Meet the Maker: Sianuska
We love the way printmaker Sian Kellaway sees the world. We could spend hours reading her product descriptions and like to imagine that life if you’re Sianuska is wearing woolies, hands wrapped round a cup of hot tea while The Archers plays in the background and happy children paint chalk pictures on the floor. There’s wit, comfort and reassurance in her work. Here’s a bit more about her and a studio tour from her freezing cold garage in Manchester (where happily she is wearing woolies and drinking tea)…
Hi Sian! Can you introduce yourself?
Hello, I’m Sian Kellaway, I’m an artist, designer, printmaker, (unmarried) wife to Matt, mama to two boys and slapdash housewife.
How would you describe what you do?
I design and make colourful, often typographical, screen prints using pencils, a very elderly computer, elbow grease, love and squeegees.
Is there something people might not know about you?
I played the tuba as a teenager. Needless to say, my street credit rating was very low.
How did you discover printmaking?
I’ve always loved making and I was the ‘go to’ person in my primary school class for bubble writing, neat cutting out and suchlike. Art at school was mainly observational drawing of crushed coke cans and crumpled up Wispa wrappers, for some reason we never did any printmaking on my A-Level Art, Art Foundation or undergraduate courses. I only discovered printmaking (lino printing) when I started work as an art teacher. Then a friend recommended I try screen printing, so I did a course at Inkspot Press in Brighton and I was immediately smitten with the process.
You recently moved back up north. Is your new studio up and running now? Can we have a snoop around?
Yes, we moved back to my home town of Manchester last year after a decade in exile Down South. We live in a semi in on the quietest cul-de-sac on Earth. I’ve set up my screen printing studio in the garage and it’s super spacious compared to my home studio in the Brighton house (although it is freezing cold and I wear several pairs of jeans, woollens and a permanent nose drip when I’m in there).
It’s a complete, though extremely lo-fi, screen printing set-up. I dry the coated screens with a hairdryer. I wash out the exposed screens in the bath. The light for exposing my screens is on pulleys so it can be moved out of the way when not in use. My dad helped me to make a vacuum table from an old Formica table I found on Ebay, a process that involved drilling of lots and lots of tiny holes. A few months ago I invested in a drying rack which is SO GOOD – before that I had to leave all my prints to dry on the stairs, sofa and beds.
Do you think your surroundings influence your work?
I’m inspired by daily life and the things that surround me. I only really use my studio for the actual screen printing. It’s far too cold in there to do any design work and it isn’t a particularly inspiring space, it’s a windowless garage after all. Maybe one day I’ll have a light flooded studio in the garden, I’d really like to teach screen-printing classes and help people to set up home studios but I couldn’t inflict the sub-zero temperatures in the garage on the paying public…
Where do your ideas come from?
Things that make me laugh or I find interesting – sometimes I’m lucky enough to hit upon something that other people find funny or interesting too and that makes me really happy. I’ve kept a sketchbook for years now (Art students, I know your teacher always says you should keep one, they’re right), I store my ideas in them in the form of drawings, collected ephemera (clippings from magazine, vintage tickets, found photos, single mysterious jigsaw pieces I find on the pavement) and hastily scribbled notes. I always use the same black landscape A5 ones. I flick back through them if I’m feeling uninspired.
We love your Ambridge screenprint. How did that come to life?
My ‘Shipping Forecast and Cuppa‘ print has been one of my best-selling items. Like the shipping forecast, The Archers is a British institution, even people who aren’t fans know the theme tune and dum-di-dum along (Billy Connelly even suggested it should replace ‘God Save the Queen’ as our national anthem!). I really wanted to design something to capture that everyday moment in people’s lives. I spent ages deciding on the correct words to use, I consulted friends and family and there was a lot of debate before settling on dum-di-diddley-dum. I wanted it to have a slightly nostalgic, old fashioned feel, so I used Matt’s old Roberts ‘wireless’ as a model for the radio. The print’s been really popular with fans of The Archers, so I must’ve got something right, YAY!
Apart from Radio 4, what else inspires you?
Words, sayings, black-and-white photos, overheard snippets of conversations, vintage graphic design and illustration, my sons (funny things they say, their made-up games and collections), looking out of the window, bus journeys, odd objects bought in charity shops, song lyrics, memories of childhood, everyday things…
Who are your design heroes?
The designers Paul Rand, Alan Fletcher, and Charles and Ray Eames, and illustrators Dick Bruna, Richard Scarry and Alain Gree. There are unknown graphic designers too – my ‘Home is Wherever I’m With You’ print was really influenced by some Czech stamp designs.
When you’re not printing what do you do to relax? I like chain-drinking tea and finding slightly pointless, fiddly projects to do like writing ‘STOP, HAMA TIME’ in Hama beads, making too many boards on Pinterest, playing with Lego with my sons (Master Builders both), noodling about on t’internet (too much of that, Sian, too much).
Children and ‘Stop Hama Time’ excluded, what’s your proudest achievement?
I’m proud that I’ve made myself a studio that actually works. It makes me proud that people like and buy my work and want to display it in their homes.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Go for it! I always encourage creative mama friends to set up an online shop (on Folksy, of course) because selling online gives you a massive audience for your work and your shops are open all the time, even when you are asleep or otherwise engaged creating Hama bead typography. I would advise a would-be shop owner to take good, sharp photos and limit your background colours to those that feature in the piece that you’re listing (or go for a white background). Other mamas ask, “How do you do it? How do you have the time?” to which I reply “Have you seen the state of my kitchen floor?” I would rather be making art than doing housework. I also have a long suffering husbandish who does all the cooking and food shopping. Making art makes me so happy – I couldn’t not do it.
Have you got anything new or exciting planned that you want to tell us about?
I have some glow in the dark ink that I’m really excited about experimenting with, probably on some prints for kids’ bedrooms. Also I’d like to make some laser-cut things – I’ve got a few ideas but they are at the ‘quick doodle in the sketchbook’ stage. My mum’s written a children’s book too (with a Manchester link, local folks) which I want to illustrate.
To celebrate being a featured maker, Sian is giving away a free mini screen print (inspired by her son Joe’s unbrushable barnet) with every print purchased from her Folksy shop this week. Just place your order before midnight on Sunday 15 March and you’ll get the mini screen print for free!