My friend Erin’s book, How To Make It, was just published and I’m in/on it! Erin, who also owns Amelia in Oxford, Mississippi, interviewed 25 makers to discover how they make a living by making things.
Katharine Watson is a Portland-based printmaker who has had quite the international life. She grew up in London, went to high school in Hong Kong, moved to Ohio for college, and now lives and works in Portland, Maine. Her work combines monochromatic palettes with bold graphics in such a lovely, striking way, and I am pleased to feature her this week.
JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium?
KW: I took printmaking in college when the drawing class I had hoped to take was full for the semester. I didn’t think I would be that interested (I had definitely believed the idea that being a professional artist meant being a painter) but I instantly loved linocuts. We studied many types of printmaking, from monoprints to etchings, but linocuts were my favorite and I kept coming back to them. I continued to study painting and drawing but would constantly incorporate linocuts into that work, and that’s when I realized I’d found my favorite medium. I was also always interested in textiles, and for a long time thought about pursuing textile or fashion design. When I found printmaking I realized I could combine it with my interest in textiles. It just seemed to fit my interests and aesthetic really well and I felt like I had found my niche.
How would you describe your work?
I work primarily with linocuts, and most of my work uses imagery that is inspired by floral patterns or decorative arts. I grew up outside of the US (I went to high school in Hong Kong) so I was always looking to other cultures for inspiration from a young age. There was something about spending time in environments that were foreign to me that has seeped into my work, and I spend a lot of time looking at traditional textiles from around the world. I love the bold patterns, repeats, and non-figurative imagery, and this has informed a lot of my work. I’m also really drawn to working with monochromatic color palettes and I love combining botanical designs with unexpected colors.
Everything I make starts with a hand-carved linoleum block, and I use those to create a variety of work. For larger projects or licensing, I will scan my prints for reproduction but a lot of my work is the original block print.
What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
I’m not sure but I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making something. I kept a lot of sketchbooks and journals as a kid, and I was constantly designing room layouts or clothes, or sketching things around the house. I always loved to sew and started making my own clothes in elementary school. My room was a constant mess of art supplies at all times. My mom had several friends who were artists so I was lucky to be exposed to that from a young age and they would always have helpful tips to help make my 10-year-old horse drawings look more realistic.
You sell to a number of small retailers and large national ones, in addition to collaborations with the Met and Chronicle Books. How did those opportunities come about?
Each time has been different. Some of those connections have started at the National Stationery Show, which I have exhibited at for six years, but sometimes they come from random internet meetings or from people seeing my products in stores and then reaching out. Each time I get one of those introductory emails it’s so exciting; I’m always fun to hear what ideas people have to work together on and I love doing collaborative projects.
How do you balance your creative practice with the demands of also running a business?
That’s a hard one! I have to say that my creative practice usually gets pushed to the back burner when I get busy with shipping orders, catching up on emails, or working on running the business. But I have realized that the more I am creating, the more excited I am to work on new things. It’s definitely on my list of goals this year to spend time just experimenting with new mediums and styles. Right now, I have found that the best way to do it is to sign up for a class that forces me to get out of my schedule. Last year I took a painting class, a printmaking class, an Illustrator class, and a pottery class and so far that is the best way for me to get out of my routine and focus on making things. I’m hoping to focus on making new art more this year so there should be lots of new stuff coming soon!
What are you currently working on, and why?
Right now we are ramping up to design and launch our 2017 catalog and new products. That means looking over what sold well last year and what didn’t, getting pricing for new materials, and finding the right balance of new and old designs. We usually put out our new catalog in late spring so I’m busy putting together all that information now. I’m especially excited about a new line of art prints that I’m working on, and we’ll also be adding some new textiles this year that I can’t wait to reveal!
At the same time, I’m also finishing up some work on a few licensing projects and finalizing designs that will launch from other companies later this year.
Then on top of that is the day-to-day work of moving in to our new studio and keeping the business running smoothly!
Do you have a dream project (or two)?
I have so many! I’m hoping to expand my work with textiles over the next year or two. I also love working on licensing projects, and designing things that a lot of people will get to use. I’d love to design a wine or beer label because the good ones always seem like little pieces of art when they are done well. Working on a line of textiles for a major retailer would be a dream too.
2016 was a really busy year for me, and my goal for 2017 is just to keep that momentum going! I love having lots of different projects going on at the same time because I think it keeps me motivated, so I’d love to keep striking a good balance of wholesale, creative projects, and licensing. I just moved into a new, bigger studio so now I have plenty of space to expand, work on bigger projects, and be doing lots of things at the same time.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Take every opportunity you can! I’ve talked to so many people who are nervous to put their work out there because they think it’s not ready or not good enough, but I think the most important thing is to just go for it and share the work. No one ever thinks their own work is perfect but the best thing you can do is start sharing it, get feedback, and say yes to every chance that comes your way while you build your portfolio and get started.
I always think about the response you hear so often to modern art, that the viewer could “easily do that themselves.” And I always think, “you should!” Start working and start making art like that. So many people have talent but the real work comes in putting your work out there, staying focused and staying motivated.
What else do you want readers to know about you or your work?
Printmaking takes a lot of practice and patience! You can do hundreds or thousands of runs on a print so you’re going to be seeing the same image over and over again. I’ve also had people ask why I don’t just use laser-cut blocks, since it would be a lot faster. But the hand-carving process is such a huge part of the design and really informs my imagery and style. You can’t get the same look any other way.
How can people find you? (website, shop, Instagram, Facebook page, Twitter, etc.)
February’s Tea Towel of the Month is here! Just a few are available to non-subscribers, so snag yours in my shop now.
Memberships for April-June will open up in March.
Back before I knew how hectic early 2017 would be, before book deadlines and keynote speeches, I agreed to lead a three-day Mini-Makerie in Boulder, CO. As the date approached, I scolded 2016 me for overscheduling myself, but I am so glad that I committed to this long weekend (along with all the other things I agreed to do this winter).
I spent a wonderful three days with eleven students. We went for a long walk (long walks being essential to my creative practice), we drew, we printed, we ate desserts. What more could I ask for?
A huge “thank you!” to Ali of The Makerie for organizing every little detail, to Fran of At Hand Studio for sharing her gorgeous place, to Teryn Wilkes for the gorgeous photos, and to my publisher Roost Books for the delicious lunch.