Good Morning! Today's "Friday Finds" went to the same art college as I did, but left considerably later. A children's book illustrator by day and a creator of her own range of greeting cards and stationery by night and any other spare moment, collage artist Kate Slater has a shop on Notonthehighstreet.com where I first saw her striking work.
Kate by © Holly Booth
When did you start your business and why? Did you plan how you started meticulously or was it almost accidental?
I started my career as a freelance illustrator as soon as I graduated from Kingston University in 2008. I was lucky enough to find a publisher interested in the story I’d written and illustrated for my final major project at uni and although it was a very long process (the illustrations changed hugely) it did give me the confidence to be a full time, self-employed illustrator by the beginning of 2009. Magpie’s Treasure was finally published in autumn 2010. Meanwhile I gained a few other commissions for publishers, ad agencies and editorials (I’d say I had a more diverse portfolio back then, whereas now it’s mainly children’s-focussed). So while I didn’t have a grand plan, other than ‘Get a Children’s Book Published’, I always knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t expect to be selling so much direct through my Not on the High Street and Etsy shops, that’s definitely something that has evolved over the last few years.
The freelance illustrator part of my job did take off quickly, although I do still have quiet patches, which is really why I began making and selling direct through my online shops. They have gradually built up over several years and it’s only really this year that I feel they’ve become a really valuable source of income.
I work full time, sometimes more on freelance work and sometimes on my own designs to sell direct. I really enjoy both parts, although whenever I’m concentrating on one I do feel I’m sorely neglecting the other! Lately I’ve been trying to get really organised for Christmas orders. I begin every day thinking I’ll do admin in the morning and get something creative done in the afternoon, but I never quite seem to get there!
© Kate Slater
Do you intend to grow your business into something much bigger or are you
happy with it as it is and why?
I would love my business to be big enough to have a brick-and-mortar shop one day. There is something wonderful about making something that I really like (this generally my approach, I can never muster much enthusiasm for researching trends. The downside is that this usually this results in a rather disparate collection; my aim for next year is to get organised and concentrate on one theme, rather than thinking, “Cows! Orangutans! Post Boxes! These are the things I will sell”). I would also love to have lots more children’s books published. I’ve also recently started hosting collage workshops at the farm, it would be great if they really took off!
Would you say you earn a good living from your work?
Well, I’m happy as long as I can afford to be a self employed illustrator full time, but I probably don’t earn what someone with a proper job would consider to be a good living! I do have a good life though; I live in the countryside with a free studio on my parents’ farm down the road. I don’t think I could afford to do what I do in London, where I lived after I graduated. I probably would have gone mad and been found in my pyjamas, buried under the pile of paper I used to keep on my bed, for want of another work surface.
Where do you sell your work?
I sell my work primarily on Not on the High Street and Etsy, and also in a few shops.
Ode to Autumn © Kate Slater
Have you had publicity in national magazines? If so how did you you go about
I’ve had work in Country Living three times which was wonderful! It’s one of my favourite magazines (to both read and collage with). It was through not on the high street. Twice they’ve sent product requests, the first time resulted in my Ode to Autumn print being on the front cover, which was amazing! The thing is you never know whether you’ll be on the cover or cropped on the edge of a tiny photo, which is what happenedthe 2nd time. The 3rd I was in the front few pages where they showcase a selection of different products on a theme. I’d love to get more press, but I’d need to be hugely more organised than I am, considering most magazines work six months ahead.
Who do you think your typical customer is?
A woman, probably in her 20s on Etsy and 30s/40s on Not on the High Street. I’m more likely to sell a print on Etsy whereas all my children’s party invitations are sold through NOTHS. I think people visit my Etsy shop because they’re already aware of my work, whereas NOTHS customers are more likely to come across me when browsing the site as a whole.
Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most?
I love illustrating most. When I’m not worrying about other things I should be doing, I love the feeling of becoming completely absorbed in creating something. On the other hand I must confess am a big fan of the spreadsheet. In small doses it’s quite nice to exercise another part of my brain and do some sums.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?
I would have made sure I properly costed everything I sell online from the start. It’s so important because it’s easy to underestimate how much time goes into producing a greetings card, listing it online and packing each order (not to mention the drive to the Post Office to send it). It’s tempting to price low in the hope you’ll get more orders, but there’s nothing more disheartening than realising later that you’ve lost money on the sales you have made. I’d probably remind myself about the importance of self promotion, which is something I still need to get better at. I know I should keep it up in the busy times and not just wait til things are quiet, but it is something which I do very irregularly! I would point myself in the direction of The Design Trust, they are brilliant and have masses of great advice!
Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive?
I don’t really set goals, although I have things I would like to achieve. I can see it would be a great idea to give myself a time-frame in which to achieve them and to plan how I’ll do it. I’m a huge fan of to-do lists though. I might just add ‘set some goals’ to my current one…
Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of
your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? If you do, how
did you find people who were the right fit for you?
I do everything myself. I think it would be a huge leap to employ someone, even on a casual basis. Having said that, I have an wonderful family who will happily pack a few hundred greetings cards over lunch to help me meet a rush order (this actually happened a few weeks ago). My aunty regularly takes home cards to pack and gift tags to string and my mum will fly off to the Post Office for me at a moment’s notice. Last year I had to cut out 450 birds from Foamex for a National Trust installation, which I really could not have managed without the help of all my friends and family, who valiantly wielded craft knives and painstakingly cut round every beak and feather!
Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with
others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? Do you see
My studio is attached to my parents’ house, but you have to go outside and up a wooden staircase to reach it. It’s called The Apple Room, because apparently it was once used to store fruit, although when I was younger it was filled with old furniture, rolled up carpets, spiders and occasionally newly hatched chicks. When I was 16 it was converted with some insulated plasterboard and a hefty dose of woodworm killer into the perfect studio it is today! I work alone which I’m happy with, although I now have a beautiful labrador, Gladys, to keep me company! One day my dad will retire from farming and I will have to find somewhere new to work (I try not to think about it).
Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with?
If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business?
I don’t have a mentor but I do talk to people about my business, especially when I need
to make a big decision. Usually just talking out loud to someone else helps me to work things out. It would be great to have a professional as a mentor though, especially for business advice and to help me upscale.
© Holly Booth
What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a
dream day for you – business or otherwise?
On a typical day I head to the farm between 8 and 8.30am and take Gladys for a short walk (she’s proving to be the best alarm clock I’ve ever had!). The rest of the day is determined by whatever I’m working on at the time. I quite like the idea of answering emails in the morning, then moving on to an hour’s research before getting stuck into a collage, but really I just deal with emails and orders as they arise and try and get something productive done in between. At the moment I’m working on a new website. Tomorrow I have a rough to do for the RSPB children’s magazine, a dog training class to go to if I have time and a swim would be lovely! I finish each day taking Gladys for a longer walk before going home. My ideal day would be one in which I receive a fantastic commission that will really stretch me or sign a contract for a new children’s book and receive a wholesale order from a dream stockist!
Anything else you want to add… tips or plans or ambitions or even special
offers to my blog readers…
Here’s a voucher for 15% off in my Etsy shop until next Friday! Use the code FFAUTUMN15.
Finally please tell us where we can buy your work! Links please . . .
Not on the High Street: http://www.notonthehighstreet.com/kateslater
Also my website is: http://www.kateslaterillustration.com
A fantastic interview - thank you so much Kate; you seem to have a great balance in you creative life, although I completely understand that conflict between loosing yourself in personal work and creating commercial products. I really enjoyed reading your answers, top advice within. I feel that I can really picture your day too :)