as an illustrator and designer! -eden
Where are you based?
Glasgow, Great Britain
What three words would you choose to best describe your artwork?
Intricate, dreamy, lyrical.
Has your childhood had a significant effect on your work? If so, paint us a picture of what your childhood was like in words? (If you have an image you would like to share, please do.)
I grew up around animals, in the home and in the wildlife parks we visited regularly, so that definitely contributed to becoming an animal lover, and influenced my art as well, since animals are often the focal point in my drawings. One of my earliest creative memories is making paper teddy bears by colouring sheets of paper in felt tip pens, cutting out bear outlines, then stuffing them with tissues and stapling the bears closed. As a child, I was always drawing animals and became fascinated with origami. Art that was “just” art was never enough for me. It had to be a product with a purpose — a book, a 3D object or paper model. I don’t think this fascination with product design has ever really left me — I still often find myself sitting down with a ruler and measuring out a net or plan, ready to become some sort of hanging mobile, concertina card or packaging box.
Have you had a formal art education?
Yes, I studied Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art after doing a generalized portfolio course, and then a general first year in which I explored graphic design, fashion design, sculpture and painting, before deciding that drawing was what I was best at. I’ve always loved textile design, typography and book making, so I wasn’t completely clear which direction I wanted to take my art. Fortunately, illustration has allowed me to be quite flexible, and I’m glad I went down that path.
I realised that the one constant that had never changed was my love of design, and that despite the inevitable ups and downs in confidence which you get as an artist, I really did want to be, and could be, a designer.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
I think I always really knew that I would like to be an artist, but I suppose what changed was deciding that I could and should be an artist, which was probably when I applied to art school at 18/19. I gained a lot of confidence in my first year at art school, when my drawing work was received positively. I’ve always had a few different passions, some of which have gradually become less important to me as I’ve become older. Until about 12, I desperately wanted to be a vet. And then one Christmas I was given an acoustic guitar and got quite into music, and shortly after decided that I’d like to be a song-writer. I also explored the idea of being a poet, and then somewhere after a fleeting perusal of journalism and a short-lived spell of studying languages, I realised that the one constant that had never changed was my love of design, and that despite the inevitable ups and downs in confidence which you get as an artist, I really did want to be, and could be, a designer.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? How did the sale come about?
The first piece I remember selling was a limited edition print called “Crystal Breakage” that was exhibited in a joint exhibition in my third year at college. The print was a very vividly colourful tree, and I remember originally drawing it with paints and inks onto an old book cover, and then realizing that I wanted it to be much bigger than my canvas allowed. So I carried on painting and sewed several book covers together, and the seams became unusual axes of symmetry which grew to be an integral part of the image, which I never removed. I think that piece of work is quite reminiscent of my early work, which was somewhere between fine art and illustration.
Tell us about what inspires your work.
I get really inspired by simple things like unusual colour combinations or oddly juxtaposed imagery; images which perfectly represent the amalgamation of old and new, natural and man-made. Patterns are very important to me, and are incorporated into almost all of my drawings, so I tend to try to mix patterns from a cultural perspective -– Celtic, Arabic and Aztec being some of my favourite sources of inspiration. I’m also inspired by the elegance of birds, woodland animals and their patterning.
What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work? Do you have any favorite techniques or processes that you are willing to share?
I use mostly pens –- this can range from calligraphy and fountain pens and fine-liners, to a pot of basic, children’s felt tips. I love textures, and watered-down ink on a painted background can create very unusual ones, from a scratchy tip surface of faded colour, to a smooth kind of glossy, dark sheen, to a velvety pool of pale watercolour. I’m lost without the tiniest size of paint brush, a replaceable nib pen and a blotting patch, and I’m constantly exploring new paper types which are good to print onto.
How do you make money through your art? Please explain what works for you and why. (For example: selling originals or prints online or in galleries, doing commissions, working with major brands, etc.)
Wholesaling and direct online sales of prints and paper goods are what I’m primarily focused on. I also do some commissions (logos etc.) and I sell a few of my designs on a royalty basis (for use on clothing). It’s quite nice sometimes to sit back and let someone else do the marketing, and focus singularly on design, as this is quite a novelty in my line of work. I mostly have to be 50/50 focused on designing and selling.
Do you “make a living” as an artist? If not, how do you primarily support yourself?
Yes, design is my primary income.
What have you found to be the most successful way(s) to market your art? Do you have any tips to share?
Social media is pretty important (I’m just beginning to realise this!), however, I also make a habit of sending out interesting self-promotional items in the post. Given that most artists use email, Twitter, and Facebook to spread their images, I think that the old fashioned form of the letter (while more time-consuming and expensive) is a little bit different, and I have heard on several occasions that letters do stand out. So a bit of both, I guess.
To be a good businessperson in the design world, you are forced to be a bit more flexible than would be expected from the romanticised image of an artist living out of their box of paints.
How would you describe the “business” of being an artist?
Unfortunately, to be a good businessperson in the design world, you are forced to be a bit more flexible than would be expected from the romanticised image of an artist living out of their box of paints. There is a lot of compromise in design, and the final outcome may not always be exactly what you dreamed it would be, especially when working directly with a client. There is a perpetual struggle to maintain a comfortable balance between work which sells, which suits the client’s needs, and which is appropriate enough to fit into current trends, and work which is sufficiently self-exploratory and can propel you further, as an artist, in your artistic growth.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
The flexible schedule is pretty nice! It’s also lovely to see my work in shops, featured randomly on the internet, and photographed away from my studio. I just love the thought that I can inspire people, the way I am inspired by others.
If you could collaborate with anyone (a person or a company) who would it be?
Probably Beci Orpin. I adore her fascinating wall collages, and the lovely thing about her work is that it’s so diverse, while remaining fully grounded in her identifiable style. That’s something I’d love to learn, if it can, in fact, be taught.
Do you collect artwork from other artists? If so, whose art do you own?
Yes, I love collecting prints and paper goods by independent artists. My most recent favourite purchases are a little risograph art zine by Katie Shambles, and one of BenConservato (Emma Kidd)’s flying horse decorations. I also own a lovely screenprint by Alice Hoult, a geometric print by Alyson Fox (possibly my favourite piece of art ever) and I have my eye on a Cybele Lyle print, which I hope will soon be part of my art collection.
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing careers in art?
Be prepared to work hard and, especially, teach yourself to react profitably to criticism, as it’s so easy to lose out on a good opportunity to improve, simply because you don’t have enough confidence to avoid being affected by negative reactions.
Do you have any upcoming shows, news, or things you’d like to let us know about?
Well, my newest project is designing a range of screen printed textiles, which I plan to hand-sew into cushions and purses. I also have an idea of a little backpack in an animal print running through my mind at the moment, which I’m yet to fine-tune… It will be interesting to revisit my sewing skills, and see if they’re still up to scratch! Fingers crossed the collection will be ready for Autumn. I’m also having a couple of images published in an upcoming design book (date still to be finalised), so I’m quite excited about that.
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