Meet the Maker: Kate Albee

The basics. Kate Albee. Blacksburg, Virginia. Graphic designer, ceramicist and maker.

Please describe yourself, your business and the story behind your work.

Funny enough, becoming a freelance graphic designer was sort of by accident. I was going to school for architecture when I realized my heart just wasn't into the technical side of design - building codes, site mapping, construction drawings, etc. However, I loved the conceptual brainstorming at the beginning of a project and putting together my presentations at the end. I started freelancing for free for local businesses and charities, which led to a paid internship with a start-up seed company. Even though I liked the work I was doing there at first, going to an office 9-5 drained me of a lot of energy, and the office politics kept me from growing. I decided it was time to go out on my own, at least until another corporate job appeared. Spoiler alert, it never did! But moving across the country with my boyfriend gave me a fresh perspective to start anew, put my head down, and do the work to grow my business to a sustainable level.

I took a ceramics class in my final quarter of college and it felt natural for me right away. I was only able to take 10 short weeks of class before graduation day, and I knew I hadn’t had enough – I needed this craft in my life! Once I moved to Virginia, I found a ceramics teacher who also happened to be an architecture professor, and she was able to mentor me and merge my design worlds together. Now when I’m throwing a piece, I’m thinking about form, structure, hierarchy, detail – the very lessons I was taught in architecture. Through this mentor, I have found my creative tribe here in Virginia, and I am so thankful.

What are you working on right now?

Besides my graphic design clients, I am working on a line of ceramics that feels like me, completely. Because I am new to the ceramics world, it is important to find my voice and make my work stand out. 

I am also working on a passion project that I’m not quite ready to reveal yet, but it involves publishing a book about creatives and makers in the southwest Virginia area. I live in a place filled with overwhelming amounts of mountain culture and traditions that have opened my eyes to all new forms of art.

Please describe your workspace.

My graphic design studio is a small bedroom in my house that I share with my aerospace engineer dude, so I can be found there most days with a mug of tea, firing away on my laptop.

My ceramic studio, however, is a shared studio in my mentor’s backyard. Large floor to ceiling windows reveal her many gardens, water features, and birdhouses, and I can’t forget her rambunctious labradoodle puppy, Sasha. It’s a dreamy scene in the winter when the snow is falling! Inside, she has filled her studio with treasures from all over the world – some are things she has found on her own adventures, others are gifts from her many students. She is 78 and has lived a very full and creative life with no signs of stopping!

Please share a little bit about your creative process.

I like to collect inspiration in the mornings to get me in the right state of mind to design or throw. Once my brain is going, I’ll take some time to sketch out ideas. In architecture school, I was taught to get things out quickly and abstract first, then fill in the details later, and I still work that way now. Sometimes before I throw a bowl, I will draw the same bowl 20 different times, and watch as it morphs unintentionally each time. Seeing that collection of sketches helps me be purposeful with my proportions. Overall, I remind myself to let mistakes happen and find the value in them, rather than trying to be perfect all the time. Some of my best work has come from mistakes of other ideas.

How do you begin your mornings?

Inspiration is important for me to start my day off right, and that comes in many different forms. The first thing I do is my morning workout, which helps my body focus and keeps me from getting restless. Afterwards, I’ll browse my favorite blogs while I eat breakfast. Rather than use a blog reader platform, I like to bookmark each one in my toolbar, so I “experience” the page every time I visit. This is really important to me as a designer in figuring out what works and what doesn’t on a webpage. While I get dressed in the morning, I’ll listen to a creative podcast such as Being Boss or Elise Gets Crafty to get some business tips under my belt. I’m always trying to grow in that area of my life and self-improvement/reflection is something I really value in general.

What does a typical day look like for you?

After my morning rituals, I’ll refer to my weekly to-do list. I prefer a week at a glance instead of a single day; it feels less overwhelming to me. I’ll usually make a catch-all list and then order by priority. I’ll send and answer e-mails and then dive into my work! By mid-afternoon, I’ll need to get out of the office, and my ceramic studio is the perfect place for that. It’s quiet there, and if I’m alone I will listen to another podcast while at the wheel or listen to my favorite folk music.

What inspires you on the daily?

I love reading makers’ stories, which is why I’m working on a book of my own in that category. Real-life accounts make me feel less alone during a workday that is primarily just me at my computer. Seeing others accomplish their goals only pushes me harder to become the kind of story I’d want to read.

Where do you hope your business is ten years down the road?

I’d love to have a unique ceramics line sold in retail stores all over the country (or dare I say, world?!) and have my own studio in my backyard. Perhaps have a Masters of Ceramics under my belt as well. Meanwhile, I’d be helping other creatives and makers share their stories through community programs that I’d manage.

Shop Kate's products.

Follow along with Kate. Instagram /  Etsy Shop / Website