Please say a big Hello to Mary-Beth Originals who you voted as our March Craft Challenge winner. They have very kindly agreed to tell us a little more about their business, their products and what inspires them, please read on….
1. Can you start by telling us a bit about you?
I think the idea of wanting to work for myself began in the late 80’s, I had just met my husband and living just over 100 miles apart a lot of my time was spent in the car travelling and thinking and dreaming. At the time I was a graphic designer for the Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh and my job was to computerise the Edinburgh Herald & Post. I was the first female to work in the caseroom since the 2nd world war and I had to train time served compositors to typeset on a publishing computer package, it was a rough job and I would dream of being away from the male chauvinistic world and wish to be my own boss, the foundations were laid.
Several years later now married and working for an Advertising Agency in Edinburgh designing leaflets and still travelling too and fro to where I met my husband on holiday there was now two dreamers in the car on those journeys and many miles spent discussing a family business and how great it would be to work for ourselves. In December 1995 I became pregnant with my eldest Mary-Beth, and after being made redundant that Christmas I began making dolls house miniatures from fimo and cards and selling them as a hobby at fairs, Mary-Beth Originals was born, and now just over 17 years later we have a full-time family business, my husband and I work side by side and we are making a profitable living from our little craft business that started as a dream while driving the country roads of Scotland.
2. Please tell us about your experience in crafting and your skills?
I don’t think you need any paperwork telling you that you can “craft”. I think artistic skill is there or it’s not there, I can draw because I was taught to draw, tell me to draw a dinosaur, or a landscape in front of me and I will give it a fair go but don’t ask me to compose an artistic and aesthetically pleasing piece of artwork, I have NO talent for that. I can however sculpt with clay, I was never taught to do that I can see a picture in my head and whereas I could never put that on paper I can sculpt it in clay. I think you can learn to bead, sew, draw, crochet, knit etc, etc, etc., and become and expert in the chosen skill or craft you choose to learn, but I don’t think its essential to gain training or qualifications, I think if it’s in your heart you will succeed at it, whether you are self-taught or attend courses or training.
3. Where do you sell/exhibit your work and what has been the most successful for you?
Everywhere and Anywhere! I think we have our fingers in all the relevant pies, internet, fairs, retail outlets, and wholesale outlets. The internet has been hit and miss. Certain things that we sell fantastically through retail outlets and fairs go unnoticed on the internet, as a result I have had many likers of my Facebook page come to see me at a fair and not recognise any of the things on offer on the stall. At the moment the Facebook page is our only internet outlet. We did have a website but the orders from the Facebook page got so busy that we couldn’t keep the website stocked so we closed it. Facebook has its ups and its downs, ups being great sales, great exposure and downs being the fact that the minute you put up a photo of something new, someone else copies it and puts it on their page at a cost that is totally unrealistic for a person like me to compete with as because this is our full-time business we have to cost items to make a profit. My favourite way to sell though is standing behind a stall and selling direct to the public, I love it, even the funny customers who say daft things. I remember in the early days when we made hand-made cards… I was at a fair in Glasgow and this little lady and her friend came up to the stall and stood quietly discussing the designs on the card stand for a few minutes, suddenly she turned round and in a loud Glaswegian accent asked “Are these careds jist fir sending tae folk?”, Still makes me giggle. As for selling goals,…………… well, next year we hope to fulfill one of our selling goals by taking a pitch at the Wickerman Music Festival, something we have often been asked to do but the children were always to young in the past, I also wish I could share with you all some exciting news about where one of our products will be next year but I can’t at the moment, maybe if I ever win another craft challenge it will be a tale I can tell then.
4. What have been your favourite or most challenging pieces that you have made and what inspired you to make them?
Oh that’s a hard one. My most challenging one EVER was a mad idea I had while making 1/12th scale dolls house food that I would like to do a “making coleslaw” preparation board. The only problem was how make a white cabbage look real when it is made out of clay and smaller than the size of your finger nail and sliced. Have you ever looked at white cabbage, can you tell me how many layers are involved and how the veining looks? Yup it was not as easy as it first seemed and working it out took me well over a month but I was so proud of the day my tiny white cabbage trial number 100+ actually looked like a tiny white cabbage…. Still can’t do a 1/12th scale whole pineapple though ;).
