Art for Everyday with Chaska’s Katherine Lenius

Chaska’s Katherine Lenius beautifies ordinary objects.

Artist Katherine Lenius’ work doesn’t hang on a gallery wall. Instead you might find it on a cell phone cover or a kitchen towel. It lives in the everyday, experienced during daily moments. “It’s the calendar on your desk, the fabric you sew your baby blankets from, the journal you write in at night,” Lenius explains. “It’s the everyday objects you see all the time.”

The graphic artist designs cheerful illustrations from her home in Chaska. Growing up in Richfield, her story with art started early. At age 12 or 13, Lenius had aspirations of becoming a graphic designer and grew up making art. However, it was only recently that her graphic design dream became reality.

Before landing on graphic design, Lenius’ career path varied. After earning a degree in theater and English from the College of Saint Benedict, Lenius worked in youth development and arts education with a theater group for high school students. She then opted to stay at home full time with her three children—two daughters, ages 12 and 9, and a son, age 6.

A few years ago, while at home, Lenius began doing art in earnest, pursuing it more seriously. “I really wanted to find something I really loved doing that I could pursue as a career,” Lenius says.

At the same time she began drawing again, she was also interested in sewing. A lover of great fabrics, Lenius was inspired to translate her designs onto fabric surfaces, which she eventually did and sells them on an online store called Spoonflower. Her desire to create her own textile designs coupled with her art interests propelled her in her career as a surface designer. “The more I learned about it, the more I did it,” Lenius says.

Creating fabric patterns was only the beginning. Today, she sells her own products and licenses art with other companies. In addition to selling her fabric designs on Spoonflower, Lenius sells her work through her online Etsy store (founded in August 2014). She offers art prints, desk calendars and a collection of tea towels. The list doesn’t stop there. Her work will go onto iPhone and iPod cases via Casetify. She plans to sell zipper pouches and journals in the future.

Those everyday objects also inspire Lenius. Pulling from what she sees around her, the artist is inspired by vintage fabrics and textiles, plants, children’s art, animals and insects. Lenius is a collector of kitchen things and says she loves to draw utensils and bowls.

Lenius takes the things she finds interesting lying around the house and draws them in a warm and approachable way. She will always begin in pencil, sketching first, adding ink next and sometimes mixing in watercolor. She then finishes the work on the computer. Lenius appreciates the digital tools for granting her flexibility with altering the colors and the scale, but she also enjoys her own hand to show through in her work.

“It’s not just for kids, not just for grown-ups. I feel like it’s for everybody,” says mosaic artist Maria Ricke from Belle Plaine, who is a longtime friend of Lenius. The two met in college and have been friends for 20 years.

In addition to having a strong appeal to everyone, Ricke identifies something else that is special in Lenius’ work—the art gets personal. “I feel her heart in her work,” Ricke says. “I feel her life story in her work.”

Lenius’ life story colors the surface design, but it’s that heart that inspires her to continue making the art. Lenius loves what she does. “When I used to sit in jobs, I would get frustrated,” Lenius says. “I felt like I wasn’t making anything. I love that with this job, every day, I can make something new.”