Astoria Characters: The Creator of Clayful Characters

It all occurred during Covid cocooning.

Kaitlin Kemp found that she had a lot of time on her hands, so she put them to work, doing what she always does, creating.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaitlin is from Virginia.

Because she and her then-boyfriend couldn’t go out on a date, they spent the evening crafting with clay, an activity that he had done years ago.

“I started making mini-foods,” Kaitlin says. “And then I saw an article in BuzzFeed about someone who makes earrings out of clay, so I made a pair for my best friend.”

Although Kaitlin was reluctant to turn her hobby into an official money-making business, she did create a website for the collection, which she calls Clayful Characters. (Clayful is, of course, a playful play on the word playful.)

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She makes clay jewelry.

Soon, she was getting online orders from around the country, and several local shops, including Anoria Boutique, Babs Home and Pantry and Gift Box, were carrying her designs.

Making jewelry is not something Kaitlin ever dreamed that she would be doing.

When she was growing up in Fredericksburg, Va., which is a 45-minute drive from D.C. when there’s no traffic, she envisioned being on stage by this stage of her life.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaitlin’s clay earrings and barrette.

“My mother was a high school theater teacher,” she says. “I was in a lot of her shows – I think my first role was when I was 3 or 4 – I played a babydoll in Raggedy Ann and Andy.”

Although she had and continues to cultivate many diverse interests, Kaitlin, a tall, slim and poised woman with a commanding presence, always fell back on theater.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in the subject from Rowan University, Kaitlin hit the Philadelphia and D.C. entertainment circuits, performing in musicals, dramas and comedies while working as a part-time server.

 In 2018, she moved to Bushwick, still uncertain of the role the city would play in her life and career.

“I moved into an apartment with three other girls from my college,” she says. “I took acting classes and worked as a server. I never dreamed of going to Broadway – it never was my North Star.”

By the time the pandemic turned the world upside down, Kaitlin had moved to Astoria and was working as a nanny.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaitlin modeling one of her colorful earrings.

“I kept that job during the lockdowns,” she says, adding that it was exciting to watch the progress her young charge made as she aged from 2 months to 18 months. “I love kids, and this was a bright light for me during the pandemic.”

At the same time, Kaitlin pursued acting and directing opportunities, which is what she was doing when she sat down in her apartment and started shaping clay into jewelry.

The pieces, which are made of polymer clay, are fired in her home oven.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaitlin is the social media coordinator for House Beautiful.

“Typically, it takes 45 to 50 minutes to bake them at 275 degrees,” she says.

From her canvas bag, she produces a small cloth pouch. She opens it, revealing several pairs of earrings.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
From the Clayful Characters collection.

Some are bold and colorful; others are small and subtle. All are designed to make a style statement.

This year, Kaitlin added a full-time job to her resume: She’s the social media coordinator for House Beautiful magazine, a position that she has fallen in love with.

“I took a little break from Clayful Characters because I was directing, acting and producing a children’s show in New Jersey,” she says. “But I’m ready to start making jewelry again.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
She’s working on a screenplay.

 The craft, she says, is a great way “to get out of my head, and it makes me feel like part of the Astoria community.”

Kaitlin isn’t sure what she’s going to be doing in the future or which direction her varied interests will take her.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kaitlin likes being part of the Astoria community.

“I have many loves,” she says. “But at the end of the day I want to collaborate and create community, and the way to do that best is being on the set.”

As she carefully packs the earrings back into the pouch, she adds, “I’m writing a screenplay for a short film, and I’m flooded with ideas.”

Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling