How I Create: Kate Walters, Of Flight & Feathers
I love discovering friends’ hidden talents, so was beyond excited to visit the new online shop of my friend and former colleague Kate Walters recently. Kate and I met in 2006 when we started out as writers for the same company at the same time. After going on to become editor of Growing Business magazine, Kate now works as a freelance writer and editor based in London, where she lives with her husband and their two adorable sons. Alongside freelancing, Kate recently launched her fledgling shop, Of Flight and Feathers, where she sells gorgeous, original ink drawings of birds.
Here, Kate shares how she's rediscovered her passion for drawing over the past year and how this led her to setting up shop, talks us through her creative process and offers some great insights on developing your unique style as an artist. I actually shared a little sneak peek from this interview over on Instagram earlier this week: "Enjoy the process". This is something that really resonated with me (which I forget all too often), and was just what I needed to hear that day!
1. Tell us a bit about your background and story so far. How did you get into drawing and how did Of Flight and Feathers get started?
I loved drawing when younger but had stopped drawing regularly as life got more hectic. Until recently I was busier than ever looking after my sons, who are almost four and two, while working as a freelance writer and editor. But about a year ago, with one of the boys starting pre-school and the other past the intense newborn phase, I started to have the time and feel the need for a creative outlet.
I turned once again to drawing and took a few courses. I spend a huge amount of time outside with the kids (they seem to need as much exercising as labradors!) and one of our favourite places is the London Wetland Centre, where we go at least once a week. There I started to learn more and more about the birds that make the place so special, and it wasn't long before I started taking my sketchbook with me.
Soon I was addicted to capturing my favourite feathered friends on paper! After a couple of friends asked me to draw something for their homes, I took the plunge and opened my Etsy shop. www.offlightandfeathers.co.uk followed soon afterwards.
2. What tools and materials do you use for your work and what does your creative process look like?
I absolutely love drawing with ink. I always have done – I think it's the boldness of the resulting sketches and the contrasts you can achieve with black and white that I enjoy so much. Surprisingly perhaps it's even possible to blend the two together. The neutral tones of my drawings are very typical of my style, and it was an easy decision to forgo colour altogether. I use pastel paper – acid free, 200gsm gives the weight and absorbency that work well with ink, and lightly textured surfaces help add interest.
I draw mainly from photos I have taken, and use several different images to achieve the right composition and to get a sense of the detail.
"I absolutely love drawing with ink. I always have done – I think it's the boldness of the resulting sketches and the contrasts you can achieve with black and white that I enjoy so much."
3. How do you organise your time between freelancing, parenting, drawing and the other aspects of self-employment? What does a typical day or week look like for you?
To be honest, there's not a lot of organisation involved: I work often chaotically, doing whatever I can squeeze in that day – most urgent work first! The boys' nap and bedtimes are obviously very important to get things done. My husband works relatively flexibly at the moment too which is a huge help. We take it in turns to escape to a coffee shop to attack to-do lists! Obviously when I have a big freelancing job on, drawing has to take a back seat. I hope that one day I can prioritise drawing though.
4. How would you sum up your style and aesthetic and how has this developed? What advice would you give to a creative who’s struggling to develop their own unique style?
I think it was deciding to work mainly in ink which really gave my art its own distinct style. I used to love working quite quickly, embracing the sketchy, broad strokes. But eventually my drawings naturally became more refined and now I enjoy bringing out the detail and characteristics of each bird.
As for advice, I guess finding the subjects and the style that you enjoy the most will be what you end up specialising in. And then just see where that takes you, don't be afraid to experiment, and enjoy the process as much as the result. There's no rush!
5. As a self-employed creative, are you ever held back by self-doubt or your inner critic (either in writing or drawing)? If so, what helps you work through this?
I think, like many people, particularly women and particularly creatives, I have an almost pathological fear of over-promising and under-delivering! And that can be, I realise, quite self-defeating, in that it’s difficult to put yourself forward for things.
That applies in my freelance career and in drawing. I'm yet to build up the confidence to approach stockists, for example, though it's an eventual goal! I find pricing therefore very difficult. I realise that having confidence in your work means pricing accordingly, and that people put their faith in products if you price them appropriately - i.e. not too low. But I find it very hard to price high enough to get decent margins. The same applies in my writing career, which I have been in for a decade!
6. What do you do if you hit a creative block?
I don't force it. I do my invoicing, go through photos to find my next drawing project, maintain my online presence and have a look through twitter. It's never really lasted very long - but I'd say for most people, even though it's a truism, the blank page is the biggest hurdle. Get something on paper and you're away.
7. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about your creative process so far?
That you can work anywhere! A huge desk with a view in a quiet room and soothing music in the background may all be lovely but actually, with some help from Peppa Pig, it is possible to work productively on a Duplo-strewn sofa in the 12 minutes before it's time to make dinner. Needs must!
8. What’s been your favourite piece to date and why?
I'm really fond of this duck family triptych (in fact it's on my wall right now, subject to sale!) I enjoy drawing water birds, and ducklings are lovely to draw too. It’s my first larger piece and I hope to do many more.
9. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in setting up your shop so far?
Very basic: getting people to see it! It's a crowded market and people don't just find things online without some work. I'm still learning about this - the next stage is learning what Instagram and Pintrest really are (I know!) and how to use them to drive visitors.
10. What are your top tips for someone who wants to start a creative business or go freelance?
I think if it's something you'd be doing anyway (like drawing or writing often are) then the time is always well spent. Be brave - put yourself out there.
11. What books or other resources have you found most useful in setting up your shop or self-employment generally?
Advice from following similar people on twitter has been good, as has joining the 'teams' on easy.
"You can work anywhere! A huge desk with a view in a quiet room and soothing music in the background may all be lovely but actually, with some help from Peppa Pig, it is possible to work productively on a Duplo-strewn sofa in the 12 minutes before it's time to make dinner. Needs must!"
12. What’s next for Of Flight and Feathers?
It's still very early days. In August I'll have a stall at my first craft fair. I'm also looking into prints, and selling goods such as greeting cards, phone cases etc. Eventually I would love for some of my work to be sold through relevant shops and online stockists.
Images by Kate Walters, Of Flight and Feathers