We dropped in on one of our favorite Austin artists to see how her pretty, nature-inspired tea towels come to life.
Made in Texas: In the Studio with Carolyn Kimball
The repurposed buildings on Austin’s creative east side are, for the most part, artifacts of light industry, with old whitewashed cinderblock walls, rusting steel girders overhead, and more openings made by loading docks than window panes.
But inside these inelegant spaces, beautiful things are made.
That’s the scene at the Artists Screen Printing Co-Op, where we met artist Carolyn Kimball to see her create her pretty tea towels, inspired by the natural world and presented under the label Kimball Prints.
Carolyn is right at home in studios like these. She’s a trained artist, boasting a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s degree in printmaking. And she’s a smart artist, as well, taking the otherwise prosaic hand towel for the home and making it into a canvas for inspired designs. Through her tea towels, she’s found a niche market and a loyal following among folks who love not only the elegant simplicity of her art—but it’s elegant accessibility, as well.
Enjoy this Made in Texas photo tour: In the Studio with Carolyn Kimball.
In the very beginning, Carolyn's tea towels typically begin as water color sketches, although she also creates some screen patterns from wood etchings. Below are the original watercolor images that she used as the basis for her Texas Honeycomb Tea Towel. Once satisfied with her original artwork, she burns the images onto professional grade screens.
Her canvas—the tea towel—is comprised of 100% cotton fiber, and her inks are non-toxic.
The screen printing process is all done by hand; each towel is the result of Carolyn's personal effort. There are no interns or automated machines to expedite the process, which means Carolyn's tea towels are authentically artisanal products.
Once printed, the towels pass through a Lawson dryer to set the paint; less than two minutes and 340 degrees later, the towels are completely set, and ready for folding and packaging.
Carolyn uses each design's screen thousands of times each year. Cleaning them thoroughly ensures the pores will remain open and paint-free for future applications. The most popular designs eventually need new screens, however.
Once the screens are cleaned and dry, Carolyn turns her attention to packaging the final product. Each towel comes neatly folded and housed in a Kimball Prints belly band.
A true artist, Carolyn of course has other expressions of her work, including woodcuts, engravings, watercolors, and paintings. You can learn more about her at carolynkimball.com.