Interview: Nicky Brat Sloan

Nicky runs two wonderful businesses called Bratatouche and Blighty Beads. I was lucky enough to have a little interview with her about her two online shops and her love for art. 

Hello Nicky! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?

Hi Rhiannon, I’m great thanks! Thank you so much for interviewing me! What an honour!

Tell us a little bit about your background.

From a young age I have always been interested in art. I was never far from a paintbrush! I studied Communication Media at University, with a graphic design pathway, and have a BA (Hons) degree in the subject.

I was a youth worker for many years, running art activities for young people in local youth clubs. Since becoming self-employed, I occasionally provide art and craft activities on a freelance basis. I also do a small amount of private tuition.

I became interested in gemstones a few years ago, which naturally led me to creating jewellery.  I began on a very small scale, and taught myself the basics of jewellery making, whilst gradually building my confidence, knowledge and skill in the subject. I opened my shop Bratatouche in 2013, to showcase my jewellery, and in April 2015 decided to realize my dream of owning a bead shop, and Blighty Beads was created.

I adore your business. What made you decide to set up Blighty Beads and Bratatouche?

Thank you! I guess Bratatouche was a natural progression for me with the jewellery making. I suffered an arm injury, and was out of action for a while, and after undergoing surgery, I set up Bratatouche to give me something positive to think about. It also gave me an outlet to showcase my work, which in the early days was quite sporadic, due to the nature of my injury.

Blighty Beads, was born out of my love for gemstones, and my lifelong ambition to own my own bead shop! I find It runs very nicely alongside Bratatouche.

Why did you call your shop Blighty Beads and Bratatouche?

Blighty Beads was a name thought up by my lovely hubby! We wanted something with a bit of alliteration, which rolls off the tongue, and after coming up with several ideas, this one seemed perfect! It sounds rather patriotic and seems to be popular with my overseas customers.

Bratatouche is actually a nick-name that my hubby gave me when we first met! He calls me Brat for short! It’s a term of endearment! Bratatouche just seemed a good fit for the name of my shop, as it represents me as a person.

How has your creative process changed since the start?

Before Bratatouche, in the very early days of my jewellery making, I began with tumblechip gemstones, and plated findings, as I was still learning my craft and wanted a small outlay. When I set up Bratatouche, I had begun to use polymer clay, as a kind of hand therapy, so Bratatouche, was stocked with my pendants, made with polymer clay, and strung on beaded gemstone necklaces. I have since gravitated mainly towards gemstone jewellery, although I do still get the clay out occasionally! I have a much healthier budget now too, and so I only ever use sterling silver findings for my jewellery, and am able to source more expensive gemstones, than I previously could.

I have recently dabbled in resin jewellery making, and I have to say its rather exciting to use, but is quite a lengthy process!

How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?

I bought a lot of books. I have so many books on beading, and polymer clay! I am always experimenting, trying out new things, reading books, and watching online tutorials.  For me, honing my craft is an ever-evolving process. There is always something new to try.

Have you always been into painting and jewellery?

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed painting, Painting has always provided me the perfect means of relaxation. I couldn’t paint for a while after my arm injury, and I am grateful I am able to do so once more.

Jewellery making came much later, but has been a huge part of my life for several years now.

If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream project?

I would love my own kiln, but really don’t have the space for one! If there were no resource restraints I would dearly like to set up my own studio, in which I could fit a kiln, and work with glass. I’d perhaps also try my hand at stained glass if I had the space to do so.

What equipment do you use for your work?

My lounge is spilling over with jewellery making equipment at the moment! I have boxes of beads, pliers, and resin moulds everywhere! It’s a creative messy space!

I also have a room full of art and craft equipment and materials, but too many to list here!

What tools or materials could you not live without?

For my jewellery making, I have a set of jewellery making pliers, which I couldn’t live without! I also have a set of bead mats, which stop my beads from rolling everywhere. I’m quite attached to my resin moulds at the moment too!

When it comes to painting, I would have to say my Daler Rowney Sapphire brushes. They are a dream to work with!

Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?

I spend a lot of time on social media, as it’s a great way to promote your business, and also network with like-minded individuals.

I was recently contacted by Daler Rowney on Instagram, and they asked for permission to use my peacock butterfly painting in their B2B and B2C communication. It was a great honour, and highlights the reach that social media can provide.

Who inspires your work?

I am inspired by many artists, although they are not necessarily reflected in my work.  I admire the polymer clay art of Jon Stewart Anderson. His work is totally astounding! Donna Kato is also an amazing polymer clay artist, with her own range of clays. I own a couple of her books.

I also love the work of Si Scott, Lucien Freud, and Van Gogh.

Do you have any favourite pieces of work that you adore at the moment from your shop?

I think my favourite piece in Bratatouche at the moment has to be my peacock butterfly painting limited edition print. The original hangs on our wall at home, and has great sentimental value to me. It’s the first painting I felt happy with since my arm injury, and for me it personally marks a recovery milestone. My arm will never be perfect, but to be able to paint at this level once more is an achievement I did not think possible.

What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Facebook page, Instagram and your work?

I am hoping to produce more paintings in the coming year, which will be shared on my Facebook page and Instagram. I will also expand my resin jewellery range, which will also be featured on my social media accounts. I am hoping to get a bit more interactive with my followers, and grow my audience.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a tabby cat portrait, and have a mountain of resin beads and jewellery to sand and polish ready to go into my shops. I also have a few jewellery orders in the pipeline.

What’s your typical working day?

I wouldn’t say that I ever have a typical day, as every day is different! Some days I’m running art sessions, other days I’m packing up and posting off orders.

I often spend a couple of days making stock, and then another day is spent photographing and listing items into my shops. I spend a bit of time each day responding to customers, performing basic admin tasks, and promoting my shops on social media. I also set time aside for purchasing beads for Blighty Beads, and sourcing gemstones for use in my jewellery making. I have the odd day where my arm is quite sore, and so I tend to concentrate on social media on those days, rather than create.

What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?

Time management is my biggest struggle! There are never enough hours in the day! I make lots of lists and set reminders on my iPhone, to help me plan my day ahead, but I always seem to run out of time somehow!

Do you have any exciting plans for this year?

At the moment Blighty Beads is purely on Etsy, but I am hoping to have a website running alongside the Etsy shop in the coming future.

What are your career plans with your online shop?

I am hoping to have more of my paintings and art at Bratatouche in the near future, and to be able to produce a range of items, such as mugs and coasters, featuring my artwork.

I am looking to build on the success of Blighty Beads, by expanding stock, and offering a wider choice of beads to my customers.

What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style?

Always choose what makes you happy. Don’t let society define you.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting their own online shop?

Go for it! Start small if you need to, and then re-invest your profit to build up your stock.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start making jewellery?

Buy a couple of good books, or borrow some from your local library. Familiarize yourself with the basics, and then develop your own style. Do plenty of research online to find a few good beading stockists. Go and have a browse in Blighty Beads!

What’s next for Blighty Beads?

This coming year we are hoping to expand Blighty Beads! We are planning to invest more money into building up our stock.

What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?

I don’t recall any advice in particular, but I do remember my design teacher at school, Mrs Greenstreet. She was incredibly encouraging and supportive of her students. She taught me to believe in myself, and ultimately set me off on this creative journey many years ago. 

Please take a look at Blighty Beads 'https://www.facebook.com/blightybeads' and Bratatouche 'https://www.facebook.com/Bratatouche' on Facebook. She is always posting wonderful images, artwork and constantly updating her Etsy shop.