KJ Plumb: Stockholm's Coolest Textile Artist
A 25-year-old artist from a small town in the south of England, Katherine J. Plumb is paving her way forward in the arts world. She now lives in Stockholm, where she owns her very own screen-printing and textile design studio. She’s sold her works with Tictail and Home Union, and is creating designs that are suited for the home, the walls, and everywhere in between. Her work is both modern and playful, featuring bright, primary hues and whimsical shapes — but it wasn’t always that way. Her work is a culmination of learning technicalities, becoming inspired by a few greats, and turning it all into her own. Here’s how Plumb got started as a creator.
How did you get started as an artist?
KJP: “I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to be an artist. My interest was always in textiles. In college, I took a class called ‘Art & Design: Textiles.’ I went in thinking it was going to be very design-led, but there was a huge focus on textile artists and it really influenced my work at the time. I was so captivated by the likes of Eva Hesse and Agnes Martin — my style was much less colorful back then!”
Where did you go from there, after university?
KJP: “I didn’t know what I was going to do afterwards, but a few people in my class were applying to Central Saint Martins to study a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. I had no idea that CSM was such a big deal, but I applied quite last minute and somehow got accepted! There, I fell in love with pattern and most importantly, silkscreen printing.
Why do you think you fell in love with those things?
KJP: “The process really opened my eyes and gave me so many new possibilities. I never felt comfortable with my drawing, and I didn’t really like working digitally. To be able to create something so crisp and clean with my hands was really satisfying. I think I started working with cut paper collage in the second year of my degree, because it was the best way for me to plan my prints, and it kind of went from there. I guess I realized the beauty of the work before it became a pattern, and began to focus on that.”
How did you end up in Stockholm?
KJP: “My boyfriend is Swedish! We met in London five years ago and he was offered a job here last year, and we decided to give it a go. It’s a very different city to London and not as culturally diverse. It feels like there’s a lot of pressure for people and places to look a certain way... But I’m trying to work on that!”
What or who are you most inspired by?
KJP: “I really love colour! Not just any, but considered and balanced colour. I’m also so interested in landscapes and everything mid-century modern. I went to Palm Springs quite often when I was growing up, and I think the architecture, deserts, and palettes there have subconsciously influenced my work.
As for the people, Anni and Josef Albers have been firm favourites since college, and Jean Arp, Bridget Riley, Nathalie du Pasquier, too. There was also a Swedish design collective called Tio Gruppen who really influenced my work during my final year at university, I kind of wish I’d been in Stockholm in the 70s to be a part of it.”
Have you always seen yourself translating your work into pieces for interior design?
KJP: “I didn’t always know I was going to work with interiors, but I had a pretty good feeling I wasn’t cut out for the fashion industry... I almost specialised in knit design during my degree, but I thought that the print department was better so I chose that. And I’m always so glad I did.
I wanted to keep printing after graduating but obviously you need a way to fund it, so it made sense for me to create my own brand as I knew I didn’t want to design anonymously for another company.”
What would you say is your biggest challenge as an artist?
KJP: “For me, I think a big challenge is building a platform for your work and really establishing your own style. I only recently realised how many people are quick to jump on a trend and change their style to go with what’s popular... It can be a little disheartening and I know Instagram has a lot to do with it. It’s like fast-art?
But I suppose the main issue is trying to support yourself, especially so early in your career. In London, I was working as a supervisor in a restaurant and then screen printing before and afterwards and on weekends. I never had a proper day off in the two years between graduating and moving to Stockholm. Last year, I was asked to create a series of screen prints for an installation at the V&A museum, and I almost had to say no because I didn’t think I’d be able to do the work alongside my job and shop orders, which felt awful!
People think I’m ‘so lucky’ now because I’ve opened a print studio in Stockholm and that I’m just doing what I love all the time — which is true. But it’s so different when there’s a real financial pressure to make your work a success.”
What would you tell young people who are still figuring out how to make a career out of their creativity?
KJP: “I would say to explore as much as possible, find something you love and stick with it. Find work that inspires you, but make sure you’re not directly copying anything — I’ve had work copied and it’s not a nice feeling at all.
At the same time, don’t put too much pressure on yourself! Social media is the best at making you feel bad and compare yourself to others, even though it’s a great tool for getting your work out there. Creative careers are like any other career, a few lucky people will get their dream job straight away but the majority of us have to work our way up gradually.”
How have you found a balance between creating art for yourself, but also creating work to sell?
KJP: “I have so many collages and scribbles that no one has ever seen, just little things I put together when I feel like it — they’re not even up around my desk with all the other ones. I don’t think I put pressure on myself to create, all of my work is originally made just for me and if I make an idea into a screen print, it’s usually after I’ve been staring at it for a while and I just feel like I want to reproduce it to share with others. Obviously, there are some ideas that you think will be more successful with your audience, but as long as you don’t change your style to please others then I think ultimately you’ll always be creating for yourself.”
What does creating do for you?
KJP: “I think about how I first started getting into art and design at college, and I’ve realised now that I loved it so much because it was a distraction from things that were going on in my life. When I was 15, my eldest brother died in an accident shortly after my parents divorced (badly), and I felt like I didn’t really have a lot to show for the couple of years that followed. I’m always wondering if I would still be doing this if those things hadn’t happened, so being able to create feels like a really amazing thing that came from a pretty horrible time.
It makes me feel good when a piece just ‘works,’ and all I’ve done is put some shapes and colours together in a pleasing way. I love how it can feel effortless but also very considered, and then when other people like it, I feel like I’m doing something right.”