If you are a fan of Katie Kortman then you know she has a deep love for prints, mixed prints, bold prints, clashing prints, print-on-print, loud prints and subtle prints and of course, lots and lots of colour.
Katie brings an energy to the sewing, making and designing community that does not pass you by. Her socials exude positivity and a ‘can do’ attitude, it is refreshing, highly contagious and you may even learn a new dance move.
She is more comfortable being called an artist, but that is but one of her talents. Katie has also embarked on fabric designing which teams up nicely with her fashion creations. Recently, she had an online chat with our blog editor, Jacqui Taylor, on the joys of art and where it has taken her, dropping a new collection for Nerida Hansen Fabrics and adopting life in Japan.
Hello Katie, thanks for taking a moment out of your busy schedule to chat with me, well a virtual chat. I’m picturing you flashing your signature grin, wearing pops of colourful homemade goodness and working on a new dance move. How close am I?
Well, I am currently wearing an outrageous, bright-coloured dress with huge sleeves, and smiling at this question, but since I’m at the computer…I can only do so many things at once. No dancing at the moment!!
Katie, you radiate positivity, tell me what makes you happy?
I am happy because I always try and keep an eternal perspective in life. Everything we experience is only a small portion of the greater scheme of things, and having that faith is what helps me stay positive! Besides that, I also like to find the good, the joyous, the positive in whatever life throws at me. It’s not always easy, but doing that helps bring so much more peace and happiness. I would say all of that, plus wearing lots of colour and making sure to dance a lot.
You recently made a move to Japan, how is that?
We visited Japan a few years ago when we were living in the Middle East (Bahrain) and loved it so much we wanted to come live here one day. We hoped and prayed and let all the military powers that we know our wishes, and here we are! We couldn’t be happier (okay well if COVID wasn’t a thing, and we had a little more freedom to roam that would be better I guess, but we’re making the most of what we have!). When we found out our move would be dampened by coronavirus I was disappointed, thinking our experience wouldn’t be as good as it could’ve been, but it has been wonderful. We decided that since we couldn’t travel around Asia, (or even all of Japan), that we would explore everywhere the navy would let us go. We’ve seen so much already. We love the culture, the people, the food and even learning this new language!
Where did you grow up and how does that compare to life in Japan? Is living in Japan influencing your designs or creations?
I grew up in the US, in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is very different!! South Florida is a big mixing bowl of cultures, music and also lots of beach life. People down there care a lot less about ‘rules’ than they do here! But they are both similarly humid and have crazy storms.
It’s hard for me to notice if it’s influencing my designs per se, but I can tell that it’s influencing my fashion choices. While people mostly dress very conservatively in both style and colour palette, their clothes have interesting shapes and details. Clothes tend to be less form-fitting, but so chic. I think that when we get to go to Tokyo one day (I’ve only been on vacation there years ago), it will definitely be Influential. We’re only an hour away but thanks to COVID we are not allowed to go (as per our military restrictions).
Tell me about your family. Is everyone enjoying their new lives?
I have four kids (11, 9, 7, 3) and my husband. They love it here as well! They’ve all made good friends through church and school and we love our awesome neighbourhood. It has lots of parks for the kids to play with friends. My youngest goes to a local preschool (yochien) and that has been a really cool experience for him and I. He’s picking up Japanese and gets to be fully immersed in the culture, and I get to speak to parents and learn as well. I love how they focus on life skills and outdoor exploration and play there. As a family we’ve had fun trying all sorts of foods and seeing what we like. It has been a great family bonding experience.
Do you describe yourself as an artist, maker, designer or all? How do you find time to juggle everything?
I never know what to say when people ask me this! I started out as a painter/artist, then became an avid maker as well, which lead to me learning to design fabric and now I sometimes say that. But I feel super weird, like I’m an imposter calling myself a designer! I think because it’s still pretty new, and I’ve been an artist for most of my adult life. It’s weird to switch titles.
