Maikki Hurmerinta from Finland creates under the brand Mai Darling Designs. She runs own business by sculpting and hand-painting cute characters from polymer clay: "Everything I create gives me a lot of joy and that is something I wish to give out through my work," she says.
Enjoy the interview with Maikki and be inspired by her incredible artwork.
Your Instagram profile is full of cute fantasy characters. Why did you choose this topic?
I've loved telling stories and building up my own universes ever since I was a kid and evidently never grew out of it. I started sculpting with animal characters and after a while along came the ghosties. It has all evolved very naturally but I think one of the main reasons is that besides making animal characters, I long to create something that is completely from my own imagination and sharing that with people.
Ghosts and other monsters often appear among your characters. In your cute way of making them, however, no one will be afraid of them. What do you think about their colour design?
Nature plays a big role in my color designs. I spend a lot of my time in nature and I try to absorb as much inspiration as I can. It can be the exact colors of a sunset or a certain feeling I get when experiencing something in nature. I also take a lot of inspiration from the four seasons and other natural elements, like space.
Which part of the creation process do you enjoy the most?
Each step of the making process has its own magic but I have two clear favourites: painting and photography. When I'm sculpting a new piece, I often feel that it might never look good. When I paint the piece, the true characteristics of that piece are slowly revealed. Working with all the different colors is also very therapeutic and makes me extremely happy.
For me the process doesn't end when I actually finish the piece as I consider photography a very essential part of my artistic process. When I look at my pieces through the viewfinder, I'm able to see them differently and really think about the key details and characteristics of that piece and what kind of feelings or stories I want them to portray.
Do you sometimes experiment with polymer clay or do you use only proven techniques and methods?
I experiment all the time. That's what keeps things fresh, interesting and challenging for me. I love experimenting with materials, different tools and techniques and there's always something new to discover and learn.
You paint and then varnish every polymer figure. So you basically use a polymer clay in neutral colour?
Yes. I use Super Sculpey for most of my pieces which means the base is either beige or gray or something in between so I paint each piece by hand. I've worked with a lot of different brands and types of clay in the past and Super Sculpey and Cosclay are definitely my current favourites to work with.
Do you make mostly decorative objects from polymer clay or do you also make jewellery?
These days I make mostly decorative objects but I do occasionally make some necklaces and pins too.
Have you ever experienced a moment that you had no idea what character to create? What do you do at times like this?
Most of the time I have too many ideas floating around which in a way, is a very similar problem. I keep a list of ideas that goes years back so it's a very easy method to just pick something out of that list if I'm not sure what to make. Sometimes if I feel overwhelmed and stuck with my work, I try to slow down and simply take some time to just dream up new pieces and ideas. I also have amazing followers and sometimes I just ask what people would love to see me make. Sometimes the discussion goes naturally there and it's amazing when brainstorming becomes a collective experience. It can be incredibly inspiring and lead to new discoveries with one's work.
Is the art more of a job or a hobby for you?
Art in general is my full-time job and Mai Darling Designs is my main brand. I'm also a jewelry/lapidary smith by trade and do that work under my official company name, KARUI.
How many hours a day on average do you spend by creating?
That depends a lot. Running a business takes a lot of time away from the actual creation and there are days the administrative work takes up all the hours in a day. Then again, there are days I sit tightly by my desk creating for hours. My general rule is to spend some time creating every day since my income depends on that.
Do you have someone who helps you in any way? Whether it's photography of finished products, e-shop and others?
My business is pretty much a one-woman show. I design and make my pieces, take photos, run the shop, pack all the pieces, run all my social media accounts and answer all the emails and messages. I do have an accountant to help me with bookkeeping.
What do you think about social networks when it comes to the promotion of artists?
I think they're absolutely essential these days when it comes to promoting your work and also connecting with other artists and being part of the community. There isn't a huge market in my country for the kind of work I do in Mai Darling Designs, so social networking is crucial when it comes to getting my work seen by potential customers all around the world. The community also offers a lot of help in this aspect as us artists love to support each other by sharing the work of others. I also believe that a lot of customers give value to the fact that they know the artist at least on some level.
You have a lot of followers on your Instagram. How long does it take to manage your account?
It depends a bit but on average approximately an hour a day. I try to be smart with the time I spend on social media but then again running a business account is much more than just posting pictures. I try to reply to comments and messages as much as I can to show my appreciation to everyone who has taken a bit of their time to leave a nice comment and connect with people who follow my work. I also want to be an active member of the community by supporting other artists too.
Do you plan individual posts and stories in advance or do you share what pops into your mind?
I often have some plans and ideas for future posts, especially when it comes to publishing new work but I don't have a strict and organized publishing schedule as I like to keep things flexible. I don't use apps to plan out and automatically publish posts in advance.
You also do commission work. Is there one that is etched in your memory and that you still remember?
Each commission is very special in their own way and all of them leave an imprint. It's always a very personal experience when people share something from their lives that they want me to interpret for a piece of art. One of the most memorable one's are the pieces that were made to honor a lost member of the family.
In what most exotic country for you your characters ended up so far?
I don't know about exotic but I've shipped to New Zealand which is on the opposite side of the world from us (Finland) and to me that is a very intriguing thought.
What do you offer to your fans on Patreon? Is this another form of earnings for you? How would you bring this platform closer to those who have not heard of it, yet?
Patreon is a membership platform that is a way to join your favourite creator's community and pay them for making the things you love. For a creator Patreon is a way of earning and also connecting more privately with our followers. Hopefully in the future the income from Patreon will help me to cover my mandatory business expenses taking the extra pressure off, making sure I can continue creating and evolving my art and hopefully make it more affordable to people.
I offer my Patrons the possibility to see sneak peeks and making-of videos of upcoming pieces and also some tips and tricks. Sometimes even the possibility to participate in exclusive shop updates or getting a spot for a commission before anyone else! As my Patreon grows, I'm hoping to offer more variations such as digital content.
What is your wish for 2021?
The number one wish would be for me and my family to stay in good health. In terms of business, my biggest wish is to be able to continue making art and growing as an artist.