STUDIO TOUR: MAINE ARTIST KATE MESS

Situated right next to her husband's studio, Kate Mess can be found creating unique enamel jewelry, and making intricate cutouts on metal that turn into necklaces, earrings, and more. Check out her studio tour below and Q&A to learn more about her work!

Describe your work in 3 words.

Bold. edgy. thoughtful.

Did you start out designing jewelry, or were you doing something else that influenced this work?

Kind of both. Before I ever thought about a career or making a living, I loved making jewelry of all sorts—string and noodles, fimo clay, seed beads and thread, macrame, swarovski crystals, pearls, wire, and chain. When I went to college, I began studying graphic design, and eventually took Art Metals I just to fulfill my one 3-D art requirement. I found it to be extremely intuitive, fell in love, and never left the metals studio. Even then, however, I didn’t see myself as a jewelry designer. I enjoyed making “art jewelry” and objects, and continued on to get an MFA in Metal, where I maintained that I did NOT make jewelry. I made a lot of exploratory enameled wall objects that, now, looking back, I realize were jewelry for the wall. Jewelry making didn’t find me again until a few years after grad school, when I had the urge to make a bunch of big, impractical, enameled “barnacle” rings. I still love graphic design, and find my work in a balance between the two mindsets, often requiring skills from both. It’s interesting, I’m in love with two art forms, one ancient and one contemporary, both requiring a similar level of skill, precision, technical knowledge, attention to detail, and intuition…

How do your designs start?

It depends on the series, I suppose. Some designs, like my “Loaded” or “Decadent Remix” series, begin entirely on my computer, designing shapes that I will later saw out of sheet metal. These pieces are very planned and precise. Other designs, like my “Barnacle” and “Faceted Chain” series, are more intuitive, responding to my materials and a desire for spontaneity by hand-cutting, bending, and enameling. I find that I need both approaches to feel balanced and continually inspired. 

What keeps you motivated and moving forward in your career?

I have a continual urge to keep designing and making. I can’t imagine a life without this kind of artistic inquiry. We have a 17-month-old daughter, Josie, and while I initially thought that having a child might tear me away from making, I have found it has been the opposite. Time in my studio has become even more precious and productive, and I have found myself more motivated than ever to set an example for our daughter as a mother who follows her passions and works hard to build the life she wants for herself and her family.

What do you feel is the most important thing you’ve done for your career so far?

Learning to promote myself and what I’m making is probably the most crucial thing I’ve learned and have to continually work on. I’m naturally an introvert and fairly uncomfortable drawing attention to myself, but if you don’t share what you’re working on, you end up in a solitary bubble. I taught myself web design when I finished grad school and have continually worked on crafting a professional presence online with a website and social media. Many opportunities to show and sell my work and connect with other artists have come through these efforts, and I have only scratched the surface.

How do you balance work, creating, and family life?

This is the eternal struggle. Making, documenting, promoting, and preparing for exhibitions—for two artists in our home—can be pretty all-consuming if we allow them to be. I’m the kind of person that can work day and night on things that I’m passionate about, and it seems like there’s always something to do. Jonathan is great at reeling me back in, and we have meetings regularly to make sure we’re on track and realistic. We’ve learned to set aside time to be together and enjoy life in the Maine seasons as a family, and to truly schedule studio time as well, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to fit it all in. Lots of lists and prioritizing help keep me on track with my studio work, but it’s a lot of stopping and starting these days. 

What is the one thing you couldn’t live without?

This question stumped me, because if you really get down to it, there’s a lot you can survive without. But what wouldn’t I want to live without? Truthfully, family is number one. I wouldn’t want to live without Jonathan and Josie and the rest of my family. So that’s a few things, but people aren’t things. Creative conversation, the beauty of Maine’s changing seasons, alone time, space, ice cream. Did I mention that I’m indecisive? I need them all.

What does a typical afternoon in the studio look like?

I love to put my head down and focus. The individual processes vary based on whatever I’m working on, but generally, I brew a cup of coffee and head down to my studio in our basement, put on a podcast, and get to work. That work might be preparing and transferring designs to etch into metal, piercing delicate and precise designs into sheet silver with a tiny jeweler’s saw blade, bending and soldering links of chain, or sifting colorful coats of powdered enamel onto copper forms and fusing them in my kiln. I enjoy the quiet repetition in many of these tasks—keeping my hands busy allows my mind to engage in a different way.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

Time management. I love to lose myself in the processes and details of my work, and I also love to let my mind wander to the next thing I want to explore. I’m naturally slow and thorough in the tasks I undertake. Now, with our sweet little distraction in the picture, it can be even harder to complete work at the rate I’d like, especially with unexpected things popping up, like teething and sickness. She always seems to know when I have a deadline!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In many ways, in the same place, but further along my path, with more creative skills, compatriots, and opportunities. I hope that we’ve continued to build and balance our creative practices and craft a comfortable, satisfying life for our family in this beautiful place that we’ve chosen to make our home.

Find Kate Mess here and here!