If you’re just joining in, for the month of January we were inspired to change up our content for the month to focus on women who we find inspiring and can tell us about their journey of “becoming” based on our Book Club book of the month by Michelle Obama. You can read the rest of the interviews here. Stay tuned for many more!
Today we’re featuring Cat Seto, our featured Book Club artist of the month (you can download her printable poster and bookmark here!). I’ve been a big fan of Cat’s work for quite awhile ever since my good friend, Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore and Co. first introduced me to her work. Cat is a San Francisco-based artist, author and founder / creative director of Ferme à Papier. The collection was inspired when she visited Paris for the first time and was overtaken by the intimate architecture, chic Parisians donning plaid, and visits to bio-dynamic farms in the countryside.Upon returning from the trip, she found herself obsessively drawing images, which would result in the Paris-meets-Brooklyn, eco-friendly Ferme collection. The stationery line has since been featured by The New York Times, Vogue, In Style, Elle Décor, Real Simple, Lonny, Design Sponge, and Refinery 29; and is now found in more than five hundred stores, museum shops, and bookstores in the U.S. and internationally. Her books include Impressions of Paris and Mom, Inc. (published by Chronicle Books). Her custom work includes collaborations with a number of large retailers. Cat holds a BFA in painting and MFA in fiction/creative writing from the University of Michigan and was included in the first Best of American Voices anthology. Her fiction has also appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train, Triquarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Nimrod. To see more about Cat’s custom and collaboration work please click here.
Becoming: Cat Seto
Artist, author, creative director/biz owner and mom (not necessarily in that order!)
Who helped you “become” who you are?
My father taught me to appreciate the small details in life – to consume with the eyes but create and share with the hands. And I am grateful to a handful of teachers and mentors who fanned the fire whenever I had a creative spark. They say it only takes one teacher to make a difference, but I’m lucky that I’ve had a lot of plus ones in my life :).
Do you feel like you’ve arrived at what you set out to do?
While I have remained on the path of creative freedom, I am still learning ways to innovate my art, writing and connecting it with others. I hope this is something that I will always be able to pursue.
What more would you like to “become”?
What are you most proud of in your career?
My childhood was filled with museum trips in and around Detroit so I can’t tell you the kind of thrill I felt to be included in a pop up exhibit of paper design that the Metropolitan Museum of Art put on in their first floor gallery. Two of my pieces, including a journal from my collaboration with Chronicle Books were included. Anthropologie was also my first client and I have treasured my relationship with them throughout the years. Another highlight was being able to write and illustrate a book, “Impressions of Paris” through Harpercollins of my journey through Paris. My editor let me dedicate the book to my son and include one of his illustrations along with it – As with any parent, I felt more proud of his illustration than my own :). In the end if you ask me what I swoon over most, it’s not anything I did on my own but the ability to be able to share creative work with my son and my community.
How did your childhood influence what you have become? (big question, but you can make it as big or small as you’d like).
Both of my parents worked and my grandmother lived in my childhood home. She let us tear the house apart in the afternoons which I did with a pair of scissors, tape and the ream of engineering blue print paper my father took home for me to draw on. I would craft the inside of a airplane from paper or put on a play and cut up costumes for all of our friends I bribed to be a part of it. All of this taught me rudimentary problems solving skills and the value and simple joys in being creative.
Did you feel pressured in any way to pursue a certain career path?
I definitely received raised eyebrows and plenty of goodwill lectures growing up when I said I wanted to be an “artist.” Everyone around me was going to become a respectable engineer, doctor or teacher. I continued to draw and paint, but it wasn’t until graduate school that I felt that there might be some legs to pursuing a creative career.
I graduated from UM with an MFA in fiction and fell into a horrible writer’s block shortly after moving to San Francisco. I began to craft wool felt finger puppets late into the night to compensate for my insomnia. I must have sewn hundreds of them before I I started fashioning them onto cards, which led me to explore developing and illustrating a stationery collection. When I debuted this in New York, Anthropologie was my first client.
What did you study? Did you go to school specifically for what you do?
I studied art and painting at UM. My father convinced me not to go to NY and instead to attend a strong public liberal arts university. He was secretly hoping I would become influenced by the students and diverse array of academics available at UM and he was right. I would never have discovered I could write. But more importantly, the student groups and organizations I was a part of taught me how to start a business later in life.
Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life?
I have a handful of mentors that I am ever so grateful for. My former poetry professor, Keith Taylor, was a great influence on my writing. I remember he asked us to grade ourselves at the end of the year. “Ummm…an A- ?” I responded, and even asked it like a question to him. He looked sternly at me and said, “I’m giving you an A. You know your worth and if you don’t know or ask for it, no one will give it to you.”
What’s your work space like?
I work from both my studio and home. My studio is a space for production but also houses a curated shop of independent designers up front. My office is a tiny alcove beneath the staircase which we’ve lined in wallpaper with sliding barn doors on the outside. Whenever I work from it, there will inevitably be a customer’s dog poking his nose through the doors or someone asking me for an extra candle :).
Do you work alone?
I prefer to work alone, late at night, when I “think” the world is asleep.
Did you always have an ultimate plan?
I’ve learned that having an ultimate plan sets an intention but by no means is definitive. It sets the level of commitment, work and passion I need to put into a project but if I leave a part of it open to organic wandering the outcome is always better than I could have expected.
Do you like being the face of your own company? Does it have any draw backs?
My business and brand is run more on the schedule and whims of a studio artist, which means I can release collections that are inspired by different themes that are true to me. The drawback to that is that the work depends solely on me and when you are a sole proprieter with a day to day business to run and projects to chase you really need to rely on your small team and constantly fine tune the balance.
What’s a typical day like for you?
My son gets ready for school and then I check my emails and correspondence. I’ll drop in with my studio for any small fires or projects that are underway. On the days I don’t I use this for project chasing and designing or writing. It’s super late – often around midnight or beyond – that I will sit down to do any serious drawing or writing.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in a creative field?
Work and dream hard – your work ethic is everything and it will earn you respect in your field. Let setbacks and doubts grow your sense of gratitude and appreciation for your craft. Stay humble so that the little joys in life always make their way to you.
What’s coming up for you in 2019? And your company?
We just wrapped up on our first release for 2019 which will include cards and more notebooks. We also have a few collaborations that will debut in the coming year.
Where do you live? How does that influence your work?
Our studio is located in San Francisco which has a vibrant creative community and endless neighborhoods to explore for inspiration.
How has social media influenced your work?
Social media has been important for us to stay connected with our retailers and customers. We can’t afford an advertising budgets as a small business so word of mouth and showing our day to day on social media have played supportive role to the business.
What’s inspiring you lately?
On a creative level, my nine-year old son’s drawings are bold, uninhibited and a reminder for me to always leave room for discovery! On an edible level, I am drooling, literally drooling, to try this month’s batch of new flavors at Salt & Straw :).
What did you want to be when you were young versus when it was time to decide what to actually do?
I wanted to be an artist, teacher, tiger, ice skater, you name it! While some of those were obviously out of reach, I realized there was a similar essence behind those aspirations – creativity, freedom, sharing and teaching others – and I had to check and correct myself later to make sure I was staying true to who I wanted to become.