I used to just stay up super late to do it all (because I also stay home with my kids so I don’t have a ton of daytime hours to work). Now, with most of them in school for half the day, I am able to get some work done then, and a little done in the evenings. It’s a constant question of which thing to work on when though!
Have you always loved working with bold colours and prints?
YES. My artwork has always been about colour and movement, line shape, and texture. When I began sewing I looked for the brightest solids and prints I could find, but was often longing for something a bit different. A whole new world opened up for me when I learned to design my own fabric!! My clothing dreams could be made a reality!
Talk to me about your creative process. Do you have any habits or ‘must dos’?
With fabric design, I must start with painting. I sit down (not with a specific idea usually) and I start painting. I create about three to five paintings and then I go from there. I like to find ways to pull them apart and create new designs digitally. It is pretty fun to see the beginning and the end and all the iterations that come from those first paintings!
It has been a challenging 12 months for everyone due to a global pandemic and a lot of uncertainty. What has changed for you due to COVID-19? And how have you adapted your work to manage during this time?
I actually had some incredible opportunities in 2020 that didn’t come to fruition due to COVID. Some that I had been looking forward to for a year, and some that were new and REALLY pinch-me exciting. At first I was really, really bummed that none of them would come to fruition, but as time went on, I just leaned in and said, “Oh well, other things will happen one day.” Instead, I focused on how nice it was to be less stressed out, and I learned some new skills such as knitting, clothing pattern design, and machine embroidery! I have had a lot less work deadlines, and since I’m very lucky that my husband’s income can support our family, I have been able to just enjoy this big move across the world instead:)
When and how did you meet Nerida Hansen?
I first heard about her website back when I started designing fabric. I checked it out and I told everyone that one day I hoped my fabric would be on there!
And look here you are! Tell me about your collection for Nerida Hansen Fabrics. What were your inspirations for this body of work?
These designs were inspired by big, bold paint strokes and dissecting rainbows into bits and pieces.
What is a typical day for you? What do you do outside of work?
I work outside of taking care of my kids at home! It is the other way around for me. My primary work is being a stay-at-home mom, and then I try to use every available moment to design, make and create! A typical day is getting up at 6am, and getting the first three kids to school. Then I get the youngest ready and I workout on my stationary bike, etc. I walk him to school and then come home to shower and work on my designing and sewing projects. I walk to pick him up in the early afternoon and then my older kids come home an hour later. After homework, playing at the park, dinner and bedtime, I try to wrap up a few projects and then I sit down with my husband to watch some TV and knit. (Before we moved to Japan I would’ve told you that I then stay up until past midnight working! Not anymore! I’m prioritising sleep now.)
Who has inspired you the most to date and why?
The most inspired I’ve ever felt was when I went to Robert Raushenberg’s Retrospective at the Guggenheim in 10th grade. It opened up my vision of what art could be. I especially loved this one piece, Hiccups where he used zippers to connect 97 small works of art into one art piece. The moment of seeing that work has never left my mind and influenced much of my undergraduate work.
Katie, do you have a dream collaboration or project?
My dream collab is to have my fabric be part of a Gorman Clothing collection one day.
What is in the pipeline for you for 2021?
That is a good question!! I have a couple companies that will be selling collections of my fabrics, and then one secret thing that may or may not happen since I am no longer in the US, and COVID is still a thing. If that thing does happen, well it’s pretty crazy!
What advice would you offer to those that are starting out as either artists or makers?
Don’t worry about what is popular or what other artists are doing. Those things already exist and those artists are already doing those things. Focus on doing what comes from inside you, create what makes you happy and you’ll make more magic than if you just try to imitate what is popular/already being done!
That is sound advice! If you cannot wait any longer and bursting to get yourself some of Katie’s designs, shop her jawdropping range for Nerida Hansen Fabrics online at www.neridahansen.com.au. Check out www.katiekortman.com for more information on Katie and her work.
Words by Jacqui Taylor