Learning the Art of Business
"It gets complicated really quickly, especially for a person like myself, who is not very business oriented. So it has given me a bigger picture view, which has made it easier to break it down into smaller steps."
“The Bay Area is really unaffordable for an artist. This became very apparent with the ghost ship fire in Oakland last year. It was an eye opener for people as far as how artists have to live to make their work. It is really hard to find affordable studio space so a lot of artists are moving out of cities like that and having to go to more rural areas in order to make their work,” said Artist, Katharine Payne.
And so began the journey home for Katharine, a ceramic artist focusing on sculptural and functional work. She recently moved back to Mendocino County after graduating in 2016 from California College of the Arts in Oakland and is now figuring out how to establish herself as a successful working artist in a rural community.
Since graduating, Payne has found a studio and workshop space to rent in Ukiah with money received from the Windgate Fellowship in 2016 and has spent the last year setting up the studio and preparing her body of work for her fellowship exhibition called Inherited Landscapes. In the show she explores the garden as a self-portrait drawing influence from the Italian Renaissance.
“During the Italian Renaissance, gardens started out as a place of religious retreat. They were usually adjacent to a church or cathedral and they started to become places for entertainment that represented the owner, much like classical portraiture, so I find those sort of frameworks to work within,” explained Payne who says she is fascinated by how identity is embedded in everyday objects. “I have always been interested by with how people identify themselves through the things in which they surround themselves and how those objects become self-portraits.”
Payne fell in love with ceramics at a very young age after tagging along with her mom, who was an art teacher, at Willits Charter School where Payne’s brother was a student.
“I was ten when I started doing ceramics. My mom would come to the school to help in various art classes, and since I was partly homeschooled I was with her a lot of the time. Then the ceramics department adopted me and I would just go in there and be a part of the classes even though I was not an official student. That’s how I got my foot in the door,” explained Payne.
Since moving back, Payne has been focused on the business of selling her artwork. She says that she never expected to be a business owner, but as an artist you have to earn a living, and the hope is to do that exclusively through your art.
“To become a business owner, there are all these things you need to learn, like bookkeeper, licenses and marketing. I just felt like it was one more thing to throw over my shoulder and embrace.” said Payne. Given that she just got out of art school and had no experience starting or running a business, Payne contacted West Company to get started.
West Company’s advice on time management organizing a spreadsheet, and figuring out pricing for her products has been beneficial. “One of the biggest things was it really gave me confidence. I wasn’t wandering through the dark trying to figure all of this stuff out because it really is daunting. It gets complicated really quickly, especially for a person like myself, who is not very business oriented. So it has given me a bigger picture view, which has made it easier to break it down into smaller steps,” said Payne.
Payne will also be working with West Company on marketing of her business, which she is very excited about recognizing the difficulty in selling your work as an artist, especially in a rural area.
“We are a community rich with artists and there is a lot of creative energy here, but I feel there is an imbalance in the amount of creative energy and outlets for that artwork, such as having places to exhibit,” explained Payne who says that there are no gallery options in Ukiah. Payne explains that she expects she will be shipping most of work out of the area.
Payne also notes that as an artist you face challenges wherever you go especially given that art is such a saturated market making it hard to get your name out there and be recognized. In order to do this, Payne says that she has largely been focusing on social media as well as being active in her community.
“I watch a lot of what other artists, are doing on Facebook or what their Instagram looks like, even down to what kind of hashtags they are using and how are they talking about their work. A lot of it is also just putting yourself out there and applying for as many opportunities as you can in order to meet people and develop a presence in the community,” said Payne.
Working with fellow artists at The Deep Valley Arts Collective, she is also in the early stages of looking to address some of the difficulties of being a rural artist in Mendocino County. “We are working together to figure out how we can support each other’s growth as artists and find ways to sustain an artist lifestyle in an area like this that doesn’t have a lot of outlets,” explained Payne.
For more information on Katharine Payne visit her website at katharinepayne.com.