Sisters Clare Scholes and Joy Stewart turned their shared creative hobbies into a successful business that’s perfectly tailored to their busy lives. 91 talks to Joy to find out more about their work, and the beautiful artworks they create together as mondocherry.
How would you describe mondocherry?
We create original 3D paper artworks that are entirely hand-cut and hand-painted. Often based around nature, they appear graphic from a distance and incredibly detailed up close. Seven years ago, we opened a shop in Melbourne to showcase our work, as well as to feature beautiful home and gift products from artisans and designers from around the world.
What’s the story behind the name?
One of the very first orders we worked on was with a fabric that was called ‘mondo’. It came in a few colourways, one of which was named ‘cherry’. So we used to call each other and say ‘can you come over today to work on the mondocherry?’ A few months later when we registered our business, we tried to think of a clever name, but it was much harder than we thought. And then we realised that we had actually already named ourselves!
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
In 2006 we both found ourselves living in Brisbane with our families, and naturally spent a lot of time together. While the children played, and over many a slice of chocolate brownie, we would make items for our homes; artworks, handbags, soft toys, cards – you name it. Friends began asking if we could make pieces for them too, and it was this interest that initiated the idea that maybe we could turn our hobby into a business.
What did you do before setting up mondocherry?
Clare studied law and mathematics at university, and I was an early childhood teacher. But we both became stay-at-home mums once our children came along (Clare has six, I have three).
How would you describe your style?
We use loads of beautiful colour, balanced out by plenty of white and neutrals. We like the old mixed in with the new, and lots of textures and layers. We love pieces with a story behind them, and we can’t live without lots of greenery!
What is the ethos behind your business?
There is a particular beauty in handmade products, original design and limited editions that we are drawn to. We want mondocherry artworks, and our shop, to be a reflection of our passion and to stay true to what we love, rather than running with trends, or trying to predict popularity. There’s value in uniqueness, and we love that a mondocherry artwork can never be exactly replicated. The two of us enjoy making art that makes people happy. As we work together, we also made a rule early on that we would never let our business come between our relationship as sisters.
Tell us about your work process…
Our main materials are paper, scissors, paint, and patience. Every component of our artwork is hand-painted and hand-cut and so many, many hours go into each piece. Clare and I work in stages and therefore often have multiple artworks on the go at any one time. It’s good to have the flexibility to take our cutting with us (to school pickups, ballet waiting rooms and footy games!) and the variety of working with different colours, styles and stages.
Describe your workspace…
Clare has a studio room in her home, but stills tends to spill out into the adjoining family rooms. She often takes components at the cutting stage into the shop when she is there. I live in a condo in Singapore, so space it pretty tight. I manage with a ‘creative cupboard’ and can often be found working on my terrace, enjoying the tropical weather. We spend many hours on the phone during the week, discussing works in progress and new ideas, however we are definitely at our most creative when we are together in the same place and start playing with paper and paint!
What sort of neighbourhood and community is around you?
I currently live in Singapore and enjoy exploring the botanical gardens, with their lush tropical foliage, and the colour, fabric and treasures to be found in the Little India area. Clare lives in Melbourne and loves the suburbs around our shop, with their beautiful architecture and well-maintained gardens.
Do you have a design background, or are you self-taught?
Neither of us has a formal design background, retail experience, or marketing or business degrees. Our love for creating definitely stems from our childhood, as we are lucky enough to have a very creative mother, so our spare time was filled with sewing, painting, crochet, tie-dye etc. To end up in a creative business feels very natural to both of us.
Has your work changed since you began?
Our work has definitely evolved and continues to do so. That’s all part of the creative journey. In the beginning, we probably overthought our work and listened to too many opinions, but we really honed our own style when we began to trust our instincts. Initially, we worked a lot with fabric as well as paper, but found it hard to develop a cohesive story with both mediums.
How important is the online community to your work?
The customers and friends we have made through social media have allowed us to grow and expand our business, and we are so thankful for their encouragement, support and feedback. It gives us the biggest buzz when we get photos of our artworks displayed in homes, both locally, and on the other side of the world.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Everywhere. The colour of a beautiful bird, an interesting fabric, patterned tiles, layers of chipping paint on a wall, the details in a piece of embroidery, the delicacy of a rose petal … we find ideas, inspiration and colour combinations all over the place.
Working together as independent makers – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
It’s great to have the flexibility, the creative freedom and the variety of tasks involved in being our own bosses, and the process of making our artworks from start to finish (although we do leave the framing to the professionals). We thrive on words of encouragement, so finding motivation when things get a little tough can be hard, but luckily it usually happens that one of us is able to encourage the other.
Which pieces do you most enjoy creating?
That would be like asking us to choose a favourite child! All of our collections are special to us for different reasons, and there is hardly a colour we can’t rave about.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
We both start with coffee - essential for staying sane while getting children off to school. Clare then usually heads into our Melbourne shop, where she chats with customers, merchandises the shelves and deals with admin. In Singapore, I tend to do most of my creative work during the day while my younger children are at school. I also do a lot of work with our social media.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
This has been a large learning curve for us, as we are definitely more creative than business-orientated. We both love the visual impact of social media, however it is often hard to show the texture of our artworks via a small square. Investing in professional photos has been one of the best things we have done, as it gave us the confidence to approach designers and magazines - and having fresh eyes style your work is always a useful exercise.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Opening our shop was very special, as it gave us a chance to style our artworks up with beautiful products, so we could show our customers how we imagined they could be displayed in their homes. We’ve also been lucky enough to be featured in a number of magazines and design blogs, which is a ‘pinch me’ moment every time!
Where do you sell your work?
We sell our artworks in our Melbourne shop and on our online store. We also take custom orders for colours and sizes, so that our customers can have a unique artwork made especially for their home.
Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?
Making our artworks isn’t just our job, but also something we love doing. Apart from when we are experimenting with paper and paint, I love the process of decorating a doll’s house for my daughter, and Clare regularly has her sewing machine out, embellishing and adjusting dance costumes.
Any advice for makers just starting out?
Ensure you are making something you actually love, and don’t under-price yourself - especially if you will be wholesaling your work. Great photos are worth spending money on, too.
Describe your work in three words?
Unique, colourful, intricate.
What are your making rituals?
Good background music, or an interesting podcast is a must.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee in morning, tea in the afternoon.
Mountains or sea?
Night owl or early bird?
I’m an early bird, Clare is a night owl.
I wish someone had told me...
Knowing what you don’t like is as essential to finding your own style as knowing what you do.
Images supplied by Martina Gemmola (and stylists Richard Hall & Son) and mondocherry.