Interview with Kim Tillyer, AKA Witchmountain, at her studio near Braithwaite – September 2023 by Polly Marix Evans
This was always going to be a fun day out, I’ve known Kim for quite a few years now and count her as a friend, not just a fellow printmaker. My interview with Kim coincided with the annual EVAN Open Studios event, so I visited her at her studio (which has one of the most amazing views over Skiddaw Fell) and took along another artist friend from Brighton who had come to stay with me in order to see all these wonderful artists and makers we have up here in the north.
Kim is usually a provider of wonderful cakes and cups of tea but, having recently moved house, back to a much more rural and inspiring area of Cumbria, she’s a bit at sixes and sevens and had left the cake at home! The day was saved with a pack of pink wafer biscuits, mildly crushed, from the back of my kitchen cupboard, and some very unsatisfactory ‘free-from’ custard creams.
I must admit, a lot of the time with Kim was NOT spent being sensible and discussing art. As a trio of women in our 50s we discussed childhood in the 70s, PE in your vest and pants at school if you’d forgotten your shorts, menopause and HRT. We even tried on each other’s glasses to see who has the worst eyesight – and no, I’m not telling, but it isn’t me.
Kim was born in St Mary Abbots Hospital in Kensington, the hospital in which, three years later, Jimi Hendrix died. ‘The day I was born was the day my dad decided to take all the wheels off the car.’ This is the kind of statement that is just so very Kim! She’s funny, quirky, wonderfully creatively talented and absolutely lovely through and through, but weird things to tend to happen when she’s around!
Both Kim, and her daughter, followed in the family footsteps also studying at The Northern School of Art. Kim attended as a mature student, aged 40, with a degree in Textiles and Surface Design – covering a great range of techniques from embroidery to wallpaper design.
As a single parent, Kim wanted to work from home and fit her art around family life, so cyanotype became her speciality – you don’t need vast amounts of equipment or lethal chemicals.
Kim also worked in galleries, loving being part of the art world but, in 2015 Storm Desmond hit and caused terrible damage to many businesses, and homes, in Cumbria where Kim and her partner now lived. The gallery Kim was working in was no longer able to offer her work, and she found herself redundant and wondering how on earth she’d keep a roof over their heads.
Having previously applied to the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate, but postponed taking up her place due to moving to Cumbria, she realised this could be the time to throw her all into her own creative practice.
The fair was a success! She found new outlets and stockists, including our new EVAN Director, Helen Clues, who was running a gallery in Warwickshire at the time.
Kim joined Cumbria Printmakers and EVAN to expand her links in the area. She’s taken part in The Great Print Exhibition at Rheged on several occasions, including a meet-the-artist day where she ran cyanotype workshops.
Kim often runs workshops and courses (with cake!) at her studio too – you can sign up for these via her website. I’ve had a go at making a cyanotype bookmark with Kim myself – it’s weirdly like magic!
As well as original prints with hand-stitched details, Kim produces beautiful tiles (I have them as coasters) all printed herself with a heat press. She works in association with a friend from school in Whitby all those years ago, on needlepoint embroidery kits. There are also lampshades, cards, bags and lovely lovely wooden and silver jewellery.
And then the books – Kim’s produced whimsical illustrations for both The Secret Garden and The Ugly Duckling published by Purple Pomegranate Press. And, coming out in April 2024, May 2024 in the USA, taking almost two years in the making with Search Press, will be Kim’s own book on cyanotype – definitely one to look out for.
She’s also one of EVAN’s as-seen-on-TV artists, having featured on Countryfile with Joe Crowley, producing cyanotypes at Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s Grasmere home.
And she still tells me she has imposter syndrome!
I ask her what’s coming next? She tells me she’s currently working on a packaging concept for a coffee company, Rounton Coffee, a North Yorkshire roastery specialising in artisan Brazilian coffee and linked to the rescue charity, WINGS, for trafficked birds. Kim’s producing original painted illustrations which she then scans into her computer where she can digitally edit them. Cue three women adjusting their glasses to squint at the screen of the laptop. Kim’s forgotten her sketch books with the ‘real’ paintings in them, ‘They’re at home, on the side, with the cake!’