the merchant katie ireland (1).jpg

Katie Ireland Designs is founded by Katie, an art student at Ulster University. She illustrates landmarks and buildings of Belfast and sells them as prints at Unique, Ulster University and four other shops based in Belfast.
We chatted to Katie about how she creates her prints and how the city of Belfast inspires her.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

My name is Katie Ireland, I’m an art student at Ulster University Belfast and I run my own small business: Katie Ireland Designs selling prints and illustrations of Belfast Landmarks and buildings.
I started the business in January 2018, in my first year of university, as a way of funding me through uni. I started selling in Unique Art and Design Shop in Ulster University’s Belfast Campus, which gave me a great start in understanding pricing and packaging and most importantly helped me figure out that people liked my work. That gave me the confidence to try selling my prints elsewhere and as of January 2019 I am now stocked in 5 Belfast shops, including Belfast Welcome Centre and Titanic Belfast.
My prints are all initially illustrated by hand from my own photographs with artists marker pens on Bristol board. I then turn them into digital prints or use Adobe Photoshop to create my skyline prints by combining the individual drawings of buildings. I am also working on some more abstract prints based on my Belfast work and my work within uni, where I study Textile Art Design and Fashion. The illustrations combine my love of architecture and my love of photographing and exploring places, cities in particular. I had always loved the idea of trying to draw and document places in NI - though for a long time I was convinced it was going to be National Trust places - it wasn’t until I started uni in Belfast and started really noticing and looking at the buildings (something our lecturers encourage us to do to help our creative practice) that I decided to start drawing Belfast landmarks. It was just lucky that my illustrations were something I realised that other people enjoyed which gave me the opportunity to start a business with them. I have a huge list of places - particularly some of my favourite buildings - that I intend to add to my collection and I just hope it keeps going well. 

What/who influences/motivates you?

I guess what motivates my art comes from a love of exploring cities and buildings and my hobby of urban/architectural photography. We’ve always had books on Belfast in my house and my mum and I have often taken trips around NI, to attractions and National Trust properties which I always loved to try and draw. We also do a bit of travelling when we can, usually trying to do city breaks, where I guess I started practising Urban photography. We’ve always had local Irish art around the house and try to support local manufacturers and businesses, so I guess the local influence around me helped encourage me to focus my art of what I know and love locally.
I don’t really know what motivated me to start up my business, at the time I was just enjoying drawing Belfast landmarks and architecture as a starting point for my practice in uni, and I decided there was nothing to lose by selling prints of them in Unique Art Shop in uni. However, when they started selling well I realised I was maybe onto something and decided to see where else might take my work. I guess now my motivation is to make it into a lasting business, something that will be not only a continuous income for me but also a fun hobby that I get to call my job (or at least a part time one as I still want to explore the possibility of working in costume design - the whole reason I went to UUB).

What has been your biggest hurdle and your proudest moment or accomplishment in your career?

a. biggest hurdle
I think the biggest hurdle for me was actually realising I was running a real business and believing that I could do it. I think it was stepping up and figuring out how to be professional in correspondence, paperwork and merchandising. I had to sit down and start working out financially how to run the business, and I had to consider how to run a website, an Etsy store and social media etc, rather than just being an artist selling prints as a hobby. Despite that being the main (continuous) hurdle (I’m still learning and figuring it out, now with help from business advisers though), I do find it very fun. I guess it doesn’t feel like work at all because it’s something I enjoy doing.
b. proudest moment/achievement
I have had a few proudest moments/accomplishments since starting the business - some like first international Etsy order, successfully getting stocked in shops. But I think it’s between when I got asked to sit on a panel about design in Belfast and my experiences - which really made it feel like I’d achieved something, and one of my prints being given as a diplomatic gift.

Could you give some advice for any young, emerging designers?
In terms of advice for young emerging designers I guess I’d say just go for it, believe you can do it and just make it happen there’s nothing stopping you. Take every opportunity (within reason as long as you’re not being exploited) and network as much as you can. Even if you think the answer will be no just go ahead and ask for whatever it is you’re after - the worst anyone can say is no. Use any help that comes your way. The government, universities and banks all have enterprise programmes anyone can apply for, so use them, even if you think you’ve covered everything there’s probably something they can help with.
Someone in business once told me there are 2 times in business when you can take a risk: at the beginning when you’re starting out and when you’re fully established. So take the chance; you’ll never know unless you try.