Award-winning printmaker Kelly Stewart’s creative energy is infectious, her passion for printmaking, inspiring. We learn more about her screenprinting process and the work she has been making during the pandemic.
Edinburgh-based Kelly Stewart’s association with Swansea Print Workshop first began in 2011, 10 years ago, when she was a selected artist on ImPORT/ exPORT, our cultural exchange project with Edinburgh Printmakers
Kelly fully enjoyed meeting the community of artists at SPW and felt an immediate rapport with the people of Swansea – their friendliness and openness reminding her of Australia, her home country.
Almost every year since then SPW has warmly welcomed Kelly back to lead 2 to 3 day workshops in drawing, printmaking and bookbinding. Workshops will quite often start with a day of drawing followed by two days in the studio, converting drawings into screenprints or artists’ books. While she finds the members of SPW willing to learn and try new things, the participants respond equally to Kelly’s enthusiasm and the supportive, open environment she creates while challenging them to explore creatively. Her workshops are always popular and book up quickly.
In 2019, Kelly led a Natural History workshop, a collaboration between SPW and Swansea Museum. Work from this project is currently showing in April’s online exhibition One for the birds …
A number of taxidermy birds and insects were selected from the extensive Natural History collection to be painted and drawn by the participants. The group were encouraged to sit together while they observed and drew the specimens. Half-way through, all the drawings were placed on the floor so that everyone could see the different ideas being generated and to consider what worked, and what worked less well.
This same supportive, explorative process was carried through to the printmaking stage. Kelly encouraged the artists to work up the layers of their print, with various mark making techniques and the creative use of the studio photocopier to enlarge elements of their drawings, overlap and reposition to create a final composition. The participants produced a boxed set of screenprinted cards which were displayed alongside selected prints at the Museum later that year.
Kelly’s inclusion of the photocopier as part of the screenprinting process might be surprising but her use of the machine is inventive and imaginative. She uses it for her own work because she finds it offers infinite potential when creating a composition by reducing and enlarging drawings.
That there are countless possibilities is what Kelly loves most about printmaking because “you don’t have control over the whole image, the element of surprise is always exciting.”
Broadly speaking, Kelly has two approaches to creating a print:
If she has less time to make the print, she will plan the image in detail, drawing and painting a colour version. She then creates other separate drawings which she will cut and paste onto a page to create a black and white sketch of the design to convert to an acetate. She may draw or mark make directly onto the acetate before working up the colours, building layers around the drawing. A print will have a minimum of 3 or 4 colours and an average of 7 or 8 layers.
If there is more time available, Kelly’s process is much more organic. She “builds up the print like a painting” often with 15 layers or more, experimenting throughout until she resolves the print. She creates a lot of individual drawings and experiments with the layers. She often finds ideas come through this process and “can spend many happy hours on it experimenting and exploring”. When she is printing the layers of the image, she uses a combination of opaque and translucent inks to achieve the desired effect. She often uses monoprinting techniques which gives the finished work a more painterly effect.
Kelly talks about “resolving a print”, an expression of the point at which she is happy with the image. She has never “discarded a print.” She has always found a way to resolve it, perhaps by adding an additional layer or 10, or perhaps with a burst of colour. “Pink can often save a print!” she says.
Kelly has a passion for architecture which forms much of her subject matter. She has travelled to many European and UK cities. She works a lot from photographs she takes on location – this allows her to better capture a composition and to take her time drawing it up back in the studio. (She freely admits she doesn’t like working outdoors in the cold!). She creates a main drawing around the element of architecture which caught her interest, which has perhaps made “her stop and say wow!” She then considers how she will work this up into a print.
With her architectural drawings, she aims for accuracy, respecting the integrity of the building. With other drawings whether it is a bird, animal or landscape, her approach is more organic. She has “scope to tweak and can switch off and not think about it.”
Before the pandemic Kelly was working long hours, 6 days a week dividing her time between Edinburgh Printmakers and the beautiful home studio in her Victorian flat. During the enforced restrictions, that pattern of work was disrupted due to the temporary closure of the print studio. Furthermore, by the end of March 2020, all workshops, exhibitions and fairs for that year were cancelled.
It has given Kelly the opportunity to review all her previous work – the incredible volume (1300 prints in her collection) that she had produced surprised even herself – and to reflect on her previous level of working. She has found herself enjoying a slower pace of work which she believes will continue once life starts opening up again.
That is not to say Kelly has been unproductive during this time!
In November 2020 she was commissioned to paint a mural in the turret at Carlowrie Castle near Edinburgh. The mural celebrates the life of Isobel Wylie Hutchinson, known for being an Arctic explorer, botanist, anthropologist, artist, poet, and travel writer. This was the largest scale work Kelly has tackled but one she relished. The story of this independent-spirited woman resonated with her, how she resisted conforming to a more conventional life, “doing whatever she could to fulfil her life-long passion”.
Instagram has also proved a surprising source of work and support for Kelly. Prior to the pandemic, she regarded Instagram as something she dabbled in. But over lockdown she has really engaged with customers, clients, and other artists.
She held a card sale (made from torn up old prints), a mini print sale and ran a ‘View from the Window’ project which led to her drawing views from across the UK, Sweden, and the USA. The appreciative comments and feedback she received has been a source of pleasure. Being part of this community, being able to share creativity, “to be inspired by and want to inspire” has been a lovely, genuine experience for Kelly and one she hopes will continue going forwards.
Kelly has also spent time making artists’ books. She doesn’t sell her artists’ books which she says allows her freedom to explore and express different ideas and for the books to grow organically. Inspiration for the books has come from a variety of places:
Kelly was selected as one of the public contributors for the Scottish Citizens Assembly on Climate Change which met by Zoom one weekend every month for 4 months. She created an artists’ book, a collage of pen and ink, pencil and acrylic mark making, stamps and typed text and incorporated words from the group discussions and snippets of recommendations from the paper which went to the Scottish Parliament in April.
She has also captured her observations on lockdown in book form, using new lockdown vocabulary and daffodils have filled another. Kelly had always enjoyed the annual flowers in the city but this year it was a real joy to give herself time to observe and celebrate them.
As the country opens up Kelly is ready to get back to printmaking.
From reviewing her previous prints, there are a couple of larger pieces that she intends to flesh out and rework.
And she has been thinking about her new project – ‘Edinburgh in Lockdown’ for a month now. With travel restricted to a 5-mile radius and without tourists, Kelly found herself noticing more, being able to enjoy short bursts of sketching outside without interruptions from passers-by. It was a city returned to its inhabitants, a city transformed; “a cityscape without people”.
Kelly Stewart will be returning to SPW to run a screenprinting workshop as soon as the studio can safely reopen. To keep up to date with our workshop programme and all our news, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list.
You can follow her too on her Instagram accounts: skellystewart and dogs.with.personality
Article by Sarah Jackman