Birds don’t need maps

This week I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Thornton, a very good friend of mine and maker of contemporary collages that will appeal to nature lovers and fans of smart design alike.  Read on for business tips, studio envy and a flavour of creative Yorkshire life….

Hi Kate, tell us in one snappy sentence who you are and what you do!
I’m a designer-maker based in Yorkshire; I create collages & printed designs based on my love of birds and the natural world which incorporate old maps, postcards and other paper-based materials.

Tell us about your studio and describe a day inside it.
Moving from working at home to a studio was the best decision I’ve made. My studio is big enough to house a large desk system, an old oval dining table we painted up in white gloss and loads of room for storage of stock. I also have my own little kitchen, which is great.

There’s never really a typical day in the studio but I might pack up a few greetings card and print orders, and other boring things like invoicing, stock checks and arranging print runs. Exciting things include creating new card designs for a retailer, working on commissioned artwork or just playing around with bits of paper making 3D pictures or a mini book.

What are the pros and cons of working for yourself?
Flexibility – You can arrange your time to get the most out of work and home life.
Being in control of your career and evolving a business is very exciting.
No rules – You can make your own and find a way of working which suits you.

Decision making & finding the right people to get advice from can be tricky.
Being responsible for a business is time consuming and not always interesting.
No cleaner (not yet anyway!)

What top 3 pieces of advice would you give to anyone considering setting up their own small creative business?
You must create a clear identity – know what you do and why.
Make sure you’re making a profit, it sounds obvious but it’s important to get your pricing right  from the beginning. Also, ask for help, talk to other people, get good advice and do your homework!

How do you think your West Yorkshire countryside surroundings influence the work you make?  Would you ever choose to live in London or a similarly noisy city location?
Living in the countryside rather than the city there are less distractions, it allows me to focus on the type of work I make, which is influenced by nature and my surroundings. I’m always on the look out for something new when I’m out walking. I do love visiting cities; it’s important to know what’s going on, what people are producing and selling. For the moment I’m happy visiting but if the right city came calling I wouldn’t mind trying city life out again.

You’re very handy with a scalpel!  What do you enjoy about the process of carefully cutting things out?
There’s a lot of groundwork to do before I finally get to the cutting stage, the cutting part is the bit where I can completely focus on a physical task and all other thoughts float away. I find it quite relaxing and satisfying- touch wood I haven’t cut myself yet!

 Which creative people and styles interest you?
When I first started selling cards etc I looked at a guy called Paul Farrell, I like the simplicity of his work and the bird silhouettes, we seemed to have a bit in common and I like his approach to marketing and selling.
I love the Japanese approach to art & design and the fact it goes back centuries; they are the masters of simplicity and balance.  When you look at Hokusai’s woodcut prints from the 1830’s it’s clear how rich and advanced the art of Japan has been.
I discovered the work of Mario Wagner last year on the Internet; I love the use of collage within his paintings and the bizarre imagery in his work. I’m not sure whether he’s a graphic designer or an artist but I quite like that blurriness.
I love the arts and crafts period and the whole philosophy of the handmade versus mass manufacture. I particularly love the way craftsmen and women turned their hands to many disciplines such as architecture, furniture design and textiles. I’m fascinated by textile design- I love a bit of Lucienne Day and the ‘Whitby’ design by Mini Moderns.

Tell us about your recent show at Lost & Found.
Lost & Found is a little treasure of a shop in Holmfirth where I live.  James, the owner has a great eye and has put together an eclectic balance of classic vintage and contemporary design. James asked if I’d like to be the artist for his fringe event as part of Holmfirth Artweek, a weeklong event consisting of a huge open art exhibition and lots of fringe shows which raises hundreds of thousands for Macmillan Cancer Support every year. Our show ‘Birds Don’t Need Maps’ is an exhibition of my collages carefully nestled within the beautiful objects at Lost & Found.

And finally, where can we find your work?
Currently I don’t sell online. I took quite a traditional approach to selling when I first started and only sell through independent shops and galleries. For a list of stockists you can go to the retail section on my website.

Thanks Kate, great to find out more about your business.
Kate has a blog too, you can find it here.

All Lost & Found interior images by Owen Philips.

4 Responses to Birds don’t need maps

  1. Pingback: Kate Thornton Interview « New Good Studio

  2. cathy thornton says:


  3. Jacquie Iredale says:

    I enjoyed the interplay of ideas in the exhibition “Birds don’t need maps”, they were very successful.

  4. Karen Ellis says:

    Great article. What a talented artist. we enjoyed our visit to the Lost and found exhibition.

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