Katherine Shapiro

by Nisha Btesh July 15, 2020

Katherine Shapiro

This depends where I am- at the moment I’m in India where it’s really hot during the day, so I’m waking up early to enjoy the cooler temperature while it lasts! In general I find the stillness of the night very soothing and creatively stimulating so I do have night owl tendencies though. I try not to look at the time too much, so it’s a rough flow:

When the light starts to come in the window (6am?) : Wake up, get out of bed and sit outside with tea/lime water. Meditate, breathe, exist, slowly feel my body wake up. Recently I’ve started writing a couple of pages every morning, just whatever is on my mind. At first it was a bit of a struggle, but now I find it such an rewarding thing to do so I look forward to it.

Then: Yoga practice

Next: Always fruit for my first meal of the day. I try to eat local and seasonal, so at the moment that looks like some combination of papaya, banana, mangoes and pineapple with homemade peanut butter - not bad!

After that: Read with tea or coffee. I can’t focus immediately after eating, so after meals I leave a little time to chill.

10/11am?: Unless I have anything else on, at this point I get to work. I freelance so the exact task varies day to day- emails/admin, commissions, or personal projects. At the moment I’m lucky to have a degree of freedom to arrange my tasks based on my energy each day- that is, until deadlines start to loom!


Tell us about how you became the woman you are today. Where did you grow up? What moments in life have influenced your character most?

I am half Japanese, I was born in Tokyo and lived there on and off there until I was 12 and my family settled in London. I was there until I graduated (with a degree in history, not art!), and since then I’ve lived in many places around the world, a mixture of traveling and settling for longer periods.

Having a mixed background and living in different places meant that even as a kid, I was always aware that I had a different perspective to others around me. Growing up with multiple cultures around, you see how arbitrary a lot of the things are that people take as given, how social customs and norms are really just made up- it’s an interesting perspective to hold and I see that not everyone has that. So I’d say I’m very curious, more interested in enquiring than knowing. I’m also pretty open in the way I see life, more so as I grow older and carve out my own path.

While of course there are exceptions, generally I’m quite independent and grounded in myself, at least in terms of life choices and the standards I hold myself to. Although I’m sure that just because I said that, something will happen tomorrow to prove me wrong…

A lot of women believe they need formal training in order to succeed as a Female Artist. What’s your take? Did you have formal education or are you self taught?

I don’t think there’s such thing as “need”- each individual should do what works for them. I didn’t go to art school, so I can only speak from that experience. I experiment a lot, I think you can see from my work that I’m always trying new things and different ways of working. I also learn a lot as I go, but that works for me because I’m the type of person that gets very interested in different things and likes to figure stuff out. For me it’s easier to learn when I have an actual problem to fix, or a specific project I’m into that requires certain skills. Sometimes it feels like doing things the long way round, but there are plenty of classes and courses you can take if you feel a bit stuck.


Let's talk about vulnerability. What role has being vulnerable played in your work, success or failures?

To me, vulnerability is key to creating. I feel that in order to be happy with myself as an artist, I need to be as vulnerable and honest as I can be, and allow that to express itself in my work. When I become self conscious in what I am doing, I can feel how it changes the way I put pen/brush to paper and the result never feels quite “mine”, even if other people may not see that. What really helps is having a sketchbook where I just explore ideas and put pen/pencil/brush to paper without attachment to the result. I find it easier to do this in notebooks with low quality paper rather than the nicer stuff I use for my actual work. No expectations, and no judgments. It’s great, I get so many ideas from it because I do things there that I wouldn’t otherwise, and you really see how you can learn from mistakes when you aren’t afraid to make them. It’s really where the magic happens.

What is the biggest challenge you've faced as a female artist?

I wouldn’t say it’s a specifically female thing (although many women in all lines of work do seem to struggle with this), but definitely confidence, and feeling that I’m “good enough” for the opportunities that come to me. There’s something about putting yourself out in the world that is slightly terrifying, and to me it’s not something that comes naturally. Most of the time I’ve felt good after pushing myself in this respect, but I’m kinda shy so it does take some effort.

