Sunday, 11 December 2011

Meet Helen White of Helenka White Design

Helen White, a fellow jewellery designer that I met via Facebook, makes beautiful jewellery from a variety of media. In what I hope will be a new series of posts (any volunteers to be the next subject?), she answers my questions about her craft, her inspirations and more.

Hi Helen! Thank you for taking part in the blog interview...Where do you live and how did you end up there?

I have been living in Cardiff since 2002 and moved here from Cologne, because my then boyfriend and now husband Paul comes from Cardiff. We originally met briefly in Paihia, New Zealand (North Island), when we were both backpacking, and caught up again in Nelson (South Island of NZ). We have been together ever since. After a short stint in Hamburg and Kiel we decided to move to Cardiff, as we both didn’t like it in the North of Germany and it was easier for me to adapt to the British way of life because I speak English better than Paul speaks German.

Who do you live with?

I live with my husband Paul and our gorgeous rescue cat Bobby, who we love to bits. She rules the roost.

She's very cute! Is jewellery making your full-time job?

It’s supposed to be, but I also freelance as a journalist ( I occasionally write for “Making Jewellery” for example). However, like most people in this profession I can’t live on it full-time in the recent economic climate.

Do you do any other crafts?

No, but I would love to learn how to sew properly and maybe go back to painting and drawing. I used to like art at school and have an MA in Art History. However jewellery making is such a vast field and there are so many materials to work with and techniques to explore that it never really gets boring.

What other hobbies do you have?

I love writing, reading, music and watching movies. But I am more a passive listener and I keep meaning to crack on with my Ukulele. I also have a guitar. It’s just finding the time to teach myself.

Is supporting local trade/handmade artists important to you? Why?

I think it is – because this is where the money matters most. Our economy has suffered a lot from outsourcing to countries with cheap labour and poor human rights records. Also you will stand a better chance to find some unique items you won’t find on the high street and which have been designed with lots of love and care, if you buy handmade from a local artist. Unfortunately some people don’t understand the true value of an item and often just want cheap things. I’d rather buy less, but spend a little more money on something that has value to me and where I know that the artist has made a huge effort and should be supported.

Do you have a favourite place to buy local/handmade?

Not really. I do however follow a lot of crafters on Facebook or Twitter and a lot of them are also my friends. If I see something I like I comment on it, share it and hope I can eventually buy it myself. I recently stumbled across a fabulous metalwork artist called Richard Pell who has a stall in the town centre. I love his animal wall art. I also tend to feature fellow crafters on my own blog as I believe in helping each other. I have to admit right now most of my money goes to my physiotherapy sessions to sort out my chronic shoulder pain.

Ouch, let's hope that get's better soon. Describe your jewellery.

Oh dear. This is a hard one. I hope it’s original (my polymer clay pendants), cute (my animal jewellery) and quirky (my Alice in Wonderland bracelets and necklaces) as well as elegant (my semi-precious stone jewellery). At the moment I haven’t got one particular style as I am still testing materials and learning new techniques and some of the early stuff I made doesn’t really reflect what I want to achieve. However I have now a much better vision of where I want to go and what to concentrate on.

I love your animal jewellery, it's brilliant. Why did you start making jewellery?

I think I started because I wanted a hobby and also because in the run-up to my wedding I wanted to make my own tiara and bridesmaids’ gifts. So I taught myself bead stringing and how to make tiaras.

How long have you been making jewellery?

Roughly since 2006 as a bit of a hobby. But I have started selling only last year when I launched my website in October.

How did you learn your skills? Did you go on any courses or teach yourself?

I mostly teach myself from books or videos (YouTube is a great source) but have attended a weekend course in Precious Metal Clay (PMC) at the Mid Cornwall School of Jewellery Making and a weekend course in silver smithing at “In the Studio” in Kegworth. I also have attended a day course in polymer clay cane making at “The Millefiori Studio”, which was a nice introduction to basic polymer clay techniques. In 2006/7 I went on a year-long City&Guilds course in “3D design – Jewellery” at the local college and learnt basic techniques in precious metal work.

PMC is on my list of things to learn! What is your favourite material or technique?

I love working with polymer clay, because it is super versatile, can mimic other materials and is affordable. I follow a lot of polymer clay artists who can create the most amazing works of art with their intricate canes – Carol Simmons is one of them. You might know her from my shared posts on Facebook.

I also like wirework and would love to get back to working with copper and silver to revive my precious metal skills. My friend Lydia Niziblian is a jewellery artist whose work I also admire. And I also love Kirsten Miller’s cute polymer clay animal figurines (Quernus Craft). What I love about her work is her sense of humour.

I love Kirsten's work too, my sister was the lucky recipient of her WonderMollusc. Are there any other skills or techniques you would like to learn?

