Welcome to the Kate Spain blog hop, a month-long celebration of the beautiful Kate Spain and her equally as beautiful designs and fabric! You can find all the info of the schedule, the link ups and the prizes on this page.
When I emailed through the questions, I was worried my questions were too wordy in my attempt to make clear what I was asking, but then Kate countered with over 2000 words of answers! Touche! So now we get TWO days of interviews getting to know Kate!
First off, I just want to thank Alyce for her amazing work in putting this month-long, super fun, blog hop, link-up, prize-filled extravaganza together! I am honored beyond words to be a part of it and am touched to see so many friends on the list of participating bloggers. I can’t wait to see what everyone makes! Thanks to all the sponsors who have generously donated prizes as well. I would not be here without all of you and your enthusiastic support over the years. From my heart, thank you. – KS
What was your journey to becoming a designer? When you were a child, what were some of the things you wanted to do when you grew up? At what point in life did you decide to become a designer and why?
Oh I hope you’re comfy because this could take a while! My journey to becoming a designer started at a very young age. If you ask my Dad, he would tell you he had a hunch when I was about 4 years old. On my birthday that year, I got some gifts and among them were a set of watercolors in a small metal tin, a mini Raggedy Ann doll, a Slinky and a coin purse keychain. I spent a good bit of time arranging and rearranging them…perhaps by shape, color or for some other reason I can’t remember. I finally liked the way they looked in a single straight line organized by size and ran to my Dad and asked him to take a picture of what I had composed. I was so excited that he could sense this was significant to me. I think that “arrangement” was my first intentional foray into the design world! Here’s the picture he took:
My Mom and Dad are both creative people and in our house growing up, we always had access to paint, pastels, charcoal, pencils, crayons, clay — and many other mediums. My parents supported and encouraged creativity and so my early connections with art were filled with feelings of boundless joy and a sense of freedom to explore this activity (drawing/painting/collage) that I felt so good doing. We didn’t have video games or cable TV when I was growing up so I’d spend Friday nights up in my Mom’s studio. I’d set up a little “still life”, turn on the radio and draw into the wee hours. I loved it that much. Here’s a drawing of potatoes I did when I was 10. Yes, it’s framed and hangs in my parent’s kitchen — so sweet.
I really wanted to be a cashier when I grew up. I kid you not. The people in our local grocery store were always so friendly and helpful — I guess they made an impression! I also wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved animals so much (still do of course. You know Franny and Lou, right?). I had an old wicker baby carriage that I’d wheel around full of all my stuffed animals. I still have “Bun-bun” who was given to me by my grandmother. When I was five I put blush in his ears to make them pinker.
But I suppose it was some time in High School when I started to take structured art classes that I became more confident in my abilities to translate what I saw or imagined to something drawn on a piece of paper. Actually it wasn’t always a piece of paper. I used to draw everywhere – on my clothes, on notebooks, and even on the walls of my room! But I didn’t decide anything about becoming a designer. In fact, when I began applying to colleges, I consciously decided against going to art school because I didn’t want to focus or limit myself at that time. Instead, I went to Boston University and studied liberal arts with a focus on Art History. I think there were about 200 students in my art history lecture class, and I was lost amongst them. I also took economics, philosophy, and literature classes, but I craved creativity. So much so that I would gather whatever materials I could from the dining hall — like styrofoam cups, straws, forks, paper plates, napkins — you name it! — and I’d make mobiles and sculptures in my dorm room.
I learned that sometimes figuring out what you want to do includes knowing for sure what you don’t want to do. And I didn’t want to take another semester of economics! Ugh! So the following year, I transferred within Boston University to the School for the Arts where I took basic drawing, painting and 3D design classes. It was a step in the right direction, but it was not the right place for me. What bothered me most was that during class critiques, I would hang up my drawings and no one would have anything critical to say about them! I really wanted to be challenged and that just wasn’t happening. So I ended up leaving Boston altogether.
