Since Kate Walton realised she could turn her sketches into a reliable source of income her career has been on a roll.
Interview by Caroline Atkins, photography by Rachel Warne.
One of Kate's earliest memories is the bathroom wallpaper of her childhood home. The mid-century design of burnt-orange flowers against a wash of earthy green made such an impression that it eventually led her to make her own wallpaper for a living. The decision, however, was far from immediate - she was to spend years painting people's walls and selling sketches before she got a business off the ground.
Growing up, all Kate knew was that she wanted to do something artistic. She has a cousin who makes ceramics, an aunt who's a landscape gardener and grandmothers who sewed intricate embroideries of birds and flowers, now framed on her walls. "I didn't really have any choice but to be creative," she says today from the kitchen table where she works.
Kate went to Chelsea College of Art & Design in London, but the course didn't suit her skills.
"It was more 'smash a chair, then reconstruct it', which was all a bit conceptual for me," she says. "I just wanted to make beautiful things." She then worked with Miles Negus-Fancey, the interior artist, to create dragged, stippled and rag-rolled effects in people's homes. Yet she didn't find it creative enough. With a young son, Kate also wanted to find something that she could do without a commute.
GETTING THE HANG OF IT
At first, Kate drew merely for pleasure, inspired by the rambling beauty of the local cemetery in Nunhead, South London, and be her garden with its wild flower patch at the front. She sold a few framed images through independent shops and took on occasional portrait commissions. Months later, she realised she could turn her sketches and pictures into a venture that might produce a more reliable income. "I thought, 'I love interiors, I love patterns, I loved that wallpaper in my childhood home - why don't I put it all together?" she says. "I could have kicked myself for not thinking of working with wallpaper sooner.,"
Kate's first two designs blended the vintage look she loved as a child with her own take on botanical illustration and classical figuring. "I'm trying to be a modern traditionalist," she says, pointing to her red and white chinoiserie paper. Birds perch among sprays of flowers and foliage, all meticulously drawn but spiked with artistic license, taking elements from a daisy here, a Japanese anemone there. Kate's Swallows & Stars design is more mid-century, with birds swooping and darting across a moody background studded by bright starbursts that, up close, resemble dahlia heads. both designs reflect her twin traits of being "a bit over the top - and pernickety".
Kate's patterns develop from an "internal moodboard". The idea appears in her head and works itself out until she has to get it down on paper.
The execution of each elements matters, even at this early stage - the shape of a beak, the way an eye looks at you, the sense of a bird giving a little warble. "Something that makes me think, 'That's going to be fun to look at on a wall," Kate says. The perfectionist in her will notice the smallest fault, so it must be just right.
Today, Kate's table is covered with jars of brushes, paint tubes and her favourite red pencils, enabling her to capture her subject subtly but expressively. There are dried sprays of yellow mimosa and blue solanum for her to sketch, faded hydrangea heads and clothes of feathers, and mood boards and sketchpads covered with work in progress,
Having created the elements by hand, Kate scans her drawings onto a computer and plays with their size, position and colours. She considers the scale, what room the pattern might suit and how it will sit against furniture. She then gives this to a wallpaper supplier, who prints her designs in water-based inks on FSC-Certified paper, in keeping with her concern for the environment. The paper is heavy, textured and rarely wasted: many customer just buy a one metre strip to line an alcove of cabinet.
Kate attracted her first customer - her sister - a year ago, papering a downstairs look with Swallows & Stars. Now, eight years after having the initial idea to design wallpaper, she is expanding her collection. Her new patterns include ravens in flight, the background formed by their wings in aerial perspective. She is also working on one of protea flowers in pinks and russets, using her signature red pencil. Designing wallpaper might be a world away from the days of dismembered chairs and conceptual art, but finally, Kate is able to "make beautiful things".