Welcome to My First Year as a Creator, a series where we ask creators how they got started, and how they have gone full-time doing what they love the most.
Laura Chautin has always been creating, whether with a paintbrush in hand, in the windows at Barneys, or in the ceramics studio. “My mom was part of a very artistic community in the 1970s, so, growing up, I was always surrounded by a lot of artists,” she says, speaking of her childhood in England. Chautin’s mother — alongside her community of creatives — initially inspired Chautin to pick up the paintbrush and drawing pencil. But they also opened her mind to what, exactly, a creative person could do for a living. “From them, I saw that people could be creative and actually have jobs in creative fields,” she tells us.
Today, Chautin is creating full-time. Ceramics, mainly (though, the freelance illustrator still takes commissions for a pet portrait or two.) After the pandemic shut down New York City in early 2020, Chautin dove head first into the world of ceramics. It was during this time, “the dog days of lockdown,” she says, that she began creating her signature floral vessels, the ones that now dot her Instagram profile — and, likely, your Instagram Explore feed — like wildflowers on an English countryside. “It was an escapist thing,” she says, of the delicately hand-painted vases, cups, and dishes. “I wanted to create something a little more joyous during that time.”
With a little help from her friends — like the folks at Brooklyn boutique Tangerine and Lower East Side retailer Colbo — Chautin has now grown her business into one of New York City’s buzziest housewares labels. Here, just ahead of the launch of her new e-commerce platform, we sat down with Chautin to talk about the highs and lows of social media, the importance of IRL connections, and, of course, about taking the proverbial leap.
Can you tell us a bit about your career journey prior to starting your own business?
I went to art school in Chicago, where I focused on printmaking, and was interested in textiles and wallpaper. When I graduated, I moved to New York City and figured out that I needed to get a “job-job” [laughs]. I worked in lots of different places, but the two main jobs I had were in interior design, and then as a window dresser for Barneys. But on the side I would paint.
Back then, I remember my friend Katie Kimmel telling me that she’d started to sell her ceramics online. I was like, “Wow, I didn’t know that you could do that.” So I set up my own online shop on Tictail (Editor’s note: the e-commerce marketplace Tictail was acquired by Shopify in 2018), selling screen-printed T-shirts, bags, and prints, but it wasn’t that successful [laughs]. That was my start.
What inspired you to leave your 9-to-5 and focus on your creative business full-time?
I’ve been doing ceramics for six years, pretty casually. Before the pandemic, I’d joined a ceramics studio in New York. It got shut down during lockdown, but when it reopened — and while we weren’t allowed to see anyone — I would just go to the studio nonstop.
During that time, I’d made a dog portrait for a friend — which I also do! And one of her friends, who owns a shop [S&S Cornershop] in the Hamptons, saw it. She reached out to me and said, “I really like what you’re doing and I saw the ceramics you posted [on Instagram]. Could you make something for my shop?” They were the first shop to order wholesale for the ceramics. And it just took off from there.
Instagram helped you, in part, get your first wholesale client. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience using social media to grow your business?
I’m honestly really bad at Instagram [laughs]. I have friends in creative fields who’ve helped me navigate it a little bit, suggesting that I should post more because [initially] I wasn’t really using it as a tool. I do think that Instagram is a really important tool to share your work, because it’s like a portfolio. But It’s also highs and lows and, I think, a little bit of luck.
I’m on social media a lot and I’m on my phone a lot [for work], but I try, sometimes, to be more mindful of it. I’ve definitely had moments where I think, “Can I give my Instagram to someone else to manage? I don’t want to look at it.” But [as a tool] it’s so helpful and really inspiring.
I also always ask myself whether I should make one Instagram account for my ceramics and a separate account for my personal life. But I think, maybe, one way I’ve grown my business is because I do share my personal life on my Instagram. I’m gay, my partner’s on my Instagram, and my dog’s on my Instagram. I think that some people are like, “That’s nice, I’ll follow that!”
Can you tell us more about the support you’ve received from your community in growing your business?
I’ve received so much support through friends. I think living in New York — even though it can be toxic and very in-your-face — is quite nice because I have a support system of friends, who are also creatives, critiquing my work, or coming for studio visits, or helping with my website. All of that stuff is important, so everything’s not just based on the internet. It’s important to have real-life relationships with people who can support and give mutual help.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in the first year of owning your business?
I’ve definitely changed the way that I price things, because I always underestimate how much to charge [for my products and services]. It’s about self-worth. And that’s a huge thing that the community has taught me. I have a friend who’s a writer, and when she saw how I was pricing things, she said, “Are you kidding me? When you break it down, you’re paying yourself $5 an hour.” I’m always learning — always.
What’s some advice you would give someone looking to start their own creative business, like yours?
Definitely learning your self-worth. I’m still doing that: I have a pop-up sale this weekend and I’m trying to price things, and it’s really difficult! Obviously, you have to strike a balance in order to sell your products. But I think it’s about stepping back and saying to yourself, “I’m worth this amount.” And it’s not just about the time or work it took, it’s also about your creative vision and the art. I’m really learning that now.
Recently, I had a potential job that didn’t end up working out, because I priced it to what I thought I deserved and it wasn’t in their budget. I think that if I would have taken it for a lot less, I would have been really sad — and really broke [laughs].
Photos: Courtesy of Georgia Hilmer and Laura Chautin