The Side Project Interview Series The Concrete Jungle

TSP | Michelle Richardson | Little Concrete Jungle

Give me a food market any day of the week, but start talking markets exploding with craft and I get a little nauseated with memories of dusty flea markets, hippies selling apron tops and smells of nag champa incense.  I have to say I avoid them religiously, however after stumbling across Little Concrete Jungle, my idea of “craft” markets may not be as I remembered them.  Michelle Richardson is a local Brisbane designer and creator of Little Concrete Jungle.

Focusing on pots and candle holders each piece is hand poured with cement, cured in water and by air, sanded by hand and then sealed with a low VOC sealant in keeping with the environmentally aware ethic.  Michelle also selects a locally grown plant to compliment the piece and chooses them to suit the warmer Brisbane environment. 

Something you may not know about Michelle’s pieces are how these cool concrete pots are formed.  With a strong belief of reusing and re-purposing, she sources old containers from local charity shops, to cast from.  Cement can be such an intimating and masculine material, but I love how each one of her pieces feels warm and inviting, much like the creator behind these uber cool creations. 

“It was such a natural progression in my life and if felt like it was the right time.”

Tell us something no one would know about you (until now).

I was a complete Play School addict as a child. My sisters were older and they would go off to school and I would watch it religiously. At the end of the craft section they would tell you what you needed for the next day’s show and my Mum would help me get it ready before then.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I went through stages where it was going to be either an interior designer or an art teacher.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up on the Far North Coast of NSW on a farm in a place called Meerschaum Vale. Such a lovely place to grow up where we had rainforest, beach, farmland and heath land all within in 5 minutes.

Where do you live now?

I live on the Northside of Brisbane close to a State Forest and the town of Samford. It’s great to be able to drive for 5 minutes and see farms and a rural area and still be able to get to a capital city so quickly.

What inspires you?

I’m lucky that I can find inspiration virtually anywhere. Sometimes it can be distracting as I should be doing something else but I get mesmerized by the way a concrete wall has aged or how a vine is growing on a fence.

How did your Side Project come about?

I’ve always been a gardener but throughout my life it was either outside in bigger sized pots or in the garden. Then a few years ago I wanted to connect with nature inside. I found it pretty impossible to find a pot I liked on the market. The fact that I was looking for smaller sized ones for my kitchen windowsill made it even harder. So I made a few (actually a lot) until I found the style I liked and it all grew from there. Now I make candle holders, magnets and coasters with more to come.

What stage is your Side Project in?

It’s been going on for just over 2 years now. It’s just starting to feel like it is creating its own momentum.

What’s your day job/what was your day job?

I’m a stay at home mum predominately.  I always say my previous life as an administration officer has helped keep our lives organized.

How do you balance your nine-to-five with your Side Project?

I try to allocate a bit of time every day for the online/marketing side and then a few solid days creating every week or so. Often it is just a juggling act that depends on what orders I have and what markets I have coming up and what is happening in our family life.

When was the moment you thought, I might be onto something here?

When I made my first sale to a shop I thought I might be onto something. Followed by when I did my first market and saw the look on people’s faces when they saw my products – some of them just lit up with excitement so I knew they got my whole idea of a Little Concrete Jungle.

Little Concrete Jungle for The Side Project

“It was such a natural progression in my life and if felt like it was the right time.”

How do you keep yourself motivated?

A quick walk around my plants on my deck, garden and workshop and that’s all it takes. But Instagram helps too as it connects me with other creators including many of them that are now my friends. Watching what they are up too keeps me creating. Online sources such as Pinterest are fabulous, and sometimes magazines. I’m also a member of the amazing community of makers called BrisStyle and being involved with them has given me a lot of motivation, support and advice.

What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered and how did you overcome it?

I really wouldn’t say I had any opposing forces when I started this. It was such a natural progression in my life and if felt like it was the right time. Though I would say initially it was hard to juggle the time in my day to be balanced enough to keep the aspects of my non creative life still working. Sometimes choosing between home jobs and LCJ jobs is hard but I am getting a lot better at making LCJ more important.

What has been the best piece of advice you have ever been given and who gave it to you?

I can’t remember the source of it or the exact words but the basic idea was at your deathbed you won’t be recalling your accomplishments or what you have owned etc but who you have loved and all the happy times in your life with those people. So I have tried to spend every moment in my life living that.

How do you want to make your mark/what legacy will you leave behind?

Apart from my children I just hope that I can encourage more people to get the joy from growing plants and passing that onto further generations.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your Side Project/How do you overcome it?

Learning when to focus on it and remembering when to not focus on it 24/7. Although I absolutely love the entire process from the idea stage to the completion I know it does help having periods of just being something else away from it.

Who are your top influences in your life, in terms of your career and helping you to focus on your Side Project?

My extended family were all gardeners and I think having grown up within that world their knowledge and general enthusiasm for plants has been imprinted into my DNA.

As far as keeping focused on my Side Project I read the Design Files constantly and I love seeing how other people have made their dreams work. Since starting LCJ I have had become part of a greater network of plant people all over the world, and their love for what they do is inspiring.

Little Concrete Jungle   My Concrete Jungle

“When I don’t create I find life turns a lot greyer and just plods along. Creating is like a spark of positivity and happiness. It seems to turn on a light-bulb of further ideas and all that transfers into my other life.”

How did/do you fund your Side Project?

I was lucky enough to have had my Nanna give me some money for my birthday and I felt it was a fabulous decision to use that money to do something plant related as my Nanna has always been a wonderful gardener. It wasn’t much money but just enough to buy some bits and pieces to start with. From then on it was self-funded through sales.

What is the most satisfying part of your Side Project?

The moment I see someone buy one of my pots/plants/products. And it’s even more satisfying if it is sold to someone who is just starting the gardening experience. I recently sold some candle holders to a lovely bride to be and those sorts of things are fabulous. Particularly when she is getting married down near where I grew up and we didn’t even know the connection until we met in person.

Do you have other Side Projects?

I’ve always had some sort of Side Project going since leaving full time work. I also run an interior design business but since starting LCJ it hasn’t been focused on much though I am hoping to combine the two very soon. I believe that using plants within the home environment creates a gorgeous home that it is very important to make your home more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

What advice would you give to others who are thinking of ditching the day job for their Side Project?

Trust your gut feeling as that instinct is not normally wrong. But realistically I would say have a backup plan even if that means going back to work part-time to continue funding it.

Does your Side Project make you more productive/happy in other areas of your life? 

Absolutely. When I don’t create I find life turns a lot greyer and just plods along. Creating is like a spark of positivity and happiness. It seems to turn on a lightbulb of further ideas and all that transfers into my other life.

How can people find you/your Side Project?

Through my website, Etsy shop, Instagram and markets that you can find listed on my website.

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