The Art of Building an Art Business: Kara Pendl’s Journey in Serial Entrepreneurship
Artist Kara Pendl started her handcrafted ceramics brand, Karacotta Ceramics, in 2017 and since then she’s been creating beautifully artistic, yet functional ceramic pieces for everyday life full time, incorporating unique forms and playful color palettes in everything she makes. But Kara hasn’t always been a full time artist. She followed many different career paths before finding herself where she is now. From working in sales and buying in retail, to co-owning a yoga studio, to owning a software development company, etc...but she’s always had a love for art, specifically ceramics, after being introduced to the medium in high school.
Ceramics had always been a creative outlet for Kara but she only considered it a hobby while she pursued other interests, thinking she couldn't possibly do something as fun and creative as art for a full time job. She had the mentality that many of us seem to share — if things are fun, they can't be considered work, instead thinking work should be hard, punching in and out like our parents may have at their corporate desk jobs for years on end. She also explained that her ‘zig-zag’ career path helped her find success in her current business as she took experiences she’d gained from marketing and retail into the intense process of launching her own businesses.
Kara believes you have to believe in your work, and be open to the unique journey you take to get there. “I believe in being committed to the idea that this is going to work, but not attached to what the path you take to get there looks like,” she says. However, her ceramic career was very different from the previous, because it involved her own art, something very personal and close to her heart. Many of the challenges and business operations may have been the same, but there was the added pressure and vulnerability of presenting her handmade work for sale.
The talented ceramicist draws inspiration for her work through her travels and love of nature, and despite her incredibly busy schedule she always makes time to convene with the natural world and center herself through meditation, red light therapy, and yoga. She’s currently working on her new line also inspired by nature, specifically national parks, and implementing new colors and forms into her work. Her current line, Sunset, Ocean, Desert, has a unique conception story. It was inspired by a trip Kara took to the White Sands in New Mexico where she says the idea came to her in a dream, where an angel figure told her the name of her business. From that dream, she was also able to visualize the theme and look of the line. Afterwards, she created the desert element to balance out the energy of the original oceanic colors and then finally drew inspiration from her home and based the sunset element on the Austin sunset, known for the violet crown.
Kara’s entrepreneurial journey doesn’t stop at KaraCotta Ceramics, she also launched two other businesses in 2018 and 2019: 100kcreative and broad studios, a consulting firm and a multidisciplinary, female art collective. Broad Studios was born out of the need for affordable, local creative production space and it functions as a way for the resident artists to inspire and help each other in their creative and business ventures. 100k Creative began as a way to help others starting their journey in business walk the walk she did, with guidance from her previous business experience. She understands the day in day out challenges of the art business and the process of jumping into entrepreneurship without a safety net and building a successful brand. She started out with this simply by meeting with other artists socially to discuss their situation and give her advice, but it spread rapidly through word of mouth until she found herself doing it for several hours a day and realized how big of a demand there was for this type of service in the local community. She had many of the same
questions when starting out but unfortunately had to figure it out alone. Kara decided that if she could help others build their businesses faster, then she would because “there’s no sense in starting from scratch every time,” she says. Kara understands the technical challenges but also how vulnerable it can feel to not only start a business, but to share a piece of yourself with the world through your art and then profit from it. Her main advice to other entrepreneurs is that if you're in a position to go all in — do it. She advises her clients that if you can get back into a similar position to what you're in now in your industry within one year, go all in and commit fully to this new path.
Many of the first time entrepreneurs we work with at Glass Staircase have been in a similar position, saying the most difficult part of their journey in business was simply starting. People often hesitate, waiting for the moment when the stars align and everything is perfect, but that's rarely ever the case. When we asked for her advice to those with an idea, but no clue where to start, she cited two keys to her success: being persistent and consistent. She emphasized meticulously setting goals and schedules and putting in the time. She also stressed the importance of the ability to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and to always continue to pursue your interest and learn new things, “if you're spinning your wheels, not sure what the next step is, find the next thing you're interested in.” With her own art business and the businesses with her clients, there’s an extra element of intimacy with putting your own creations, a piece of yourself, on the line, but having the accountability and a support system or just the feeling that someone is in your corner, can help make it all a little less daunting. She emphasizes not planning everything out, instead to simply keep pursuing interests, like the mantra: ‘if you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life’, though she does consider it work but work worth doing.“You'll still work if you love it but the love will keep you coming back,” she says. Rethinking the way you view these things can make a huge difference. When making this leap into business Kara suggests not saying “will I be successful?” but “I will be successful, and how will I make it happen?”
Since the pandemic, her businesses have been doing incredibly well, receiving an outpour of personalized orders for loved ones, coworkers, and essential workers. With this uptick in sales there’s also been a flood of requests for personalized messages to be included with her products, she says that the heartfelt sentiments others have asked to be included in their orders has brought a bright spot to her in an uncertain time, and that this glimpse of the compassion and thoughtfulness of others has reminded her of all of the good still in the world.
While she has had to remain flexible with things like shipping and her supply chain, canceling her studio tours and events, and making changes to her creative process, she's still been able to fill orders and move her in-person clay workshops into the online space. Kara is also releasing a book this year based on her experiences with 100k Creative and the feedback of her clients, to make her services more accessible in order to help even more artists achieve their entrepreneurial goals. She cites the most rewarding part of this journey as being her experience with 100k Creative, and being able to help others realize what's possible, giving back to her community and finding fulfillment in the success of her fellow artists.
“It’s been amazing to watch women achieve something that they thought would take five years in nine months to a year,” she says.