Tonight’s Friday Feature is our last before Christmas, and a fabulous one to finish off 2016 with the fabulous Kirsten of Quernus Crafts!!! We love Kirsten’s work and her gorgeous sculpted creatures, so we were super excited when we bagged an awesome feature with her!!
This will be our last Friday Feature of 2016, so before we hop in, we just want to say thank you for reading and we can’t wait to start back up our fabulous artist features in the New Year! If you’d like your work to be featured after the holidays, just drop us a line!
But in the meantime, Merry Christmas from Lady Lock, and we hope you love 2016’s last interview as we really do – so here we go, hot cocoa at the ready!!!
What did you do before Quernus?
I worked as a lawyer for 15 years before I started Quernus – I got my law degree at Dundee University in 1995, and then requalified as an English lawyer in 1999 when I moved to Leeds, and I ended up specialising in clinical negligence law. Although I did well and found it intellectually challenging, I never really felt at home in the profession – I always wanted people to get along, and not to blame each other, so working in litigation wasn’t really ideal! When I was looking at alternatives, I did some life-coach training, and a leadership programme in California. But in the end, I just knew I couldn’t keep working in a profession that was soul-destroying, so even though I didn’t know what was next, I handed in my notice and saved up so I could have a six month mini-retirement to figure out what was next. I left in June 2009.
So what came first? How did it all get started?
It’s a funny story, actually! Quernus wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye when I left – during those six months, I gave myself full permission just to do the things I enjoyed, and not worry about what was next. And it was during that time that I rediscovered my love of creating, something I had always enjoyed when I was younger, but never did very much of it – I was always encouraged to do music rather than art. And I had done very little at all in the years leading up to 2009 – I think being a lawyer more or less drained me of any creativity I had.
So I tried my hand at all sorts of things – jewellery making, card making, needle-felting – and then I found some blocks of polymer clay lying around from several years earlier. Back in 2001, I had only just discovered polymer clay, and I had decided to make all the wedding favours for the guests at my own wedding – 30 of them in total, and they were all animals, even back then! But by the end of the process, I was so fed up of making them all, that I just put the clay away and never looked at it again until after I’d given up my job. It’s funny to think of that now, given that I have made many thousands of wee creatures since starting Quernus, and I have so many more ideas of wee creatures I want to make that I don’t think I will ever get bored of it now! It’s almost as though the wee creatures were waiting for me to get out of law before they made an appearance. And I’m very glad they were so patient with me!
I found that I absolutely loved making wee animals – the first one was the Pigling, and then I went on to make flowery cats, robins, highland cows, etc. I was still making cards at that time too, and I started a blog to keep a record of my progress of my adventures with clay. You can still read all those early posts on my original blog (which up until recently was my main website) – https://quernuscrafts.blogspot.co.uk/. I just had so much fun, trying out new ideas, playing around with techniques, seeing which wee creatures wanted to be made – I guess I was really learning and honing my technique throughout that time, and it wasn’t too long before people started asking me how they could buy the wee creatures. So I did my first craft fair in October 2009, just three months after I’d left my job. Even then, I was still just having fun with Quernus – I had no idea where it would all end up! At the time, I was also doing a lot of work for UK Handmade (http://www.ukhandmade.co.uk/), writing lots of articles for them, fundraising, and helping to expand the concept in new directions. I was thinking that I would be more of a supporter of the arts, rather than an artist myself, but all the time, demand for the wee creatures kept on growing, and I was just having so much fun with Quernus. And so in 2010, I decided to focus full-time on Quernus – and I’ve never looked back since!
Did you always have an urge to make small animals from clay?
I think it must have been in my blood, really! I remember making little clay hedgehogs from air-drying clay when I was about 8, and I made some seals for my gran when I was about 10 – I’ve never had the remotest interest in making people, for some reason (although I did once do a commission for a husky sledging team, with two people on the sledge – but a wee mouse still managed to find his way in there!) Looking back on the creatures I made for my wedding, over 15 years ago, you can see they had the Quernus look about them – it’s really interesting to see how they’ve evolved over the years.
74.5k people like your facebook page Quernus Crafts, how long did it take to build this kind of following?
