This summer, we’re profiling visual communications graduates who we feel produced outstanding portfolios at this year’s degree shows. Here, we speak to Glasgow School of Art communication design graduate Kat Loudon, whose work inlcudes posters, placards and embroidered jackets inspired by William Morris, sculptural signage for Glasgow Green and a magazine made using fire and water damaged books from Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Library.
CR: When did you first become interested in a career in design, and what was it that sparked your interest?
KL: My family are from Glasgow and when I was up visiting, Glasgow School of Art had an open day, and me and my Mum went along. I had always thought that I would do fine art, painting and print making, but when I think back to who inspired me then, they were very graphic artists, like Sol LeWitt, Bridget Riley and Ellsworth Kelly. I was so early for the fine art talk, that we joined the visual communications talk to kill time, but actually I was so excited by the previous graduates’ work and loved the way it was so multi disciplinary and conceptual that I changed my mind. I started college and solely focused on getting into Glasgow.
How would you describe your work, and what inspires you?
That’s a tricky question! I like to keep busy and am always using my hands, so I’d say my practice revolves around making. I did an internship last summer with an architect [Lee Ivett] which was very hands on and involved building 3D signage for the Commonwealth Games. This sculptural approach to design really informed my final year at GSA and made me branch out from what I previously saw as graphic design.
I take inspiration from everything. Paul Smith has got some great lectures online where he talks about creativity, he says that you can get inspiration from anything, and if you can’t, you just aren’t looking properly. In my experience this is completely true. Glasgow has been a constant source of inspiration – when doing the William Morris project, I reimagined him as a protester today, I took so many photos on my phone of DIY denim jackets around Glasgow and was inspired by today’s setting as a hub for Morris’s ideology.
It took me a while to realise that graphic design doesn’t have to just be print or screen based. I love the way Morag Myerscough mixes strong typography, patterns and materials to create super graphics helping people engage with their environments. Similarly, Sara De Bondt’s adventurous use of materials, idea driven projects and playful aesthetics inspired me a lot in my final year to experiment and have fun with what I was doing.
I also love printed matter and collect books, posters [and] pamphlets. In my final year I made several books and there are certain designers that I go to for reference and inspiration. I really like the work on Fraser Muggeridge, John Morgan and The Zak Group, all of whom consider every tiny detail when designing a book. All let the subject matter speak for themselves and make decisions with paper stock, colour and typography to arrive at a beautiful finished object
May Day, a project inspired by William Morris’ writings on creativity, art and socialism. “Prior to my research, I knew Morris for his floral patterns rather than his progressive thinking and I want more people to become aware and take inspiration from his writings the way I have,” says Loudon, who created placards, jackets and a newspaper for the project. “Morris is often referred to as a ‘champagne socialist’ as his books were unaffordable to the masses.”
You’ve produced a lot of work around William Morris’ writings (May Day, pictured above, and Work Work Work, below). What was it that inspired you about his writings on creativity and socialism, and what do you think makes them particularly relevant to today?
The first essay I read was ‘Useful Work versus Useless Toil’, where he fights for the rights of workers, promoting shorter working hours so people can rest and enjoy their leisure time. He believed, no matter what your class everyone is entitled to beautiful surroundings, working conditions should be pleasant rather than tolerable. He held the opinion that if these things were upheld work would become a source of satisfaction rather than a chore and improve quality of life. I realise its very idyllic but thought it was important that people knew Morris for this progressive thinking as well as his craftsmanship. After all, where would we, as a society, be without a little idealism?
Work Work Work, a series of pieces inspired by International Workers’ Day and the Haymarket riot of 1886, as well as William Morris’ writings on labour and his attitudes towards machines. Loudon created a graphic silk banner and posters, as well as a receipt printer and a series of hardback books presenting a condensed version of the Complete Summarised Works of William Morris (reduced from 1.1 million words to just over 9,000 using a summarise tool on Text Edit). More images of the project are available on Loudon’s website.
