We recently connected with Katy Helen Kalt and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Katy Helen thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Have you been able to earn a full-time living from your creative work? If so, can you walk us through your journey and how you made it happen? Was it like that from day one? If not, what were some of the major steps and milestones and do you think you could have sped up the process somehow knowing what you know now?
In January of 2009 I was working as an Account Executive for a software company. I had great benefits, a healthy paycheck, a comfortable travel schedule, and a nagging feeling deep in my gut that I wasn’t fulfilled by any of it. I needed to make a change. Without a real plan, I decided to start pursuing art on the side, rented my first studio, and jumped in. I would leave my office, head straight to my studio, and create until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. I poured everything into my art and, little by little, saw it start to take on a life of its own. After one year, I cut my hours at the software company down to part-time. A year later, I quit my job altogether. Art or bust.
It’s been over 10 years since I took the leap. Progress wasn’t linear, there have been peaks and valleys and a lot of hard work but I know it’s what I’m meant to do. I’m grateful that my customers have provided me the opportunity to work hard at what I love.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
I create and sell custom & original handmade mosaic, mirror, glass, and painted artwork on surfboards, in homes, and on just about any surface the client requests. My clientele includes hotels, restaurants, interior designers, and anyone who loves original artwork. The work I’m most known for is my hand-cut mirror mosaic surfboards. Hundreds of pieces of hand-cut mirrors and stained glass come together to form a single dazzling piece of art that is continuously changing with the content of its reflections. Each piece is completely unique and original.
I work out of a private studio we built in our back yard and my art ships worldwide. Over the past 13 years I have honed my process and gained confidence in my work both as an artist and a business owner. The past few years I have also added the role of mother to my resume. I’m grateful my work allows for the flexibility to maximize time with my family and hold space for my creative self. It’s not always a perfect balance but I continue to learn about patience, acceptance and endurance in art, business and life as time passes.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
I’ve never seen it as the onus of others to support my work as an artist. I’ve always seen it as my job to create and market work that people will be compelled to buy. I’d love to see more business and marketing resources available to artists. Practical business skills are a vital component for any artist interested in converting creativity into a viable livelihood.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
I’ve pivoted, ping-ponged, bounced and redirected more times than I can count. As an artist I’ve dabbled in the business of dark & surreal oil paintings, funky custom acrylic pet portraits, fancy derby hats, abstract texture work, landscapes, clothing, and currently mosaic/stained glass. It’s a combination of pursuing what sells and what tickles my creative fancy and neither of those areas tend to remain constant.
In the fall of 2019, I was working on the biggest proposal of my career. It was for a contract to install artwork in an international airport, a large scale project with a budget to match. I was so excited just to be in the mix. I was also very pregnant with my second daughter, Matilda. The project ended up stalling and several weeks later, within days of my due date, we lost Matilda unexpectedly. I had to be induced and deliver our sweet girl stillborn. It’s difficult to put into words the overwhelming pain, love, grief and growth that came in the months and now years that followed. All of my work came to a complete stop. Any attempt at creative output was like prodding my grief with a lightning rod, there was just too much to process and creating made me overwhelmingly vulnerable to all of it. I wondered if I would ever be able to work again. The first year after we lost her, I barely stepped foot into the studio. I focused on time with my husband, Nick, and our older daughter, Lula. I contemplated a new career, perhaps in healthcare. I tried my hand at new mediums – wood carving (I was terrible) and colored pencils (also not my thing). Eventually, I found my way back to my art. I try not to take it so seriously nowadays. I enjoy working on projects that flow from my own inspiration and I’ve significantly limited commissioned work. It’s important to me that my work is driven by my desire to create and not by ego or a need for validation. I have to create in a way that serves me and my family – which now includes another little one. A baby boy, Oskar, joined us in January of 2021. He and his sisters remind me daily not to take anything for granted and to try to do work that matters, for the right reasons.
Kate Rose Photography NILMDTS Photography