Serena Katt is a German-English illustrator who has shared studios in Bussey Building since 2014 and splits her time between her studio and lecturing to MA Illustration students.

Serena will be opening her studio for Peckham Festival, 13th-15th September, along with studio-mate Bine Roth. She will be displaying works in progress, installation work and prints & books for sale.

Serena’s work explores how illustration can add to our understanding of history. She aims to highlight how history is recorded, suppressed & remembered. Each image is drawn several times and distorted slightly each time, exploring drawing as a metaphor for memory and the biased nature of history.

How long have you been based in Bussey Building?

I moved into Bussey in spring 2014. At the time, we were a large shared studio of 12 people sharing three units. Over the years, the make-up of the group has changed a lot, and slowly boiled down to the 8 we are now. It’s a great mix of people from a variety of disciplines, lots of whom work together in different ways.

How do you find this collaborative working environment?

I love sharing with people; it helps motivate me and it’s good to have people around to ask for advice. Communal lunch breaks also mean we all get a better work/life balance, rather than rushing lunch at the desk!

What is a typical day in your life?

I split my time between teaching and the studio. When I am in the studio I tend to work on longer research projects, which have distinct phases. I’m in the studio for a full working day of 6-8 hours, but I’ll be working on different things at different points. My work is often rooted in history and I tend to draw from real photographs from archives or personal collections.

The first phase is sourcing my archive images and doing research, which might take weeks or months, during which I start making sketches from my findings. The next stage is sorting through the sketches and deciding which images I want to take further. If I’m working on a book I need to make sure the images fit into the sequence, and I spend a long time mocking up book layouts and sourcing more images. Once I’ve decided on some of my images I start working them up into final artworks. This also takes a long time, so I tend to work on several images at once to stay focused.

What is your arts background?

I studied illustration for 6 years in total; foundation, BA and MA, and I’ve been working as an illustrator ever since. At first I was working on commissions, now I have more of a focus on my own research projects. My first graphic novel was published by Jonathan Cape in April this year.

How do you describe what you do as an illustrator?

I am interested in learning about history by telling stories about real people. I use illustration and writing as a tool to help me understand and process the stories I am looking at.

How does your research process usually go?

I have made a lot of work about my family and people I know, as well as other, more removed histories that feel potent and perhaps unresolved. I become interested in images or snippets of stories; projects sometimes start by finding a single image in a random digital archive, and that can set off a new line of enquiry.

What ‘s coming up next for you?

I’ve recently started work on a new graphic novel which is in very early stages. That means that I’m giving myself a lot of time for play in my studio; trialling new visual approaches, and playing with different images. I’ll also be taking part in the Copeland Park Open Studios during Peckham Festival in September, which I’m really looking forward to.

What’s on your studio playlist?

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Follow Serena on Instagram or browse her website.