Katie Khakpour-Smith interview: Sewing with colour and humour
Katie Khakpour-Smith, better known as Katie Jean Designs, is based in Hertfordshire. She produces original artwork using embroidery techniques and paint, along with some assistance from her golden retriever, Frankie.
Her popular ‘ladies’ series was published as a collection of greeting cards this year, and will be available in shops throughout the world.
Katie enjoys being commissioned to create artwork, as her creations are often used for wedding presents and housewarming gifts.
From ladies to elephants, Katie Khakpour-Smith shares with us her most challenging project to date, her first moment recognising herself as an artist, and how humour remains an important part of her creative process.
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Katie Jean Designs: I found the idea of using a sewing machine to create lines with thread, instead of pens and pencil, fascinating. I also loved the idea of using fabrics to create vibrant and textured artwork with the fabric applied in many respects, in the same way as I would apply paint.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I spent my childhood drawing and painting. I studied art for GCSE and loved the work of Tamara de Lempicka and her stylish paintings. I studied 1920s American history and loved to read about flappers and prohibition and I think Lempicka’s work always made me think of this. In turn, this may have had some bearing on my ‘ladies’ images, although my ladies are nowhere near as glamorous as Lempicka’s women!
The great outdoors and architecture are significant influences in the direction my work is taking.
A variety of different crafts
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I have not taken a traditional route, nor had any formal training. In fact, I qualified as a solicitor in 2008 but always felt a little lost when I was not giving time to creating.
I have always loved to draw, paint and try my hand at a variety of different crafts but it was only when I fell pregnant with my daughter that I really focused on textile art and knew that I had found my niche.
When a well-known publisher confirmed that they would like to turn my range of ‘ladies’ images into greetings cards, I gained the self-confidence to describe myself as an artist.
Vibrant color, pattern and detail
How would you describe your art and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I would describe my artwork as colourful and life-like. I like to get the proportions of my work as accurate as possible, particularly with portraits of buildings.
I want to capture attention through the use of vibrant colour, pattern and detail and in the case of my figurative work, through both colour and humour.
Tell us a bit about your process and environment and do you sketch first?
I devote a lot of time drawing with pencil and paper before I ever begin to sew or use fabric. Once I have sketched out my artwork on paper, I then choose my fabrics and start to sew.
I will have an art studio later this year, which is much-needed as my art equipment, fabric, and canvas are everywhere!
What currently inspires you?
Recently, a local radio presenter who interviewed me some time ago and with whom I have stayed in touch, emailed me a link to a speech from the famous Neil Gaiman, with the promise that if this “video doesn’t inspire you and leave your head ringing, I will personally pay you a £20 fine.”
I told him he could keep his £20.
I am certain that every creative person will take some inspiration from this.
Creating large statement pieces
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why.
‘Wildflowers’ is an important piece of work to me. It was my largest at the time and whilst I feel my technique has improved significantly since I created it, it is a piece which led to me being commissioned to create several other intricate floral-themed commissions. It also made me feel brave about creating large, statement pieces.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has changed significantly. Many of my first pieces were of the ladies and I also became quite hooked early on in creating characterful elephant-themed artwork.
I am regularly commissioned to create textile house and shop front portraits, which I love. I’m currently working on my largest and most challenging piece to date, a large, life-like portrait of a historical London Department store. The finished piece will have 47 windows and it will be more than 1.2 metres tall. Moving that around under a sewing machine is not easy!
Once complete, I hope to continue to create similar architectural artworks on a similar scale. I find my technique and skills are increasing with each piece of work.
Work in progress
What advice would you give to an inspiring textile artist?
Experiment! Have lots of fun with your work and make sure you photograph everything – if for no other reason than to track your progress! Gain as many different skills as you can and try out all sorts of different mediums. There are no rules!
What piece of equipment of tool could you not live without?
My sewing machine!
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes?
I have recently run some workshops in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I tend to advertise the courses via Facebook although luckily to date they have sold out pretty quickly.
Where can readers see your work this year?
To get more information, click here: www.katiejeandesigns.co.uk
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