It was with a spirit of experimentation that Brisbane art student Emily Engel picked up an offcut of plasterboard on her father’s building site and began carving into it with a nail. Years later, whilst working as a graphic designer, she began yearning to make something with her hands, and she again picked up some plasterboard and began carving. She opened Kuberstore to sell her hand-carved plaster typography online, and an influx of orders and the resulting weariness in her fingers saw her learning to make moulds and take castings of her original carvings. The loveliness of plaster as a material took hold, and she began to make other things with plaster, too. Reflecting Emily’s love of nature, elements such as eggs and seedpods featured in a variety of homewares, and it is these items that make up much of the Kuberstore range today. 

A hand carved plasterboard letter.

A hand carved plasterboard letter.

Tell us a little about you and Kuberstore.

As a kid I made things out of clay and feathers and sticks and paper, and collected enthusiastically. My room was always cluttered with shells, rocks, nests, seedpods and driftwood. As an adult, not much has changed! I sell my nature-inspired plaster home decor and other gift items both online at Etsy.com and at local markets under the brand Kuberstore. I have worked as a window dresser, bookseller and graphic designer. Now, when I am not making things for Kuberstore, I do some freelance design work as well as tend my vegie garden, admire my flock of bantam hens, bake, swim and rummage about in the bushes for interesting things. When I find an egg fallen from a nest I am delighted. I live in Brisbane with my husband Carl and our cat, Oliver.

What's it like working with plaster and what other materials do you enjoy working with?

Working with plaster is dusty and messy, but I love that it goes through a chemical reaction that makes it go warm when it’s curing. It’s as though it’s coming to life. I like the whiteness of it, and how strong it is even though it doesn’t always appear so.

I also really enjoy working with sticks, which I use to make my wall hangings. There’s something wonderful about taking a very raw and ordinary-looking dry branch, peeling off the rough bark to reveal the pale interior, and then sanding it back until it’s smooth. It just feels so lovely in my hands when I’m working with it.

I also love paint, paper, string, wire and old rusty tin. I sometimes like to turn an old material into something new.

What are your creative inspirations and influences?

I am very sustained by being out in nature, and I like to bring the outside in to my home. I love textures and patterns and the physical act of making something from scratch. I like it best when people say they haven't seen anything quite like my handmade items before.

I'm inspired by other makers whose work reflects the amount of time and care they've put into it, and this is a characteristic I try to make apparent in my own work.

Where did the name 'Kuberstore' come from? 

I had a very splendid cat called Kubrick, and one of her nick-names was 'Kuber' (along with 'Koobster', 'Miss Kitka' and 'Oh-you-are-so-squashy-and-warm'). She lived until she was 17 years old. When I first signed up with Etsy as a buyer, I used 'Kuber' as my login. Before long I was listing things to sell. I liked 'Kuber' because it was both a nonsense word, and also a word that meant a lot to me. When it came time to register my business name, I made the change to 'Kuberstore' then.  

Where can I see your work? 

You can visit my Etsy store to view the current range of Kuberstore products. If you are in Brisbane, Australia, you can see Kuberstore in person at a number of local craft and handmade markets. Visit my blog for upcoming market dates. Kuberblog also has posts about how I make things, my garden, house, chickens, travels and things I admire.

Do you wholesale any of your products? 

No, I am not currently filling any wholesale orders. Thanks so much for your interest!

What are you working on now

I have recently made a number of new gumnut moulds, and am currently working on a range of wall hangings that incorporate hemp twine 'petals' into some of the gumnuts. The resulting wall hangings are quite intricate and I am enjoying working with the hemp - it's such a beautiful material and it really complements the plaster elements. I've also just completed an enormous statement piece made from hundreds of my tiniest gumnuts suspended from a large branch. It's huge!

Thanks to Lisa Herse and Sian Whitehall for your questions!

Casuarina branches for wall hangings await varnishing.

Casuarina branches for wall hangings await varnishing.

A speckled plaster egg in progress.

A speckled plaster egg in progress.

Rainbow speckled plaster eggs.

Rainbow speckled plaster eggs.