Spotlight Interview: Kat Shuford

Kat Shuford: UI Designer + Owner/Founder of Catbat Shop

New York City

WFU Class of 2009

Major: Studio Art

Double Minor: Spanish & Latin American Studies

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Kat Shuford is a multitalented creator, leading a dual career in web design and fashion. Kat graduated from Wake with a Studio Major in 2009 and has since carved her own path in New York. She spoke with us recently to outline her journey since Winston-Salem.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? What was the job market like upon graduation?

Kat Shuford: I majored in Studio Art, with a concentration in Sculpture. I double-minored in Spanish & Latin American Studies.  I had been told that you can always be an art teacher at a private school the year after you graduate, but the Great Recession had hit teaching jobs hard, and my applications went unanswered.  My other idea was to teach English abroad, which I had done the previous summer, and I was accepted to a program through the Spanish government to teach in Mallorca for a year. When graduation finally came though, I was too exhausted from travelling during my years at Wake Forest (Santiago, Chile and Querétaro, Mexico) and thought that it would be hard to continue an art practice doing that.  

DL: Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job.

KS: I decided to move back home to Atlanta and save money to move to New York to pursue my art career. I had a number of odd jobs and internships that year, and I didn’t have much more than 3k saved. I figured that I had handled a big city before in a different language and culture, so I should be able to navigate New York. I only knew one or two people there and no close friends.  I managed to line up an internship as an artist assistant for Dustin Yellin through Craigslist (unpaid) and decided to go ahead and move since I could network better from New York than sending out more resumes from Atlanta.

I worked at the Dustin Yellin’s studio for several years, mainly doing collage work.  He happened to get a big commission right around the time I was going to have to stop interning there and get a paid job elsewhere. It was lucky timing. The team of assistants was up to 20 people at one point. In many ways, it was a dream job. I was doing art everyday and working alongside talented people, but it was physically taxing. I was exhausted by the time I got home.  My own art practice seemed so small in comparison.

After a few years there, I was growing restless. I wanted to have my own studio and the energy to work on my own art. I saw that working in the art world would always be a hustle. I got burnt out and quit. I started teaching myself web design with online videos and by building my own websites.  Web design appealed to me for the same reasons I liked making art: I put something out in the world, and someone on the other end would have to make sense of it without me there alongside them.

I was able to find internships by applying online, and one of those turned into steady gig. I got connected with my current job at BrightCrowd when a friend introduced me to one of his buddies from Business school at a mixer as SXSW.  I’ve been a UI designer at BrightCrowd for 4 years now. It’s a directory of helpful alumni that was started by two Stanford alumni and has spread to 20 more top universities. I do everything visually-related for them- from graphic design to front-end templating.  

And what happened to those dreams of being an artist? Once I started working as a web designer, I had enough money and time to get a small studio. I loved having a space to create in, but I didn’t like being alone in a tiny windowless room when there was the entire city of New York around me! I somehow found my way into designing capes that could be worn everyday, and it led me back out into the world, going into factories and warehouses in Brooklyn and New York, touching and learning about fabric, meeting incredible models and photographers, having an eye out for photoshoot locations. You can check out what I do at http://www.catbatshop.com/ or on Instagram @catbatshop.


DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?

KS: I was pushed and challenged, but it was very much within an academic context.  Some of that translated to the larger world, and some of it didn’t. There were a lot of gaps. Many people competing for the same art jobs I was came from art schools, so they had a really strong network and more technical skills.  I felt like I had a critical eye and that I understood the dialogue in the art world, but those skills didn’t translate to getting a job.


DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held? Do you have any tips and suggestions for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?

KS: Craigslist… I think a lot has changed since I was an intern. First of all, interns get paid! Almost all of mine were unpaid. If you want a job from an internship, I do think you have to go above and beyond what the other interns are doing and to become friendly with people in the company. Even in the most casual work cultures, you still have to be top of mind. Even if they can’t hire you, they’ll feel confident recommending you or passing your name along if you have been helpful. I also applied through NYFA frequently, but I never had much luck with it.


DS: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

KS: I remember they had a How to Interview panel, but the panelists worked in finance and sales. There wasn’t a tailored experience for students in the arts. As I mentioned before, the people I met in New York who went to art schools had big networks and the skills that put them at an advantage in getting jobs in the arts. Making sure every studio art major knows their way around the Adobe suite, specifically related to photo and video editing, would be a good step. I’m happy to talk to anyone who’s just graduated and trying to figure out what to do.


DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in New York? What is the most interesting thing going on in the art scene there at the moment, in your opinion?

KS: I was sold on New York during my first week here.  I loved being able to ride a bike most places, and I met so many interesting people it made my head spin. After 8 years, I still think it’s the people. A perfect day for me is to ride my bike into Manhattan bounce around to different cafes, bookstores, parks -- people-watching and eating.

I’m a bit out of touch with the art scene, but I saw Like Life this summer at the Met Breuer. I loved the mix of time periods. When I was younger, I only wanted to see contemporary art-- art of ideas. The Met knocked that out of me.

DL: What is your favorite part about owning a clothing line? What about web design- what are the perks of that?
KS: Designing the capes brings me in contact with new places and talented people.  It’s inherently collaborative. I get my fabric from a deadstock fabric supplier named Danny in Chelsea. Five generations of his family have been selling fabric out of the warehouse, and now he’s got a Zaha Hadid apartment building across the street and hotels all around him. It’s a remnant of an older New York.

As for web design, I like being a part of a team and knowing my creative skills have real value for the team. If you like to be constantly learning and you are happy spending the day not talking to anyone, web design is a good fit.