Cindy Lietz, known as The Polymer Clay Tutor online, is a Canadian polymer clay teacher known for her open, engaging style and her endless patience with students. Her husband, Doug, is her business partner. Together they bring her video tutorials and subscriptions to polymer clayers around the world. They’re the parents of two grown children and have been hard at work rebuilding their website into a new system which will be easily searchable. I really enjoyed chatting with Cindy and found that (unsurprisingly) we have a lot in common. Enjoy getting to know Cindy in the interview below. – Ginger
Q What was the process that led you to become “Your Polymer Clay Tutor?” Has it been a good decision? Would you change it if you could?
I used to be a craft teacher at night school and I taught every kind of craft. Punched tin, broken tile mosaic, hand-painted wine glasses, papermaking just absolutely every kind of thing. I taught in every district that would take a teacher. There was a point where my husband’s work was changing and we thought that we should work together on something creative. I should be teaching because it felt like I was a good teacher. So we looked at what all those different crafts, but the popularity would change. Painted wine glasses would be really popular and then they would fade away and something would come up and then it would fade away. I didn’t want to start an online business that was going to be a trend. I wanted something that was going to be ongoing. Beading has been around for hundreds of years and we’ll start off with beading. So we started our Web site and it was called beadsandbeading.com. I was excited about beads made out of polymer clay. So I started doing polymer clay stuff and saw that it was this crazy, weird little niche. And I loved it. You could do every possible thing with it.
I also realized that I wasn’t an “artiste” and what I really was, was a teacher. I was a tutor, somebody who came in and helped you to kind of figure out what you were doing wrong. I wasn’t there to tell you what the rules were, I was going to just sort of guide you just like a tutor does in math or anything like that. And you know, it’s Polymer Clay Tutor. That’s really what I am. I’m a polymer clay tutor. It’s a good brand. It would be a good name. And we started going that direction. So our our old website still says beadsandbeading.com. But you can go to polymerclaytutor.com and it forwards to beadsandbeading.com. And as we repair everything, and have the new site. It’ll all be just polymerclaytutor.com. Yes, it was an excellent decision and we should have started off there. You can’t fix the past. You can only move forward. But yeah, I think it made us unique. It also kept it more real. I love it. I think it’s a perfect name for us.
Q Your website lists both you and Doug as forces behind your business. What part does Doug handle?
A Doug handles everything non-content related. So he handles all the business side, all the marketing. He handles all of the customer service. For a long time, he was actually answering a lot of stuff as me, even though it was him, which is confusing because once I met somebody in person and they were talking to me about something technical that I had just given them an answer to. And it was actually Doug. He felt it would be too confusing for people to not think it was me. He also does the video side of things that the editing, the uploading, all that stuff. Except for anything live that I film myself.
Q If you could start over today knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I would adjust faster. In this whole Internet world change really fast. But we kind of got into a groove and what was working was working and we just tunneled in and forgot about some of the stuff. And we should have been adjusting on the fly the whole time because it would have been easier to update the website if we’d been updating it earlier instead of waiting till it was broken and then trying to re-build a whole new site without losing all the old content.
I think I would have charged a little bit more upfront. We kind of got talked into a pretty low price because we made the mistake of asking everybody what they thought we should be charging. And we thought they would come in at a reasonable number and a whole bunch of people came in at a stupid number. And so then we had to kind of split the difference. We should have done that differently. Maybe charging a little bit more upfront.
Q What is the time frame on the website being finished?
A Wow, OK. So originally we thought it would take us three months and it’s been four years. I feel like we could get it done this year, but I wouldn’t want to make a promise just because who knows what’s gonna happen. But we’re getting stuff wrapped up. We’re finishing certain projects. We’re getting the right things all together, so I feel like it could be done within this year.
Q What are your big challenges in building a new website?
We are not a typical business in this niche. Generally, people either have a membership site or they sell e-books and tutorials. They don’t generally do both. And my husband being my husband, wanted the perfect world. And every time he tried to find technology that would do the these two things, they wouldn’t mesh together. Over these last four years, new technology is getting created all the time and the software is starting to exist now. And so now he’s been able to put that together. So maybe we couldn’t have done it faster anyways. There’s that.
And then the other thing is our massive amounts of content. In a lot of ways it would have been a hell of a lot easier just to start at the beginning. We would’ve been long done because it’s easy to build a simple Web site. But we have thousands of videos. For example, we do these behind the scenes studio cam videos and I have two thousand of them.
