Chatting A Bit

Chatting A Bit with Katie Cardew

Sketching from her kitchen table a few years ago, little did Katie Cardew know that this would lead to a very successful illustrations business. After some small show stands, a simple website and lots of enthusiasm, Katie Cardew Illustrations has grown from strength to strength.

Sam Hobden from Haynet recently caught up with Katie to find out more about the personality behind this lovely rural business:-

You are very passionate about art and illustration, particularly with the love of horses and ponies at the heart of your work. Were you brought up in this environment as a child?

Yes! I was brought up in rural Rutland, in a little village, so have always been at home in the countryside. My parents weren’t horsey but my sisters who are a fair bit older than me were, so I inherited their pony Shadow once they had moved onto horses. He was a dream – even for the last few years when he only had one eye! I was in the Burghley Pony Club which I LOVED – lots of my friends even now are from those days – good times. My ponies were always pretty naughty as we never had a huge budget to spend but they certainly taught me a lot of things that I think are actually very important when running a business – waking up early, being persistent and wiping yourself down when things go wrong! 

What were your childhood ambitions – was it to always work in the art and illustration industry?

I loved to draw but I never had any real ambitions to be an artist if I’m honest. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, right up until the day I started the business! I did an English degree at Newcastle Uni (basically a drinking and surviving off cereal and toast degree) and then dabbled with finance in London. As soon as my graphic designer sister started sending me magazine briefs she needed illustrations for and I got my first pay cheque, I was hooked. I quickly moved back to Rutland and starting taking commissions full time. 

What would be your best advice to a school leaver who is thinking of making illustration their career? 

I think there are three key things to consider:

  • One, you need a niche. There are many artists and illustrators and you need to find a style or a product that is not over-saturated in the market. 
  • The second is to be commercial. Yes, you need to love what you are illustrating but bear in mind that to make a living from it, other people are going to have to fork out their hard-earned cash for it. Make it something that people want! If you live in a tourist town, draw illustrations of your town’s landmarks and sell the prints/cards/products to shops. If you live in a farming area, draw farm animals and take your products to local shows. Dogs, cats and horses are always winners too – people are always going to spend money on their pet or on pet related items. 
  • The third and most important is you need to be dedicated, savvy and thick-skinned. If you want to pay the bills, you need to graft. You will need not only to hone your drawing skills but also learn about accounts, tax, websites, marketing and all the hundreds of things that go into running a business. You can do it slowly – I did. You don’t need to learn it all before you launch your business, but be aware that as you grow, there will be days where you draw and days where you are doing admin – and you have to be ok with that. 

Tell us about your business and all about the team behind Katie Cardew Illustrations.

We have a lovely studio in the village of Kings Cliffe in Northamptonshire, about 15 minutes from where I live. I work in two different ways – I produce bespoke commissions for people and businesses (from wedding venue illustrations for a bride and groom to huge event maps for national events) and then I also design a range of prints, stationery and homeware products that we produce and sell online, at shows and through stockists. Our studio is fab – we have one room we call the ‘workroom’ where I have a small but mighty team who do all the orders, packaging and framing, and then we have the main room, where I work and where we host workshops and Open Studio events. We are also so proud that all of our products are UK made (many locally to us), our packaging is minimal and where possible, very simple using recyclable paper packaging. We try to be as environmentally friendly as possible where we can.  

What have been the triumphs and challenges of running your own business?

Six years in and it’s still a huge learning curve. Every downfall has its upside though – for example, last year I had a stand at many events, from Badminton to the Game Fair, and actually, for me, the stress and colossal effort involved was too much of a price to pay. I decided that instead, we should hold our own open studios at our studio where people can come and shop and have a drink, they have been brilliant and far less stressful! Our most recent open studios was a couple of weeks ago; we had a gin van come and serve everyone the most lovely G&Ts and we decked the studio out to the rafters with prints and products for people to buy. Much easier for us and much better for the business too! 

Which part of your work do you enjoy the most?

I actually still love the drawing. I have done around 1600 commissions and designed around 500 products so you might think it would get dull, but I actually still love the sitting down and creating part the best. It’s so diverse too – one day I might be designing a new mug for our collection and the next I am working on a huge commercial map illustration for Henley Regatta – no two days are ever the same. 

Where can we find you on the show circuit in the next few months?

We will be at Burghley Horse Trials from the 5th-8th September and we can’t WAIT. The comments above about the events being extremely tiring do not apply to Burghley – this show is 10 minutes down the road from us so feels very much like home, and every little bit of effort we put in is repaid tenfold by the energy, excitement and thrill of this brilliant event.

I have been coming since I was tiny as a punter and this will be our 6th year with a stand here. Our best selling ‘I’d Rather Be at Burghley’ range is bigger and better than ever this year – there will be a print, mug, tea towel, notebook, kitchen board, magnet, cosmetic bag AND tote bag in the range this year! As well as a brand new ‘A day in the life’ range which features all the things we love and hate about horses – from winning rosettes to mice in the feed bin, it’s something I hope will resonate with anyone equestrian! Our stand is in the Rural Crafts Tent (the one by the food aisle – very dangerous for us!). 

What are your future plans with Katie Cardew Illustrations?

We are always growing and adding new products and designs to the collection so 2020 looks to be another good year for us! I am expecting a second baby in November so Jan-March might be a tad quieter than normal but we will be back with a bang in April!

On a day off, where would we find you?

Taking Agnes, my four year old to her riding lesson, followed by a huge pub lunch and a walk with the family and our labrador cross springer spaniel, Tarka. That’s pretty much my perfect day! 

Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time? 

On a beach, with lovely, kind and not grumpy tweenagers, sipping a pina colada. Of course. 

But if you’re talking in terms of the business, well I suppose doing more of what I am doing now but bigger and better! I am so happy with the trajectory of the business and the direction we’re going in – I love working with companies to produce illustrations for them and I also love producing our own range of products, so more of that please!

Against the Clock 

Paintbrush or Pencil: Can’t use either! I use about a million fine-liner pens a year (sorry environment but there just doesn’t seem to be an alternative!) and the rest is done on my iMac.

Gin or Champagne: Gin, every time. 

Cheese or Chocolate: CHEESE. The stinky, melty kind!!

Sunshine or Snow: Oh god I love both. Snow right now because it’s 26 degrees outside and I’m six months pregnant so feeling the heat a bit! 

Home Counties or Far Away Shores: Far away shores – I love seeing different cultures. 

Spend or Save: Would like to save but generally, I spend – my four year old is very good at seeing to that! 

Home Cooked or Eating Out: Gotta love my partner Jamie’s food. He’s a brilliant cook. 

Music or Film: Music. Controversial comment but I don’t like films!! All about the documentary for me…

Wellies or Heels: Wellies. Hate heels. Feel like I’m wearing my Mum’s shoes! 

Find Katie at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials from 5th-8th September 2019 in the Rural Crafts Tent.

Katie Cardew is Founder and Chief Illustrator at Katie Cardew Illustrations. Her studio is based on the Rutland border, a rural idyll which inspires much of Katie’s work. Katie’s passions include country life, horses and British wildlife; you’ll find these themes running through many of her collections.

To browse the ranges visit

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