From Space Jam to Peppa Pig
“My prints tend to do with nature. They are quite organic, semi-abstract although directly inspired by my own observations of the natural world — my interpretation of things inspired by natural subject matter.”
On November 3rd 2020, I met with lithographer and print maker, Kate Fortune-Jones who is as impressive as her name. Though now she lives in Stamford here in the East Midlands, she was a member of London print studios for 5 years and joined the Print Makers’ Council with whom she was a frequent exhibitor. “My prints tend to do with nature. They are quite organic, semi-abstract although directly inspired by my own observations of the natural world — my interpretation of things inspired by natural subject matter.” She does try to bring in a personal psychological edge, something a bit troubling or a bit mysterious. She tells me that it’s there so it just comes out. I was delighted as it’s something else we have in common.
Kate has moved around a bit but her art story began in her hometown of Liverpool where she did an Art foundation course at Liverpool Polytechnic. “You got to dip your toes in all the disciplines to see which you preferred. I went on to do a year’s access course in Fine Arts and spent a year in the print room which was fantastic. Print studios throughout the land seemed to be populated by a special breed of tutors who didn’t really mix with other departments. They were full of characters.
At Liverpool, I mostly explored zinc, and copper etching.” It was here she was taught how to the use aquatint process, although memories of the old aquatint box sends shivers down her spine. “Health and safety would have had a field day at that time — aquatint is a resin that allows beautiful shading and tone in the etchings. ‘There’s an old rickety box with a wheel at the side, shut the box then turn the wheel frantically and the dust rises then falls. It’s exciting but you shouldn’t inhale it and I’m sure we didn’t wear masks but I do love the whole chemistry lab feel of the print room.”
Whilst at Liverpool she spied some blocks of limestones and just knew that they were litho stones.
In the 1800s lithographs were made to reproduce commercial literature. The invention was down to a Bavarian playwright , Alois Senefelder, who in 1798 was searching for an easy and cheap way of publishing his own writings and musical scores. His experiments worked on the premise of grease and water repelling each other and his specific Bavarian limestone was very receptive to grease. Most of the lithographic stones in the world came from that Bavarian quarry. It’s now exhausted but luckily there are hundreds still in existence. Lithographs were still used into the 1950’s to produce children books, illustrations, posters and reference illustrations and despite moving to metal sheets rather than stone, it was still called lithography.
Back in Liverpool the one tutor who specialised in lithography didn’t seem to want to invest in a female student and Kate was not encouraged. In response she produced an art folder to take to London that was good enough to get her on the Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths just two years below Damien Hirst. “I had a brilliant time there. I started off in traditional manner and also managed to spend some time in the print room… then I got swept up in whole conceptual art thing going on at Goldsmiths. I was there during that crazy, hyper, surreal time when gallery owners would come in and buy straight from students’ studios. Head of Painting, Michael Craig Martin was responsible for a lot of it though it seemed to favour male students above all. “
Kate was encouraged by Goldsmiths’ permission to let go of tradition and embraced the conceptual, post modern teaching. As if to underscore that, the life drawing room was deemed redundant and abolished whilst she was there. Students couldn’t help but be swept along by the dynamic, conceptual international movement. They were already thinking ahead to the placement of their work in galleries. It was a fast and exciting time . Kate recalls that she “… did massive colour photographs in the end and little light boxes with photographic images inside that the viewer peered into. I completely stopped drawing and painting.”
After Goldsmiths came the plummet from a secure, nurtured environment to reality and where to live became a priority. Though Kate was settled in London with her film-maker partner by then, they did move around it a bit. “I prefer north London since I’m a Northerner and I need quick access to home, but we were happy there. I had a part time job working in the bookshop of the Royal Academy and I kept that on for 2 or 3 years. I met a lot of famous people there.” Being Liverpudlian, she almost went to pieces when she met George Harrison “It was a really big deal.”
During her time at The Royal Academy, Kate began a postgraduate degree but she left before finishing to enter the world of work, and in a discipline she wasn’t familiar with.
“I started work on the Warner Bros feature film Space Jam. I just fell into it, it was definitely not planned though I remained in animation for the next twenty years.”
“I started work on the Warner Bros feature film Space Jam. I just fell into it, it was definitely not planned though I remained in animation for the next twenty years.” For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Looney Tunes production ‘Space Jam’ combined animation with live actors, much like its contemporary ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ In this case it starred Michael Jordan and Bill Murray. It had been the first animated feature from Looney Tunes for decades. “I had no training in animation but a friend recommended I visit the studio behind Drury Lane, in Covent Garden. When I walked up the stairs, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and wood was unmistakable and I loved it immediately. Animation is a difficult industry to work in but I showed interest and made an impression and they invited me to come in to do a test for them.” The studio specialised in special effects such as explosions, smoke and moving water and Kate’s challenge was to make lapping water move. She did so convincingly and they offered her a job. At the time Warner Bros had satellite studios in Paris and London and they were keen to work with British talent. Before long she was thrown in the deep end as an assistant special effects animator.
“The nature of working in animation means that you freelance round whichever studios have the big jobs in.”
