Kathryn Robbins moved from England to Shanghai in 2013 to be the costumer and makeup artist for an over-the-top nightclub with a circus theme. The 33-year-old has since expanded from her makeup and body art into the F&B space, creating a number of striking murals for several restaurants in the past 18 months. The Silk Initiative’s CEO Andrew Kuiler spoke to her about her work in China’s food and beverage industry.
Your background is in interior design, makeup art and body painting. What brought you into the restaurant world, and where can we see your work?
After being a body artist in Shanghai for two years I was yearning again to paint and to try something new. I was always amazed by graffiti artists and mural artists, because of the sheer scale of the art pieces. So when a dance studio asked me if I could do a mural, I said yes, without having any experience. From then it’s just been word of mouth, and I have been back-to-back with mural art projects for the last 12 months.
I now have artworks in Danone offices, Scarpetta, Maya, Mayita, Style Fitness, Bodylab, Lian Thai restaurant, Wonderland, Captain bar and many other small outlets and hotels.
How does your creative process work? Do the clients come with an idea, or with limits, or with both or neither, and then let you loose?
For the most part I set up an initial consultation to see the space. The client will often have their own ideas, but nothing definite. I then go away and do a considerable amount of research to explore different options that would fulfil the brief.
Then I provide two options. One is two draw up the design on paper first for the client to approve. This is something I rarely do as all my designs are hand drawn and very time consuming. The second option is just a freestyle art piece based on the reference imagery we have discussed. This is normally the option people go for as I will have often been recommended by someone they know, so there seems to be a great deal of trust, which is wonderful.
What do you think the clients are looking to get out of hiring you to do murals, walls, pillars? this is the big why question. for example, are they trying to stand out in a crowded market? Do they want to disrupt people from just looking at their phones?
This was a question I used to ask myself. I couldn’t understand why people paid a lot of money for artists to paint straight onto walls when it obviously would be much cheaper to apply a wallpaper or a sticker. But, in time, I have realised that it does make a big difference. People love art and a hand painted, very large scale, personalised design, to fit the space, stands out by a mile. Shanghai is a trend-setting city and once one person has something you will see the same thing popping up everywhere.
Murals bring a venue to life and on my WeChat moments, I often see my work in backdrops to peoples photos or used for their venue’s advertising. It helps to promote the place and just makes it look way more interesting than something you see every day.
What feedback have you gotten back from your pieces?
So far all my feedback has been very positive. I have had a few instances where a freestyle design sometimes needs tweaking because perhaps, communication in the consultation phase wasn’t what it should have been so I have misjudged their vision. But this is a risk the client takes and sometimes I do have to read minds a little bit, but in these cases, it’s nothing that can’t be changed. That’s the beauty of painting: it can always be painted over or altered.
For our clients in the F&B space, Kathryn’s point that she often sees her work used in the background of people’s photos is especially salient. All too often, brands focus so much on sales channels, customer and market segmentation, and other important categories, but forget a key point that consumers of packaged goods want: to look good. Selfie culture is in full force in China, and many restaurants are busy re-vamping menus and even interior décor to be Instagram-worthy and sharable. But it’s not just restaurants that need to pay attention. Are you?
Want to incorporate more art and design into your product to help it really stand out from all the products on the convenience store or grocery store shelves? Need to know how to make your product *pop* and be unique? The Silk Initiative’s Packaging Blueprint does just that, helping to create or optimize your product’s packaging to make it really resonate with Chinese consumers. Call on us. We’re the experts.