Hebden Bridge artist Kate Lycett sees pattern and colour in the Yorkshire landscapes and architecture that surrounds her. Laura Drysdale reports.
Kate Lycett leads me through the former pub she calls home in Hebden Bridge to a bright room at the back. It was once an outbuilding, in her words “full of rats and slugs”, though that was knocked down, and in its place, constructed from the very same stone, is a purpose-built art studio.
It is connected to the family house, where she lives with husband Daniel and their three children, Hattie, 12, and twins Robin and Daisy, eight, but provides her with a dedicated space in which to immerse herself in her paintings.
A collection of coastal scenes occupies her workbench on the day of my visit; she has started the new year by “learning to paint the sea”, stirred by the skies and sands of Northumbrian beaches following a recent trip.
A landscape painter, she takes inspiration from the environments and buildings around her. Running routes she takes with friends around Hebden and its surrounding moorland formed the basis of a collection last year and it was a family trip to the seaside village of Staithes with her children and parents that prompted her painting of the same name.
Much of her work follows a line or journey. Here, her eye was drawn to bunting that adorned the area after a festival, as well as the pathway of the beck which weaves its way through the coastal community. The view is captured from Old Jack’s House, the home of the main character in the BBC children’s programme Old Jack’s Boat, a favourite with her twins at the time.
“It was the way that the strings of bunting kind of followed the lines of the roofs and the line of the road that just created this lovely, fluid line going up that I could trace,” she says.
Her signature style often draws from draftsman’s skills such as this, shaped by her grandfather, an architect, who taught her technical drawing.
It was he who introduced her to the rules of perspective too and she has kept her maiden name – his surname – for her artwork, in a touching nod to his influence. “I remember going to stay at his house when I was about nine it was a very formal weekend and he taught me properly...For a long time after that I would send him pictures and they were always little cottages and little houses.”
Becoming an artist is all Kate, now 42, ever set her sights on and from an early age, she wanted a studio of her own, as her grandad had.
She was surrounded by art through childhood, introduced to fine art picture books alongside children’s stories. Her mother ran a shop in the market town of Eye in Suffolk where she grew up, selling antiques, art and coffee and her father, who worked as a schoolteacher, has a fascination with pictures.
“I think it is quite unusual that when I was a young teenager, probably from about the age of 14, he would take me out and we would go to local art galleries...and just look at paintings together and work out what [the artists] had done.”
After leaving school, Kate studied an art foundation course in Suffolk. Aged 19, she then left her home county for Yorkshire, relocating to York for university, where she studied fine art, with a minor in English literature.
During her degree, Kate specialised in textiles, which she credits in part for her exuberant use of colour and pattern in her work today. She produces her art with everything from ink and watercolours to acrylic, thread and gold leaf – the latter first bought for her by her father one Christmas.
“I would say I was a landscape painter but that the landscape has a lot of architectural elements in it, a lot of pattern and a richness,” she says. “I try and create a very luminous colour palette so I might not paint things in a naturalistic colour but I use the colour palette very carefully to create atmosphere or season.”
After her time in York, Kate spent a year in Huddersfield completing a postgraduate course in industrial applications. She started painting whilst working in a design job at a corporate-wear company. “This (painting) is just what I would do on the dining room table in the evenings...it started off as this rebellion against this very regimented design job,” she says.
In 1999, she moved to Sheffield and began selling her work in galleries and arts and craft markets. The relocation to Hebden Bridge came about six years later, when her husband started work at publishing firm Sweet & Maxwell in nearby Mytholmroyd. “We first came to look around on a day like this,” she says, gesturing out of the window to the falling sleet. “It was filthy and cold and grey and wet and I remember sitting in a cafe and watching people going past and noticing how they stopped and chatted to each other. I thought ‘yeah, this is where I want to be’.”
She is full of warmth for the creative town with its artisan shops and galleries, steep valleys, and houses built into the hills. It’s friendly and proud, she tells me, and full of “can-do” people.
“It’s got a lot to do with people having to come together because of the floods.”
She’s passionate about the town’s high street and shopping local and has particular affection for Heart Gallery, crediting its support in helping her to make a living.
Daniel works with her now too, handling accounts, invoicing and new custom. “He’s really kind of building the business which is giving me much more time to be creative and get lost,” she says. “I do this thing every year where I pack the kids off to their grandparents, pack Daniel off on a piano-playing course in France and come back and just spend a whole week in the studio. I will be here from 6 o’clock in the morning until midnight...and that’s really nice, because I can spread out and just paint and get utterly absorbed in something which is quite a luxury really.”
She slightly objects to being disturbed from “the zone” once she is in it, immersed in her painting, layering ink upon ink. The drying time means her work can take months and she often has around seven pieces on the go at once, the finer details added at the very end.
“You would look at the pictures and think they were really quite neat and quite a tight way of working but they’re really not,” she says. “I do a lot of throwing inks around and seeing how they react with each other and how they merge and blend – or don’t blend and you get a line where the two colours clash.
“My pictures are full of happy accidents,” she adds, smiling – and it is clear from her passion just how much they fill her with enjoyment too.
Kate sells hand-finished prints of her paintings as well as folding books, cards and lanterns. Among her upcoming projects is her first book cover design for a novel about Yorkshire diarist Anne Lister.
Her work is stocked in Heart Gallery, The Yorkshire Gallery in Halifax’s Piece Hall, Hawksbys in Haworth and Chantry House Gallery in Ripley, where she will hold a solo exhibition on castles and gardens in May. www.katelycett.co.uk