Unless you’ve been living on a desert island without internet connection for the past twelve years, you must have heard about Cindy Lietz and her Polymer Clay Tutor project. Cindy is an accomplished polymer clay artist but she is much more than just that. She is a teacher, constant experimenter, a successful businesswoman and, above all, a constant source of inspiration for the international polymer clay community. We wanted to find out what is behind Cindy’s undying enthusiasm and creativity, so we asked her to share her ample experience and insights with our members.
You are very well-known in the polymer clay community. How would you introduce yourself and what you do to someone who is not familiar with your work?
Well that can be tricky, since most people don’t understand careers in the creative world and especially one in polymer clay. So usually with an older stranger I will just say, “Doug (my husband) and I have an online business teaching jewelry making.” If they ask more, I tell them it’s with a colored art clay called polymer clay. They often say, “You can make money at that?” I say, “Yes actually, but it’s a lot of work.” And the conversation either dies there or they start asking more questions. Older people often think it’s not “a real career” and that it would be impossible to make any money at it.
For younger strangers I say, “I am a YouTuber with a Polymer Clay Channel and we just got verified” They know what that means and usually pull out their phones and look us up on the spot!! They see we have over 100,000 followers and are sometimes impressed. Young people often think it would be cool to be a YouTuber, similar to being a celebrity. Many also think that you must be pretty famous and make lots of money as a YouTuber, which can be true but not for everyone and it’s way harder to do than they think. But in the claying world I just say, “Hi, I am Cindy Lietz, your Polymer Clay Tutor”. Most clayers have watched at least a couple of my videos on YouTube when they were beginning, so unless they don’t go online, or don’t speak English they will usually have heard of me. We’ve had a consistent presence in the polymer clay community since 2008 and although not considered one of the earliest polymer clay influencers like Donna Kato and Judith Skinner, we have been around for a very, very long time as far as online businesses go in this niche.
When and how did you get the idea for Polymer Clay Tutor?
From 1998 to 2008 I had been teaching night school craft classes in multiple mediums at over thirty locations. We had very young children and would work from home prepping craft kits for my classes during the day and teaching during the evenings. It worked out well because my husband Doug worked in sales for a television show and later an investment firm but had his office in the house. That meant he was always around and could take care of the kids when I left for the evening. We did that for ten years until a few things started changing.
Doug was laid off from his job - he was beginning to hate it anyway, so that was fine - and he wanted to start a business. The internet was growing, was becoming easier to do and people were moving away from taking classes at night school. Plus raising kids, prepping kits all day and teaching all over the city at night was getting exhausting. We needed something else.
We started a business called “Look What I Drawed!” Kid Art Company where I would take children’s original drawings and blow them up and create original acrylic paintings with their designs. It was a really cool concept. We sold a few paintings and participated in a couple of large community art projects, but it was an idea that never really took off like we wanted and needed it to, so we decided to focus on what had worked and went back to teaching, only this time we did it online.
When teaching crafts in person I had seen trends come and go. I taught paper making, punched tin, paper folding, painted wine glasses, broken china mosaic, painted ornaments, silverware door chimes, card making, what have you. But you could only teach some of the popular topics for a while, before people weren’t interested anymore and then you’d have to come up with something new. After building a website for the Kid Art Company, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy to “change topics” all the time. We needed a craft that had been around forever and wouldn’t go away any time soon. So, we picked Beads and Beading as a company name and started with polymer clay bead making tutorials for beginners.
I don’t remember the year exactly when we realized that we weren’t really about beads and beading. What we really were was a tutor for people wanting to learn everything they could about polymer clay. A polymer clay tutor - so we started calling ourselves that. Our url on our website still says Beads and Beading but we are currently in the process of re-building our website. It will soon become Polymer Clay Tutor, which should clear up any confusion.
How did you start working with polymer clay? Are you self-taught or did you attend a lot of classes?
