An Interview with Helenka White Design

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Artisan Jewellery And Sculptures
– Not Just For Cat Lovers. Made in Wales

Tell us a bit about the artist behind your creations.

I am a jewellery designer and sculptor based in Cardiff where I live with my husband Paul and our beautiful moggie Bobby.

Bobby is my little muse and inspiration. I am a journalist by trade and have worked in PR, but have pretty much given up that part of my working life. I am originally from Cologne and moved to the Cardiff in 2002 to be with my Welsh husband, whom I met in New Zealand. Last year I became a British citizen (this was due to the Brexit referendum). Apart from my jewellery business I also provide German tuition for young students who want to pass their GCSE’s and A-Level and adults.

Have you always been creative or did your talent evolve over time?

I always loved art at school and took the German equivalent of art A-Level. My art teacher was quite inspirational and after my A-Levels I decided to study Art History (English linguistics & literature and Philosophy) at Cologne University which is all theory and no practice. Creating art took a back seat while I was at university and after I graduated, I pursued my journalism career. I spent a lot of my time writing. In 2006 I attended a weekend course in silver-smithing in Loughborough at “In The Studio” (the teacher recently retired) to get a first taste of jewellery making. I really enjoyed it and enrolled in the local college to attend evening classes in silversmithing and received my City and Guilds’ certificate in 2007. In the run up to my wedding I created my own tiara and bridesmaids’ jewellery and eventually friends encouraged me to sell my designs. I launched my business Helenka White Design and website in September 2010 and it has been revamped twice since. I also have changed my logo from a nautilus to the current one which shows a cat.

Though I started with silver-smithing I mostly work with polymer clay. I love that it’s such a colourful and versatile medium. You can mimic all sorts of semi- precious stones, wood, dichroic glass and other surfaces with it and of course you can use it to sculpt with. I have mostly taught myself from books and attended a couple of polymer clay workshops. I also like to experiment a lot. My plan this year is to spend more time using silver clay, which is incredibly expensive and to create my own texture sheets using the carving method . One of the reasons why I haven’t worked much with silver is really the expense. I do have a hallmark though and am aiming to use it this year.

What is it that you enjoy most about your work?

Coming up with new designs and trying out new materials and tools. Just experimenting and enjoying the process and improving with each design. You never really stop learning. I also love when something works out well and I get nice comments by peers and fans. When people buy from me and are happy that is the best feeling. I love happy customers.

Have you achieved anything in your crafting life that you are particularly proud of?

The fact that I haven’t given up on the business despite the economic downturn is something I could be proud of. And the fact that I do this despite my disabling chronic pain.

Other than crafting what else do you like to do?

I love to chill out with our rescue cat Bobby who is now an older lady. She will be 14 this year. I read a lot too and I started to paint and draw. I am exploring different mediums to see which one I like the most. So currently I am learning how to use acrylic paints. I am following tutorial videos on Art Tutor which is a really good website. I also spend time at our allotment when the weather is not too rubbish. It still needs a lot of work. I am not really Mrs Green Finger but it’s great to be rewarded for your efforts with fresh produce you can cook your dinner with. Last year we ended up with a lot of salad and spinach. This April we have to plant lots of new veg. I am hoping that the strawberries will do well this year. Though we might have to wait for another year.

If you had to choose your favourite from your creations, which would it be?

Oh, this is so hard. I love most of my sculptures – my most recent one is a Dalmatian dog. I also had fun with my Valais Blacknose Sheep (though they were very time consuming to make). I make a lot of cats and really like my curled up cats. I love my dragons and my unicorn.  I also like my journal covers and my latest design which is a cover for a A6 sketch book. From my jewellery I would say I love my Nautilus designs, because they are fun to make and have been popular and my folded pendants. Gosh this is really hard.

What advice would you offer to someone new starting out in the craft world?

Experiment with tools and materials first and find your niche. Try to master one technique and build on your skills. Learn from others and connect with fellow crafters and people outside your own niche. Don’t waste your money on expensive branding or advertising. Take courses or teach yourself from books or YouTube videos. Road test your products first – so make only a couple of samples of an item and see if there’s a market for it. Don’t undersell yourself. Pricing is the biggest issue for crafters – they really get hung up about it. Make sure you acknowledge the hours you put into a design and also factor in the perceived value of your products. Handmade is special and people who really appreciate handmade are happy to pay for this accordingly! And don’t be tempted to buy lots of supplies when you haven’t found your niche yet. Good luck and enjoy your crafting journey.

If you could change one thing about what you do, what would it be?

Have more confidence in approaching retailers and also getting more mobile. I am scared of driving and haven’t really driven much since passing my test in the 80’s. It has been a real stumbling block for me.

So, I am relying on my husband for driving, which is not ideal. And pacing myself more. When you live with chronic pain it’s not easy to do.

What do you think has helped your business the most?

Haha – my customers of course. Seriously though, I think finding the right communities online has helped. Especially when times are tough it’s nice to know you’re not alone. Networking with peers has been helpful.

Has any person helped or supported you more than any other?

I wouldn’t say a particular person per se, but I feel a bit supported by the various groups I belong to including the Professional Crafter’s Guild. I do have a few loyal customers who have come back to me to buy more jewellery and have also been very supportive by sharing my work. I would say that my little sister (who is taller than me 😉) is one of my most loyal customers and she really loves my work. So Lissy – if you’re reading this – thank you. I also had a few friends who have supported me over the years.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

When I was 16, I had acting lessons at a private acting school. It was pretty awful – 6 months of improvisation and not really getting to work on a role. I got bored with it and left. Acting is not for me as I am an introvert!

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