Makers 1-on-1 is our original interview series featuring today's makers and DIYers. We're sitting down with new makers every week to learn more about their projects, how they acquire information, their purchase processes, and their passions.
This week, we’re interviewing Holly Michniak — a terrarium and jewelry maker from North Canton, OH. Under her brand Boomdyada, Holly creates self-contained plant terrariums in glass containers large and small. In her process, she uses glass jars and containers, pocket watches, jewelry supplies, and craft miniatures to create unique plant ecosystems. If your brand markets to terrarium or jewelry makers, this 1-on-1 interview with Holly will give you important insights into building connections with makers like her.
What's your name and what do you do?
I’m Holly Michniak and I make terrariums and terrarium jewelry and all kinds of earth-inspired things.
When did you get started?
I got started with some pictures that I found in a magazine of some really cool terrariums. One was a really old, big bell jar, and it was very much like one my papa had, and I used my mom’s memorial flowers. Sounds a little sad, but it wasn’t; it was really cool. I put them together and I made my first terrarium, and I was pretty smitten. So after that, I had a 11-12 year old friend who was staying with me, and we went and gathered bottles and jars from the Goodwill, and I just stared tinkering. That was probably seven years ago. About two years in, I had so many terrariums, I decided to take them downtown to an art walk. My friends were gracious enough to let me set up in their cafe, and it was January, and I was dragging all these things through the snow and I thought, “I must be out of my mind.” I almost sold out in a few hours. I discovered that I could put mosses and things in little tiny globes and teardrops and make jewelry out of that. I also started gutting pocket watches and putting moss and twigs in there.
How does a terrarium work?
A terrarium is an enclosed glass vessel, and when you enclose plants in there with just the right moisture level, they create their own little ecosystem with their own water cycle. The initial store of water evaporates up and back down and around, and they’re self sufficient, and it’s a little world unto itself. That’s what really fascinated me about them, that they thrive on neglect. Once their moisture level is right, you leave them alone, and they do it on their own.
How did you initially develop the idea and process for the pocket watches?
I just looked at a little piece of reindeer moss and thought it looked like a tree. And I wondered if I could make a little scene inside something small. So I painted a blue background in the watch like the sky and put some glitter on there for stars, then I stated gluing the pieces of moss in there. A lot of things for me just happen how they happen. Maybe it starts with a single color or piece that looks like something else that would occur in nature and so I pile them up and glue them in. The pocket watch just seemed to be a win so I kept making them.
What materials and tools do you need to make a terrarium?
My terrarium room is a hodgepodge of all sorts of different things. You start with a layer of all kinds of rocks and gravels for drainage, then you want a layer to separate the dirt from that level so I use sphagnum moss. It looks cool too, like you’re making a dirt parfait. Then your dirt goes over top, which is kind of mixed up with charcoal. It’s like baking: it has to look right and feel right and mix right. I keep that in store. Then you put your landscape together. You put your plants down in there and finish it off with a carpet of moss or some ivies that come and around a trellis maybe. Then once I get it all built, I like to put some sand in there and make a little path or a little stream, maybe some blue rock or agate for a pond or something like that. Then you put the top on and hope for the best. They all have a little fence in them, so I often collect little pine needles or tiny twigs for those.
I most like to repurpose things for my jars. I go antiquing and to the Goodwill, and it’s most fun to take something that’s just going to be discarded or that looks old and sad and turn it into something fabulous. If it’s a particular request or a really fascinating thing, I’ll buy it new, but it has to really catch my fancy. Now, people just bring me things. Someone called me up and said she had a garage sale and was left with all this glass. I didn’t know her at all but she though of me and pulled up in my driveway and gave me all these things. There are all kinds of cubicles downstairs that are filled with every kind of glass, all sorts of figurines, all kinds of rocks, and I just get inspired by looking around.
I have suppliers now online for my jewelry supplies. I have an Etsy shop and an Amazon handmade shop now, so a lot of the jewelry I have to buy a lot of bulk for and replicate them. But I still like to do one-of-a-kind things, like the pocket watches. Some of my colored stones I buy from a local shop, but that’s about it.
How did you decide what suppliers to use?
I order little pieces and parts to test. Most of the things I make are not already assembled. I buy a top from here, a bead cap from there, a pin that I can use on the top from here, and a globe from there. I order little pieces parts and put them out on the table and start tinkering to see if what was in my head could actually happen. The pocket watches I love to buy vintage, but then there are some that I can get on a regular basis where I gut the watch parts out and sometimes paint before I fill them with moss.
What resources do you look for help or advice?
