Happy Feature Friday!
This week we are featuring Wei of Honey Thistle! Wei creates polymer clay miniatures and brass jewelry. When we were little we’d ask our parents if we could buy those mini blown glass animals because miniature anything is just too cute. In each of Wei’s miniatures there’s a ton of character, making them perfect little gifts for someone who may connect with an individual piece. Additionally, for all you festival goers her brass jewelry screams dancing free-spirit! Learn more about Wei below!
: Tell us a little about yourself?
: I’m a maker and artist based in Toronto, Canada, and I work primarily with brass and polymer clay. I live with my boyfriend and cat, who keeps me company during the day while I’m tinkering away. I used to be a night owl and work into the wee hours of the morning, but have recently adopted an earlier schedule so I now get up around 5:30 am and go to bed just a little after 9 pm. We’ll see how long this lasts haha.
: You’ve been making and crafting since you were little. What draws you to creating and especially to creating on a small scale?
: One of the things that keeps me creating art is the learning process involved. I believe in continuous learning, and need that to feel connected to and excited by what I work on. I’m particularly drawn to working in small scale because I’m super detail oriented, so it’s just a more manageable size for what I want to do. Eventually I do want to challenge myself and create some bigger pieces, but that probably won’t be happening any time soon.
: We love your unique miniatures. Describe the process that goes into making each piece?
: Thanks! The miniatures usually start out as a rough concept in my head – for example, I might want to create a miniature forest scene. Then I think about what types of materials I want to make them out of and brainstorm how it can come together piece by piece. I don’t do a lot of sketching and only draw when I’m really stuck on how something can be put together. Then I gather my materials, which can include modelling clay, fabric, cardboard, foam, wood, etc. and start making the idea that I visualized.
Not all of my creations match the initial idea since working with the materials can be inspiring itself, and I just go with what feels right in the moment. Sometimes things don’t turn out exactly the way I want it, so I either scrap it (i.e. mash up the clay that I was using) or give it away to someone who might want it (my brother is the recipient of many mediocre figurines).
: You also make your own jewelry from hand sawn brass. How did you make you way from clay to metal?
: I actually started out with making jewelry, and learned rudimentary metalwork from a local artist way before I transitioned into working with polymer clay. However, I do spend more time nowadays working with polymer clay as there are less equipment/tool requirements, and the cold winters in Canada prevent me from working too much in the little metal studio space that I’ve set up at home. I plan on improving my skills in both media for the foreseeable future as there’s still so much to learn!
: Where did the name Honey Thistle come from?
: I came up with the name when I first started my Etsy shop. I basically made a list of words that I liked, and paired them up together to see which combos worked well. I don’t think Honey Thistle was the first pairing I settled on, but I do like it now and in retrospect I think it pairs well with the natural motifs that eventually emerged in my work.
: Did you learn clay sculpting and jewelry making techniques on your own? What are some resources you’ve used to improve your craft?
: I learned a lot about working with polymer clay just by playing with it and Googling questions that I had when I couldn’t figure something out. There aren’t any specific websites that I use for clay, but I do love craftster.org, which is a forum that I used to frequent that has many useful tips and tutorials for a lot of different crafts.
I was introduced to metalsmithing through a local class I took, and learned a bit on my own through Youtube videos. I feel like I’ve only just dipped my toe in and have so much more to learn! So I plan on taking more classes (I’m enrolled in one right now actually), and using Youtube and reference books to supplement that learning.
: You own your own Etsy shop. What are some of the highlights and challenges of having your own business?
: I think the greatest reward for owning my business is that I work for myself and I reap what I sow. I worked at a big corporation doing business analysis prior to diving in full time in running my own business, and one of the reasons I decided to make the transition was the autonomy in working for yourself. I’m a workaholic, and I didn’t want to do a job for the sake of having a job, but rather do something I can look back on in a few years and be really proud of what I did and what I built.
In terms of challenges, I think the biggest thing is figuring out long term plans and prioritizing what needs to be done now vs later. Although what I present online is creative work, I do spend more time thinking about the business side of things than actually engaging in the creative side. This isn’t terrible and is necessary if I want to keep doing what I’m doing and grow, but it can be hard switching between the two modes (business or creative) on a regular basis.
: What are some of your inspirations for you work?
: A lot of my work is nature-based, and I love going through animal reference books or encyclopedias to learn more about different species. I also read a lot of fiction (currently wading my way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series) and sometimes I’m inspired by the imagery the words invoke. Aside from books, I’m inspired by the films I watch and really just life in general.
: What process do you like the most along the journey of creating the piece to seeing it in your customers’ hands?
: I’m not sure that this is a process, but I really enjoy chatting with my customers. I’ve had great conversations about why they’re buying a particular piece, which allows me a tiny window to see into their lives. It’s the positive interactions I’ve experienced through selling online that really motivate me to keep doing what I’m doing.
: Any advice?
: If you want to do something, go for it 100%. I first thought I could make this business work by dedicating what little spare time I had after my day job, but honestly you get out of it what you put in. So if you really want to work for yourself, then do everything you can to make it a reality.