Back when I was teaching classes, around 1997 I think, I watched The Carol Duvall Show. It was a long running TV series all about crafts, every kind of craft. One day she had a guest - Donna Kato - and she made this thing called a cane out of polymer clay! I had a couple of blocks of Fimo lying around that I had never really done much with. After seeing her make that cane, I pulled my clay out and made a simple cane and some cane slice beads. I was quite pleased with myself and used the beads in one of my Silverware Door Chime class kits.
The more I played with the clay the more I fell in love with it, but I found I had lots of trouble with it. Baking issues, conditioning issues, breakage, bubbles, fingerprints, you know, all the problems everyone has. But there was hardly any info out there to help. Donna Kato was only on a few of the episodes and I would have to record them on my VCR just to see them again. There were only a couple books and most of them had lots of important info missing. There were no guilds or classes I could take in my area, so I was on my own.
Since I, a craft teacher, had such trouble, I knew others probably had trouble too, so I figured when I got better at it, I would teach it. Then like I said already, we had decided to start an online Beads and Beading teaching site, so I started with a Polymer Clay Bead Making for Beginners Course since I had so recently solved a lot of the problems in the learning curve. That course is still available, since the info is still good after all these years, but it could definitely use an update. The super dated picture of me and the Blue Bubbles in the marketing materials need to go! Plus, I have learned A LOT since those beginning days!
With running your website and YouTube, do you still have some time to actually make art with polymer clay?
Not nearly as much as I would like! Especially right at this current moment. We are at the tail end of finishing a 4-year-long upgrade to our website and membership platform. So, rather than diluting our time by adding a lot of new content, we are putting all our efforts into finishing this massive project and doing a relaunch. Up until this point, we have created over 236 paid tutorials, 2000 behind the scenes videos for our monthly members, 777 YouTube Videos, 163 hours of Facebook LIVE Q&A’s, hundreds of Instagram posts and a handful of TikTok videos. Most of that content is evergreen, which means that people can still get value from watching it, even years later. And they do! Even though we haven’t posted a new video on YouTube for a couple years now, we’ll get back to it when the website is done, we still get over 100,000 views and 1,400 new subscribers every month! I really look forward to getting back to filming tutorials, reviews and YouTube content though. Spending all this time at the computer is really difficult for me. I don’t know how Doug has been doing all the customer service, editing, business management, accounting and everything web and business related all these years. It’s horrible for a creative spirit like me!
Where does your inspiration come from and how do you stay creative?
My inspiration mostly comes from nature, but a lot also comes from just playing with new supplies and tools. Sometimes a new paint or tool will come into my studio and I just start playing with it, to see what it can do. All kinds of new ideas just start flowing when I say, “What if?”
I see potential polymer clay projects everywhere. Every sky is a Skinner Blend. Every leaf is a cane. Every flower is a pendant. It’s everywhere! For me, I have so many ideas that I will never, ever get to them all. Between all the nature that inspired me every day, to the new tools and supplies sitting on my workbench, just waiting to be explored, I have never felt like I couldn’t be creative. I have felt tired and not wanted to create before, but never stuck for new ideas.
What is your creative process like? Do you have a routine or any creative rituals?
I love nature! Every weekday morning for the last twenty years I have gone for a walk through the neighborhood with my best friend Diane. We pick up rocks, twigs, flowers, grasses, along the way that have pretty colors, interesting textures, or wonderful shapes. I take pictures on the walks, although I really don’t post them as much as I should. I have a large ceramic bowl filled with little bits of nature that are a constant inspiration.
My creative work routine is filming all that goes on at my workbench and putting them into a resource vault for our members. These videos include opening and testing all the new products and tools that come into my studio, figuring out new designs and techniques, sharing thoughts and views on what is happening in our industry and the trends moving forward and so on. If I am at my bench, then the camera is rolling.
Our vault will be an enormous resource for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in the world of polymer clay. With the huge amount of video content though, it has challenges for finding exactly the answer you’re looking for quickly, which is a big part of why we’re building a new site with amazing search capabilities for finding that info fast. Soon, when the new site launches a member will be able to type in keywords like Faber Castell Gelatos. The search tool will go out and find every single time I talked about or used Gelatos in the videos across the site. Then it will show the exact timestamp where it was mentioned in the video! That is incredible, even for my own use! After all the thousands of hours of video, there is no way that I can remember everything I have tried and said over the years. I will be using the site to find answers and ideas as much as my members will!
