Payne taught herself how to throw pots after seeing a demonstration at Homewood High School. She later attended the University of Montevallo and learned the raku technique for smoke-fired glazes and became a working potter while also pursuing a marketing career with Crawford Broadcasting and Southern Living.
While discussing mushrooms with chef Chris Hastings, the conversation turned to pottery and led to her commission to create dinnerware for the Hot and Hot Fish Club restaurant in 1997. Starting from there she began marketing her creations at food service trade shows and launched her own studio in 2003 to handle rapidly-growing demand, including an order for 5000 place settings for the Bellagio Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2012 she was commissioned to supply two restaurants in London's Heron Tower.
Payne and her husband Wynn have two children. She cooks, grows shiitake mushrooms and goes whitewater canoeing when not working.
- Crawford, Cindy F. (February 15, 2008) "Turning passion into profit." Birmingham Business Journal
- Stancill, Mary Ellen (October 2008) "Tena Payne, owner of Earthborn Studios." Birmingham magazine. Vol. 48, No. 10, p. 52
- Kent, Dawn (August 16, 2012) "Leeds potter takes her business abroad, creating dinnerware for two new restaurants in London." The Birmingham News
- Earthborn Studios website