There are 500 YouTube videos. There are eighty six volumes of tutorials and some of those had four tutorials in them. There are one hundred and thirty hours of Facebook Live Q And A’s. And that content can be used over and over again. People have the same problems, whether was 12 years ago or now. And so ninety nine percent of the content is evergreen. We wouldn’t want to lose that. We built that all these years. So it’s a logistics issue of trying to bring it over to a new site. And third is the fact that Doug and I are only two people and the budget isn’t there to just throw money at it. We could be done if we could had thrown a whole bunch of money at it, but we didn’t have the budget to hire a ton of people.
Q All self-employed people struggle with life/work balance. How do you keep it within bounds?
I am super routine. So when you asked me when I was available, I told you exactly the hours that I was available because I set it up like a job. I don’t work like a lot of people will.
It’s like I have a job here in my home. So, yes, I could run a load of laundry if I wanted to, but I keep things very routine. So every weekend I generally take off. I run errands and Sunday I do housework. Monday to Friday is when I work. I go for a walk every morning and I start work at 10:00 and I work till five or a little bit later. And then I do all my other housework and everything. I balance myself because you can get way too overwhelmed. Oh sure, I will do a little bit of playing around on social. But in general, if it’s an email or something that feels too work related, I won’t do it unless it’s within my work hours. I also have set things that I do, so if I’m supposed to crank out, a bunch of studio cam videos or the Live Q&A, then I block out that time.
I cannot stay creative if I work too many hours. This weekend, I did a bunch of extra filming and I feel ripped off a little because I didn’t get a bunch of other stuff done. And I feel a little off kilter. So it’s important for me to make a schedule and stick to it. And if I’m supposed to do an hour’s content, then I do an hour’s worth of content. If I have to be here talking to you at exactly 10:00 o’clock, then that’s exactly where I will be. So it’s routine. That’s how I’ve made it.
I think a lot of people don’t treat it seriously enough and a lot of people treat it too seriously like they don’t give enough balance. I think that’s the only way you’re ever going to survive it. It’s not an easy thing to do because you don’t have a boss. Everybody thinks that’s freedom.
There are really great things about being self-employed. I could walk down and pick up the kids. Or if they had a special thing or a teacher meeting, I could just do it. But then I would have to bump my other work stuff to another time. I had the flexibility because I was my own boss. But I think you have to treat it like a job.
Q You’ve been looking to relocate to Vancouver Island in a couple of years. What has changed to enable a move at this point? And why Vancouver Island?
I grew up in Vancouver Island. I grew up in Nanaimo. And it’s the one place that I feel like myself. I don’t know, it’s the ocean, is the rocks, it’s the twisted, windy branches, it’s the wind in the forest. It’s like it’s part of my soul. And right now I’m in Surrey, outside Vancouver. I’m in the middle of suburbia. It’s crazy busy here. I’m tired of being here. [Editor’s note: Vancouver is a city in British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver Island is separate, across the inlet, toward the ocean, and is far more rural.]
My family and most of my relatives have moved to the island. I’ve always, always dreamt of living on the ocean and it’s out of reach in the Vancouver area. There’s no way I could afford to ever live on the ocean here. But because we’re living here in suburbia, our property values have kept going up. It’s finally getting to the point where I could sell my place here and live on the ocean in Vancouver Island. I’d have to be more remote, but it would be doable. The Internet’s out there and the ocean’s there. I can trade it for the lifestyle. Then I’d be also closer to my parents who are getting older now. They live on the island. My brother and sister both live there. My kids have grown up. They’ve moved out. So timing is starting to become an attainable goal instead of this thing that was always out of reach. It’s doable now. And so I would also like to have a piece of property that I could do retreats on. Maybe have an AirBnB or at least an option for people to stay. You know, that kind of thing. So I’m dreaming of the next phase. And we’re online based. I mean, what would be better than a studio out on the ocean that I could film and do live stuff? It can’t get better than that, for me personally. It’s going to happen in the next one to three years.
Q What’s your favorite part of the work you do?
A I absolutely just get fired up when I see [new] supplies. I’ve loved supplies since I was a little kid with my first box of 64 crayons. I had a thing of pencils, crayons and some older kids threw it up on the roof of the school and it was devastating. Like I have like this attachment to supplies and just the whole thought of like companies sending me product for me to test. And I get to play with them and see what they could do. Just the possibilities is probably the most exciting part. Working on something, chopping some clay up and throwing it in some liquid clay and seeing what happens. Does it work out well? Is it great? Is it a fail? Like I almost don’t care if it fails. I do. I would prefer a win. But like I just I forget about the stress, I forget about problem students, Web sites, forget about all complaints, just like I forget about all that stuff when I’m actually just mucking around and making stuff. And I also really love to teach and let people feel that same kind of excitement over their materials, too. Nothing makes me sadder than a perfect studio that never gets used, where the supplies stay in the in their bins. You know, I want stuff to get used. I want you to use the pasta machine so many times that you broke it. That’s what excites me. It’s just the sheer potential and materials and supplies. I look at the cake industry’s tools and think, could that be used to polymer clay? Could I use it in a whole new way? How about the woodworking field? How about this? How could you use it this way? So that’s what excites me about it.