I want to explore polymer clay more – there are so many amazing things you can do with it. I recently bought alcohol inks which I want to use to create dichroic effects.

I still have PMC (Precious Metal Clay) I want to use up, but I don’t think I would invest further in it as it’s very expensive material. I want to learn new wire –wrapping techniques and also go back to silver and copper work, making rings. There are so many techniques to explore. If I could afford to go on another course I would.

What inspires you?

I don’t think it’s a conscious decision – sometimes it’s just playing around with materials – like beads I have and want to arrange in a certain fashion.

Because I love animals, especially cats, I would say they are an inspiration. Especially our Bobby.

Bobby is gorgeous. Which of your designs is your favourite? Why?

Oh that’s a hard one – I like most of my polymer clay pendants, because they require much more preparation and work and thought than say a necklace with beads. I love my snakes, because the colours work well together and they look quite cute and quirky. I wanted them to be rings, but you can’t really wear them as rings, because they are a bit too thick and the sizes are not super accurate. Instead I sell them as pendants. I also like my bats and I think I can thank my little sister for this as she loves bats and is a Goth. For those bats I had to make my own molds.  I also made my own molds for my dolphin and kiwis. I want to create more animal pendants and also make more of my own molds, as a few of my designs use a mold I bought. I do like my semi-precious necklaces too, especially my lapis lazuli, labradorite and turquoise necklace, but find my polymer clay pendants more challenging, they are also more unique I think.

Here's one I struggle with! Do you wear your own jewellery exclusively or do you wear other people’s designs?

This is really a dilemma for us jewellery designers – marketing strategists tell you to always wear your own jewellery, but I have some lovely pieces of jewellery I got over the years from my mum , husband and other people and would like to wear those too. And I do appreciate other people’s work.

When my sister was staying over this summer we went to Bath and my husband bought me a cute cat pendant made out of pewter. I love that necklace.

When I do a stall or go out and know I meet people who may be interested in my work I tend to wear at least a pendant. I haven’t worn earrings in ages, which makes it a real pain to get some in.  I have to make my own rings, because I have skinny fingers and nothing fits. I love my engagement ring, because it’s a Sapphire, but it has been resized twice and is still too loose – so I shove the wedding ring on top when I wear them – which I also do rarely, because I have my hands often stuck in water (housework) or clay :-)  

I can’t wear heavy necklaces only pendants due to my neck pain.

Why did you decide to start selling your work?

I think it’s because friends encouraged me to, plus I realised I needed to diversify as freelance journalism has become so hard to generate an income from.

What was the first piece of jewellery you sold? When?

I honestly can’t remember. It might have been a beaded ring for a friend of mine in 2010 or so.

How do you prefer to sell your jewellery – online or face-to-face?

I am a shy person and prefer to sell online. But I also like to sell to customers who visit me. I can give them the full customer service treatment and advise them on what suits them and show them whatever they like to see from my inventory. I discovered that I am not suited to doing craft fairs though. Mainly, because they tend to be disorganised and oversubscribed with too many jewellery makers.

Do you sell your jewellery in any shops or galleries?

No, this is an avenue I might explore in the future. A friend of mine, Caroline Cj Exley from Curious Cat Design, who creates beautiful leather jewellery, does this and she keeps me up-to-date with how it’s going for her.

I've seen Caroline's work, it's great. Is there a celebrity that you would like to see wearing your jewellery?

Now that’s a good question – here’s a bit of a list – Jo Brand (cause she’s funny and fabulous), Florence Welch, Laura Marling, Kristin Hersh, PJ Harvey, Siouxsie, Fiona Apple, Lykke Li and so many other women whose work I admire. I could sit here all day and make lists of celebs :-) Wouldn’t mind making something for Stewart Lee, Dave Gorman and Tim Minchin either, but I am not sure how much they are in the market for jewellery :-)

What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve been given about selling your jewellery?

This is a hard one because I absorb information from all sorts of sources; the web is great for this. And I made a lot of mistakes when I started out. Lots of advice I try to follow I got from e- books by jewellery artist Rena Klingenberg, which I also sell through my blog.

I think the most useful advice I wish I’d had when I started out would have been: start very small, make a few items and road test them first by selling them at fairs and don’t buy in too many materials. And the second useful piece of advice – choose your events carefully and research craft fairs first by asking the organiser lots of questions. I found that affiliating yourself with a charity close to your heart works best. It doesn’t hurt to part with some of your money when it goes to charity.

Thank you Helen! Good luck with Christmas sales!

You can find out more about Helen and her jewellery here:
Helen will be posting her gorgeous jewellery right up until the last posting date for Christmas, so head on over for some unusual Christmas gifts.
If you'd like to be featured in a future post, drop me a line below....

Friday, 18 November 2011

Feeling Festive?

