We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie Lehn and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katie, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
It’s funny to think about it as “pursuing” because it almost feels like I just fell into it, and once I found myself here it just felt like home. My first “career” was working as a dietitian/nutrition counselor. This is the career I pursued for 5+ years, As a lover of food and people it felt like the right path for me, but after working in the field for a few years something felt out of place. I felt like it kept me in a box and I couldn’t express myself fully or be my true self when I was at work. That may have been related to my self-confidence more than my career but it pushed me to think about alternative options.
I started taking pottery classes at my local community studio in Tucson, AZ and was astounded by how at peace I felt while having my hands in clay. I had no idea how much I needed that creative outlet and stopping wasn’t an option for me. It became the greatest form of stress relief and a way to process my emotions. I continued re-enrolling class after class soaking up every bit of knowledge I could from the instructors and fellow potters. It was never my intention to sell my pottery when I started, but more so just to fill my home with things I’d made and gift little pots to friends and family.
When I moved out of Tucson, it served as an opportunity to step away from my career in nutrition and reassess. Once arriving in my new city (Austin, TX), I found myself drawn to getting my hands in clay more than getting back in the counseling world, and it all just continued to fall into place after that. I happened upon an artist residency held by the city at Dougherty Arts Center which provided free studio space in exchange for working at the ceramic school. It felt like the universe was offering me a chance. If I wanted to try out pottery as a career it was “now or never.” The opportunity was on the table and all I had to do was commit. So, I dove in head-first with the support of my partner and family and went for it. Since starting my residency 2 years ago, I’ve participated in my first art exhibition, launched my online store and landed a handful of wholesale gigs. It’s been a whirlwind but one that feels right and I’m grateful I took the leap of faith.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Being raised as a desert rat in Arizona, the unique beauty of the land has become a major source of inspiration to me. I bubble up with joy when I hear someone say my work reminds them of the desert or southwest because I breathe that into my pots every step of the way. I’m constantly experimenting with ways to achieve texture, hues, and forms that mimic the infinite muses of the desert such as canyon walls, cactus skin, and organic patterns.
There have been many challenges along the way, especially launching a business a couple of months after a pandemic took over the world. But one of my biggest challenges has been maintaining confidence in my work. Selling something you’ve made is hard. I’m constantly second-guessing myself and the quality of my work. I try my best to keep an open mind when I open the kiln to see a new batch of pots. I know I’m always my harshest critic, so I try my best to imagine I’m someone else when looking at my pieces to gain a kinder perspective. It can be never-ending imposter syndrome if I don’t check myself and the validity of my thoughts often. My boyfriend has been crucial in bringing me back down to earth when my thoughts get irrational.
One lesson I’ve learned is: Just start. Many days I find myself getting completely overwhelmed by my never-ending to-do list. Becoming a potter, I’ve also taken on the roles of business manager, marketing director, accountant, event scheduler, etc. I often get caught in “analysis paralysis” which halts my productivity. But I’m getting better and snapping out of this and “just starting” by doing something, anything, and the rest usually flows into place after that. Usually, but I’m still learning.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Austin is overflowing with delicious food and fun activities. We’d definitely start off the day with some breakfast tacos at Veracruz, my favorite is the Migas Poblanas.
We’d follow that up by venturing out onto Lady Bird Lake for some paddleboarding or kayaking.
And end the day at Hotel Vegas for some live music and dancing.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Man, it’s so hard to choose just one person to shout out, so I’ll list a few.
My parents and sister, for always encouraging me to work hard to find my version of happiness.
My boyfriend, Luis for always believing in me and teaching me how to believe in myself.
Maxine Krasnow, my first pottery teacher at the Tucson Clay Co-Op, for showing me the beautiful and mystical world of clay.
And finally, Dougherty Arts Center, the place of my artist residency which provided a safe and supportive space to discover myself as an artist. I could not have done it without this generous opportunity.