Ceramic artist makes it big

Cindy Preller

ONCE she started marketing herself, there was no looking back for Nelson Mandela Bay ceramic artist Lee Hensberg.

“I have 10 years of marketing experience but never thought of applying my skills to my art. Once I started doing that, business has been booming for me and I am able to be a lot more selective with where my products get sold. The internet and social media have also helped a lot,” Freakalee Ceramics owner, Hensberg said.

Falling pregnant with her first son, Dylan, eight years ago changed Hensberg’s career from a full-time marketer to a full-time artist.

Putting her fine arts degree to use, Hensberg was soon emmersed in the art of hand-painting ceramics – making everything from Christmas angels to delicate tea cups as well as less functional art pieces for exhibitions.

However, selling her commercial ceramics proved to be a bigger challenge than she expected, initially.

“I would go from shop to shop, take a box of ceramics with me and as soon as the people saw my art, they really liked it but always wanted to take it on consignment. About five years ago I realised that I needed to start selling myself and then things started happening,” Hensberg said.

She now sells her ceramics to only one selected shop per town – Heartsworks in Cape Town, Pollen in Port Elizabeth and Le Chameleon in Jeffreys Bay – but does most of her business online.

With her products being marketed on three websites, Hensberg makes and ships the products while the website handles the financial side and sends orders through to her on almost a daily basis.

Her African-inspired ranges, titled Karoo and Proteas and Sun, have especially done well with clients in Australia and America, who also track her down on Facebook.

An online magazine shop has also featured her unique ceramics, which they prefer to buy in bulk, and her products have been showcased in several decor magazines.

“The first time I was featured in a magazine was for the rhino mug I designed. It is moulded off a jam container, with a rhino’s body as the handle. It has been a very popular item and I donate 5% of what I make to the Green Scorpions.”

Practising her delicate art has its challenges, with some items being glazed and baked four times before they are shelf-ready, and the tiniest of cracks in the artwork can destroy the value of the item completely.

Hensberg makes all her items in her studio at her home in Colleen Glen, surrounded by her sons, Joel, 4, and Dylan, 7, cats, dogs and a beautiful sea view.

However, because of business increasing so much over the past five years, she is considering moving closer to town and employing and training art students to help with making the products.

She employs a full-time worker to make her ceramic cups, plates, teacups, teapots and other figurines.

“I send samples to magazines, phone them up and market myself. I also attend expos and once a year I have an exclusive end-of-year sale where I invite guests to my studio. Last year I didn’t have anything left on my shelves.”

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