I hate to admit it but my cracked and dry heels are what led me to interview Karen Buoncristiano of Crafty by Nature. Karen and I first met through our Etsy shops but reconnected this spring at the Green on the Green event in the Old Worthington Square. At that time, I just stopped by to say hi and casually checked out her lotions and pottery. Little did I know that my heels would thank me forever!!! I was skeptical but Karen told me that her Skin Repair would work wonders for my problem so I bought a jar thinking “Yeah, right! Just like all of the other products that promised relief!” But, guess what? She was right on! And on top of it, her products are environmentally safe, use all natural ingredients and smell delightful. Hence, an interview to learn more about her, her products, process and philosophy seemed in order. Karen was kind enough to let me visit her in her creative space (her home) and we sat and chatted for two hours while she created a lovely vase on her wheel her home studio.
First, I’ll give you a little bit of background about Karen and her husband and fellow potter, Nick Singer. Originally from the Maryland area (Annapolis, to be exact), Karen started school at the University of Wyoming because tuition was reasonable and a friend was also going to go there. However, after 2 1/2 years there, she decided to come back East and completed her college education at Towson University in Maryland, majoring in geography. While there, she met her husband, Nick, they married and settled into the Maryland area. When housing costs sky-rocketed in the area, they chose to move to Columbus (Nick’s hometown) in 2005 so they could get more ‘bang for their buck’ and bought a lovely little house in Blacklick. She now works full time for Columbia Gas as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapper full-time. However, if she could support herself doing her pottery and soaps/lotions full-time, she would certainly jump on the opportunity!
Karen began to learn about pottery and throwing on the wheel while in Wyoming where she found it was one of her passions. Since moving to Columbus, she has taken several courses in ceramics at the Cultural Arts Center and doesn’t see herself stopping any time soon. Nick is mostly a self-taught potter, getting guidance from Karen along the way as needed. She classifies their art as “…mostly functional ware. Occasionally, we do more decorative work as well and incorporate it into functional ware like plates, bowls, mugs, and so forth. We try to make it practical and useful for people.” The name of her and Nick’s business is Crafty by Nature because everything they make is inspired by nature and it is in their ‘nature’ to create things. They’ve been in business since 2010 making ceramics, natural soaps, and lotions.
She says that it all started with her making lotions and simultaneously dabbling in ceramics classes. After obtaining her own ceramics equipment including a wheel and a kiln (an incredible buy she found on Craig’s list), her husband came on board, taking a keen interest in creating ceramics. He is now officially her co-crafter, making about half of their ceramic creations.
Their art is constantly evolving as they experiment with all of their creations. They recently learned a pretty cool technique called sgraffito which involves painting the pottery with a slip or underglaze and then scratching away the desired designs to reveal the clay color underneath. Although Karen leans towards planning ahead what she is making on the wheel prior to beginning a project, she often finds that she makes ‘happy accidents’ (what happened while she and I talked as she originally planned on making a bowl!)
Did you ever take into consideration how time intensive making soap, lotion and pottery is? Having taken ceramics classes myself, I was aware of numerous steps that must be taken to make durable and high quality ceramics so I understood that prior to meeting with Karen. However, I never really thought about how long it takes to make soap or lotions and how many attempts get thrown away before the right initial formula is created. It takes her about 2 hours to make a batch of soap. The process can be complicated and you have to work hard to avoid making soaps too harsh or slimy; the soap maker is looking for is a balanced bar of soap with nice, fluffy lather that also moisturizes in addition to being cleansing. The very last step in her process is to add extra moisturizing with what is called ‘superfatting’ the soap, something that many soap producers do not do. Her ingredients are purchased locally whenever possible. Shea butter is an exception since the karite tree, or shea tree, only grows in Africa. She says she still feels it is a sound practice as the African economy needs bolstering. After the soap is made, it requires at least 4 weeks of curing time before the soap is ready for use.
Writing recipes for making lotion can be tricky as well. After tons of research, she began experimenting to write her own formula. Although most formulas use calendula as their healing agents, Karen has found that comfrey is just as good if not better so she incorporates it into her Skin Repair. That leads to how Skin Repair came to be. As she and Nick usually make most of their Christmas presents, Skin Repair began as part of their gardening themed gift baskets one year. Karen wanted to include a salve for healing gardeners’ hands and wha-la, Skin Repair was created! It has gone through several transformations; first called ‘Gardeners’ Hand Salve’ but she eventually settled on Skin Repair. Believe me, it does exactly that so the name truly describes the product. That is just one of the lotions she makes. She also makes Almond, Lavender and Vanilla body lotions in tall 8 ounce bottles. I have tried her Almond lotion and it feels luxurious, smells refreshing and is all natural. Other popular lotions are the Healthy Hands and the Body Butter, each made using both comfrey and calendula infusions.
Crafty by Nature’s philosophy can be summed up best by Karen:
We always strive to be eco-minded. Our clays are obtained locally and we recycle and reuse them constantly; no clay is ever thrown away. Our ingredients in our soaps and lotions are always natural. I did recently find room to improve our eco-footprint, however. I recently re-wrote my soap recipe completely to be sure to exclude any palm oil after learning about the consequences of palm oil harvesting. I think it is important to go palm-free because palm oil is harvested in such a destructive and non-sustainable manner, causing mass deforestation and releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases. Now my new and improved soaps are not only great for your skin and complexion, but they are also now quite nice for the environment as they are officially palm-free!
Karen also indicated that she tends to ‘under’ produce rather than mass produce because she doesn’t want product to sit on a shelf indefinitely. Freshness is essential to her soaps and lotions’ effectiveness and great scent.
I am happy to say that their products can be purchased at two local stores in addition to her online shop. Ceramics and lotions can be purchased at EcoFlora florist and gift shop at 3030 N High St. and their lotions and soaps can also be found at THREAD in Grandview located at 1306 Grandview Ave. The online shop is found at: www.craftybynaturestudio.etsy.com
They will also be vending in person at Old Hilliardfest on September 14, and then at Trillium Fest on September 28 (located on Downs Chapel Drive in Delaware, Ohio) and next up, the Green with Envy Art Affair at Franklin Park Conservatory onOctober 12 and 13. To find out more about future events, check out their events list on the website at: http://www.craftybynaturestudio.com/upcoming-shows
When asked if they had received any awards or accolades for their creations, she stated: “The best honor or accolade we receive is from our frequent returning customers. Each time they return, it makes us feel so wonderful and thankful!” I have to say that I am very thankful for HER, her creativity and willingness to interview with me last weekend.
And I know I will make her happy as I will be a returning customer for a very long time. I walked out of her home with 3 jars of skin repair!
Contact info for readers:
Karen Buoncristiano, Crafty by Nature