Claire Hender, founder of Little Storm, creates beautiful, delicate jewellery inspired by geometry, patterns and even woodland animals.
Being a big fan of Little Storm and the unique pieces she makes, I was really keen to ask Claire some questions about her creative process.
What drew you to jewellery design, and how did you start?
I’ve always enjoyed making things. When I was a child I was obsessed with making knitted people, for example. But although I did an art foundation course after my A-levels, I eventually decided against doing a design course at university (I ended up doing History of Art instead).
When I got my first job in an office I stopped making things for quite a while, and there was a bit of a gap in my creative life. I started to yearn to make things again and this eventually lead me to do a six week evening class at City Lit, learning how to make a simple silver ring.
We had this lovely Japanese lady teaching us the basics of silversmithing, and I just got completely hooked on how exciting it all was! We were heating up silver sheet with massive blowtorches, learning to solder things together (with quite limited success in my case at first), and finding out how metals were given textures and other surface patterns.
I loved the fact that you could end up with beautiful and delicate little objects, using such hot and dusty workshop processes. I ended up doing more evening classes, and then eventually did my City & Guilds Certificates up to Level 3, which I did part-time over a period of three years.
What did you need to set up Little Storm and where did you source it?
The City & Guilds training I did was really helpful, as it gave me a good grounding in how to go about designing things, as well as exposure to a wide range of traditional silversmithing techniques, and how to use more modern materials.
I had built up the basic tools and equipment I needed to keep making things from home while I was studying, and although it does limit me a little bit not having a proper workshop, it obviously saves a huge amount in start-up costs.
I work four days a week, and for almost a year after my course I spent my day off working out what I wanted to make. Going back to designs I’d played around with at college, refining them, and learning more and more about different materials; where to source things from, and also where to start outsourcing some of the production (casters, gold platers, etc).
There were a lot of frustrating days when I didn’t quite know where I was going with any of it, but eventually I got to a collection of pieces that seemed to be working. In terms of the practical business-y things, setting up Little Storm was quite easy. Once I’d decided on a name (which took ages!) I bought my domain, and registered for an Etsy shop where I could sell my wares once they were ready.
I was also extremely lucky to meet a friend of a friend one night in a pub who offered to help me take photos of my work. She’s a graphic designer, and amazingly she also offered to design all the Little Storm branding for me, because she wanted to have some new work to add to her portfolio. Lauren Mahoney is an absolute angel!
Earlier this year my boyfriend set up my website for me too (another angel!) and suddenly I felt like Little Storm was a real thing, and I was actually a designer/maker, which is what I’d wanted for a long time.
Your work has quite a unique style, how do you create your pieces?
It’s usually a mixture between quickly drawing things in my sketchbook, making little card models to test out shapes and sizes, etc. I then tend to start working up actual pieces with cheaper metals such as copper first, to see if it works.
My animal necklaces started with a book of Victorian silhouette illustrations that I found in a bookshop, while my geometric pendant and earring designs came partly from some shapes I’d played around with at college, and partly from some photos and drawings I’d done whilst looking at the reflected shapes from some glass sculptures at the V&A.
The lace texture roller-printing technique I use is something I learnt at college. I had quite a few spare bits of textured metal left over after my course, so I started to play around with them (partly to save money on buying new materials, if I’m completely honest!) and the lace texture started to be a bit of a signature thing for me, in my current collections at least.
Sometimes I find it hard to pinpoint exactly where something has come from, as things tend to evolve as you go along; rejecting one bit, keeping another. I also use design software (Adobe Illustrator and InDesign) to try out some of the shapes I use at different scales, and this is how my lasercut wood and acrylic pendant designs came about.
How do you find time to be creative around your day job?
Um…it’s quite hard! I’m lucky that my day job is usually only 4 days a week. I’ve also become quite disciplined about dedicating some of my evening and weekend time to doing all the things I want to do on Little Storm stuff. Whether it’s squeezing in an hour or two after work updating Etsy listings, or spending a Saturday photographing new work.
Because it’s quite different from my normal 9-5 work, and it’s entirely my thing, I don’t begrudge the time I spend on it at all. But I think it also helps that my day job is in the design world, albeit at a completely different scale (I’m an office manager in an architecture office). I guess it just helps that design and creativity is valued in my day-to-day world too.
I also have a Google spreadsheet ‘action plan’, which is a crucial part of my life these days! It helps me to carve out time for designing and making, and managing the business side of things, which inevitably tends to get squeezed in between all the other tasks. I love the variety of it all though.
What advice would you give someone looking to change careers to do something different?
Well, I haven’t exactly changed careers myself. I suppose you could say I’ve taken the safe route, by setting up and managing Little Storm as a sideline project. I wouldn’t say everyone should play it safe like that, sometimes you just have to go for things!
But… a great way to test out a creative sideline (and not also starve to death) is to try to reduce your day job working hours a bit if you can, and just do it in your spare time. It takes away the sheer terror / potential poverty of burning your bridges and leaping straight in.
I’d love to be able to devote more time to Little Storm, now it’s up and running, but I also wonder whether I’d enjoy it half as much if I did it all the time and suddenly had to make my living entirely from it. I suspect I would not.
So my advice to people would be to try things out, take classes, take a week off to do pottery in Cornwall or whatever, and then if you find something you absolutely love find a way to integrate it into your existing life in gradual steps. Much less scary!
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