Entrepreneur Kate Berube expands her work as an illustrator of children's books with help from mentor, business owner, and tourism marketing expert Margo Wendorf.
Andy Warhol said that “good business is the best art.” For the artist entrepreneur, leveraging the connections between art and business is invaluable, but finding those connections can be challenging.
“I think you can be an artist and not be concerned with making it your career. You’re still an artist, and that’s perfectly acceptable,” says Portland, OR-based author and illustrator Kate Berube. “But if you are trying to make money off of it, you have to learn about business. That’s not something I was taught in school.”
Instead, Kate’s education was built on canvases in thick layers of oil and acrylic paints. She learned her craft by creating what she calls “painterly paintings”—work that provided her with a wealth of experience and a strong appreciation for art. However, while Kate’s fine art studies proved instructional, she would find her true calling in writing and illustrating children’s books.
“It’s the story that really draws me to kids’ books—to be able to have a narrative,” she says. “The more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was exactly what I was looking for.”
Even so, there was learning left to do. A lifelong reader, Kate admits that writing seemed daunting but that “like anything, you do it a lot and you get there eventually.” This is a lesson that she would encounter again when she decided to turn her artistic passion into an entrepreneurial career.
Kate participated in the Business Foundations Course at Mercy Corps Northwest and thereby discovered MicroMentor, where she connected with mentor Margo Wendorf. “Once I met Kate, I immediately saw the talent. She knew where she was and where she wanted to be, but not how to arrive,” says Margo, whose years of experience in business ownership proved useful in her work with Kate. “What most people are looking for is organizational assistance, business skills. They have a beautiful idea, but they haven’t figured out all the things they don’t know.”
Margo spent much of her career planning, organizing, and marketing international events within a field of tourism known as MICE—short for “meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions.” She also started a travel agency and an environmental training company, as well as a custom woodworking company with her husband.
Children’s illustrations are not Margo’s area of expertise. In fact, she says that her personal tastes lean toward the more traditional, fine art that Kate left behind. But, those differences didn’t matter when it came to discussing the business side of Kate’s art.
“Margo’s a really confident businesswoman,” Kate says. “She’s run businesses, and she has a lot of experience. It didn’t really matter to me what the businesses were, just that she’s had a successful career as an entrepreneur and she had a lot of good advice for me.”
One of the tricky things about mixing art and business is that art is so often internal and personal, while business requires marketing, networking, and a hefty dose of confidence. “You’re making something out of nothing, and then you’re not really sure how people will perceive it,” Kate says.
Finding her confidence meant practicing her business skills—just as she practices her writing skills—by committing part of each work day to “not creative time” and acknowledging that it is an important part of her work. Kate notes that it’s easy to get swamped by the uncomfortable business side of things and retreat to the more familiar work of painting, but she recalls Margo’s advice to “make smart decisions, be confident, and not just sit at home and draw all the time and not put stuff out there.”
Margo helped Kate to organize her workday so that she could accomplish the requirements of both sides of her career, the business and the art. By dedicating a few hours each day on organizational needs, Kate can then focus on her art without distractions.
Unlike Kate, Margo started and grew her own businesses without the guidance of a mentor. “Now that I think about it, it might’ve been nice,” she says. “The thing for Kate is that she may move further, faster than we did.”
As a mentor, Margo volunteers her own time to help small business owners get ahead of the curve. Margo calls mentoring a “no-brainer” method of giving back to her community, because “there wasn’t much preparation to do. It was really just listening and pulling from past experience. We spent a lot of hours just talking over coffee. I think that the mentor really has to be willing to put in the time.”
One specific way in which Margo helped Kate was by sponsoring her participation in Kiva Zip, a crowdfunding program for small businesses, through which Kate was able to purchase new equipment. “She was really helpful in helping me see that if I get a bunch of work, which is what I’m envisioning, then I need to have the equipment in place to be able to do the work,” Kate says.
“The application process, getting the loan, and paying it back was good business practice to learn,” Margo adds. “I think, too, that it was encouraging for her to see all these people willing to invest in her.”
“There’s this perception when someone makes a painting that they know what it’s going to look like at the end and they take the steps to get there,” Kate says. “But, really, it’s always the finding. You start making stuff, and then you make decisions, and you’re finding what you’re trying to make along the way.”
Perhaps it’s this creative approach that led Andy Warhol to connect making art with making business. After all, running a business often involves getting started, making decisions, and finding what you’re trying to make along the way.
Since beginning her mentoring relationship with Margo, Kate has connected with an agent, who is helping her further develop her career as an illustrator. She also operates an Etsy shop, where she offers prints and gift cards featuring her art. Her recommendation to other creative entrepreneurs is to network, whether it’s through mentoring, taking business classes, or even social media channels. “I think that really makes you feel connected to the world, and there’s so much to learn from other people.”