In Conversation With: Kate Bones

Visual artist Kate Bones has become one of the leading lights in the increasingly less niche world of GIF creation. Primarily shooting in fashion and documenting the drag scene using both digital and analogue techniques, Kate creates hyper-realistic moving imagery for both commercial and artistic use. Kate's GIFs have been used by a number of impressive brands including Missguided, Baileys, Glastonbury's Block 9, The Grammy’s and Nike.

On Monday 5 June, we here at Route will be Talking GIFs at MOTH CLUB in Hackney Central with Kate where she will be discussing her career so far, offering advice to those wanting to enter the digital art industry and giving an insight into the future role of GIFs within fashion and music. Before that we got to know Kate a little better. 

Tickets available here

How did you get started? Have you always wanted to work in the visual arts?

Ever since I was a little kid I was always drawing and making things. My grandparents would buy me beautiful sets of pencils and sketchbooks for birthdays and Christmas. I was very spoilt. This encouragement had a big impact and subsequently Art was a subject I excelled at during primary and secondary school. It was really important for me to continue on a creative path as I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I was so happy and proud when I graduated from Wimbledon with a degree in Fine Art sculpture.

Do you remember how you felt when you got your first camera?

During my Fine art studies, we were encouraged to explore the different areas of the arts, photography, screen printing, film etc. I was allowed to take an old video camera home over Christmas during my first year. I played around with it and just filmed stuff around the house. I also filmed my Mum a lot over that period and I ended up showing a short film I'd made of her at the schools film club. I was so inspired by the experience that I decided to focus on film and video.

What was it that lead you on to creating GIFs?

I felt lost after I graduated. I think a lot of graduates burn out after putting on their degree shows. I'd won best show for my film installation and I decided to invest it in a DSLR with the intention of making more film. Bar a music video for a friends band that didn't really happen. At the time digital photography didn't really appeal to me so I picked up a point and shoot camera and I fell in love with film. I was an avid user of tumblr and I noticed 3D GIFs on there. I bought myself the same camera and just started to take it out and shoot with it. It then occurred to me that GIFs would be a really cool way to document gigs and festivals but it could also work as a form of portraiture. I have a lot of friends who are musicians and they were willing subjects so it all began to fall into place from there.

Your GIFs tend to be instantly recognisable, how would you describe your style and how easy was it to reach that point?

I describe my style as hyper-real. Working with drag queens was a real pivotal moment for me creatively. They were the injection of colour and fun that had been missing from my work. I had no idea colour was so important to me until then. There was no set path. Its all been very fortuitous but with a sprinkle of open mindedness. I remember a friend at the time said that when he pictured me I always had a camera in my hand or around my neck. I always say to people to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. One night, I ended up at the Glory on a Leigh Bowery party with my 3D camera and I shot a few portraits of people who were dressed up. That's when it all changed and I've never looked back.

What’s the balance like between personal projects and commissioned work?

Finding the time and the right collaborators. I was lucky enough to connect with the drag scene in East London and they’ve been incredibly supportive and willing subjects. Since September I’ve been so busy with commissioned work that I’ve had no time for personal projects. Being freelance means I can’t turn down paid work. I’ve been wanting to work with an amazing MUA called Bea Sweet and we connected on instagram. I’ve been wanting to shoot with her since we met in October last year but there was no time. I’ve got 3 jobs on at the moment but we just had to shoot. I’ve realised you’ve just got to juggle projects to get things done. I’d rather be tired than creatively frustrated.

What have you learnt by working with big brands?

From the outside it can feel like there isn’t a lot of creative freedom. Most of the time, brands want you to recreate what you’ve already done. As an artist, you’re always one step ahead creatively and they’re catching up. This was really hard to get my head around at first but when you put it into context, it’s understandable. I’m very appreciative and excited that brands and agencies want to commission me to make GIFs. I’m also conscious, that its an integral part of my practice to experiment and explore new techniques. Collaborating with other creatives and magazines is an important platform to do this.

How do you keep yourself moving forward in the field? GIFs are your signature but do you have plans to expand on them or into other areas?

I want to shoot more still photography and get my work into print. I’m also keen to make a short film as this is what I studied and I’m very passionate about it. At the moment though, I’m enjoying working with GIFs and pushing that as far as I can. I’ve been riding the wave and it still feels like the start of something bigger. Our lives are so screen based and I think people have a small attention span when it comes to stills and film on that platform. GIFs are filling that gap. I really believe they’re the perfect medium for social media.

While we in England are experiencing heavy government cuts to funding in the arts, we also have the internet, a resource free and available to many people. From your experience, do you feel the creative industry is in a healthy position?

Yes and no. Creatively the world is so different and people can share their work immediately. Whilst this is good, I think people find it harder to truly make something inspired. I studied before social media took off so I can’t imagine what it must be like to be creative in a world where you’re bombarded by imagery. The arts have always been very competitive and brands sometimes want a quick fix. Yes you can learn how to imitate someone's style and techniques but part of the fun for me was the journey of learning, researching and then making. My work is only what it is because of all the mistakes. Picking yourself up and starting again is part of the process. There really isn’t anything as satisfying as the moment when you get it right and let out a scream. I can remember those times the most vividly.

Is there any advice you would give someone starting out on the same career path?

Watch films, read, go to art galleries and have conversations. Take inspiration from the everyday and be open to the unexpected. Absorb and feed the soul. Then be a filter and create your own unique vision. Its far more fun than imitating someone else.

VisualsJamal Guthrie