Entrepreneurship can be a solitary career. We spend most of our days alone in front of a computer screen, or in the case of today’s guest, Katherine Corden, alone in her painting studio.
Katherine is a physical therapist turned fine artist, best known for her unique expression of the figure and use of color. She’s also a firm believer in the importance of community as an entrepreneur.
In our conversation below, she shared how seeing other young female artists on Instagram was what made her consider a full-time art career, and how education and community have shaped her business in the years since.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
Katherine grew up in a creative household where there were always art supplies within reach. “My mother was an art teacher and my father was creative as well, so art has always been a big part of my life.”
At school, Katherine took as many art classes as possible and always planned to pursue a creative career. But all that changed in 2008.
Katherine’s family was living in the Detroit area when the recession hit, and she saw the effects up close. Many of the adults in her life began to suggest she pursue a more stable career. “People were making decisions based in fear.”
Heeding their advice, Katherine Corden decided to study physical therapy.
While Katherine enjoyed physical therapy, she never lost her passion for art. She painted her apartment walls and eventually her friends started asking if she would paint for them as well.
During the three-month break between graduating college and waiting to start her full-time job, she started marketing her artwork on Instagram.
“For the first time ever, I saw artists that were actually making a living – and not just that, but they were young women artists that looked like they were my age.” Seeing other young women make an income from their art opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
In 2018, Katherine was working as a physical therapist in Chicago and selling her paintings on the side. “Owning a business never really crossed my mind. I just needed that creative outlet.”
But the more commissions came her way, the more Katherine started to consider the possibility of an art business. She spent her days at the hospital fantasizing about painting, then feeling guilty for not enjoying the career she’d invested so much time into.
“I needed to figure out if the art business was even a feasible career option. I knew how to paint, but I had no idea how to make a living or make it sustainable.”
That was when Katherine discovered The Blueprint Model.
When Katherine Corden enrolled in The Blueprint Model, she was a year into selling her art. She hadn’t registered her business yet, but she’d gone through a tax season and didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes twice.
“I remember being at the hospital and my accountant called me while I was on my lunch break and was like, ‘Katherine, I need you to tell me what your Excel spreadsheet is saying,’ and I had no idea.”
I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs in their first year of business, wondering if it’s too soon to invest in a finance course like The Blueprint Model – but your first year is actually the best time!
If you learn these systems early on in your business, you’ll save yourself a much bigger headache down the road. Here’s what Katherine had to say about her experience:
“I have saved so much time figuring out how to price my work, save for taxes, and budget. It’s changed the way I think about money and my future. Doing it early on saved me so much money and time in problem-solving.”
Katherine’s biggest takeaway from The Blueprint Model was defining her “enough number” for her and her family – that place where abundance and contentment meet.
“In this season of life specifically, it’s so easy to want to make more and more and more. But as long as I’m hitting that number for what our family needs, I can go home at 4:00 and eat dinner with my family. I don’t have to work until 9:00 pm.”
Katherine used to be the type of person who said yes to every opportunity, but she’s learned to challenge that instinct. “It’s not always easy to do, but it’s a constant practice of remembering what enough looks like.”
Although their family’s enough number is constantly evolving, it remains a constant guide in Katherine’s business. “It’s been really life-giving and empowering to have that flexibility when we need it.”
While Katherine Corden’s husband pursued his residency in physical therapy, she took a new job covering for another therapist’s maternity leave. She gave herself one year to figure out if her art business was going to be sustainable.
During that time, she was accepted into Emily Jefford’s mastermind group, which opened up new doors to the art community.
“I hadn’t been around other artists since high school, and these were working artists that were serious about the work that they were doing. They answered so many questions and made me feel supported and not alone in an otherwise very solitary career.”
Not only did Katherine’s community help her navigate challenges in the early days, but they also became inspirations for her work.
“One of the things that I love about artwork is that it’s very much telling a story and it’s often inspired by community in the first place.”
The storytelling aspect is what makes Katherine’s work resonate with so many people. “A lot of the feedback I get from the paintings I make is that people see themselves in the work, and that’s been a common thread that has continued to attract people.”
As an Enneagram Seven, Katherine is always looking for ways to connect with new people and other artists. Her love for community has brought countless opportunities to her business.
Although Katherine’s art business was financially successful, she still hesitated to leave her job in physical therapy.
“I really struggled with trusting myself enough. And part of it was my ego, having spent so long studying for this career, letting it go was a constant battle.”
