Creative Caversham – Kate Spencer-Millan

Finding her path to fulfilment – Pilgrim’s way leads Kate to her path

MOST OF the artists we have met are based locally: Kate Spencer-Millan makes regular pilgrimages to the area to contribute to our artistic community. But then, as she explained to Elestr Lee, one very special pilgrimage is the inspiration for her artistic expression.

The various opportunities for creative artists within Caversham and the immediate area are a matter of pride – and even some surprise that there is so much going on. Artist Kate Spencer-Millan had travelled some considerable distance before settling down to live in Berkshire with her husband and baby son – but she finds herself drawn from her home in Maidenhead to Caversham on a regular basis, both to showcase her works and to pass on her skills in classes.

She grew up in Stockport, Manchester and studied interior design at Huddersfield. Kate then spent 12 years in Canada, where she married a Canadian. The couple moved to the UK three and a half years ago, and her husband’s job in Reading led Kate to joining the Reading Guild of Artists and making connections with many local artists. “This area definitely has so much to get your teeth into, especially compared with Maidenhead,” she comments.

Having completed an interior design degree, she decided this was not the career for her. “It’s not creative enough for me, it’s having to work with other people’s ideas,” Kate explains. So she re-trained as a hairdresser. However, she found herself enticed back to her paint brushes, having always been very creative. By the time she came back to the UK she decided to concentrate on art, working in mixed media – acrylics and stitching. However just prior to returning, she went on a course using alcohol inks. She intended to do the course just for fun – but by the time she reached the UK, she knew she was hooked!

Kate’s new-found passion for creating works using alcohol ink coincided with another new interest – and another new passion – when she discovered the Christian pilgrimage hike El Camino de Santiago. This crosses the Pyrenees, ending up at Saint James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain. “My husband has family in Spain, and one of his relatives said, “I’m on the Camino.”  I asked, “What’s the Camino?”  Having found out about the hike, I did it myself. Then I went back and did it again with my husband. People become addicted to it, and do it multiple times,” Kate explains.

Kate chose to start the 500-mile journey from Roncesvalles, on the Spanish side of the border with France in the Pyrenees, and completed the Pilgrims Way in 34 days. “The people doing this are a mixture of those who are religious, while for the majority it is just a hike – but let’s face it, few people have the chance to get this amount of time off. To do the walk, you really have to take it one step of a time – doing the Camino is like a lesson in life!” she says.

Having done the Camino a couple of times Kate became engrossed in recalling her experiences. “All I wanted to do was remember and return to the Camino. I created paintings based on the photos I had taken and posted them online. Then I started to get commissions, both from people who had already done the walk, and those planning to. I suddenly knew that this is what I really wanted to do.”

Capturing the varied landscape of the Camino has become Kate’s inspiration, and she has been thrilled to experiment with the possibilities opened up by using alcohol ink. “I prefer to use Yupo paper because, although the ink can be used on many surfaces, it works best on non-porous materials. The alcohol ink evaporates, leaving the colour behind. It is different from water colour – brighter, and the colours merge, so you can achieve lots of effects as the ink dries. You can control it to a certain extent – but it is a very organic way of painting.”

Kate’s works featuring the Camino cover the Pyrenees, which form the first section of the hike; the flat plains of the Meseta – when walkers find their bodies have eased into the challenge, and they have time to think! Then the green, hilly landscape of Galicia. “I have completed at least a hundred of paintings of the Camino,” Kate says. “Although I also do abstract works, as well as portraits, and I am just about to start a portrait of my 18-month-old son, Rio.”

Examples of Kate’s work can be seen during November at Art Jam in Caversham – including some of her paintings of the Camino. She has led workshops at Art Jam, and exhibits in the Artists and Makers Fairs which take place at the Methodist Church in Gosbrook Road, Caversham.

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