Portland-based textile artist, Katherine Entis made the leap many creatives only dream of doing. She quit her corporate job and started her own creative enterprise: a dreamy, modern and elegant textile studio, beautifully named Soft Century. After working at Nike as a color designer, Katherine ventured out continuing the exploration between material, color and composition through textiles.
Since then she has routinely (and quickly) sold out of numerous designs, launched a new homewear line and has never been happier. Her work, inspired by a range of disciplines including drawing, illustration, painting and writing, culminates in unique knit paintings, iridescent wall hangings and the only funky rug you will ever need. With all that originality in tact, Katherine’s dazzling designs strike a balance between sophisticated bohemian and charmingly modern.
Here, the corporate designer turned creative business owner discusses the trials and tribulations of her transition.
Was it exciting or frightening to quit your corporate job to venture out and rely on your own skill and creativity? Can you tell me more about that decision and progression?
During my time as a color designer, I tried to put in time on my own projects whenever I could, even when that only meant a few hours after my commute a couple times a month. It can be hard to find the motivation when you’re working a regular job, but the most important thing to me was not giving up.
Making the decision to work on my business full time was scary. I set myself the goal of leaving about a year in advance and spent that time laying the foundation for what I planned to do — testing products, researching materials and markets, and getting advice from other small businesses.
Ultimately, though, there’s only so much that I could do to prepare without committing full time. You get to a point where you just have to take a deep breath and jump.
Waking up everyday to work on my own designs from start to finish is the most exciting way I can think to spend my time. A lot of people dream about being their own boss, and even on the bad days, I feel supremely lucky to be doing what I am.
What has been the biggest struggle throughout your artistic and business process?
The hardest part up to this point was growing my confidence and creative practice while working a job full time. It took a lot of self-examination to get to the point where I believed in my work enough to set out on my own. However, I fully expect that there will be many more challenges to come.
What has been the proudest moment during your career so far?
Launching my business, although it’s not one single instant. It’s a process, and with each step it feels more real: coming up with a name, launching my website, figuring out a logo with a designer, doing photo shoots, etc. Every time I take the next step, it sinks in a little bit more.
Where does the name, Soft Century, come from?
At first I just liked how the words sounded together. I knew an effective name would have to work on an aesthetic level, so that’s where I started brainstorming. But then I began to think about the tension between the name, Soft Century, and the world we live in, since this century has been anything but soft. The idea of bridging the gap between the way things are and the way they could be appealed to me. This was one of the first names that I came up with, and after going through hundreds of other options, it was the name that I kept coming back to.
How did you get started in textiles and what presented itself that made you realize this is your medium?
I initially went to school for illustration. Then during my foundation year at RISD, I saw a textiles show from the senior class. The first thing I noticed was how tactile everything was. I had never seen textiles in the context of a gallery, and I instantly felt a connection with the way the medium merges fine art with practical applications. Textiles interest me because they are such a longstanding part of human culture, but they are also constantly being pushed to new places. It’s amazing to me when something so familiar can also be used to challenge our ideas of what it is in the first place. While studying textiles, I also took painting classes as a way to bring other influences into my work.
What is the hardest part of working with textiles?
Being patient. Textiles can take a long time to develop, and things don’t always work out as planned. But it’s all learning. Sometimes plans change for the better.
How does your creative process begin?
I tend to start from whatever I’m interested in at the time. Sometimes it’s something direct and visual, other times it’s more conceptual, like an idea from a book or something I experienced.
When it comes to making a piece, I usually start with my hands first, experimenting with materials and colors in a sort of slow improvisation. Then, I refine what comes out of that process through sketching, painting, or often just more hands-on experiments. Eventually, I take those improvised ideas and apply them in more intentionally designed pieces. Everything I make feeds into the next thing, though, so it’s probably more of a circular process than a linear one.
Is there anything specific you do to get inspired?
I find that if I can engage a different part of my brain for a while, I come back to my work more inspired than how I left. Sometimes that means switching mediums, from weaving to knitting, painting or drawing. Sometimes I read a book, watch a movie or just take a walk. Since I work from home, chores and errands are a regular part of my workflow, too.
A lot of your work has a beige or monochromatic base with splashes of color. How does this echo in your creative process?
That’s an interesting question. It’s hard to analyze yourself sometimes, but there are a couple reasons I can think of. The first is that while I like color and dyes a great deal, I also like to show the natural color of the material that I’m working with.
I tend to start with the simplest version of something and add more detail as the idea grows. I appreciate when media shows a little bit of the raw version of itself.
The other reason has a lot to do with my experience with painting and illustration. I like to use monochrome in places to create the impression of working on a canvas. This lets me play with other concepts from painting, like negative space, foreground and background, and perspective. I don’t always think about my work that way, but there are hints of it in much of my work.
You are working on launching an upcoming home line — can you share any details about the type of products and aesthetic your new line will include?
Well, it’s still pretty early in the process, but I can say this: there will be pink, and there will be shag. Right now I’m planning on pillows and rugs, but there may be some surprises in there too.
*Photo Credit: Ricardo Nagaoka.