I'm not particularly, but these new earrings I've been working on might help - they're my first attempt at baking polymer clay in several stages. I'm quite pleased with them, though they did get progressively fiddlier as I went through the process. They have allspice in them which not only colours the clay but also means they smell nice as they bake, and I really like the glittery Fimo I used for the leaves and the 'sauce'.

They'll be on sale tomorrow at the Theydon Bois Christmas Gift Fair, which is the second of a month of weekends when I'm all booked up! You can find all my events here so if you're in the Essex area over the next few weeks pop along and see me - I'm excited that I have a stall at the Epping Christmas Market this year too!  

Monday, 7 November 2011

Cormorants at Prince's Wharf

Today I've been all the way to Bristol to a meeting at M-shed, a brilliant new museum telling the story of Bristol's people and places. Installed in the old Industrial Museum building which has undergone a fabulous makeover, it has amazing views over Prince's Dock and the Bristol skyline. The displays are intriguing, covering the city's slave trading history, local protest, trade and industry and the galleries take you all the way up to Morph and Aardman Animations, Banksy and triphop, with well thought out interactives and a brilliant floor sized aerial map. Well worth a visit!

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Pumpkin Party

Note the cunning use of random planks and bits of tree trunk! Hope the rain (and the wind) holds off...this is where I'll be for the next six hours, with a Halloween soundtrack (Monster Mash, anyone?) and the smell of burgers in the air. How long can I resist?
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Saturday, 29 October 2011


It's Hallowe'en on Monday so I have a pumpkin-filled weekend ahead of me - this evening we're all off to a local conservation area - Swaines Green - to the annual Scream on the Green event, which promises a fortune teller, a House of Horrors, haunted portraits, and (my favourite) barbecue and tea and coffee. Thing 1 is very excited as we have a devil horn headband for her and glow-in-the-dark nail polish as a very special treat for not driving me mad during half term, and Thing 2 is very excited at her spider hairband. Thing 3 is terrified by a small inflatable skeleton so I'm hoping he sleeps through the whole thing.

Tomorrow is The Pumpkin Party at Parndon Wood Nature Reserve near Harlow, which you can find out more about here - I'll be behind my stall and hopefully sheltered by a gazebo! You can find me, my fabulous new pumpkin earrings and spooky charm bracelets, and a flask of hot Ribena in there somewhere.

The pumpkins at the top of this post will be decorating the stall before coming back home first attempt at carving pumpkins and I'm quite pleased with myself as the ghostie was freehand (although the bat was a stencil). My sister is the Pumpkin Queen and carves the most fabulous designs - this year's pumpkin for the kids was a skeleton head - so I don't think I'll be stealing her crown, but what do you think?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A walk in the woods

Early autumn, near Theydon Bois! Yesterday was gorgeous so we gathered up the hordes of children, grabbed a picnic in Tesco and headed off to Epping Forest for an autumn walk up to Ambresbury Banks, which was allegedly Boudicca's stronghold. Epping - like all good forests - has excellent legends, like the ghost of Dick Turpin, Dick Turpin's cave, Sixteen String Jack and of course Boudicca, the original wild redheaded queen (the other one has a Hunting Lodge named after her not far away in Chingford).

Tove collected a pocket full of acorns, spotted a squirrel (or a 'weee-ul' as she says) and slid down the banks on her bottom, they all climbed on fallen trees and we admired the autumn carpet as you can see in the picture. We really don't take enough advantage of the Forest, it's so lovely and mostly accessible even with the buggy, so we have no excuse! I might make an autumn bracelet now, am feeling a bit inspired...when I have the Jelly Cube bracelets out of the way for Christmas!

I also managed to fit in a 4-mile walk with a friend yesterday, again through part of the Forest though this time sticking to the road towards North Weald - we were lucky enough to see a beautiful stag and his hinds across the road. I know the Forest is full of deer but they are so shy that it's a real privilege to see them, almost as if they are the wood's secrets.

What did you do on the weekend? I hope it wasn't the last gasps of summer - today was warm down by the Thames but allegedly it's Arctic winds and snow for the rest of the week/

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A new challenge!

Regular readers will know that this year I challenged myself to do the Race for Life 5K back in July, and after that went well I decided to try the 10K next year. I'm still running (although a cold set me back last month so I had to take a week off and it RUINED my run times) but last week I signed up at Walk the Walk to do the Moonwalk London 2012, which is a full marathon of 26.2 miles through the streets of London at night...wish me luck!

If anyone would like to sponsor me, my online fundraising page is here and if everyone who clicks it just gives £1 it will soon build up. My aim is to raise over £200 for breast cancer research. I started my training today with a 6.29 mile walk in just over 1 hour 30 minutes, so I'm on my way.

