Interview with unravel 2020 illustrator Aleks Byrd

Interview with unravel 2020 illustrator Aleks Byrd

Unravel Illustration Grouped Animals resized

Every year the craft team are so excited to reveal the illustration for the next unravel. It makes planning the show real and gives us all something to look forward to!

For unravel 2020 we were thrilled to commission Aleks Byrd to create the artwork for the upcoming show. Aleks is not only an accomplished knitwear designer but a talented illustrator with a colourful style and quiet confidence that captures the spirit of our community. She kindly took the time to answer our questions about her background as a maker.

Aleks Byrd headshot

Tell us about your journey with craft, and especially with regards to illustration and knitting. Which came first for you?
My craft journey has always been very multifaceted. I did a bit of everything growing up and still do to a certain extent. I started off sewing, mainly quilting, painting and drawing with moments of pottery classes and later knitting followed by many other crafts in printing (letterpress, screenprinting). I guess you could say illustration came first. I was drawing before I learned to knit. I was fascinated by my mother’s Hermès scarves which solidified my love for what I learnt was illustration and textiles. I learned to knit when I was about 8 making a simple Gryffindor scarf.

Aleks Byrd Location Sketching

Your work as an illustrator tells stories about knitting and craft. Has that always been the case with your illustrations?
My knitting illustrations came about during my last year of my BFA in Communications Design, focused on illustration, at Pratt Institute in New York. Previously all my illustration work was more varied in subject but always editorial. I enjoyed learning about new things taking on challenges of making illustrations for editorial articles on various subjects. I sketched and illustrated my travels and adventures on location. This style of illustration, reportage illustration, I fell in love with from two professors I had at Pratt who introduced it to me and the growing trend and movement of Urban Sketchers. Urban Sketchers is an organization of professional illustrators and avid sketchers who enjoy capturing the moment and location of where they are. I still can be found with a sketchbook illustrating the places I travel to, however the knitting illustrations have proved to be more popular. I love pattern so I like to spot that in what I’m illustrating to add a little extra detail which was where knitting patterns first started coming into play.

All my illustrations since my BFA come from a place of exploration and experience, either travel, encounters or experiences through crafting.

Aleks Byrd knitwear design

Do you ever have a pull more in one direction than the other with regards to illustration and knitting?
It’s very varied depending on my mood or what inspiration strikes. Lately it’s been more knitting than illustration as I have more designs to finish off and write patterns for. I’m always striving to find a balance between the two.

Aleks Byrd Sock Knitster Girl

Where does your inspiration come from for your designs? Either knitting or illustration?
Illustration- For my illustrations it comes out of experiences or conversations. My very popular series of Knitster Girl illustrations came about from my own experiences of trying on my knits to ensure the right fit blended with other knitters experiences adding a touch of dramatization. My knitwear designs are similarly inspired by experiences while traveling, a pattern spotted somewhere that I took millions of photos of. I’m not always the most fun to travel with because I tend to stop and pull out the camera and sketchbook at every turn. My parents and most friends know to just leave me and I’ll catch up at some point.I also include elements of  own multifaceted background in my knitting and illustration. I draw a lot of inspiration from my Estonian background because it is so rich with pattern and technique. It’s a way of connecting to that side of my family and culture.

Aleks Byrd Risttee 2

Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve created or are the most proud of (either knitting or illustration)? Why that piece?
Knitting – Risttee which was my first jumper design. I don’t always make things easy for myself and really go with it combining twisted stitches and colourwork. I love this design which I developed from a stitch pattern to a  finished written pattern during my MA at Bath Spa University. It was the first time I pushed myself to design a garment. It was a real challenge but a confidence booster and great learning experience in the end. It was inspired by my research into Nordic knitting traditions.

My favourite illustration would be my Knitster Girls. It’s hard to pick one from the group as I love them all. It was a series of illustrations where things just clicked. It was something that was quick to finish and felt intuitive. It’s also a series of illustrations that opened a lot of doors and my eyes to what is my unique style of illustration and how to connect it to knitting.

Aleks Byrd illustration process

Tell us about your design process. Is it a sketch first or on the needles? A combination? What about your illustrations?
I tend to sketch first. It’s a practice that was drilled into me  while I was at Pratt. I’ll sketch a quick small sketch called a “thumbnail” of what the piece will look like as well as working out my chart for colourwork before going to needles. The only time I don’t do a sketch is if I’m drawing on location. I do a mental sketch in my head and get going because sometimes your subject or inspiration might have the audacity to move!

Do you have a favourite thing you like to knit or draw? Why that thing?
When it comes to knitting, I knit a lot of cowls and mitts. They are a great canvas for trying out new pattern and stitch pattern ideas on a smallish project that’s easy to knit.

In terms of illustration, I tend to be drawn to drawing architecture when I’m travelling.

Huge thanks for Aleks for answering our questions. You can also check out Aleks’ website here or follow her on Instagram.

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