Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. This is the story of a little girl named KateFete who lived on an island surrounded by the sea. On the island there were fields, and on one of those fields was a farm. This farm was Kate’s beautiful home. She spent all of her time playing in the countryside, writing stories and drawing pretty pictures because these were the things that she loved most.
When Kate’s golden hair had grown all the way down to her knees, she went to the city with a pocket full of sketches and a head full of stories. She wanted to share them with the whole wide world more than anything.
Can you guess what happened to Kate next? Turn the page to find out…
Tell us a wee bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Kate Slater, and I’m a farmer’s daughter who grew up deep in the middle of the countryside who has somehow ended up living in London. To preserve my sanity I often take the train back to the farm in Staffordshire where I revel in the green fields and rub noses with the cows. I also have a lovely studio there which was once used to store apples and latterly old furniture and spiders (my parents converted it into a studio for me when my school artwork became too big for the kitchen table). In London I have a desk in my bedroom (or a bed in my office), but I do live near Victoria Park, which is good for dog-watching and absolutely full of magpies. I studied illustration at Kingston University, love wearing hats and am usually covered in bits of paper. Sometimes I even rustle.
My shop name comes from a silly rhyme my friend Sally made up about me; “Kate Slate, she lives on a plate, she’s never irate, she likes a good fete…”
How did you begin your foray into the world of illustration and collage?
I have almost always wanted to be a children’s book author and illustrator, ever since I was seven and a school teacher told my class that Munch Bunch was written by a nine-year-old girl (Wikipedia begs to differ, but this strong and inspiring memory persists). I loved writing stories and drawing and decided I wanted to be published too! Twelve years later I applied to the fantastic illustration course at Kingston University and when I graduated in 2008 I was able to visit a few publishers with my portfolio. One of those was Andersen Press who are now publishing my first book. I’ve also illustrated for book covers, advertising and editorial briefs and I recently created a giant flock of birds to hang in the shop window at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Educate us on your design process and physical methods; what’s it like and why do you love it?
My illustrations are made from a combination of collage and cut-outs. I usually suspend individual collaged pieces from wires which I then photograph to create the final image. It’s a rather bizarre process, but I gradually moved towards collage while I was at university and I’ve always loved making 3D pieces from wire so it seemed quite natural to combine the two. For the book I worked in flat collage, although I think I made up for the lack of complicated wire construction by making even more intricate collages! I hoard paper and have stacks and stacks of old magazines and insides of envelopes.
Tell us about the inspiration for your first children’s book, Magpie’s Treasure.
Magnus Magpie is a bird with an eye for burglary. I think once I knew that, the idea for the rest of the story came fairly quickly. Most of my story ideas involve animals rather than people and I’ve always been inspired by nature. Birds are also fantastic to collage!
Give us an insight into the process of getting your book published from start to finish.
When I left university I had five colour illustrations for Magpie’s Treasure and a “dummy book” which is the pencil roughs with the text. I visited a few publishers after my degree show and while others focused mostly on my portfolio, Andersen Press seemed really interested in my magpie story. They asked me to work on two sample spreads using my 3D collage technique, making Magnus friendlier, the colours brighter and improving the photography. Finally they encouraged me to try working in flat collage, were really pleased with the results and offered me a contract! Although it sounds simple it took a good six, nerve-wracking months to get to this stage.
Beginning the artwork was also quite daunting. I was working with a slightly different technique and while writing the story I had never actually imagined it being published; suddenly, I was faced with the challenge of collaging the Taj Mahal! Andersen Press have been really supportive and luckily, living in London I was able to show them the artwork every couple of weeks, which was really helpful for me. The illustrations took about five months to complete and between handing in the artwork and receiving my first advance copy almost a year passed — it can be a very long process from start to finish.
I really did jump up and down with glee the day my first book arrived! In fact I jumped about or burst into song every time I thought about it, which was quite often. Now I’m still excited, but also rather nervous and concentrating on trying to make Magpie’s Treasure a success. I have some book signings coming up and have already done some collage workshops at children’s book festivals over the summer which were a great experience, if only to see the mad, glittery creations the children made to stick on the giant Magnus Magpie I created for the purpose!
In your opinion, what is the value and appeal of the handmade movement?
I think the handmade movement has reestablished the connection between consumers and makers. It seems that people are beginning to value things that are more personal and unique as opposed to anonymous mass-production. It’s also a very positive experience to sell something direct to a customer, because if you’re just starting out it’s a way of proving that your work does have value!
What does an average day in the life of KateFete entail?
I draw, cut, stick, photograph, photo-edit, email… while listening to Radio 4 almost non-stop and making endless cups of tea. When I’m in London I often begin with a cycle to my flat from my boyfriend’s, which makes it a bit like cycling to work rather than moving from bed to chair! In Staffordshire I just wander outside and up the stairs to my studio, wearing a varying number of woolly jumpers according to the season. I usually have a break to go and fetch the cows for milking at about 3 o’clock or I go for a walk around the fields.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
A dark brown, goggly-eyed bear which my sister made for my birthday years ago. He doesn’t have a nose or mouth, his face is completely flat and his expression is usually fixed in an odd, sidelong stare, but I love him.
Do you have any advice for designer/makers or writers starting out in their career?
You have to be very determined! As far as being an illustrator goes you need to build a strong portfolio of work, be brave and contact lots of publishers, magazines or ad agencies… those relevant to the area you’re interested in. Don’t be disheartened if people say no. Enjoy what you do! It’s always going to be a challenge and it’s quite scary to think that even if you are working today there’s absolutely no guarantee it will happen again, so you have to constantly chase the next commission. Having said that I absolutely love working for myself. It’s much better than having a proper job!
Name your top 5 Etsy sellers…