My Facebook page following has grown organically over the years. I started it back in 2009, and it took several years before numbers really started to take off. I can’t really explain why they did, and I’ve never played by Facebook’s rules (paying to promote posts, keeping track of page insights, etc.) – I’ve always just posted about what I love doing, and I think that’s what people have enjoyed. I’ve also been keen to promote other artists I really admire, and share their work – Facebook is a wonderful way of bringing people together, and although it’s central to my business, my main focus has always been connecting with like-minded people, and not selling the wee creatures. One has followed the other naturally, and I love that Quernus has grown like that. As for the actual number of followers, it’s pretty meaningless really, because I’m sure that only a fraction of them ever see my posts, and some no doubt signed up during that whole “Hike Your Likes” phase (something I never really took part in – I would much rather promote another artist’s work because I like what they do, not as part of a back-scratching exercise). And actually, my page followers have been steadily falling in recent months – no doubt down to another change in Facebook’s fabled algorithms! I can’t control them, so I don’t worry about them – it’s one of the reasons I set up a group instead – Quernoholics Anonymouse (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1703462329868829/) because in recent years, it hasn’t been so easy to engage with followers on my page, whereas in the group it’s so much easier to do that. There are now nearly 960 members of the QA group, but it still somehow manages to feel like a lovely, friendly, intimate group where you can always find someone to have a chat with, share pictures of Quernus collections, ask questions, and generally just have a nice time. I spend much more time hanging out on there than on my page.
Your work sells out very quickly, how do you keep your customers happy?
That’s been a tricky one, particularly over the last 3 years since the wee creatures really became sought after. I always try and listen to what people have to say, and will do my best to find the fairest ways to sell the wee creatures. It doesn’t always work – demand very much outstrips supply by quite some margin – but I do listen and keep trying new things, even if it means more work for me.
There was a really interesting discussion about just this point in the QA group a few weeks ago, with someone saying that they loved my work, but found the ways I sell things to be really complicated and hard to understand. So that got me thinking about how I had come up with the various ways of selling the wee creatures, and I wrote a long post about all the steps I had taken over the years to get the wee creatures to those who wanted them. I think it helped people understand all the steps I do take to make these as easy and fair for people as possible, and certainly, the new lottery idea I came up with recently has been a great success (I wrote a blog post about it a few days ago: http://www.quernuscrafts.co.uk/blog/read_164809/the-journey-so-far-and-a-bit-about-the-recent-lottery.html). And out of that discussion, I’ll be making more changes to the way I sell the wee creatures, which will hopefully be fairer to more people (fairness is a big value of mine). The bottom line is that I can’t keep everyone happy all of the time, but I work very hard to get as close to that as possible!
How does your working day pan out?
In August 2016, I rented workshop premises for the first time since starting Quernus. I love it! I’ve always worked from home, and so having a separate place to work has made a huge difference to me. It’s having boundaries between work and home that I’m really enjoying, something I never had when I worked from home, and something I took for granted when I was a lawyer. I moved in with my partner over the summer, and so it’s lovely to go home and spend time with him – gives me a great incentive to be more efficient and productive whilst at work!
I tend to ease into the day fairly gently, heading into work for 10am. I don’t have any set routine at work, but tend to go with what inspires me. If I’m preparing for an event, I will have several days of non-stop making, but there are other days when I will be on the computer, catching up with admin and emails, and still others when I’m processing and packing orders after an event. It’s nice to have a mix of different things to do. I tend to work on until 8pm, or sometimes later (it depends with my partner gets home from work!), so my days are usually at least 10 hours long, with a few breaks for dog walks during the day (my rescue dog, Zeus, comes to work with me and makes sure I get some exercise through the day!)
What’s your favourite part of your making process and why?
I love it when I’m making a wee creature that I know has special meaning for someone. And then as each wee creature appears, and I can see its personality emerging, that’s just so delightful – they really come to life when I add the eyes, and I can almost hear them talking to me, complaining if I haven’t given them ears or paws quickly enough! They make me giggle, and I think those giggles find their way into the wee creatures – it’s hard to explain otherwise why they seem to have such a spark of life to them.
What do you aspire to achieve with Quernus Crafts, what’s the dream?
First and foremost, I want to keep on enjoying what I do, and I want to share that with others, and hopefully inspire them to do what makes them happy. Having been miserable in a job for so many years, I truly appreciate each day I work for myself, doing what I love, and I think that feeling is within everyone’s grasp, even if it’s as simple as a change in perspective, rather than a complete career change. And so Quernus is not just a business for me, it’s a way of life, and I do my best to lead by example.
