Artist Profile: Kate Osman

By Kate Marsden

We're heading down to sunny Dorset this week to meet glass artist extraordinaire Kate Osman. Find out about Kate's use of recycled materials and how our campaign really is about all small purchases (not just cards!)...

Tell us a little about you. What do you do? 

Hi, I’m Kate and I am a glass artist – that sounds a bit like a confession doesn’t it! I work with recycled glass, mainly old greenhouse glass that I scrub like crazy till it shines again and then transform into something new and hopefully beautiful! It is hugely important to me that I am using glass I have recycled - as a nation we still discard far too many re-useable materials so being able to work with rescued glass makes my soul happy! My work mainly has a seaside feel to it but my inspiration also comes from the fields around my studio and my well stocked studio flowerbeds.

What does a typical day involve?

I start the day with the usual before school chaos – three crazy children, a frazzled husband, rather lovely but dementing cat and an underfoot dog, packed lunches and the school train to catch – all totally bonkers but over by half past eight! If I’m organised I’ve squeezed a run in with Pickle (our dog and my studio helper) before the morning rush, if not then we go for a walk on our way to the studio. The day is spent cleaning glass and cutting it, filling the kiln with shoals of fish, flotillas of sailing boats, ignoring paperwork, dipping in and out of Twitter and Facebook (trying not to get too side-tracked!), drinking peppermint tea from my flowerbeds, eating and listening to my very random selection of music. I love it when people pop into the studio so visitors are very welcome, especially ones who are happy to let me bore them with how the process works!

Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?

My studio is in a converted cow barn in the beautiful Dorset countryside and my view at this time of year is the young cows rushing round like lunatics in the field across the yard – just about perfect! My workbench is an 18th century gothic carved sideboard, massive, old and very, very solid. We rescued it from a barn last summer and my fantastically amazing husband, Ian, re-carved the missing bits and I love it in all its hideous glory. It’s a constant battle against dust in my studio as Ian has the back of the workshop for rescuing furniture and making bases for my glass so there is lots of sanding dust and general mess at his end that sneaks into my space – I’m not terribly domesticated so dusting is one of my least favourite activities! If I’m not at the studio then my weekend work space or ‘office’ is usually Swanage seafront where I join the art and craft market in all weathers – snow boots and winter hat are compulsory whatever the weather as it’s a bit of a wind tunnel!

When I’m not working most of our free time is spent outside; cycling, kayaking, swimming, slacklining, climbing things, getting muddy and generally enjoying our time together as a family. Evening trips to the beach are a regular Friday event during the summer along with early morning weekend swimming before the crowds get there!

What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?

Talking to friends who are artists and designer makers the main struggle this year seems to be paying the bills – having a unique selling point helps but trying not to lose heart on a particularly hard day at a market when you really feel you’ve had to fight for every sale is tough. Sometimes a small part of me longs to slip back into a 9-5 job with paid holidays and monthly pay check. I then remember that I like to do things my way, can be grumpy, talk too much to customers, get easily distracted and am probably fairly unemployable these days!

What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?

I hope to have more work in galleries – my sailing boats, fish, beach huts and cards are the bread and butter and I absolutely love them for that but the pieces that make my heart truly sing are the large art panels I make and I’d love to have a reason to make more. I am also working on designs for a collaboration with a friend, it’s in its infancy but could be really exciting!

Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/ small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out? 

Go for it! As a child I had no idea what I really wanted to do as a job but felt absolutely certain that we all should be doing something wonderful that we enjoyed. I have done lots of different jobs, some amazing, some truly awful so if you have the opportunity to do something you love then find a way to make it work. Be brave, take risks, be amazing and be the very best you can be, but above all you need to love what you are doing, this will shine through any work you create and people will see that.

On a practical note, set deadlines you can’t wriggle out of! I’m terrible with work when I’m told there is no rush and I work much better, am more focused and often more creative when time is tight. Create targets – this may be a market booked in or a shop or gallery to contact and make sure you meet them. There is no-one else to check up on you to make sure you are working hard and getting things done on a daily basis so self-discipline and being organised are really important - I struggle with both of these so rely on Ian and my Mum to give me a shake now and then to keep me on track.

Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.

Ginger Fig – A fantastic gift shop and gallery in Taunton – Catherine has the most beautiful work upstairs in her gallery and the gift shop is a real treasure trove of loveliness.

L’Artishe – This is a rather wonderful gallery in Swanage and Sharon James, the owner, creates the most beautiful images of bees. This is a great gallery for unusual work and has a very lovely feel to it when you walk in.

Walford Mill – An amazing place with a wonderful collection of work in the gallery and a fantastic shop too. There are artist’s studios on site and a tea room so it is a really lovely place to pop into for a visit if you are passing through Wimborne.

Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?  

Initially I thought it really was ‘Just a card’ but see it now as more of a metaphor for all the small things adding up. Even on slow days at markets I am always amazed by how my card sales or smaller item sales creep up – they might not be the ever illusive big sale but they are often what save the day!

How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?

Hugely important and I’m happy to tell anyone who will listen just what a difference it can make. My cards all have a unique piece of my glass art on them and are easy to frame - they offer a way for my customers to have a piece of my work that is instantly affordable, often they will come back to me later for something larger or a bespoke piece but if they don’t then every card, ‘seaside token’ or ‘pebble’ sale adds up.  I am also building up a rather lovely collection of inspirational cards that I have bought from other makers and artists that are on the wall in my studio and I love that.

Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?

I think it was on Twitter but speaking to other artists and makers at events the word is definitely getting out there – you are taking over the world, one card at a time! I also use Facebook and Instagram too but am really not very good at regular updates so I use Buffer to do it for me – one of my organisational tools!

In a society when we can quickly do all our shopping on line, it is far too easy to lose sight of artists and designer makers as real people. Our independent galleries and gift shops help redress the balance as do artist’s own websites and their online shops or Etsy - we could all do more to support each other, even if it really is just a card that we buy!