"There’s nothing quite like the meeting of two printmakers to get the chat flowing, though not always just about printmaking."
Interview by Polly Marix Evans
Kirsten Gilder is a screen printer, based in North Cumbria, creating hand-crafted textiles and original hand-pulled screen prints. She works from a studio, or ‘designated work space’, at her home. ‘It’s creatively messy,’ she tells me, ‘But that’s because I can’t stand waste so I hang on to everything as you never know when it might be useful.’
Her family travelled a lot when she was a child, and moved abroad when she was only 3, returning to the UK when she was in her early teens so she could attend school in London. She went on to study Art Foundation, then Graphics and Illustration. Her first job was at a fashion trade magazine which introduced her to the fashion and textiles industry. She went on to work freelance, on shoot production for fashion and styling for music videos and commercials. Of this work, Kirsty says, ‘Freelance – you never quite know what the next job is. It’s very hard work and long hours, but it was an adventure and I enjoyed every minute of it.’
The printmaking is a relatively new venture for Kirsten. On moving to Cumbria, she became a student again, graduating in 2011 with a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Applied Arts from The University of Cumbria. It was here that she discovered the real joy of screen printing. ‘I like the hand printed process, the individual layers and the flexibility to play, I literally lived in the print room!’
Kirsten set up her own print studio as a result of the lack of local screen-printing facilities available at the time, and also not being able to drive due to medical reasons. She found out how to build the resources she needed from books and the internet, and this now allows her to work from home.
Luckily, she has friends and family who are happy to drive her to various events and exhibitions nowadays. And the supportive community of EVAN artists are great at helping each other out, though the impact of covid has cut down on the ability to mix with other artists as much as previously.
Kirsten creates ink drawings and printed textures which are cut up and pieced back together in collage form, something she has been experimenting with a lot more recently. ‘I do like to print on anything. I like textiles, but recently I’ve been experimenting with screen printing on paper, and I’m still learning, it takes the ink in a different way to textiles. My abstract patterns may look simple, but normally the ideas behind them aren’t simple at all – they usually stem from something I’ve seen in daily life and then look at in an abstract way.’ She looks at an object: a gate; a chimney pot; or a texture on the floor, then plays with scales, crops it and reprints it, until you can’t tell what the object was to start with. She often finds inspiration when she’s walking her dog: shapes and materials along the way; linear or structural repetition. Once she’s finished the design process, she photocopies the designs and turns them into stencils to expose onto her silkscreens, she can then use these to print on paper or textiles.
Her recent work draws inspiration from the chimneys and rooftops she sees from the back window of her house, though she doubts anyone would be able to tell. Her bold, linear work appeals to the modern customer. She tells me some people like to know what the original object was, and she’s happy to give a basic idea, whereas others just enjoy her work for its hand-printed qualities and pattern alone.
Working predominantly in monochrome, Kirsty has recently been introducing splashes of colour. ‘I often admire more colourful work at exhibitions and think maybe I should push my boundaries a little more.’ Then she comes back to the studio and produces a black and white print! ‘I can get a bit nervous about colour and often return to what I love, black and white.’ As someone who also produces a lot of black and white prints (though I work in linocut) I can totally understand this, and we have a discussion about the interesting combination of positive and negative spaces within monochrome art and how much we like it.
Kirsten produces her pieces to order, or prints in small batches, and this not only reduces wastage, but also gives her the freedom to modify or introduce new elements when inspired. She does her best to use eco inks, organic cleaning methods and materials. ‘It’s far easier to work from home if you’re not struggling with your conscience. I’m not perfect though!’.
In an attempt to reduce studio waste, she repurposes materials to create smaller designs, such as her flower decorations, that came about from all the offcuts created from her purses or cushions she couldn’t bear to see piling up in the bin. Her abstract postcards are the screen test prints she originally produced on paper, and now layers on 100% recycled card which are then cut to postcard size and sold in a set. ‘I’m not an eco-angel! Part of it is wanting to reduce waste, but the other important part is that this is my business, my livelihood, and the impact on my pocket is an issue too.’
I ask her what other plans she has for the future, how she sees her work progressing. Kirsten tells me she sits on the fence between textiles and paper, not always an easy place to be, though she’s edging more towards non textile print work. She just wants to carry on experimenting. She likes the materials, she likes screen-printing, she likes the way one thing or idea leads to another. Her graphics background comes through in her creation of patterns. She’s shy, but her work is bold. She likes strong images.
She also likes square format. Maybe her New Year’s resolution will be to look at the world through the square format of Instagram, not just using it to showcase her work, but as a creative platform for ideas too. Watch this space! As she points out, if her ideas were on Instagram her iCloud storage wouldn’t be so very full!