YouTube is a wealth of information. I wanted to do something with leather and I didn’t know how to make those double sliding knots, so some wonderful guy on YouTube taught me how to do it in five minutes. Those are the types of things I look up. I took a course in wire wrapping, too. There’s not much to look at online for terrariums. I don’t want to do it like anybody else does it anyway. I don’t want to copy anybody else. I do like to see that people are creative, and there’s so much to see at art shows and craft shows.
How do you approach challenges in terrarium building?
When I get stuck, I usually walk away and come back later to see if it still seems worth it. I don’t ditch many things because where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? So I usually keep at it. I do have to walk away sometimes, especially if it’s a custom thing that’s not coming from my own mind. For example, a lady wanted a house-shaped terrarium, and she had all this wicker furniture for me to put inside of it, and oh my word. I walked away from that maybe 20 times before I figured out how to fit all that stuff in there, but it turned out pretty neat.
How do you show off your work?
So I am involved in art and craft shows, but there are so many that I can’t quite keep up like I used to. I do maybe one or two a month now, but it’s a lot of work, especially in the summer where you have a whole tent to set up. But I do run these “make-and-take” events where people, especially kids, can make a marimo necklace, which are a lot to set up, but they’re really fun. There’s a little Japanese moss ball inside these necklaces, and by tradition you’re supposed to name it and think of it as kind of a pet. Kids love that. They pick their beads and tiny seashells to go with the marimo. And they’re meant to be handed down for generations, and they can grow and get bigger.
What's your experience been working at craft markets?
You have to find your niche. There are a few nature-based shows that are geared toward nature lovers and we have done really well there. But other settings we’ve realized just don’t attract our crowd for some reason, which is fine. We just leave those ones alone. I love being downtown and with the people, making stuff with the kids. You have to go rain or shine, too, which can be a real toss up.
How has the transition been to becoming a full time maker?
I’ve been doing terrariums full-time since May. Before I worked at a day service for disabled adults, and I worked at a church for 24 years doing music and decorating and programs and such. The transition has been fun and really necessary. Most of my business is online because I can’t make one of a kind terrariums enough in mass to pay the bills, but Etsy started to go really well. The help I have at this point is friends, so it’s so fun to have them come over. At this time, they’re volunteering until I get really going, but we sit around and make and box up jewelry. I have a rough schedule. Every other day I focus on orders and make sure those get out. Then in between, I have a day where I go down and make bigger terrariums. Outside of that, I just decide what I’m inspired to do.
What social media do you use?
I use Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. I don’t get a ton of business from those yet, but I’d like to focus in on Pinterest. I’m working hard on photography. Glass can be difficult, and mine don’t show well against white. They need some nature in that picture so I try to keep some kind of landscape or green in the background to keep our vibe. Once I get that really down, I’m hoping to do more on social media.
What's your favorite part of the making process?
I’d just say the creative process, the adventure of not knowing exactly what it’ll look like until it’s done. I love maneuvering things until it feels done and looks really cool. That’s adventurous to me, and that’s the fun part.
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
I was really surprised at the communication, especially on Etsy. Face to face is great too, to see people really be inspired or get so much enjoyment out of my piece. But the feedback that I get, I never anticipated that. I thought I was just doing something I liked, but I was stunned when people love it as much as I do. On Etsy, I’ve started making some really inspirational pieces, and people started messaging me daily about what a piece means to them or who they’re giving it to. They tell stories about family who have cancer and want to be encouraged or things like that. I never thought people would be that personable or connect with you that way online, and that was the happiest surprise ever. I patterned something after a piece my mom gave me when I was a kid, and I loved it. I put it in this tiny globe, and almost every day people message me and say they had one too when they were kids and they now want to give one to their daughter. I never would have known, but it means a lot that I can do something that’s really meaningful to them, and that they’ll want to keep. That’s why I went to sterling jewelry, because I didn’t want it to be something you pay $10 for, wear for a season, and then toss. I’m leaning towards precious metals and keepsakes that can be handed down if you want.
What's coming up next for you?
I’m redoing another room in the house so I can have more room to make. I’m excited about having all my little gadgets and antique things to hold all my pieces and parts. I’ll have everything at my fingertips instead of all over the dining room table. There’s usually things hanging from the chandelier and shipping envelopes everywhere, so I’m excited for everything to have a little home. I also built a website on Wix, but I’m switching over to a more legit WordPress site. I also gave some of my pieces to a photographer friend who has the cutest wife ever, and she loves to model things. So they took a hundred fantastic photos for me and I’m excited to have lifestyle photos. I’ve taken some pretty decent close up shots and whatnot, but people want to see what it’s going to look like on, and I really want to convey that whole free and wild and earthy feeling. So the pictures in fields or out in nature will be great, and we’ll see what happens.