Friday, 17 August 2012

Tea and a Chat with Kevin Cooper

Hello Kevin!  Good to see you, the kettle’s just boiled – what would you like to drink?

Tea please, it’s all I drink.  Milk one sugar, thanks.

So, tell us a bit about yourself and your business.

I’ll confess I’m pushing sixty though I can hardly believe it! I don’t know where the years have gone. I’ve been married for 35 years; we have two grown children making their way in the world. I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember, I’ve tried lots of crafts, I can’t resist “having a go”. So I’ve done everything from macramé to pewter work, wood work, wood carving, plaster casting, life casting, I paint in oils and acrylics when the muse is with me. I’ve made musical instruments like Appalachian dulcimers. I’d better stop now.

What inspired you to start your creative business? How did it all begin? 

Around 5 years ago I gave up an awful job and as the kids were grown and no longer a drain on the finances, (well not so much) with Pat’s support I decided to turn my stained glass hobby into a business. I made terrariums, jewellery boxes, suncatchers, and paperweights. Then I saw a stained glass kaleidoscope, again I couldn’t resist. So I started making more kaleidoscopes than anything.

How has your business changed and developed since it started?

The biggest change was by accident, a couple of years ago whilst browsing the internet, which I do too often (its research honest). I came upon “Steampunk” it was a revelation, how it passed my by till then I’ve no idea. The thing was, although I hadn’t heard of it to the best of my knowledge, I was so obviously a steampunk at heart, it was as if I’d found my place in the universe.

I’m not going to describe the genre; for one thing everyone has their own ideas. Let’s just imagine if the Victorians had computers and other areas of our modern technology. So your computer would have a mahogany and brass case and might be steam powered. So naturally I had to build a steampunk kaleidoscope. Again the internet plays an important role; I put up my new website, and continue to make a variety of steampunk devices and gadgets, including some stage props for the London Horror Festival. Recently my wife was given some polymer clay as a gift, happily she passed it on to me, so I’ve begun to make steampunk influenced jewellery.

What are the main ways you promote your business?  Which methods have been the most successful for you?

After trying various craft fairs with little success, I concentrated mainly on my website and approaching venues like craft centres. Unfortunately most don’t even have the good grace to reply with a refusal. But it pays off sometimes; it helps to enclose some good photos of your work. I got good orders from one very popular local craft centre.
 I don’t really do anything other than steampunk work now and pretty much all promotion is done on the internet, most of my customers for kaleidoscopes are American God bless them. I’m sorry to say that after years of making crafts and spending time on the internet the only conclusion I can draw is that our friends in the USA value craft work and hand made goods, much more than people in this country. And they don’t just appreciate it, they buy it. It’s just a shame that shipping costs can be so expensive.

What’s your workspace like?  Can we have a sneak peek?  And do you have any workspace organisation tips for the rest of us?

 Of course any photos are of the workshop when it’s tidy, most of the time it looks a bomb went off in a skip! I try really, I frequently tidy up, I have to or I can’t find anything. My workshop is in the garden so it also stores most of the tools for DIY, and with a Victorian house there’s plenty of that.

The best tip is “A place for everything and everything in its place”. It does work if you can do it. I’m trying to have racks and holders all round the work bench for the tools which are used most often, and I never throw away a biscuit tin, and I get plenty of those!

I also tend to take over the house, woodworking and metal working is mainly done in the workshop, polymer clay, plasticine, plaster casting, papier mache and photography is done in the house. Now my son has left home I’m using his room, but that’s up two flights of steep stairs which is a bit of a strain.

What are the best and worst bits of running your business?

The absolute best bit for me is making stuff. I’m not really happy unless I’m actually creating something, designing is fun too, but I like to get to the workbench.
The worst bit is paper work , try as I might I can’t be organised, I misplace receipts and paper work in general, that’s the good thing about buying materials online, all of my email receipts go straight in a folder on the pc. Thank god for accountants.

What other small (or not-so-small) creative businesses do you admire?

There are quite few people I admire for the creative genius and their skill at producing their products; many of them are steampunks too.

I particularly admire a young woman from Maine USA, Sheryl, she works under the name Noadi - if I could achieve what she does I’d be happy. She designs and makes polymer clay jewellery, and she has her website, a separate blog, her Etsy shop and she writes tutorials on all related topics, she also has a website devoted to the whys and wherefores of running a small business. Oh and she makes Youtube videos. I’m tired just writing about it.

What tips can you give to others who run (or hope to run) a small creative business?

If you’re hoping to run a business, go for it! It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, though I know businesses can fail through being under capitalised. Only buy what’s essential, you probably don’t need all the latest gadgets. I’m a great believer in making do when it comes to tools and equipment.

Price you work properly from the start, you must charge for materials and time. You want to make a profit. Too many hobbyist dream of being in business but practically give the work away. That not only makes it difficult for full time crafters but they’re in for a real shock when they do try to turn professional.
Promote your self all the time, be professional, if you design your own work then you’re a designer, boast about it. Shout it from the roof tops. Making stuff is easy; selling it is the hard part.

What are your hopes, plans or ambitions for the future? 

I may be approaching the time when people look forward to retiring but I would just like to go on doing what I do for as long as possible. I’ve got a notebook full of ideas for kaleidoscopes, sculptures jewellery etc.

 Finally, where are the places we can find you online if we want to partake in a little friendly cyber stalking?           

Thanks so much for stopping by – it was so nice to be able to take the time to chat with you!

 It was a pleasure, between the workshop and the internet I don’t get out much.

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