What is the absolutely best thing about polymer clay for you?
After all those years teaching different crafts, I think the best thing about polymer clay is that there are endless things to do with it, so you can never get bored. If I get tired of making bead jewelry, I can start making video game figurines. If I tire of canes, I can make veneers or miniatures or cosplay costumes or dollhouse food or vessels or polymer paintings or inlays for wood tables or pens or crochet hooks or art dolls or purses - you get the idea!
In your work, you must cover a wide range of tasks and responsibilities. What are your favourite activities and the least favourite ones?
My favorite activities are when my hands are busy making things. It doesn’t really matter what I am making. Whether it is a technique I am developing for a new tutorial, mixing a color recipe, or cutting out recipe cards and gluing color chips on them. I feel the most at ease when I am being productive. I also really love to be in front of the camera, teaching. It makes me feel valued for the knowledge I have built over time when I can share that with others.
What I hate having to do is sitting at the computer, creating long lists of keywords for thousands of videos that are being updated for our new website. I don’t mind doing keywords for a video I just created. It’s the going back and adding keywords to thousands of past videos that weren’t done right the first time. Working with spreadsheets and data, is the hardest kind of work for me to do. It’s difficult for me to focus and I begin making mistakes. Twenty minutes into a 3-hour job on the computer, I am ready to poke my eyes out with a pencil. I will be happy when this stage of our business is finished with. I should be creating as much new content as I can and not sitting behind a computer working on spreadsheets. That really is the worst use of a creative person’s time.
Most of your work with polymer happens online. Do you also teach offline classes? Do you attend creative retreats?
I have not attended any creative retreats, nor do I teach any offline classes, not right now anyways. But we are working towards those very things. In the future, when Covid is over and we can travel again, we do want to be part of some of the events worldwide. Both Doug and I want to travel and spend time with other creatives.
As well, our goal is to purchase and move to an oceanfront property on Vancouver Island, in the next year or two. We are actively looking for the perfect property, where we can wake up to the smell of the sea and go to sleep by the sound of the waves. A place with a beautiful studio that is large enough to host 3 - 6 day retreats in the summer and have an Airbnb year-round. A place where people can escape the busy world, relax, rejuvenate, and get inspired by the forest, the ocean and polymer clay. It is the dream we are working so hard towards every day. The dream that makes all the painful hours working on our business worth it. It will happen. How quickly, I am not sure, but as soon as we can get “all the moons to align”.
You live in Canada. What is the Canadian polymer clay community like?
There are a lot of incredibly talented Canadian polymer clay artists, but to be honest I do not really know any of them very well. Canada is a large country with a small population. So, most of the artists that I know live quite far away from each other. Plus, I think we are a mostly quiet bunch that tends to do our own thing… at least I am. It would be nice to get together with other clayers, though. I should try a little harder to connect more with others. Perhaps when we do the retreats?
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the polymer clay art that you see online? How do you stay true to your own style?
I don’t really feel overwhelmed with all the polymer clay art out there. It is wonderful to see how large the industry has become. Where I do feel overwhelmed is with how many opportunities, I feel I am missing out on or letting slip by, because we have our heads down focused on building our new site. We have seen others start later than us and grow much faster. We have turned down collaborations because we didn’t have time to add anything more to our plate. And we haven’t built our business to be as successful as we know it could be, because we have had several setbacks. In regards to staying true to my own style, I try not to look to other clayers for design inspiration. I look to nature, other mediums like wood, glass, ceramic, fabric, etc. and just let the design develop on its own. That way my voice shines through naturally. One challenge I have, is that in addition to creating my own designs for tutorials, I also do a lot of product reviews. So, I am often working with the same cutters, silkscreens, colored liquid clays, molds, and that kind of thing, so keeping my work from looking like other artist’s work can be tricky. One area I want to improve on is in design. I’ve got a lot of the technical aspects of polymer clay figured out, but I want more maturity and sophistication for the art and design side of my work. But that is always the goal for any artist, isn’t it?