Q And then on the flip side of that, what’s your least favorite part?
Typing out keywords for thousands of videos makes me want to stick pencils into my eyeballs. I hate spreadsheets. Excel can just really go, but my husband loves spreadsheets and so he wants some information that I just want to spill out and he goes, can you put it in a spreadsheet? THAT’S what I hate. I want to just…pencils in my eyes. I hate the computer. I love connecting through the computer. I love some of the social stuff. But yeah, spreadsheets and stuff. Hate, that’s what it is.
Q You haven’t pursued the international teaching circuit. Is there a reason for that? And would you consider teaching in the future?
Two things. I totally want to teach in other places, but it hasn’t made sense yet. We’ve got so much going on here that needs to be handled first. And financially, it hasn’t made sense.
Also, logistically, like I’m not allowed to teach in the States, you might see some Canadian teaching in the States, but do they have proper paperwork?
Yeah, I live close to the border. I have relatives in the United States. I am not going to jeopardize my ability to go down there whenever I want to. So I have to dot all I’s and cross all T’s. And I’m also really quite a terrible liar. So if I started trying to sneak through doing some that wasn’t 100 percent legit, I would be like stuck in some backroom getting strip searched. So that’s the reason why I haven’t taught in the states. I think internationally be a little different. I know the some of the Aussies want me to come down there. I’d have to look into it and see if that makes sense. I mean, if somebody wants to pay for me to come in there and do all of that, I might be game. I just I have so much on my plate, though. That’s why. It’s not because I don’t want to. I mean, I would love to go to all these places. My dream is to travel. And that would be the best way to do it.
Q How do you explain your career to people when they ask what you do for a living?
A Yeah, well, you know, my dad was self-employed, so I’ve been around self-employed people for a long time and I’ve been self-employed pretty much my entire marriage. I’ve had lots of other jobs as well. But yeah, it’s it’s a little hard to explain. I think what I do now is mostly just say I’m a YouTuber and they look at me like I’m nuts anyway. Then if they’re into that sort of thing, if they’re under if they’re under 50, they go, “Really? That sounds cool.” And then they’ll look you up. Like right there on the phone. And then they’ll see. And then they’ll get it. Most people don’t get what you do anyway.
Q How do you explain what polymer clay is to strangers?
A Well, I’m always wearing polymer clay jewelry because that’s all I have. And I mostly just wear that. So I’ll say, oh, this is polymer clay. This is what I make. And I teach it online. Most people are mostly interested in themselves anyway. I guess I’m not around that many people anymore. I really am not. I’m just mostly around my family and my best friend and, you know, at the grocery store, so I’m not around a lot of people that ask me, I don’t have to justify myself.
QWhat skill did you develop doing this that you never expected?
A That’s tricky because I think I’ve always expected to be able to develop any kind of skill I wanted to do. I’m not as as skilled as I would love to be, but okay with that. I’m constantly learning. I think I never feel “done”, so I feel like I’m always stretching, trying something new. There are skills that I’m trying to learn all the time, like on the business kind of side of things, the marketing side of things. I’m also learning to be more patient. I don’t know. That’s an interesting question for me. Obviously, you have me stumped. Because I think I’ve always believed in myself, so I wouldn’t be surprised by something that I learned how to do. But I’m not surprised by anything and I still have a million more things I want to learn.
Q How much time do you spend on various tasks in the business? What’s the split?
Like I said before, I spend the full week in the business. I take the weekends off. I’m behind the camera doing the content for our vault about four hours a week. And then I do the live Q&A, which is an hour, and then so that’s behind the camera directly interacting with Facebook people. Then answering questions and everything, but then I have to take the rest of the day to get the timestamps, answer the e mails. I’m probably spending five hours a week making content. I could be making content all the time, like if I could have some minions that handled posting. I do a kind of a crappy job at my social. I should really should be doing better social. I should be putting more time into it, but it’s not instinctual for me. So it’s takes more time. You should see how long it takes me to figure out how to make it 15-second. Tik Tok. And I only made four of them. So it’s hard for some of that social stuff. If I could have a social media manager here pumping out the stuff and just taking pictures and I could just be making I would do mostly that. But the split I would say right now is probably 20 percent making an 80 percent managing.