K x

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Havering Handmade Part 1

A craft stall in a suitcase! This morning I'm on the Central Line heading for Harold Wood station and my first Havering Handmade event. This always looks like a nice friendly event when I see the Facebook posts, so it should be a good morning. It's on 10 - 1 and all the details can be found on FB by searching Havering Handmade...pop down if you're around!
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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Tiger Who Came To Tea

Yesterday, as the weather was too changeable to risk our planned picnic in the park, my friend (owner of the 3 children on the right of the picture) and I (owner of the one on the table and the blue blur in front) made an impromptu visit to the Judith Kerr retrospective at the Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green.

The Museum of Childhood is one of my favourite places to visit and, over the years since I first went there as a teacher planning a class trip, it has changed from a museum for adults about childhood to a museum for children with a lot of adult interest. I loved it back then, but the altered focus has really made it a worthwhile day out for families. The building is lovely - an excellent history of the site can be found here - and it is fully accessible for people with buggies/wheelchairs, which makes such a difference to a day out. One word of warning, though: the tube station is emphatically not wheelchair/buggy friendly as it has steps to all entrances and no lifts to the platform. If you're using public transport I'd suggest either walking up from Liverpool Street via Shoreditch or taking the bus. There are small mainline stations at Cambridge Heath and Bethnal Green but I'm not sure if they have lifts either. Set aside a good few hours and feel free to leave the kids at home for a really good look round!

There are two 'museum' floors and a ground floor which hosts the cafe (good cake - a Benugo venture) and the shop which is sensibly priced and has a good range of books and toys. For those on a budget there is also a lunchroom for picnics (this may not be available in termtime, however, as the Museum is deservedly popular with schools), or the Museum Gardens next door if the weather is good. The mezzanine floor has moving toys - take a stash of 20p pieces - including railways, Scalextrics, clockwork toys and a robot that seems to be permanently broken, as well as a sensory area, imaginative and small-world play areas, a drop-in art area and enough vintage and modern toys to have everyone from your great-granny downwards mooning over the cases saying 'I had one of those!' Case in point: Triang scooters, Fisher Price playhouses, old handheld arcade games, Sindy dolls and much more. It's right up to date with award winning toys from 2010 too, including the Sylvanian Families motorbike and sidecar set which Daisy and Tove would love to get their paws on!

The first floor houses displays on childhood through history with comparative items to show how design has changed - the Museum is, after all, part of the V&A which has a strong design remit - as well as a fantastic seaside area where children can play on the 'beach' and create their own Punch & Judy show. There is a school area, games tables, kitchen play, construction toys and much more, as well as yet more toys to look at and a soft play area for younger children.

The first floor also houses the temporary exhibition area where the Judith Kerr retrospective can be found. Entitled From The Tiger Who Came to Tea to Mog and Pink Rabbit, it is a wonderful trove of original paintings and drawings by the author (you'll find her in the post about favourite bedtime stories below!) as well as beautifully thought out low-tech interactives throughout the installation. There is also a biographical section about Kerr's own childhood, which inspired the book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

Daisy particularly enjoyed playing with Sophie's kitchen in the Tiger Who Came to Tea area, while I loved the giant tiger at the table who can be seen in the photo at the top of this post. There was also a giant Mog's basket where children could dress up as Mog, a 'school' area with desks, a magnetic 'dream creature' area, and more magnetic play with a wheel of 'thought pictures' and magnetic Mog expressions. There were also photos of the real Mog, and areas focused on particular Mog books - Goodbye Mog, mentioned in an earlier post, and Mog the Forgetful Cat. Eve was thrilled to see Pink Bunny on the wall! Tove particularly liked the magnetic play and spent ages making dream creatures.

The Judith Kerr exhibition is well worth a visit but be quick as it finishes on 4 September! Upcoming events can be found here although even without a major display the Museum of Childhood is a great day out. There are always smaller exhibitions in the entrance area which often have local school input.

Next week, we're braving the Docklands Light Railway (and yes, we'll be trying to get the front seats!) to the Museum of London Docklands for Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story. I worked on this in the early stages but it didn't open until I was on maternity leave so I haven't seen the final exhibition yet. 8 year old Oliver is more interested in this one, and his dad is apparently very jealous indeed!

Running update: I finished the Couch to 5K programme this morning! Regular readers will know that I've been really enjoying running, and when I blogged about it 4 weeks into the programme I was averaging 2.5 miles per workout and was doing 16 minutes of running in each workout - well, today was the third & final week 9 workout and I ran for 40 minutes non-stop (walked 5 minutes to warm up and 2 to cool down as well). My total workout today was 3.99 miles (6.4k!). I'm feeling very proud of myself and the plan is to carry on at this level until it starts feeling 'easy' and then move onto the Bridge to 10K programme (and yes, I've already downloaded the app). I start back at work next week and will be running along the Thames in my lunch hours...that'll get me away from my desk! I'm well on my way to losing my first stone, too.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cygnets at Connaught Water

Taken on a walk this afternoon
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