On a deeper level, it’s essentially assuming that nobody will like your work and therefore you, right? Which seems absurd put like that. So when I feel that creeping sense of doubt, I try to take a moment to get to the heart of it and see that it’s just a drama in my mind, which actually makes it disappear. The only thing you really have to lose is a bit of ego, which isn’t a bad thing anyway!

How do you stay motivated?

I remind myself to focus on what is in front of me and not the result, or what will happen next- attaching outcomes to things isn’t helpful and only takes energy away that is better spent on literally anything else. Just do things one at a time. Sometimes when my brain feels full and I start to feel anxious about what I’m working on, I just lie down and
zone out for twenty minutes or so. No thoughts. It clears my mind and then usually I’m happy to make myself a little snack and get back to work! Especially with projects a little outside of my comfort zone, I can feel tension build up if I don’t take a quick breather now and again.


What is your biggest focus and/or goal in your career right now? What plans do you have for yourself 1,3,5 years from now?

To stay true to myself and for my work be true to me. For me the important thing is to have direction and focus, and then being able to flow with whatever comes to me on that path. So perhaps I wouldn’t call them plans, but I do have some ideas about my direction.

I have many interests, and I seek to balance exploring those and keeping learning without losing too much focus, which is easy to do with multiple pursuits and moving around a lot. I’m very interested in ways of living that honor the close relationship we have with the earth that sustains us- I’d like to be able to grow my own food and build my own house. I’d love to do some screen printing and woodcuts, and learn how to make pigments from rocks and flowers. I’d also love to get back into photography. And I’m sure many other interesting things will pop up on the way! But everything in its time.


What specifically gives you the most anxiety when it comes to talking about money? Explain.

I think pricing. I think this is common, and very much related to confidence. I generally have a good idea of my price, but there’s the niggling worry that people will think it’s too much, or that they’ll be disappointed with the work. Also people generally want more than their budget allows for, so navigating that can be a little tricky, because you also don’t want to undersell yourself, but also most times you don’t want to lose the job. I
was terrible at this to start with. I’m much better now, but I really don’t enjoy it, which tells me that there’s still something to learn.

Big or small, what’s the single best money making tip or piece of advice you can share with up and coming artists?

Very much related to the above- value yourself and your work! Artists are often asked to work for free, or for amounts that don’t reflect the amount of time and effort that has gone into their work. I mean, if there’s a project you’re really into that doesn’t turn a profit and it is helpful to learn and develop, that’s fine. But in general, working for pennies wreaks havoc on your sense of self worth. Aside from being a bad habit that makes you feel unvalued, nobody creates their best work in that state of mind anyway.

So I would say think about how much you charge, and stick to that as much as possible. I’ve regretted underselling myself, but never regretted any opportunities I’ve lost because the price was too low. Last year I was in contact with an app thats entire social media (with a huge following) is custom illustrated comics- all really beautiful, witty and brilliant. So I was shocked to be told that “participation is voluntary”- essentially I was asked to create their marketing material, which makes them money, for free. Agreeing to this kind of work devalues not only your work, but all creative work, and sends out the message that artists’ time isn’t worth paying for. If it’s valuable to them, they should pay for it. It’s awful. So don’t go for that kind of work- for yourself and for the rest of us!


What do you know for sure?

That I know nothing.

Give us three of your favorite/ most inspiring things right now. It could be a book, a food, a destination, a song, a person, etc.

The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. It’s a beautiful short book that encompasses his philosophy about agriculture, food, and life- which are all one and the same. Essential reading.

Patti Smith. I just find everything about her amazing- her sensitivity and clarity, and the strength that has enabled her to follow her path and produce incredible heartfelt work over decades.

It’s mango season here, so there are all these huge mango trees are full of hundreds of dangling fruits. Visually it’s very striking, and of course the fruits are also so delicious. Makes me smile every time I leave the house.

Finish this sentence. I never leave home without my…

Water bottle? Slightly boring answer, but it wouldn’t even be right to say wallet, phone or keys, because I definitely forget those on a regular basis. I’ve climbed through the window of most places I’ve lived.

Finish this sentence. I find myself most inspired to create when I am…

Open.

Name 3 of your guilty pleasures.

Naps
Campari
Really fancy dark chocolate (favourite is 85-90%)
But no guilt!




Nisha Btesh
Nisha Btesh

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