I’ve faced so many challenges that this is really hard! Okay 2nd one I have picked was from a message I received from a Facebook liker one evening, would have been just over a year ago and she was asking if I could make a miniature replica of her dog that had just passed away. I had never done a fimo dog before apart from tiny charm ones about 15mm tall and to be honest I was scared to death to even try it, I mean if I got it wrong, this was her beloved dog that she had just lost. But I said I would give it a go and it opened up new challenges, and new learning curves about mixing colours and how to get the effect of fur so I was really pleased that I took it on and even more pleased that the lady concerned loved and cherished her little keepsake and from that one job grew the fimo pet portraits which also blossomed into the likeness hangers, figures and cake toppers that are so popular now.
Lastly one of our wands and another mad idea…. “I’d like to put an owl on a wand”, why I do these things to myself I have no clue but anyway, I never realised that a barn owl’s feathers had so many different colours and patterns in them. One of the fimo skills I am less familiar with is caning and for the owl, each feather pattern needed its own cane so I had to practice and learn the art of basic caning, which has been a great skill to get to grips with and has been a bonus for my work with the dragon wands, the endless myriad of cane patters that dragon scales can be made from is so much fun and it all started with the “I’d like to put a barn owl on a wand” manic thought.
5. We can all have times when we feel less inspired, where and how do you find/keep your creative inspiration?
Remember the 100+ mile journey? Well at the end of it is a very special place called Brighouse Bay and it’s where I go to relax and recharge. I take a pad and a pencil and I will sit by the sea on a rock I have sat on for so many years that it probably has an indentation of my backside on it (well its got more comfy over the years) and I listen to the sea lapping against the rocks, the kids playing on the beach or walking through the wood and the inspiration just flows back if its been lost. I never go there without my work box and fimo either so that any ideas can be quickly made up so that it’s not forgotten. It is a truly magical place and I am so excited to be leaving for there very soon, the first time since last October so the inspiration tanks are very low right now.
6. What keeps you motivated to continue in this business?
This answer is two-pronged. Firstly my kids, it always has been about them really. We are so lucky in that this business has allowed us to always be there for them, school shows, meetings, appointments etc and on school days one on of has always been in the house for them coming home. If you were to ask my 14-year-old he would see the continuing motivation as the getting into the music festivals for free! Me it’s still all about the kids, getting them through the driving tests, university, while being able to still attend all my daughters shows and performances and being there for my son who still needs a hug at the end of a long school day. Secondly if I ever do feel the motivation waning and the odd thought of “giving it all up” creeps into my brain then I just think back to a smokey, dark caseroom in the Scotsman building or a boardroom full of sharp suited advertising executives making comments about how my skirt could do to be 6 inches shorter. I remember and I never ever want to go back to feeling like that EVER AGAIN.
7. OK, just for a bit of fun, if you were stranded on an island, what 3 pieces of craft equipment would you like to have with you and why?
Can a husband be termed as craft equipment?? (that answer was his idea). Seriously 1. would be my piece of dowling with a needle in the end of it as I rarely use anything else as a tool when I am sculpting. 2. would be Fimo as if I don’t have fimo or my dowling tool to fiddle with I would seriously bite my nails down to the quick so fast the natives on the island would think I was a cannibal. 3. Pasta machine… because I would be able to practice so many different fimo blends I would never get bored :).
8. What are your goals/plans for the future of your business? Also, do you have any plans to further your skills or to learn something new?
Okay I have waffled a lot during answering these questions but this is going to be the shortest answer. Goals and plans right now in this climate is simply keeping our heads consistently above water and if I get the water to shoulder level then I am extremely happy. As for plans to further skills, I will just keep playing with the clay and learning as it teaches me, I often find I learn best by accident – something goes wrong but it leads me in a new and wonderful direction.
9. When you first started if you could have been given one piece of advice what would it have been and what advice would you like to pass on?
When I first started selling it was at car boot sales, purely because they were the cheapest place to sell and there was a guy there, name of Jimmy that would sell his Granny if he was given half a chance, but without those many freezing mornings listening to his advice about anything from Public Liability Insurance to sales pitches, I would not be where I am today. The best advice he ever gave me was “If you believe in yourself and you believe in your product then the customers will believe in it too” and he was right. I think I’d like to pass that on… Believe in yourself, believe that the thing you created, whatever it may be is the best it possibly could be and your customers will see that in you and in your product. I still see Jimmy at fairs, we have both moved on from where we were x amount of years ago but I still owe him a great deal and am very grateful for those cold mornings stood in a car park.
10. Lastly, where can we find you? (Contact details etc)
Yay an easy final question!!
If you want to call that is fine too and its 07718882738