Local Hero - Kate Slater

Kate Slater is a children’s illustrator and author from Staffordshire. She has recently opened a brand new 3D illustration exhibition on the National Trust's Farne Islands and we have chosen her as our Local Hero for July.

July 10th 2013

Kate Slater is a children’s illustrator and author from Staffordshire. She has published two children’s books, Magpie’s Treasure (Andersen Press, 2010) and ABC London (Frances Lincoln, 2012) and her third, The Little Red Hen (Barefoot Books, 2013) will be published in October. Kate has also worked for clients like Simon & Schuster and the BBC, and illustrates regularly for the RSPB’s children’s magazine. She also produces a range of cards, prints and gifts which she sells in her online shop.

I spent the last week of June working high up amongst the rafters of a 14th century chapel on a tiny island in the North Sea, attempting to suspend hundreds of life-size seabird cutouts from the roof. From my perch atop the scaffolding tower I felt something akin to a fairly chaotic puppeteer, as I tied lines to the surrounding beams while the birds swayed about unpredictably below.

The fantastic opportunity to exhibit on the National Trust’s Farne Islands, Northumberland, came about after Simon Lee, manager of the Northumberland coastal properties, rang almost a year ago to ask if I’d be interested in creating a giant flock of birds to fill St Cuthbert’s chapel on Inner Farne, the first ever exhibition on the islands. I leapt at the chance to work in such a beautiful and unique place and also fulfill an ambition to create an enormous illustration installation.

The experience was rather different to my usual work, primarily in children’s book illustration. I create my illustrations using collage and cut paper, often in relief by hanging pieces of the collage from wires to make 3D illustrations which I then photograph. I use all sorts of materials from magazines and the insides of envelopes to paper bags and chocolate wrapper paper. I have a lovely studio in the old apple room on my parents’ farm in beautiful, if landlocked, Staffordshire - travelling to the Farnes by zodiac boat every morning was quite wonderful!

In the three months running up to the exhibition my life (and that of my family!) was taken over entirely by birds. The flock is made up of 120 individual collages which have been duplicated and printed onto Foamex board to produce the final flock. I spent the first few weeks in my studio making the collages, but as soon as the birds had been photographed and printed, I quickly ran out of space and covered the entire ground floor of the farmhouse! Thankfully I have wonderful family and friends who helped cut the finished birds out as it was a truly mammoth undertaking!

I’m delighted with how the finished exhibition has turned out and it’s been great to hear such lovely feedback from the visitors so far. While it’s on a much grander scale than my usual illustration work, in a way it’s not so dissimilar to one of my relief collages. I would love to work on this scale again - perhaps even bigger next time!

The exhibition is open until the 31st October, normal opening times and admission charges apply, more information can be found here.

Follow Kate on Twitter, @KateSlater.