I didn’t have a plan about what to do next, but a very good friend of mine was living in Providence, RI and was a student in the textile department at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). She was looking for a roommate and the timing couldn’t have been better so I moved in with her. I took continuing education and life drawing classes at RISD and in the meantime decided to apply for admission. I was lucky enough to have been accepted, and a whole world of creative possibilities opened up to me.
Can you tell us a bit about your early years as a designer? Your struggles, successes, and obstacles to overcome?
Oh boy, again…you might want to go get a cup of tea or make yourself a sandwich because there were lots of struggles and obstacles! It took me a while to find my way after college. I graduated with a BFA in graphic design, but had developed so many interests in areas like glassblowing, printmaking, and photography that it was hard for me to decide what I wanted to do. I volunteered at the Children’s Museum of RI and was also part of an artist’s cooperative in Newport, RI where I sold children’s chairs that I handmade and clocks that I hand-painted. Through my work at the co-op, I was asked to be a visiting artist at several of the elementary schools in the area. I loved doing activities with the kids so much that I ended up going back to school to get certified in elementary education thinking I wanted to teach art. When I completed the program, I could not land a teaching job…anywhere. So I substitute taught for a year and then worked in a day care center for underprivileged kids. It was really hard work, and even the time I was punched in the face by a three year old didn’t stop me from wanting to help those kids and their families in whatever way I could.
I was 26, doing something rewarding but not entirely creative, and after these kids “graduated”, I decided to move to New York City where at least there might be more opportunity in an artistic field.
But that didn’t mean things got any easier! I struggled with trying to find a way to stand out from the sea of other talented people that crowded the city streets. And since I had to earn a living, I ended up taking a job as a receptionist in a design firm. So while there was lots of creative stuff happening around me, I was ordering light bulbs for the elevator shaft and making sure there was enough coffee in the break room and paper in the copy machines.
I was constantly looking for creative outlets so every week I’d submit pen and ink cartoons to The New Yorker, and woodblock prints and drawings to Gourmet magazine for their editors to consider for use as spot art. Alas, rejection after rejection came in — I saved all of them and they turned into incredible motivators.
A friend of mine was working for a temp agency in NYC and was getting short-term employment at all sorts of interesting places like This Old House and Time magazine. I figured that if I could get a foot in the door somewhere (anywhere!) and have a chance to show someone (anyone!) what I was capable of, maybe they’d actually hire me. So I hunted-and-pecked my way through a somewhat humiliating typing test and revealed to the temp agency how little I knew about Microsoft Excel.
A couple days later, I was placed at a public relations and marketing firm that handled the account for Cover Girl cosmetics. Part of my job was to put gift baskets together for the beauty editors of fashion magazines. Apparently, the baskets and handmade cards got some attention and so did I! I was gradually asked to do a little more in the way of print design and ended up working with the head make-up artist for Cover Girl to develop PowerPoint presentations that were used to launch seasonal cosmetic lines. They hired me as a full-time freelancer and I was thrilled! The work lasted for about 2 years and then they took a different direction and I had to find work…yet again.
I learned that publishing companies had open portfolio reviews every month so I made a 3-dimensional portfolio out of cardboard and paper maché and hoped to grab someone’s attention in the Children’s Division at Simon & Schuster publishing. Well you know what? It worked! And I still have the portfolio:
I keep it as a reminder that being true to yourself helps others see who you truly are. And making extra effort to do that is always worth it. Are you still awake? Haha! Anyway, from here I think you probably know the rest of my story…I worked with Nickelodeon on media tie-in books for Simon & Schuster then switched jobs (again!) to working as a designer and product developer for Hello Kitty products. I started my own licensing business 6 years ago and maybe about 3 years ago I actually started to call myself a “designer”.
Thank you so much Kate! Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of interview!
Now, it’s your turn! On June 27th, Kate Spain will answer YOUR questions! Leave your questions here in the comments and she will pick some to answer. So put your thinking caps on and let loose.
And don’t forget, come back here Friday June 14th to submit your favourite Kate Spain project made before the blog hop, and then anything you make this month from Kate Spain fabric can be linked up Friday June 28th! Lots of fabulous prizes to be awarded thanks to our fabulous sponsors.