Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kate Tortland, Founder of Kate Tortland Studios, located in Simsbury, CT, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am a professional fine artist - which is a blanket term for whatever I feel like at the moment, hahaha. Mainly, my work is traditional oil landscapes, which I sell in galleries and shows. I'm currently represented by three galleries, one in Martha's Vineyard, one in the Berkshires, and one in Litchfield, Connecticut. Recently, I've expanded my work to large-scale abstracts and invented a new style of contemporary painting, which I like to think of as "modern frescoes." These I've been showing and selling from the Litchfield gallery, which is the first gallery to represent my contemporary work.
Additionally, I create commissioned pieces regularly for clients in whatever style they are most inspired by. I love commissions because you get to collaborate and get to know the client, and for me, it gives the pieces a whole new direction and depth. On a whole other side of my work, I am also a textile designer, creating patterns for fabrics. My husband (who is a major fashionista, haha) and I own our own small fashion company called Antoniella Apparel, where we design and produce unique accessories with my textile designs.
Tell us about yourself
Well, I didn't have much of a choice to be an artist - I quickly realized that the only thing I was good at was art, so my decision was kind of made for me. I always was entrepreneurial - even in college, while working at the coffee bar as a barista, I would design notecards, print them off in the school library, and make little packs for sale on the counter while I was on duty. It almost seemed as natural to me as making art. I remember the business department had me speak to one of their classes, despite me never taking a business course and having no idea what I was doing, haha.
Since then, I've just kept chugging along, creating the best work I can, and putting myself out there. I'm motivated mainly by my love of building something of my own and vehemently disliking doing anything else. I wish I could say my love of art motivated me, and it is to some degree, but I really just like being independent. This has led to me living abroad, being inspired by other cultures, and changed my life in ways that I would never have experienced had I stayed safe.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think my biggest accomplishment was truly setting out on my own. In 2017 I quit my part-time teaching job to move to Italy, where I met my future husband. Since then, I've never gone back to a "regular" job. It was a big decision to leave the security blanket behind, but it was well worth it.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Taxes. Just kidding. But actually. The bureaucracy and mind-numbing tediousness of the background stuff that goes into running a business, like figuring out what permits you need, remembering to file sales tax returns, figuring out how to market your work...all of that. It's not fun; it's not exciting, and SO time-consuming. And there isn't really anyone who can do it except you.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Get a QuickBooks account, and make sure everything (and I mean everything) gets run through it. Expenses, income, shipping, whatever.
- Find something that you won't get bored with. It's such a hassle to start a business; you don't want to go through all of that for something you're going to walk away from.
- Find someone in business who will be willing to help you. They don't even need to be in the same field of business - preferably not actually. Find a community of other business-minded people who can support and encourage you.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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