Create & Cultivate 100: Entrepreneur: Kenesha Sneed

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Kenesha Sneed had spent years as an art director and motion graphics designer when she decided to try a new hobby: ceramics. She enrolled in a community class, but it didn’t take long before Kenesha wanted to pursue her hobby professionally. So she decided to give her full-time job the boot—and thus, Tactile Matter was born.

Kenesha’s collection includes everything from pottery and statues to throw blankets and accessories. She's collaborated with brands like Instagram, Call Your Girlfriend, Refinery29 & Saint Heron, and she’s been featured in Glamour, Apartment Therapy, Kinfolk, and Design*Sponge. We can’t wait to see where Kenesha takes her work in 2019.

When did you know art was your thing?

Art has always been a part of my life and, creating was the only thing I felt good at when I was growing up. As a kid I would get progress reports that said, “she needs more work in math and science, but she really has an interest in drawing.” Which we all know is subtle shade for “get her some crayons and hope for the best!”.

Younger me never thought she’d pursue an artistic career because of the negative stigma that said artists don’t equate to success. Though my parents weren’t artists themselves and I wasn’t born into that world, I’m grateful for them both encouraging me to explore a creative path.

In 2005, I had no idea what motion graphics was or that I would spend the next four years of college at Otis, sleeping under my classroom desk or pulling all nighters to get projects finished. Or that I’d spend the next decade after school working as a motion designer, later an Art Director.

I’ve had opportunities that allowed me to live a creative life. Whenever there’s a moment I ask myself what the hell am I doing? I’m beyond thankful to even have the emotional support that lead me here in the first place.

What questions did you ask yourself before you stepped away from your full time gig to pursue being a an independent artist full-time?

My internal monologue was all over the place. “Will I be able to continue doing what I love?”, “Will I get paid equal or more than what I’m earning now?” Also let’s talk about the weight of being the only black artist in that workspace at the time. There was a feeling of guilt I know many POC feel in majority white spaces. I was like “If I leave, no one here will look like me.” This is why representation is so important.

After sitting on too many questions for weeks, a friend asked me the only question that mattered. “If you choose to stay, will you feel fulfilled?” You have to reach out to the ones who keep you sane in those moments.

What was it like seeing your work in stores for the first time?

I still feel the exact same way I felt the first time, which is a mix of relief, anxiety, thrill, remorse, freedom. There’s a lot that goes into creating, so anytime I see my work in a shop or in someone’s personal space, there’s a sense of validation for myself.

When you get a new idea for a project, where do you even start?

Sleep, water, coffee are necessities to get going or I’ll be running on fumes through the day.

There’s no standard routine for making an idea turn into something but no matter the medium I’m using, I start with sketching my ideas on paper. That’s the only way I know how to unpack my thoughts. From there anything goes and no two processes are the same.

You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you’re ready to see more women of color creating things. Representation in these spaces is so important. Were there black female artists that inspired you in the past to pursue art?

I’ll always be rooting for black women to have more opportunities for success and fill more seats in more spaces because let’s be real, we work too hard not to.

My early memories growing up were inspired by the works of Monica Stewart or Ernie Barnes, who my parents had a print of “Anniversary” hanging on their bedroom wall.

Also artists Augusta Savage, Lois Mailou Jones, Kerry James Marshall, Gwendolyn Knight, Basquiat, Pegge Hopper immediately come to mind.

Who was the first person you hired for your business and how much of a difference did it make?

I’m someone who’s very protective of my personal space and this was the first year I acknowledged there’s no way to do it all solo. I was grieving so heavily that there was no conceivable way to navigate a business on my own, let alone be a creative functioning human on top of it all.

My manager stepped in presumably from the heavens to save my work-life, holding me accountable for my actions and I sleep better at night because of her.

I also welcomed an intern who brings a positive light every time she comes in the studio. There’s something so inspiring about someone who wants to learn and soak up everything. I’d take being a mentor over a boss any day.

Both have been a crucial part of getting through this year and that’s been one of the most transformative forms of self-care I could give myself.

Sleep, water, coffee are necessities to get going or I’ll be running on fumes through the day.

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What are the common challenges you've seen among female business owners and entrepreneurs?

1st. I’m not a business expert. I make mistakes all the time and I’m okay with that. We all get stuck, It’s about learning to get unstuck and moving forward. Here’s a few life hacks I’ve found useful:

Have conversations about money and don’t be afraid to ask the person next to you what their getting paid. It’s scary but I learned a long time ago if I didn’t know what my peers were earning who do the exact same job, I’d be getting paid far less.

There are companies and brands that want your voice, your time, your creativity but don’t want to pay you your worth. Stand firm in trusting yourself and your value. Feel free to say no to anything that doesn’t serve you.

There’s too many unnecessary pressures we put on ourselves to be doing a specific thing by a certain age. It’s such a distracting feeling that gets you nowhere. Know that some of the greatest artists, musicians, activists, got their recognition later in life.

Read this book. And this. Also listen to this.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

Whew. I’ll let you know when I find out!

All I know is there’s no straight and linear path to success. First you need to really define what a career or success looks like to you ie. high salary? paid benefits? creative freedom? A career is a cute word for a never ending hustle so no matter what success looks like for you, be willing to put in the work.

I’d love to only focus on being an artist and spend my days creating but the reality is a lot of time and energy is put into work that has nothing to do with making a thing. The back end of creating is sometimes more work than the project itself.

What’s the best piece of #realtalk advice you’ve ever received?

A friend told me there’s nothing more important than asking for help, it will free up the mental space needed to do something that serves you. Those were game changing words I needed to hear in that moment.

What are two qualities you think every entrepreneur needs in order to be successful?

Accept there’s no such thing as instant gratification. Every single thing takes time so be prepared to put in the hours. There’s what feels like a never ending vortex of time, energy, passion, money, failure, excitement, stress, love that goes into creating. It sounds like a miserable amount of feelings but I’m here for all of it.

2018 has shown me that there’s nothing in life worth taking for granted. Enjoying the time you have with friends and family is crucial to being a better you.

Who inspired you the most in your life growing up?

My mother and King Oprah.

Whose career is inspiring you today?

The list is longer than my brain has capacity for but here’s a few — Amy Sherald, Ava DuVernay, Jessica Williams, Kehinde wiley, Kimberly Drew, Greg Breda, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Cleo Wade, Melina Matsoukas, Phoebe Robinson, Elaine Welteroth.

Some next level women in my life who are doing the work and always inspire me — Aiesha Bailey-Mannle, Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman, Kristina Bing, Erica Chidi Cohen, Sarah Blank, Jenny Ko, Lauren Machen, Anica Cramer, Allison Kaylor, Jaimee Dormer.

What are you most excited for in 2019?

2018 has shown me that there’s nothing in life worth taking for granted. Enjoying the time you have with friends and family is crucial to being a better you.

Even though there’s a list of projects I’m excited for next year, I’m more excited for any quiet moment that allows me to just be present.