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Spotlight: Rachel Kirk - Visual Communication Design Tutor at The Margate School

Rachel Kirk - Visual Communication Design Tutor at The Margate School

Tell us a little bit about your background...

I’m originally from a seaside town of Cleethorpes on the North East coast of England. I left for the bright lights of London in the mid 90s and spent the next 25 years, living, working, studying and playing in London, until the summer of 2021 when I moved to Margate, returning to the seaside and that North Sea wind. Cleethorpes and Margate are similar in many ways, both being old seaside resort towns since the 1800s.

During my time in London, I spent over 15 years working with not-for-profit organisations and start-ups in marketing and communications roles. I worked on many environmental and community projects in that time, from a sustainable food festival in the Olympic Park, to a co-working space built in a tree in Hoxton Square, and a high-rise park on top of a multi-story car park in Stratford. I also worked with many architects and landscape architects who were developing design solutions to adapt and help our cities cope better with the extreme effects of climate change, including flooding and heatwaves. I think it was during this time that I understood the potential of design.

I have been teaching in Higher Education for the past 7 years, which I started after completing a Masters in Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, and last year I gained a PG Cert in Academic Practice for Arts, Design and Communication. In addition to being one of the Tutors on the Visual Communication Design Course at The Margate School, I’m currently also an Associate Lecturer on the Graphic Communication Design BA at Central Saint Martins and on the Design Management BA at London College of Communication. I also work as a freelance communications consultant and designer for a number of organisations, including the World Green Building Council and Groundwork London.

What originally inspired you to get into graphic design?

I’ve always been interested in design, but I was largely self-taught until my early 30s, when I decided to enrol on a part-time BA in Graphic Design at London Metropolitan in Aldgate. At the time I was working as a Communications Manager, but feeling pretty uninspired and directionless, and felt I needed to explore my own creativity. This part-time course really did change the direction of my life.

I love the craft of ‘graphic design’ - the doing and making - but I’ve also developed a strong interest in the theory of design, visual culture and media, which has become a major aspect of my teaching practice over the last 5 years.

How would you describe your own creative practice?

My own practice is rooted in print-making, and photography has often been a feature of my work too. I am interested in combining digital and analogue processes. For example, in a body of work called Fragments of Time, I wrote an algorithm, which digitally decays (digitised) old family analogue photographs by erasing pixels over time. I then printed a collection of these old photos of my own family dating back over 100 years, in their current state of digital decay, using large scale zinc plate etching.

A selection of images from Rachel Kirk's "Fragments of Time" project
Fragments of Time by Rachel Kirk

In this work I was exploring the tensions and blurred lines that have arisen as a result of the transition from analogue to digital family photo archives. From being located in small numbers in albums or in a few picture frames, to being ‘located’ in huge numbers on social media channels. The tensions between permanence and impermanence; private and public; control and loss of control; object and non-object; remembering and forgetting.

What are you currently working on?

In terms of my own practice, I have been really enjoying taking photos of Margate over the last year or so and getting into the darkroom again. I’m lucky enough to have a Leica M6 that I inherited from my Dad, who was a photographer, so taking photos of Margate over the last year has kind of felt like I was showing my Dad round my new home town.

I’ve also recently started working on some Margate inspired wood block printing, which is very much a work in progress, but watch this space.

While I still love working with print, in recent years I’ve also become very interested in critical design practice, including speculative design and design activism; practices I’ve been able to embed into the Visual Communication Design course at The Margate School. Speculative design is a method that allows us to explore and critique how human society, technology and nature may interact to create possible futures, and importantly, it invites us to ask, how can we play a role in designing a better future.

Rachel Kirk - Visual Communication Design Tutor at The Margate School
Rachel Kirk - Visual Communication Design Tutor at The Margate School

When you’re not practicing your craft, how do you spend your time?

When I have some down time I love just pottering around Margate, poking around second hand shops on Northdown Road, walking with my partner and dogs on the beach, visiting Margate’s brilliant galleries and popping out for the odd pint.

If you could name only one, what would be the highlight of your journey in your practice?

I don't think I have one highlight. I feel like I’ve got something valuable out of every project I've been involved in, personal and collaborative. Although a personal highlight in recent years has been moving to Margate and becoming a small part of the brilliant creative community in and around The Margate School.

What is your advice for someone looking to start out in your field?

Observe what’s around you, in everyday life; on the train, in Morrisons, on the streets, on the horizon…

Short courses are also brilliant ways to learn new skills and sharpen your skills. Working on design briefs is really valuable, preferably in a group or with at least one other person. Talking about your ideas and design thinking and getting and giving feedback as you work through a design process is hugely important and beneficial. The more design briefs and self-directed projects you can work on the richer your portfolio will be and the more you will learn.

If you weren’t a designer what do you think you would be?

I never knew what I wanted to do as a kid, I can’t remember ever even thinking about it, but always loved holiday brochures and a picture Atlas. I used to take the holiday brochures, stuffing them under my coat in Thomas Cook in Grimsby. They were my way of seeing what other places in the world looked like, albeit a glossy and skewed version of the world. This was in the 80s and early 90s, way before the internet. I love travel and exploring new places, so maybe I’d do something involving travel.

Do you have any exhibitions or workshops that people can get involved with?

In 2023 I coordinated The Margate Festival of Design for The Margate School and we're looking forward to putting together another exciting festival in October 2024. The festival is an important part of the Visual Communication Design Course at the school and with it we aim to put into action our guiding principle that design in all its forms, must connect with and benefit society and nature. So watch out for announcements in 2024.

We also have a number of 6-week short courses happening in 2024, which are part of the Visual Communication Design Course. These are focused on Typography, Image and Moving Image and will be starting in February, April and May 2024. We’ll be planning some shorter taster workshops and guest lectures as well, so keep your eyes on TMS socials in 2024, or email for more information.



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