I have wondered about finding a way of mass-producing the wee creatures, but there aren’t any obvious ways of doing that which would allow me to keep the special connections I have made with those who love the wee creatures. And really, I think that’s a huge part of what makes Quernus so successful and enjoyable – I see it very much as a collaboration, a co-creation, between myself, the wee creatures, and those who enjoy them, and I don’t know if that’s something that would translate on a larger scale. That being said, however, I would love to design a range of wee creatures which could be sold to a wider market, perhaps through a company like Enesco (who specialise in the gift market for sculptures), which would allow me to keep doing what I love. There are so many possibilities for the wee creatures, whether it’s a book of their adventures, or writing a tutorial book, and also going out on tour, an idea I’ve been wanting to do for ages. And in October, I did go up to Glasgow and met up with several Quernophiles for an afternoon of chat, cups of tea, and a demonstration, all done via a live-feed on Facebook! It was such good fun that I definitely want to arrange more of these meet ups. But above all, I follow my heart, and take one step at a time based on what feels right – and that approach has worked well for me so far! I trust that whatever’s ahead for Quernus will happen at the perfect time, and I’ll know it when I see it.
Do you have to work in silence, or is there a mean beat going down in Quernus HQ?
I never listen to music when I’m working – I love music, particularly classical, but when it’s on, I have to give it my full attention, and so I find it hard to work at the same time! Instead, I listen to the spoken word, either Radio 4 or audio books. I love to read and learn new things, and it’s also company for me as I work.
What is Christmas going to look like for you this year?
I will probably have a complete break from Quernus over Christmas – it’s always good to recharge the batteries, and it’s been very busy this year, with moving house, getting the new workshop, building a new website, devising the lottery, and generally getting into a new way of working. It will be a time of family, fun, log fires, long dog walks and plenty of Christmas television – but I may well end up nipping into the workshop to make some wee creatures who want to be made (they can be quite insistent sometimes!)
Any advice to other online businesses out there?
Whenever I’m asked for advice, I always say “Do what you love”. The creative industry is not an easy way to make a living, but if you love what you do, there’s no better way! It’s easy to become caught up in the comparison game, wondering what other people are doing, trying to second guess things, and worrying too much about the bottom line. My own experience is that I only focus on the things I can control, which is basically what I do and what I think. So I focus on how I want things to be, and try not to worry about anything else. And the more I do that, the better things get. Be true to yourself, follow your heart, and everything else will fall into place.
How long did it take to perfect the art of clay sculpting?
I’m not there yet, although I think I’m getting better – practice makes perfect, and I’ve had a lot of practice! There’s always more to learn, and I like to keep pushing myself, coming up with new ideas, trying out new techniques, and never resting on my laurels. One day I’d like to do more realistic sculptures, possibly working with real clay. But there’s still so much to learn about polymer clay, and I have so much fun with it, that I’ll keep with this medium for a long time to come!
What are your 3 top tips for great customer service?
- Remember you are creating an experience, not just selling a product. I take as much care with my packaging and presentation as I do when I make the wee creatures, and the experience includes all contact, from first email, to the parcel arriving on the doorstep, and beyond. Building a relationship with your customers is paramount, and it’s no coincidence that a large proportion of my customers are repeat ones, or have come through recommendation.
- Be yourself. Treat others as you want to be treated, and be authentic about what’s important to you – those who like what you do will respect that, and you’ll be much happier being true to your values.
- Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If things go wrong (and they do), do what you can to put them right, rather than hide behind the strict letter of the law. People want to know that you’ve heard them, and that you care about putting things right.
What is in the pipeline for Quernus can you give us any exclusive news?
The biggest change for Quernus has just happened – the first ever Lottery took place at the end of November, and was a big success all round. I only came up with the idea for the Lottery about a month before that, and that led to me building a new website where I could hold it (hosted by Create.net – a great site).
Going forward, it’s really all about making lots of wee creatures, and finding better, fairer and simpler ways for people to adopt them. So I’ll be running the Quernus Lotteries on a regular basis, as well as changing the way the ticket events are run (which have been going for the past year, and which have raised over £1,600 for charity). Tickets for these events sell out so quickly that many people miss out, so I will be starting a waiting list for those events instead. I will also start taking pre-orders for specific designs, as well as doing more Random Creature Listings, where the wee creatures randomly pop up in my shop. And I do want to arrange more meet ups around the country too. All in all, there are exciting times ahead!
Exciting times indeed! Again, Merry Christmas from Lady Lock, and we’ll see you back here, bright eyed and bushy tailed, in January!!
In the meantime, you can find Kirsten’s work here:
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/QuernusCrafts
Quernoholics Anonymouse group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1703462329868829/
Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quernuscrafts/
Lady Lock x