Could you recommend some good books and magazines about polymer clay art?
I love the books and magazines that Lucy creates! They are the most beautiful ones on the market right now. I especially like the interviews and gorgeous photography of all the polymer clay artists, their work, and their studios. It is wonderful to daydream while flipping through one of your Polymer Week Magazine or books!
Another artist-based magazine favorite, though it is not in the polymer clay niche, is called “In Her Studio – Spaces and Stories of Creative Women” published by Stampington. There is nothing more inspiring to me than seeing another artist’s workspace and reading about their journey and why they create the art they do. As someone whose entire life is spent in their creative space, seeing what others are doing makes me feel more connected and inspired.
I am not a huge fan of most tutorials in books or magazines though. There never is enough photos or explanations in them to give the whole picture. Because of the constraints in publishing, information is always lost. Nuances like how hard to push the roller, how lightly to rub the surface, how to make sure the paint is dry before heat setting in the oven, the differences between using Cernit or Souffle in a technique and how one might stick when using water and the other will not and so on. Those little nuances that make the difference between success and failure. I really prefer online videos for teaching and learning from, for those reasons.
Do you follow websites and social media of other artists? Can you give us some tips?
Yes, I follow tons of artists on social media! I used to follow everyone who followed me, but then a lot of the stuff I wanted to see was getting lost in the feed. Now I am trying to pare those lists down to only work that inspires me to grow. I don’t only follow polymer clay artists, though. I am interested in all kinds of different types of art. Woodworking, sugar art, glass blowing, resin art, block printing, haute couture (although you will most likely never see me in any high end fashion, I do love the pattern, color choices and design inspiration that comes from the fashion world), and even tattoo art. I think it is important to look outside your medium for inspiration. Only looking at polymer clay art for inspiration causes stagnation, competition and insecurities, in my opinion.
As far as tips on doing social media, I am not really the best person for advice on that. I feel I have a ton of room for improvement there. Especially when it comes to aesthetics. I would like my feeds to be much prettier and much cooler looking than they are. I would love a young person to come in and help me do better with all my social sites. I also know that I should be posting more often than I do. But I do understand that even “less than perfect” content is better than no content. Despite our social media shortfalls, we seem to keep growing anyway. So, it just goes to show you, being authentic, sticking with it and giving good information is more important than beauty and polish. That said, a little beauty and polish in addition to those things would be even better.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, in the small picture I would say my biggest achievement was getting to 100,000 subscribers on YouTube. A creative career can be so intangible. Just having an actual number that proves that people value your content to the level of wanting to be sure not to miss anything new that you produce is validating in itself. But in the big picture, my biggest achievement is being able to make a living doing what I love. Most people never achieve that. I hope that my love for living a creative life is infectious. If one other person watching creates a living for themselves because of my influence, I will have truly achieved something great!
Personally, my biggest achievement is having raised two fantastic human beings. I loved, cared for, and encouraged both my children the best I could. I wasn’t perfect but they left our home confident and capable, and hopefully with as little ‘baggage’ as possible. That was the hardest and most rewarding thing that I have done. It is wonderful to see them out there in the world, doing their best and building their lives. Both Doug and I are very proud of our kids!
Where would you like to see PcT in five or ten years?
I’d like to see our website finally done! In five years I see Doug and myself on the Island with a healthy and thriving business. Our membership will have grown significantly, and we will be considered one of the leading resources for polymer clay information, reviews and tutorials. Our property on the water will be hosting yearly retreats to students from all over the world. Our YouTube channel will be hopping, and sponsors will be knocking on our doors for sponsorship deals. We will have a small team that will help with customer service, editing and social media exposure.
In 10 years, we will have started working more with other artists and companies expanding our business in multiple streams of income. We will be traveling more and doing only the work that we enjoy and delegating the rest. We plan to be in the polymer clay world for a very, very long time. PcT is our life!
Thank you very much for the interview, Cindy. We definitely hope to see all your dreams come true.