Eventually, she worked more on Television animated series, moving into the art department. There were weeks without work but it was usually well paid and as Kate became more involved in the design work and layout, she made a name for herself. Layout had traditionally been a male dominated field so it was quite an achievement. As the years went by hand drawn animation became increasingly replaced by digital programmes and Kate was able to adapt her knowledge to computer work including producing layout on Peppa Pig for example.
In fact Kate was head hunted from Peppa Pig to become art-director of a small children’s series in Belfast about seven years ago.
She found the project a delight to work artistically as it centred around characters made from items collected from a beach on the Scottish Isle of Arran.
“It was wonderful to work from natural materials washed up from the sea, seaweeds, shells, pebbles and all manner of driftwood. Part of my job was to regularly go beach combing and collect interesting pieces for the show.” Kate lived on the North Down coast during production and loved it so much that she stayed on in the cottage in Helen’s Bay for six months. It was beautiful and she found a fantastic print studio in Bangor. “I became a key holder at Seacourt Print Workshop during this time and made good friends. They have always said I’d be welcome back to do a residency. I’d love to but the timing hasn’t been right so far.”
The trip to Northern Ireland coincided with the break up of the relationship that had begun at Goldsmiths twenty years before. Now a return to London had lost its shine. “There were good people in Bangor that supported me as I recovered from the break up. I did a lot of lithography there, plate and stone, and that set the momentum in a new direction for the return to England but away from London.”
By then, Kate was seeing her co-worker Nick and they began the process of house hunting. They needed to come north as Kate has a strong pull towards Liverpool and they both wanted more of a rural life. They loved being outdoors and felt it was important to have easy access to the countryside. However, Nick needed to commute to his job whilst a print studio was essential for Kate and this combination ruled many places out. They were either too far for the commute to London (where Nick still works on animating Peppa Pig) or there was no print studio of quality. But Kate knew that there was a brilliant print studio in Leicester. “The workshop is home to one of the best lithography departments in the country, headed by the talented and highly regarded lithographer, Serena Smith.” Serena had been taught by the legendary Stanley Jones of the publishers Curwen Press and gained an exhaustive training of the lithography print process under his tutelage. “I knew the Leicester Print Workshop did lithography fellowships and I was keen to get foot in door when we happened upon Stamford.
I had already been to Rutland water because of a series of coincidences. In London, I had been part of a big art exhibition, a conservation project led by film maker and conservationist Ceri Levy (Levy often works with the caricaturist Ralph Steadman) highlighting the extinction of birds. Lots of celebrities took part and we all had to produce a representation of an extinct bird and build a story round it. Levy is “…a good friend and quite a character. He moved into Rutland which was convenient for his involvement at the International Bird Fair at Rutland Water, which is how I first came across the area. I thought it was extraordinary. So, when we stumbled upon Stamford, I was bowled over by this beautiful place we’d never heard of — quite smitten. It’s a fantastic base.
“I’m really heartened by the East Midlands and I’m amazed how many artists are hanging around this area particularly.”
“I’m really heartened by the East Midlands and I’m amazed how many artists are hanging around this area particularly. There’s a lot going on between the open air Shakespeare theatre at Tolethorpe, the theatre, the arts cinema and the constant exhibitions. Many reasons we didn’t go to places of a similar size north of Cambridge was they didn’t have those cultural offerings and creativity. You could tell before you saw them that characters were here and in the surrounding villages. We’ve found some amazing artists.
I mention to Kate that my recent project has been about finding an artistic community and now I find myself staying put in Stamford because they seem to be coming to me.
Kate: “I think that’s happening! Amazing artists from all over the place are coming. Most of the people I know here have come from somewhere else.”
Once she rediscovered her own art and moved here, Kate could finally join Leicester print workshop. She became a studio volunteer as she has a wealth of knowledge and experience from a number of studios and of course she brought shear enthusiasm for the workshop. “Now I am paid for my technician work and use the studio and lithography department to make my own work. With Serena’s help and support I have learnt so much and made good progress. It is wonderful to be able to tap into her knowledge. Additionally I’ve have had a residency in the print workshop since August which really helps in times of Covid.
When I first arrived, I was lucky enough to get part -time work at the local garden centre a couple of days a week. It helped me to settle into my new town and to integrate. I have an allotment and a huge interest in horticulture.The job disappeared during the first lockdown so an assisted use of the print workshop alongside the residency has been really useful.
Kate has lots of work in progress and is full of creativity at the moment so she’s hoping this most recent lockdown won’t affect her work at the studio too much. She has recently sold two of her lithographs online and is taking part in the artists’ support pledge but conceded that she may have to go down a more commercial route in order to restock the coffers and has even considered a return to animation.
We bring the interview to a close and swap enthusiastic stories about self sufficiency.
“I’ve never been the sort of person who gets bored, not even as a child but we have to make money. Right now, my partner is the main breadwinner. I am lucky but I’ve never not been able to support myself before now.”
We said goodbye as she left to sort her allotment, finish a portrait commission then take a long hot bath before heading out for a packed schedule at the studio the following day, leaving me in awe of the talent found in every nook and cranny of my home town when I take the time to look.