1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself Ali?
Hmm, always a hard question to answer without sounding like a resume, or a Personal ad. Well, I started my professional and educational life as a communication designer with emphasis on traditional media (paper, ink, bookbinding…) storytelling, and imagery. It was a natural fit because I like getting up close and personal with concepts and problems, pulling them part, and reinventing them as creative solutions, or unconventional interpretations to help people foster new perspectives.
2. Can you tell us about Burnish and Bone?
Burnish + Bone is the name of my taphonomy studio where we clean and preserve animal bones, teeth, and claws. People aren't usually familiar with the study of taphonomy, which is the investigation of organic decay and preservation, (imagine mummies and fossils) so, based on our creative approach to it, we call it "taxidermy without the skin." In a nutshell, we make fossils.
3. When and why did you start Burnish and Bone?
I was always fascinated by animal bones—I loved how they were artifacts of history; real windows into what was, and how things lived. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a palaeontologist and dig up dinosaur remains. Life didn't take me in that direction, but I stayed a dedicated naturalist; collecting animal shells, feathers, bones, and bugs, writing about my finds, cleaning them, and giving them respective spaces in my home. Next thing I knew, I was designing my life around these artifacts, and discovering their power as natural, historic, and artistic statements. Anyone that came by wanted to see my house and the bones, quills, and feathers. They wanted to know the stories, feel things, an examine them. It was interesting to me—like people were instinctually drawn to nature. They always looked upon the artifacts like distant family members; careful and curious, a little uncertain, but always tender. The requests I would get to "find someone a bone" were constant! Everyone either had, or knew of someone with a strong affinity for a particular animal. Usually the animal symbolized something to them—strength, wildness, calm... and the idea of having a unique representation of that feeling was important to them, instead of something mass-produced. I saw an opportunity to share my love for nature, and started Burnish + Bone in 2010—a bit more of a smelly basement than a real studio. 2015 marked it's true Renaissance as a real-deal business—one with a basin of clients, financial records, permits, and all the real-life stuff.
4. What type of clients do you get?
Usually nature-enthusiasts—people who want something beautiful for their homes that is personally resonant with their vision of the natural world. I’ve had a lot of people want particular animals because they have a personal connection to them, either spiritually or otherwise. For them, the bones are symbolic, and provide tangible access to things otherwise intangible, and therefore shareable to other people in their homes. Others just like having a cool conversation piece, and I’m always getting collectors knocking on my door.
5. What's the biggest challenge with what you do? Probably government logistics.
Most of my business deals with wild animal remains, and there are a lot of rules, permits, and regulations behind their acquisition and ownership. It can be intimidating to clients and it limits me and my sources. International shipping, for example, needs a lot of fees and documentation, which can be so outstanding that no one will bother— myself included! Nonetheless, I respect these rules because they do a stand-up job of protecting our Canadian wildlife from exploitation. In a way, they force you to heavily consider your actions in respect to our natural world, and we could all stand to do that from time to time.
6. How do you network and get new clients?
When you clean and preserve animal bones for a living, it always makes for amusing conversation. When people find out that’s what I do, they are always curious to know more, and it’s remarkable how many people would, or know of someone that “would be totally interested in a bear-fang pendant!” I don’t play well with social media—too crazy for me—so I lean heavily on word-of-mouth, and real human contact. It may be slower-paced, but when you make quality connections with people based on bonafide relationships, the network of support that blossoms from it is amazing. I am always busy!
7. What other crafts do you indulge in?
When I’m not burnishing bones, I teach yoga, meditate, write, draw, read anything I can get my paws on, and enjoy cooking good meals for my friends and family.
8. Did you take any courses to learn your current craft, or are you self-taught?
It was all me, baby.
9. I love that! What's your most memorable story operating Burnish and Bone, I'm sure you encounter many interesting clients!
I think my most interesting "client" was someone who approached me one day and asked, "Would you clean my parrots’ skulls?" I looked at him and smiled, "Sure! I have never had parrots in my studio before, I would be happy to.” He looked at me a little hesitantly, "Really?" "Sure, the process is always the same." I replied "I don't need, like, a special permit or anything?" "Not unless you live outside of Canada…” I said, noting the curious expression beginning to wrinkle his forehead. He stared at me for a long time, and I stared back. I could tell he was trying to send me some kind of psychic message, like I had missed a punch-line, or we were communicating in some kind of codified language. I tried to match his expression, ending in a dumb grin. “Great!” he exclaimed, “My folks will be so happy—they asked if I could find a creative way of commemorating them after they passed away, and when I mentioned your site, they were so excited!” Parents. Not Parrots. I suddenly realized we weren’t talking about birds. Needless to say, the transaction never proceeded—not that I didn’t honour his intention, but, even I get creeped-out by stuff.
10. Any tips for staying motivated as an indie business owner when times are tough?
I have a quote by Albert Schweitzer that I fall back on when I feel discouraged: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
11. How about any tips for success for beginner indie business owners?
Before you do anything, before you spend a single penny: realize your business inside-out. Develop a business plan, isolate your client demographic, know your brand, colours, schtick, mantra, ethics, and mission statement. Write up your terms and conditions. Get your business so deeply memorized that if anyone were to ask any question about anything you do, you could answer them succinctly and confidently. Love your business by breathing life into it, and protecting it because it is yours. Don’t let people take advantage of you by having your documentation ready, your t’s crossed, and your i’s dotted. Be fearless, confident, and never be discouraged—you can’t finish a marathon without running it, first.
Thanks so much for sharing the behind-the-scenes on your unique and awesome indie business! Check out her website, Burnish and Bone!