And I think people don’t understand that. I’m doing 20 percent more than what many people are doing. But even 20 percent, you consistently do that for years on end and that becomes a lot of a large amount.
Q Everyone has something unique about the way they were raised. What was the strangest thing about your childhood and how does that affect who you are today?
My mom was 18 years old when she had me and my dad was 24. So they were children, basically. And there were three of us. By the time my mom was 21, she had three children. My mom and dad grew up in Alberta. Their families were a little on the suffocating side, so they kind of escaped and went to Vancouver Island. So they got about as far away as they could away from the family. So we were this little unit of kind of chaos. I think my dad is ADD and I might a little like that. My parents loved each other so much and so that we had this really kind of chaotic but really loving little unit.
My mom was very forgiving of me, like I had to like way too much energy and I did things like one funny thing I did was my mom had this little tiny hammer for whatever reason. I think she used to hang up some pictures or something and she had a whole shelf of all of their wedding glassware, I guess they had a bunch of it. I went through and broke every single one of them with a hammer because it sounded so cool. She could hear the crash. And amidst all this chaos, little kids and babies and everything. She came flying in. She was only twenty one. I remember there was always this sort of energy, but she was so loving about it. She loved me so much, she was like stop behaving like that and let’s kind of rein it in. And my dad is super creative. He’s an inventor. He’s a fisherman and he invented fishing lures. So there was always this level of creativity and chaos and love, too. So I was never reprimanded for the creativity side. No one ever held me back. No one ever said, that’s a stupid idea. They just called me a muckety muck, you know, and they supported that creative side. And so that’s where I feel like I really shine is my kind of raw energy and my creativity.
And one other quick little story is my mom was a seamstress, a talented seamstress and she sewed me a bunch of matching outfits. You know, it was the 70s and she had like all these matching shorts and tops and I would refuse to put any of the actual ones together that matched. I’d always mix and match. She let me do that, even though it was probably driving her crazy. But it’s like you can you can see that in my work, like I likes things to be a little off balance. I like things to be a little quirky. I don’t care about mistakes. I get excited about things. And I think that’s directly from the way I was parented by these young people. My parents were growing up in that sort of cross between hippies and beehive hairdos, you know, that button down and wild and crazy, so I kind of have both. My friend said that I’m not bipolar, but I’m binary. She says I’m both black and white. There’s no gray for me. I’m just kind of both sides of chaos and order. And it’s interesting. But yes, the direct result of that.
Q What one thing do you wish you could make all polymer clayers understand?
A I would say enjoy the process. You see a lot of really great stuff online. A lot of gorgeous things, but you’re not seeing what it took to actually get there. A lot of people just want to end there, but they don’t understand what it took to get those skills. They don’t realize the mistakes that people make to get to that point of that neat looking piece. I wish people would stop being so insecure about failing. Or wasting or ruining supplies. People will say, “I bought that two years ago, but I never made anything with it yet.” One big thing I wish for people is to actually take the stuff off your shelves and put it on your bench and actually start mucking around, like just start playing and enjoying the process. Because eventually if you’re looking at what you’ve been making in, you’re going to improve. I would like people to look at their pieces a little more objectively and a little less emotionally. People say, “Oh, my stuff sucks.” And they don’t know why it sucks, like they they won’t look at things. They feel emotional, they’ll hide it or they’ll throw it out or they wish it was better or they feel really proud of it. But I wish that people just be enjoy the process more and look at things a little bit more objectively and a little less emotionally about things so that they can improve.
Q You have a long history of publishing April Fools videos. What are some of the best reactions you’ve had to them, good and bad?
I would like to do them every year. But the last couple of years, it just didn’t make sense to post them because we had too much other crap going on. Adding another thing to it just didn’t make sense. But I’ll get back to doing that.
I have the most fun trying to think of something ridiculous and then prove how it’s real. Doug will come up with the idea of a product that does some magical thing, and then I have to prove how it works. So I love trying to figure out the way it would work if it existed. Really tell the story about how the sun rays come down and they’re baking things or how the chemical works. You know, I like to just be in the story. I think it’s really fun. I got a comment on one about two days ago and it’s about four years old. The woman was trying to find this mysterious product online. Because people aren’t patient hey don’t actually watch the whole video. They jump all over the place. She’d been Googling, trying to find this product that didn’t exist. That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s funny you brought that up. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed doing those.