Kathryn Robertson is a local artist from Wearside lighting up Sunderland with striking murals that nod back to the city’s illustrious heritage.

One of the North East’s leading lights when it comes to hand-drawn art from the heart, Matthew Thomas checks in with Kathryn, a graduate of the University’s Graphic Design programme, as she reveals all about her latest projects and how the North East holds a special place in her heart… 


What is Sunderland like for a freelance artist?


kr illustrates is the local artist behind Sunderland's murals


“I’m currently managing to make freelancing a full-time thing and I still have to pinch myself on the regular that it worked out this way.

I’ve worked closely with people like Sunderland Culture and Sunderland City Council who have always been massively supportive of my practice, and they’re keen to keep creatives in the city by providing opportunities, and I think that’s what makes it a much more attractive prospect to be freelancing in the North East at the moment.

I can actually afford things like a small studio space and I’m not sure I could afford that elsewhere.

The North East is a good place to be a freelance artist. I’m sure experiences vary, but I do feel incredibly lucky that my work and style has struck a chord with people to enable me to do it full time.

I’m not sure I would have had the same types of opportunities if I’d gone to London straight away.”


How has Sunderland affected your creativity?



“When I was a teenager, I didn’t appreciate Sunderland as a place very much at all. I thought being somewhere bigger and better would define me as a person, increase my creativity and enable me to do whatever I wanted to do.

As I got older, I started to fall in love with Sunderland and all of its quirks, I realised I’d been looking in the wrong places for things, and my opinion completely changed. 

I also realised that I’d been inspired by the North East and all of its wonderfulness and daftness way more than I had realised.”


Tell us a little about the creative scene in Sunderland at the minute…



“There’s a DIY attitude that has existed since way before my time, and it makes things more understated and interesting. 

We now know how fragile the arts and creative industries are, and so people here want to nurture it all and it’s very encouraging. 

This applies to independent businesses and venues too; we have some extremely talented artists, illustrators, photographers, designers, performers, musicians here.”


Was a career in art always something you wanted to follow?



“Ultimately yes, but I didn’t think it was a thing that I could pursue when I was looking at my career options at a younger age. 

Getting a “proper job” was what I thought needed to happen. Work was something that everyone had to do and nobody enjoyed it. 

Drawing was a hobby and you’d have to be pretty good or pretty lucky to make a living from it. I think it was always what I had to do though, it’s the only thing that keeps me right.”


Tell us about your particular style? What do you enjoy the most about this art form?



“I have a few layers to my practice at the moment; graphics, illustration, and murals. Something I find the most rewarding and enjoyable at the moment is murals and wall painting.

I like to improvise whatever I’m doing based on a rough plan and challenge myself with the spontaneity of just showing up with some materials and a blank canvas.

 I think I have quite a playful style, heavily influenced by the past, present and future workings of a city.”


Do you have a favourite art piece among your work?



“A drawing titled ‘Everything will be alright in the end’ raised a bunch of dosh for local food-banks. I hope to do some more print designs when I have fewer public projects on the go. 

There’s nothing better than being able to raise money for good causes and people actually wanting to display something, you’ve made in their home.”


What does the future look like for kr. illustrates?



“I’d like to put on a solo exhibition of my work somewhere. 

Long term, I’d like to get into designing large scale work within the environment with more typography and colour. 

I’d also really like to write and design a graphic novel too!”


What’s your favourite piece from kr.illustrates Sunderland? Get in touch online. Twitter: @SunderlandVibe, Instagram: @SunderlandVibe, Facebook: @SunderlandVibe.

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