You said you took visual cues from the miners’ strike for May Day. What in particular was a source of inspiration to you?
I have always been a big fan of Jeremy Deller after his exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. It was his reenactment of the Battle of Orgreave that brought the miners’ strikes to my attention and William Morris is a recurring figure in a lot of his recent work. Craig Oldham’s book, In Loving Memory of Work was my main reference, as it fully documents the graphic design of the miners strikes. The relationship between the DIY element like the placards and badges alongside the beautiful craftsmanship of the union banners is really interesting and exciting.
Morris was known as the master craftsmen, he designed his own type, made his own paper, printed and bound the books himself. I took inspiration from this and made everything myself. I stitched the jackets with a digital embroidery machine in the textiles department and the placards were letterpressed then screen printed onto the wood.
51170, a publication made out of fire and water damaged books salvaged from Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Library, following a fire last year. Loudon worked on the book with fellow GSA graduate Erin Bradley-Scott. “We created cropped textural compositions from the pages of a men’s fashion magazine from the 1970s, which was once stored in the library’s mezzanine. We chose to to make a magazine to pay homage to the original format, the title of the book being the original reference number,” she says.
You also worked with architect Lee Ivett on some sculptural signage for Glasgow Green, promoting the Commonwealth Games. Could you tell us a little more about that?
I know Lee socially but he is also a tutor in GSA’s architecture department. When I heard what he was doing for Commonwealth Games, I really wanted to be a part of it.
As part of Festival 2014 [Glasgow’s cultural and event based response to the commonwealth games], Depot Arts, Lee Ivett and Pearl Kinnear were engaged as lead artists to develop sculptural signage to identify different themed zones within Glasgow Green. The themes created by the client [Glasgow Life] revolved around key elements of the home: the kitchen, the back garden, the living room, the shed and the wee house.
I was engaged to help develop proposals for the Living Room installation and The Shed. We worked with young people at Young Possil Futures and Drumchapel High School to create models and graphics for each proposal that I could use as a starting point for the development of a formal and graphical identity for each installation.
The Living Room utilised pattern inspired by sport and everyday household items. Ideas for pattern were developed by the young participants through simple stencil and print making techniques. The Shed concept was developed by building different sized models of bird boxes and arranging them sculpturally to create a playful form that could be inhabited.
What were the most important things you learned while studying at Glasgow School of Art?
I learnt a lot of self discipline working in a studio with only the big deadline at the end of the year. However I also learnt that procrastination isn’t always a bad thing, being around creative like minded people was invaluable, some of the best feedback I received was from my peers. My tutor Neil McGuire told me ‘not to talk myself out of things and just do it’ and for the rest of my final year this was my mantra.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I have spent the summer in Glasgow and have just about recovered from the last months of art school! I’ve been working on some freelance work, including an exhibition identity for the Edinburgh Art festival. In August I start an internship with A Visual Agency in Glasgow.
And what are your hopes and plans for the future?
I plan to move to London mid-Autumn to get an internship. I feel like I still have a lot to learn and I can’t wait. Glasgow is amazing, but I would love a change of pace and I feel like London would be jumping into the deep end in the best possible sense.
Numbers, a project responding to each floor in GSA’s Reid Building, which Loudon worked on while writing her dissertation. “I spent a lot of time in casting trying to make each number out of materials from the department on that floor. For example, the two is made out of bits of excess paper from the comb bind machine in the caseroom,” says Loudon.
A symbol and visual identity created for Sanctuary, a project by Glasgow architect Lee Ivett, housed in a 19th century church building in the city. “The sanctuary is conceived as a place of secular non-religious peace and reflection. The challenge…was to develop a symbol and visual identity for the project that did not have an association with existing religious practice or organisations,” says Loudon. “I took inspiration from symbols in the local area…[and] experimented with different mediums including metal photographic etching, vinyls and plaster casts.”