It wasn’t until she moved to Traverse City, Michigan, and started seeing a therapist that Katherine began to work through those beliefs. By that time, she’d found a local studio and was dividing her time between art and physical therapy.
“It became such a gift to have that super stable career to help launch this other pursuit. It’s been a really slow, safe transition for me, which has been wonderful.”
When Covid hit in March 2020, both she and her husband were sent home from work. Thankfully, Katherine still had her art career – and 2020 ended up being her best year yet.
She continued to work part-time to keep her skills up, even when her business income surpassed her salary. Now with two little ones at home, Katherine has let go of physical therapy so she can make the most of her time with them.
“Becoming a parent has really emphasized where I want to spend my time and what’s important.”
“The benefit of working for yourself is being able to redesign your business model to accommodate what you need for your life,” Katherine Corden says. Right now, that means spending less time at work and more time with her kids.
Although Katherine and her husband have financial goals and a major house renovation planned, they also know that this season, while their kids are young, is short – and they want to make the most of it.
Katherine has learned to be picky about what she says yes to and no longer takes on commissions. She focuses only on tasks that will help the business grow, and when she’s not doing that, she’s at home with her family.
With a background in both art and science, one area Katherine never learned about was finances. “The financial side of things did not come easily to me. I definitely had an avoidant mindset.”
Taking The Blueprint Model in 2018 helped Katherine overcome that resistance and get into the habit of checking her bank accounts regularly. She also implemented monthly money dates with her husband.
“It’s given us so much space and freedom where we confidently know how much money we’re putting into savings each month and how much money I’m making from my business.”
An added bonus of staying on top of your finances is that it’s easier to track your business growth.
Even with a growing family, Katherine has been able to steadily grow her profits. Last year she brought in six figures while working less than 20 hours a week.
“That was really encouraging to see those numbers and it helps me make more confident decisions.”
“My husband was saying the other night, ‘You have a stable career, Katherine Corden. This isn’t going to just dissolve overnight.’ I’ve diversified my business and there’s proof in these numbers for the past seven years that it’s continuing to grow each year.”
Another metric worth measuring in your business is how you spend your time. Even if you don’t charge hourly for your services, knowing your hourly rate and how long certain tasks take can help with both pricing and revenue projections.
Katherine found that tracking her hourly rate helped her plan for her maternity leave and become more intentional with her time when she returned to work.
Tracking the number of hours you work per week can help put things in perspective, as opposed to focusing on revenue alone. “Knowing what that hourly rate is reminds me that if I needed to make more money, I could simply work more.”
Like any entrepreneur, Katherine sometimes falls into the habit of comparison. “It’s hard to look at what someone else is doing and see their business exploding, especially other moms.”
What she’s found most helpful is to talk openly with other mom entrepreneurs. Often the women she admired for “doing it all” had their children in daycare or school all day long, which is a very different situation than having two toddlers at home.
If you find yourself falling into a comparison spiral, remember that you don’t know what someone else’s life looks like behind the scenes. Every family’s situation is different.
As for dealing with mom guilt, Katherine says, “Brynn Casey shared this mantra with me: when you’re painting, you’re still Clara and James’s mom, and when you’re with Clara and James, you’re still an artist. I wrote it on my wall at the studio to remind myself it doesn’t have to be so binary.”
Looking back on her business journey, Katherine is glad she took things at her own pace.
Although she’s always wondered what would have happened if she went to art school, she doesn’t regret studying physical therapy or staying in that career for as long as she did. “There were things about the path I chose that led me to where I am today.”
If Katherine could go back and give her younger self one piece of advice, it would be to stay focused on her own journey. “It doesn’t matter what other people think as long you stay true to yourself.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Katherine Corden is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Katherine Corden Bellisario is a fine artist living in Traverse City, Michigan with her husband and two young children. In her work, she is best known for her unique expression of the figure and use of color. She attributes much of her influence to her art teaching mother who started her in early art classes, as well as her background in studying anatomy while pursuing her first career as a physical therapist. Her lifestyle and creative work have blended over the years, and much like mixed paint, the two have become inseparable.
Katherine Corden’s work can now be found in private collections and galleries throughout the country.
Painting is Katherine’s preferred way of meditating on, and responding to, the energy and nostalgia found in the nature and social culture around her. She paints relationships. The relationship between colors, between her and the paint. The relationship between family and friends, humans and nature. Community really. She explores these themes through a variety of subjects, with the common goal of inspiring you to feel transported and connected.
March 23, 2023