A friend of mine is so creative, and I have always loved seeing her crafts that she highlights across her social media – from paintings, to art, to her gorgeous African bauble range that she recently began. I went to her house for lunch and girl time, and finally got to see these in person for myself. Her creativity truly knows no bounds, and she is constantly expanding her range and offerings.
Meet the crafter, Mandi
Name: Miranda Kate Wilkinson aka Mandi
Business name: Dungbeetle Crafts
3 fun facts about you: A bit/alot eccentric!!
Very creative. I love painting in oils and watercolours.
I enjoy quizzes and puzzles.
Tell me more about Dungbeetle Crafts:
Dungbeetle Crafts make uniquely African animal and bird themed baubles. I work from home modelling and painting all the baubles myself. I have various chronic conditions that don’t make it easy for me to hold down a full-time job, but I still want to be creative and productive.
My ‘Safari’ range consists of 26 African animals – molded on 6cm baubles – and 36 birds – molded on 4cm baubles. I have also done commissions of other animals, dogs and horses.
Last year I made 756 animal and bird baubles. These animals and birds have also made their way to Australia, England, Alaska, Dubai, Germany, and South America. I am also adding to the range each year.
The Craft Business
Where did the idea for your business come from?
In 2019 I really wanted to celebrate Christmas in Africa with African themed ornaments instead of reindeer and snowmen etc. I started to investigate ways in which I could make my own baubles with a uniquely African feel. I tinkered with various ideas with fabric on balls etc but didn’t seem to be right. I had seen imported ornaments in the shops with animal heads (in resin) and long fabric bodies which were lovely – but very expensive. I spent a while investigating how that could be made here with molds etc but that would be a huge financial investment.
One day I was perusing Pinterest; and saw some clay animals with very round bodies. I used to love doing pottery, and so the idea percolated. Also, somewhere in my sub-conscious (which I only connected with about a year later) there was the “Rollin’ Wild” clips that made their appearance in 2012 – these are cartoons with animals that have round bodies and the ‘difficulties’ of living like that in the African bush, there are more clips to look at and they are hilarious.
With the concept firmly planted I now started the hunt for a modelling medium that would fill the requirement. It had to be light but easily mouldable, air dry, take paint, be eco-friendly and not disintegrate once made – not an easy task. After a lot of research and various attempts I found an air-dry polymer clay that is mouldable and air dries to a firm consistency, takes paint and is light. Yeeh!! This was around October and finding baubles to try the idea on was difficult, so up to the loft to raid the Christmas decoration box.
African Animals were an exciting idea to start with; so I developed my first range of 12 iconic Animals. People fell in love with them (orders for entire sets of 12 started coming in!) now was the hunt for more baubles and packaging. And so my ‘African Safari’ range journey began.
The bird range started when I wanted to make an advent calendar of bird baubles for my mother-in-law. I created 25 birds in closed boxes with obscure clues to guess which bird was in the box and a wire baobab tree to hang them on. After sharing my idea with other people, I landed up making 4 sets!)
What makes your products so unique:
They are uniquely African. My baubles are all hand-molded and hand painted by me. Each one seems to have its own quirkiness and even personality. My baubles have even been displayed at some lodges in the Kruger.
The baubles don’t have to just be for Christmas, they can be used as indoor decoration. A lady in Germany has them hanging on a branch in her office all the time.
(Some people have suggested I get molds made, I suppose it could be developed but then they would lose their uniqueness and be like any mass-produced product.)
Have you always been creative:
I have always been creative and enjoyed drawing and crafting from an early age, it was something we always did as a creative family. I spent my early childhood in Rhodesia and with sanctions toys were either not available or very expensive, so we created a lot of our own; from my father making models boats and things in wood to my mom teaching us to sew dolls cloths from young. My love of arts and crafts is very varied from pottery, oil painting, watercolours, screen-printing, silk painting, sewing, the list is endless…
What makes your items so special:
As South Africans they are relatable to our country and lifestyle. Before making a bauble, I do a lot of research on each animal or bird to make sure I get all the details right.
Do you do custom orders:
Yes, I do custom orders. They are a bit more expensive as they each need to be researched only once or I can work from photographs. The most extreme custom order was a helicopter for my niece who qualified as a pilot last year. I have also made Border collies, a Schnauzer a Poodle, hedgehog, tortoise, Gorilla, Tiger, Maccaw parrot, Panda, large Avocet and a Peacock. These take another week to do.
My baubles can be customised for any occasion. I have done a few corporate orders with the company name on, and for a game farm in Magaliesberg I made some giant ones on 15cm baubles – not easy.
What are the different ranges that you sell:
I do a range of animals:
Elephant, Rhino, Hippo, Giraffe, Zebra, Buffalo, Wildebeest, Springbok, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Wild dog, Warthog, Meerkat, Honey Badger, Pangolin, Hyena, Dungbeetle, Bushbaby, Black back Jackal, Baboon and Dwarf Mongoose, Kudu, Nyala.
The range of birds:
The 16 “Bird of the Year” birds as well as the popular Masked weaver, Lilac breasted roller, European Bee eater, Woodhoepoe, African Hoepoe, Crested Barbet, various Sunbirds, various Kinfishers, Louries, Swallows, woodpecker, Hornbills, Eagles, Owls and many more.
What is your personal favourite item you have made:
I think the Dungbeetle is my favourite, wasn’t sure if I could get it to work with the legs, but it did Yeh!! so now they represent my company too.
Which creations have been the most popular:
On the animal side, the Giraffe, Rhino and Lion and Leopard.
On the bird side, Lilac breasted Roller, African Hoepoe, and African Fish eagle.
Why do you encourage people to support local:
When you support local and you support a small business which might be supporting a family and perhaps a small workforce. There is a lot of dedication and creativity that goes with it. We now have access to overseas goodies but in the case of my work it represents our special South African tastes and needs. It also supports people living in South Africa making it against all odds – with cheaper imports squeezing out our uniqueness. And as the current Corona Virus has revealed, we can only rely on ourselves when the going gets tough.
Quote you live by:
A little odd I know but that’s how to tackle any situation that seems overwhelming at first. Normally it only takes a few ‘bites’ to get going and before you know it – you have eaten the whole elephant!!!
Don’t you absolutely love these African-themed crafts? Mandi is a lady who takes true pride in her creations, and she deserves all the support for these special handmade baubles. I already have two in my house and will be ordering more that look like each of my animals.
Mandi’s attention to detail shows her passion for creating everything by hand. The results speak for themselves, and I can’t wait to see all of your Christmas trees proudly displaying some of these.