Getting To Know: Kara Pendl of Karacotta Ceramics
Kara and I first crossed paths last fall at the Creatives Meet Business Experience. We were both instructors, and wanted to take each other's classes, but scheduling got the best of us, so we couldn't make it happen. But the stars were aligned because we kept in touch over on IG and finally got together for the first time over almond milk lattes and a sunrise walk around Town Lake. Since then, we've been lucky enough to intentionally, and unintentionally, cross paths quite a bit, and after each time I see her, my soul feels beautifully refreshed.
Kara is a brilliant ceramicist, and I am so grateful that she shares so openly about her journey in the post. From her creative process, to her love of french fries, we cover it all.
I sincerely hope you love getting to know Kara as much as I have!
I really love your story of how you got started. Would you please share a little bit of your background and how all the pieces aligned to bring you to this point?
Thank you! I am a big believer in this quote by Steve Jobs: “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” and I try to live my life with that philosophy. As it relates to my career, on paper, it looks like I’ve been all over the map with industries and roles, but in truth, I just followed something I was interested in learning about until I felt I had a mastery of it, and then moved onto the next thing that piqued my interest.
To give you a quick and dirty run-down, I spent many years working in retail, including new store/market openings across the US and developing local community outreach, while concurrently becoming yoga teacher certified. During yoga training, I had an idea for a software solution within the yoga community, so then I decided to go back to school for web-development (specializing in full-stack Ruby on Rails) and build that company. Following that, I decided to invest in a local yoga studio, and using my retail and build-out experience, we opened a new location.
Throughout all of this, I had been quietly developing my ceramic skills as my stress-relieving hobby. A few years ago, I dove into my personal development and kept asking, “What makes me happiest?”...the answer was always ceramics. To bring Karacotta Ceramics alive, I leaned heavily on my experience of retail for understanding what would sell, brand positioning, and why people buy, community connection for collaborations and feedback, web development for my online shop, and yoga/spirituality, as that is a community a lot of my products serve. So looking back, the dots do all connect!
What aspect of your work is the most life-giving for you?
I would have to say a bi-product of my work, which is sharing my story of building this company, and helping others get theirs off the ground. I am a firm believer in two things:
- Everyone is a creative, and that that skill set can be cultivated, regardless of natural talent, and
- Anyone can make a lucrative career as a maker, and the narrative doesn’t have to be that of a struggling artist.
To do those two things though, you need to find that intersection of genuine artistic expression + solid business principles, and I love helping people get a basic plan together that will guide them to that intersection.
I also LOVE teaching ceramics workshops, and exposing folks to this ancient art!
Was there ever a time when you happily ignored external validation or outside advice about your business so that you could follow the True North that you created for yourself? If so, how did making that choice to follow Your Why impact not only you, but your business?
Yes! When I was starting Karacotta and sharing my plan with folks, I often got the question, “Can you really make money doing that?,” and while I sure believed in myself, it made me question if my idea was crazy. I was also in a bit of an unstable place financially and emotionally—I was trying to leave my previous business endeavor that had a steady paycheck but was ultimately a bad investment, for another risky idea with no income guarantee, and a good amount of start-up costs. Additionally, I was going through a bout of depression and anxiety, that was making every day things feel insurmountable… I share that piece because I don’t think there is ever a “right” time to try your hand at something, right now might be as good as it’s gonna get!
But what I kept coming back to and ultimately leaning into, was that when I remove the “art” or “maker” from Karacotta, there is no difference between it (as a business) than selling shoes, software or yoga...the same sound business principles can, and should, be applied.
Going about it with that mentality, I believed I had the same success probability whether I chose to develop Karacotta, or go back to a corporate job and develop a new store or piece of software.
I’d love to hear more about your creative process. And, where do you find the inspiration for your pieces?
While paintings behind glass are gorgeous, I love functional art that can be used in everyday life, and I believe curating the space around you with things you find beautiful, elevates your work, relationships, emotions, etc.. So, my creative process and inspiration often begins with needing a product or tool that would improve my daily experience, whether it be a shallow bowl that’s easier to eat pasta from, or a smudge dish with two cut-out notches for my sage and palo santo.
Once an idea strikes, I jot it down in my sketch pad and will start drawing iterations and noodling on the logistics (what clay body would support this, how big should it be to accommodate the kiln shrinkage, etc).
After that, it’s choosing the aesthetics of color and surface design. For color, I look to mother nature, the best color palettes are found in the wild! For surface design, it again comes back to functionality—where will the mug sit in your hand, what part of the bowl do you naturally want to lift up, etc.
In our digital age, there is something incredibly romantic about creating with your hands. I’m curious to know, do you feel as though you’ve seen other changes in your life since you have started down this path of focusing on a career that forces you to unplug on a regular basis?
Yes, that is actually one of the best side effects and blessings of having my hands covered in clay! I have been a fan of meditation for years, but moving into ceramics full-time, allows me hours of moving meditation on a weekly basis. I find the long stretches without social/digital interruptions help keep me in the Now, and really provide the mental space and downtime to cultivate ideas and solutions. I cannot tell you how many times I have come up with the perfect solution (for my personal life too!) or product idea after quietly throwing on the wheel for an hour or two.
