ART WORKS: Kate Clarke gave up art at college when she decided it was ‘not for her’, but now her works are on show nationally. Virginia Mason reports. Pictures by Jim Fitton.
GIVE Kate Clarke a box of coloured pencils and something magical happens – for the artist has a wonderful eye for detail which is translated into her beautiful drawings.
And her talent is not merely recognised locally, where her following is growing, but nationally too.
Kate lives in Mytholmroyd and works from a studio at Linden Mill, Hebden Bridge, but recently the bright lights of London have been calling – two pieces of her work were chosen for the Society of Women Artists 150th exhibition at The Mall galleries.
“I am so chuffed to have finally had some work exhibited in a London gallery,” says Kate, who adds that she was especially pleased to have one piece in particular chosen.
This was a triptych called Old Timers: One, Two, Free – a trio of portraits depicting how Alzheimer’s can affect a person. It was inspired because her mother suffers from the condition.
“I was really pleased when Old Timers got into the exhibition because my mum’s illness has meant that Alzheimer’s is still very much a part of my life. My mum has entered the last stage now and it has been a traumatic time.”
Kate’s second piece to be included in the exhibition was one called Jobbin’ Jeweller, a portrait of husband Les Hollings, who runs a jeweller’s shop in Hebden Bridge.
“Going down to the gallery to see my work hanging there was amazing. The exhibition was opened by Princess Michael of Kent so it was fabulous. It made my day.”
But it’s not only family and friends who Kate uses as subjects in her work – look closely and you might recognise the odd household name too.
A highlight recently for Kate was sketching portraits of children’s television presenters Dick and Dom (aka Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood) as well as one of her long-time idols, folk singer and songwriter Vin Garbutt.
“Both were fantastic experiences for their very own reasons,” said Kate.
“Meeting Vin Garbutt and spending an hour with him in Whitby before he went on stage was such an honour for me as I have been a fan of his music since I was about 12. He was as funny in person as he is on stage and he has such a charismatic face. I’d been hoping for a long time that one day I would get to do a portrait of him.”
The Dick and Dom sitting came about through Kate’s fund-raising efforts with the Alzheimer’s Society.
“I ran the Great Manchester 10k last year and raised £400 but really wanted to make a bigger donation, so I wrote letters to the celebrities I could find who were connected with Alzheimer’s.”
Dick is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society because his mother suffers from the disease.
“When Dick and Dom said ‘yes’ I set off down to London but it was all a bit hectic and I ended up having less time with them than I would have wanted and instead of it being in an office studio, we ended up outside in a car park,” laughs Kate.
“But they were fabulous and I managed to get photographs of them which I could work from.”
The finished picture has just been accepted into the UK Coloured Pencil Society’s 10th anniversary open exhibition in London, which runs from September 19 to October 1. One of Kate’s Vin Garbutt portraits is also being exhibited there as well as a third piece, called Bad Hair Day, a cartoon-strip type picture after the style of Rockwell, which features Kate’s daughter, Jess.
Kate reveals that she has always had a love of art and her talents were spotted at an early age by her teachers who encouraged her to take her A-level in art a year early.
She continued with her studies at art college before deciding “it wasn’t for me” and then her hobby took a back seat when she married and had a family.
But in recent years she began to pick up her passion again, getting involved with textile work and running projects with local schools. Now her hobby has almost become full time. She has used various media but says that coloured pencils have always remained a firm favourite.
“I have always loved working with coloured pencils and used to look forward to getting a box for Christmas as a child.
“What I love is that you have to be very exacting and you become so absorbed. There is no room for error, unlike with watercolours when you can just wash over something.”
Two years ago her work caught the eye of judges in an international competition.
The Derwent Award, organised by the UK Coloured Pencil Society, was presented to Kate for a double self- portrait, while a second, The Art of Communication was also picked out for praise and included in an exhibition at the Royal West of England Gallery, in Bristol. Only 62 examples of fine art from the UK, US, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and Japan were chosen for display.
Kate admits that she loves her subjects to sit for her in her studio, where she takes a series of photographs and then works from those.
“I can work from photos people bring to me but the thing about having people sit is that you get an insight into their personality and see their character and this is the challenge for me – trying to capture that.”
Kate is now working on a series of miniature portraits and animal sketches as well as a mural for Marco’s Cafe in Hebden Bridge, and she is also looking at running a series of workshops.