Thank goodness for happy accidents. That’s how Karolina Grudniewska discovered her love of ceramics in Dublin, Ireland. Karolina is now a full-time Etsy seller, and her shop karoArt is seeing increased international traffic. However, her path to success was long and winding, and her ambitions were often thwarted by a lack of confidence. “I always had a creative urge in me but also a head full of limitations,” she says. “I got caught up in a job and school race, with very little time for myself, which does not work in favor of creativity.”
Karolina experimented with several creative jobs and fields of study before saving enough to try out her own interior design business. Only then did she happen upon ceramics, finding two bags of clay as a gift from her partner under the Christmas tree. Little did she (or anyone else) know this gift would unleash a passion that would evolve into a fruitful gig. “I was swept away,” Karolina explains. “It was like being in a right place at the right time — I had freedom for discoveries. I was as surprised with this turn in my career as anybody else.”
You can feel the thrill of surprise in karoArt’s beautiful designs, which range from yarn bowls to fox-shaped butter dishes, each one of a kind, drawing inspiration from organic life. Her pieces find their charm in unexpected touches such as hand-drawn fish inside a cat-food bowl. Read on for her tips on finding your passion, keeping things simple, and appealing to international shoppers.
Working in ceramics seems quite process-heavy — what’s your favorite part?
The process is what’s so fascinating about working with this material. Clay dictates the pace of work and doesn’t like to be rushed. You take a step, then you back out for a few hours, or until the next day, and continue when the pieces are ready for the next phase. It requires patience, planning, and systematic work.
I usually work in batches, making a few pieces of the same kind at a time. I like the moment when I feel like I’m flying through my work and at the end of the week when I have a shelf full of completed pieces left to dry. I also love the “big finale” — the end of the process, when I open the kiln with pieces glazed and ready to go.
What was life like before karoArt?
My primary goal after finishing school was to study at Art Academy in Wroclaw, Poland. I was very determined, attending portfolio preparation courses for almost two years, but then I chickened out before the exams and ended up earning a BA in English instead.
While in Poland, I worked as an English teacher, but I felt it wasn’t my vocation. When I moved to Ireland, I worked as a florist — I started in little flower shops and ended up in a large, very posh hotel. It was very creative at the beginning; I learned loads, and enjoyed it for a good while. However, I never liked the corporate side of my work and I always hoped it was a transitional job. I lasted there for five years and it offered me a good and steady position when I needed security. I later went back to college to study interior architecture, hoping that this would be a solution to having a creative job that could sustain me.
You’re a self-taught ceramist. How did you approach a medium you had no formal training in?
I find working with clay very intuitive. Once you get the basics, there’s a world of possibilities in front of you. It takes hours and hours of practice, with many trials and many failures, but each broken piece teaches you a lesson. Practice and repetition brought me to proficiency, but I feel like I’m learning a new thing almost every day, and there’s still so much I’d like to discover and learn.
How much of your sales come from outside of Ireland?
I have well-established sales in my local market — online and in local stores and shows — but Etsy allows me to be found by international customers. Most of my Etsy sales come from the US, and I’ve also had quite a few sales from Australia. In the last year or so, I’ve noticed increased sales from Europe, mainly from the UK. Even local Irish sales have gone up recently.
The awareness of Etsy is growing in Europe. I remember when I used to mention having an Etsy shop, and it didn’t mean much in Ireland — now most people know what I’m talking about and lots of them are even “Etsy addicts.”
How do you keep international customers in mind when listing an item?
I try to keep tags very simple and obvious, without fancy words or flowery descriptive phrases — I go straight to the point. When it comes to item descriptions, I like to keep them simple, too. It makes scanning through the description easier to understand for customers to whom English is a foreign language. I explain sizes in both inches and millimeters, and I like to add personal touches and a bit of wit to my descriptions.
What are your international shipping tips?
Because my parcels are bulky and heavy, I’ve found it extremely helpful to set up an account with the local postal services provider. In my case, it was a revolutionary step. It allowed me to offer fixed preferential prices on shipping to many countries worldwide. I no longer need to risk bringing bulky parcels to my local post office and waste time in lines. I have a friendly courier who comes to collect the parcels with a day’s notice. I’ve set up my account so that all postage fees are charged monthly and debited from my bank account. Also, I wrap my packages carefully — I prefer to be safe than sorry. I also keep track of all my packages going out, taking down the addressee details together with the weight of the parcel and tracking number.
How did you discover your passion for making the items in your shop? Share your story in comments below.