If you’ve worked a desk job that requires a lot of (okay, constant) sitting and screen-staring, you know the fantasy: You break out of the soul-crushing 9-to-5(-ish) routine to pursue your real passion. And for those who actually find an outlet for all that bottled-up creative energy, the daydream goes from chimerical to, But really, what if this was my main thing?
L.A.-based artist and illustrator Kenesha Sneed asked herself that question when she took up ceramics three years ago as a release from her full-time gig as an art director. Spending all her extra time behind a spinning wheel paid off: Her stoneware ceramics, under the name Tactile Matter, snagged spots on One Kings Lane and in West Elm last year.
Eager to extract some entrepreneurial wisdom (and get a glimpse of her work in action), we partnered with Nixon to catch up with Sneed at her studio. The 30-year-old maker let us in on what she's learned from venturing out on her own, like accepting mistakes and surrounding yourself with the right people. Get her advice for seriously pursuing your side hustle below, then step away from the screen — you've got a business name to brainstorm.
Do the thing you want to be doing all the time.
“Ceramics was one of those things I became obsessed with from the start. Sometimes you gravitate towards a craft and it’s really hard for you to not do it. Even if I wasn’t making any money from it, it’s something that would be a hobby. It was only a hobby turned business because I had made so many pieces that I was either going to throw them away, give them to friends, or start selling them.”
Determine if your craft is a fad vs. a forever obsession.
“As far as taking steps to actually doing it, it depends: Do you have a passion for something? Or is it something you’re momentarily feeling like you want to do? If you know it’s way beyond a fad, then you have to figure out what it might take to get to the next level. I did a lot of research to see if this was something that I could potentially grow from and make the time to do. For me, taking a break from the computer was so needed. And it is still something that I always feel really good about. When I’m taking a break on illustration jobs, I’m so happy I can tune out and make something with my hands.”
Set up a working environment you'll thrive in.
“Anytime I leave my ceramics work space a mess, it really affects my mood going forward into the next day. So I try cleaning up before I leave — when I come back I feel a bit more clearheaded to get going on whatever project I need to. I also try to make my studio feel like a really open, welcoming space where friends can come hang out and have a mimosa from one of my mugs hanging up. I want everything to feel decluttered to make room for creativity.”
Surround yourself with supportive (and honest) people.
“I don’t know if I would’ve felt good enough to be able to do ceramics had it not been for friends’ and family’s encouragement. Not everybody has that sort of support team, though, so you have to rely on yourself sometimes — and I do rely heavily on how I feel about my own work. When I was first starting out, I took classes at a community studio. The teachers and the other creatives — we all sort of fed off of and played with ideas back and forth. It was a lot of being able to take constructive criticism. Having people that you can have an honest conversation with about your work is really important.”
Figure out the best way to prioritize your time.
“How I split my time depends on the day and the task that’s needed at the time. If I have a shipment to send out, I’ll make sure I have those completed early in the morning, and then I’ll move on to whatever projects need to be done in front of the computer. If I have downtime where I’m not focused on an illustration or motion graphics job, then I’m in the studio all day. Before, I was working nine-hour days and still going into the studio right after work. Now my job is a lot more flexible, and I have more mental space to be able to balance it. So I just figure out where I have the time.”
Identify areas for improvement.
“I’m slowly training myself to be able to juggle multiple projects and things at once. It’s a lot of work. A lot of times it’s a few website orders that I need to finish while working on whatever illustration gig I’ve got going on. I’m starting to get better at immediately putting things on my calendar, because that’s something I never really thought I needed to do. Like, Oh, I can remember it or I’ll send myself a note. But I realize I need to be more on top of my own schedule and finding that balance.”
Be prepared to make mistakes.
“It was scary at first. I didn’t know what the right steps would be to start a business. I’m still making a lot of mistakes, but I think, with time, you just have to pick up on things that work well for you. I’ve had pieces that I’m so confident in when I ship them out to a customer, and they’ll say, ‘Oops, it broke in the mail.’ When you’re working with such a delicate thing like ceramics, anything can go wrong.”
Stay connected with others pursuing the same path.
“The ceramics community is very supportive. I have a sort of bond with other friends that are ceramicists, and we share ideas and all that stuff. And with my illustration work, I have tight friends that I’ve worked with for years. It’s cool to feel comfortable communicating with people that share the same ideas and points of view in the creative world.”
Learn to appreciate the process — and accept not everyone will love what you create.
“It took a long time for me to feel confident in my style and approach. But the more you make things and keep exploring and resist giving up on what you love doing, you find it’s worth putting the time and effort into doing it. So now I just enjoy what I make. I don’t always love everything I put out there. Simultaneously, you can’t put anything out there without accepting the fact that [the customer] may not love it.”
Don't forget to have a life.
“[My workload] sounds like so much, but on top of that, a few times a week I’m meeting up with friends for a coffee date or going to a friend’s birthday dinner. I have that fear of being so into my work life that I put people that mean so much to me on the back burner. So I try hard to find the time to take a break and get away if I can.”
Use your experience to inspire others like you who have similar interests.
“I want to promote my ladies as much as possible. I’m always rooting for the ladies. It’s my go-to — I can’t help it. I want to encourage young women and make them feel like they can do anything. Because they can! They’re awesome. At the end of the day, if I can encourage a young girl to want to start up her own glass store or make something, then my job is done. I actually feel really good about the day.”