Jennifer Christiansen has always loved to hold onto memories of special times and to preserve them in some way. A self-taught landscape artist, rather than painting with her children, it felt natural to create art in the form of casts, and she began receiving requests for her work from friends and family members. After doing it as a much-loved hobby for many years, she eventually launched Hamilton Lifecasting Studio with her husband Aaron. From babies and pregnant bellies to entire families, faces, full-body casts, and even pets, they offer a wonderful way to preserve precious moments and memories in your life, including creating memorial and keepsake jewellery to keep loved ones close to your heart. Jennifer and Aaron also have a beautiful charity, Angel Casts, creating free casts for families who have lost a baby.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
I’ve always been a very sentimental type. Anything that represents a memory or feeling I have always wanted to hold onto, or capture and preserve in some way.
I think that stems from my mum. Memories of collecting shells on the beach with her and my brother, staying up all night making collages with these shells on drift wood, which I cherish more than anything for the memory of the people I was with and what that time in my life meant. That passion for preserving the past and cherished memories led me to want to capture the tiny features of my first born son. He was so little and so perfect, and I knew he’d grow all too fast and I’d soon forget how tiny he was – the texture of his skin, the way he held his hands and the expressiveness of his outstretched toes. I wanted to keep that just for me.
The launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
I had worked for years as a self taught landscape artist, so after my first son was born 12 years ago, I was hooked. It felt natural to create art with my children in the form of casts rather than paintings. I absolutely love the artform and the skill I’ve developed over the years to hand make these replicas.
I had never intended it as a business, it was just something I fell in love with, so much so that I did it free for family and friends just so I could get my ‘casting fix’. From there, word of mouth spread and people started contacting me asking me to cast their children, family, grandparents, and even pets. I did it for many years purely for the love of it.
After my 3rd son was born, when he was just 3 weeks old, my husband and I took a night class, with baby literally strapped to my back, to get our certificates in small business management. That propelled us into taking the next step to actually get a business plan in place and create a professional image and workspace.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
Being raised by a single mum who was a very generous and caring woman, she always taught me to share what I had, not just possessions but time, skill, and talent.
One morning I was asked by a local midwife if I could create casts for a family whose baby she’d delivered earlier that day. He was stillborn. I immediately wanted to help. I had a skill to offer, I had a talent, and I had material supplies to create an everlasting memory for a family, one that I know they will cherish for the rest of their lives. That experience changed my life. The midwife had intended to pay for the casts for this family, but I told her I never wanted to profit from another mother’s loss, so if she ever knows of any other families who lose a child to please offer them free casts from me, and I’ll be there whenever I’m called.
At the time, I had no idea what the demand would be, if any at all. But just as before, word of mouth spread. We started getting calls, once a month, once a fortnight, once a week. Eventually, we had one of our busiest periods with 12 callouts in one week. Many days having just left the hospital with a suitcase full of moulds, only to have my phone ring on the way home that I was needed back for another family. We had more requests than we could financially sustain ourselves. It was then that our charity service Angel Casts began. We now have several amazing volunteers and a professional board of trustees to help us manage the workload.
Going back to the original question, it wasn’t a breakthrough for my business, as I keep the two very separate, but it was a breakthrough for my heart. I finally could offer my skills and my talent, and it means so much more to me than any business success. It’s not something you could ever put a price on.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
Aaron and I now have 5 children: Max, 12, Ash, 9, Zac, 7, Fox, 5, and Abby, 2. So it’s certainly been a juggle running and working in our own business as well as founding and managing a registered charity. But they say “if you find a job you love with all your heart, you’ll never work a day in your life”. I enjoy my work so much that I continue to create on my days off.
My kids are cast regularly, my eldest has his face cast every year around his birthday to see how he grows and changes into a young man. It’s something we embrace as a family. So much so that my husband now works full time in the business with me, as well as volunteering for Angel Casts. Aaron creates the frames that protect these precious casts, and does a lot of the detailing and painting work too which requires a lot of skill and patience. In his down time he’s also a comic book artist and has an art space for drawing in the studio too. So I get to spend every day working alongside my husband, and we just get on like a house on fire.
Our studio is below our family home, so we are always there when the kids get home from school, and they enjoy hanging out and creating with us too. We’re a very arty bunch.