The starving artist—it’s an all-too-common reality that is plaguing our young creatives. How have you navigated the waters of staying true to your creative vision, while also building a sustainable business? And do you have any advice for other artists out there trying to do the same thing?
I think if you’re doing something you would identify as creative vision or expression, the first thing to answer is, “Do I want expression for expression-sake, or do I want to make money from this?” and be really, really honest. With either answer, and there isn’t a right one, your strategy is going to look different.
For me, I think being a savvy business owner is a creative expression in its own right; it’s just icing on the cake that I also get to make a product that feels aligned with my soul. To stay true to my creative vision, I’m only making products that I truly love, adore, and use, but to stay in business, I’m not making ALL the products I truly love, adore and use, for mass consumption. I regularly make things that I have no intention of ever selling, or sharing for that matter. I allow myself the space to make things that would be weird, and super off-brand for Karacotta, but are badass to see come to fruition.
My advice for folks who have traditionally just expressed themselves, and now want to make some money, is to make a super simple (one page or less) business plan that highlights three or less items that you love making, and people have consistently shown interest in.
I also love your dedication to teaching your beloved craft to others. Can you tell us more about what it’s like to take a class with you?
Thank you! I genuinely love teaching ceramics, and watching folks experience clay and what it’s capable of. As I mentioned, I believe everyone is a creative, so I hold that space for students and just really encourage them to have a childlike sense of wonderment with clay. There is no wrong way to “make,” and I try to cultivate an environment of playfulness, inclusiveness, and just fun.
So often our adult lives are jam-packed to the brim with responsibilities, to-do lists, and commitments, I just invite people to take a beat for 90-minutes, have a glass of wine, and let their clay-flag fly if you will.
Can you share with us any hints of what we might expect from Karacotta in 2018?
So much is happening in 2018! I am recording a podcast right now, called Make/Do, that highlights how artists/creatives make what they make, and logistically, do what they do...like, how are you really paying the mortgage? It should be released in late spring, early summer.
Product-wise, I have some super exciting collaborations releasing this spring, and I will be launching a new line of Smudge Bowls and Bundles with a more developed decorative component.
My studio is moving to the new Springdale General development in June, please come see the new (gorgeous) space - I’ll be in suite 6D.
I’m also creating a journal of sorts that will help folks find that intersection of art + business, to be released at the end of the year!
Let’s get dreamy for a minute. If you could take a look at the future, what do you see for Karacotta? And, what are you doing today to help you realize that vision?
My 5-year plan is to open a studio & retreat space that can accommodate workshops for other artistic mediums (painting, fiber, etc), and also bring in the physical component of yoga, meditation and spirituality. Essentially the Babe Retreat, 365 days a year...the space will be full of natural sunlight, white decor, all the plants… le sigh!
In addition to that, I plan to create an accelerator of sorts for creatives. There is so much support and opportunity to ramp up business in the tech community—I want to take the same principles I learned there, and convert them to support art.
To echo the Steve Job’s quote again, I’m not sure how these two big goals will come to fruition, but I’m confident that if I keep my current strategy to follow the signals (aka what feels right in my soul), the universe will connect the dots for me.
Each time we get together, I walk away feeling inspired and grateful to have had a little bit of your wisdom rub off on me. What are you currently reading or listening to that has really caught your attention?
Thank you and likewise!! I am obsessed with learning, reading and podcasts, and also always looking for recommendations if anyone has one! Currently on my nightstand and in my earbuds...
Please feel free to share anything else that is coming to the surface or that you’d like to share. If the rest of these questions got the juices flowing, but you feel like you have something else to say - here’s the space to do it. :)
Hahaa - this has been so much fun. The only other thing is french fries are my forever-favorite food and now that so many restaurants are popping up, I’m always looking for a hot tip on where the best are in Austin! Fry people...whatcha got for me?
People often ask me what my day is like, and while every day is different, I like to cultivate as much same-ness in the mundane, so I can keep my problem-solving and creative energy for the craft...so I do pretty much the same three workouts, eat almost the same breakfast every day, wash my sheets every Friday morning, etc. I try to channel this quote: "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." - Gustave Flaubert
Want to know more? Eager to connect with Kara? Here's how:
I LOVE connecting, collaborating and drinking coffee and wine - let’s hang!! Hit me up on Instagram: @karacotta_ceramics or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org Also, check out the current line at: www.karacotta.com
How to get your hands on some Karacotta goods:
Karacotta.com is open 24/7, but for in-person shopping, you can find my pieces locally in Austin at:
And by appointment at my studio: email@example.com
Fun little extra:
Just for your readers! Valid through May 1, 2018: A complimentary smudge bundle (valued at $12, https://www.karacotta.com/shop-1/smudge-bundle) with any order over $25 - use code: OWNYOURWHY at checkout!