Sunday, 23 May 2010

Gift packaging - important and appreciated, or plain wasteful?

This subject comes up on craft selling forums on a regular basis and there are as many differing opinions on it as there are posters responding.

It seems to be an age-old and perpetual dilemma between creating a good impression, getting items safely and securely to your buyers, not adding to the cost for your customer and in also being mindful of the planet's limited resources.

Some sellers feel that creating a good impression when buyers open their goods is vitally important and the presentation of your goods is one of the stages that just needs to be done right, along with prompt communication, good products and excellent customer service. Which is my view too. I feel that if you are proud of your work, it should be presented with care and I take that a stage further by hand making all my presentation materials too.

My jewellery is presented, wrapped safely in 2 wraps of tissue paper, inside my own made gift envelopes. I make a variety of sizes and colours and dress each one individually.

I think that people buy artisan made and hand crafted goods because they want something special, that bit different and I think that personal attention to the customer should be a part of that experience. After all, if they just want a pair of earrings to match an outfit, they can easily pick something up with their grocery shop and I'm sure that many people do just that every day.

I make my gift presentation materials myself. There is a downloadable tutorial below for the envelopes and a tutorial for the ribbon rosebuds was added later here on the blog.

But if they bother to look on-line and want something a little more unique, they probably expect to pay a little more for it too. But they also expect quality, craftmanship and when buying from an independent artisan, probably do so because they enjoy that direct connection with the artist that created the piece - and expect a little personal service. And as such an artist, it's important to me to give it too. I want to give the type of service I'd like to receive.

I make my own small swing tickets to hang on each piece with the materials used and my logo and web address. They're linen textured card and each one has a string of natural coloured glossy linen thread.

But for every seller that wants their customer to have a thoroughly pleasant experience, there is another who claims to throw everything away that comes in the parcel and say they won't buy from you as you're clearly wasteful and inconsiderate of the planet. I think each seller just has to do what they think is right for their business - the approach that sits most comfortably with them and is appropriate for their product and their chosen niche in the marketplace. I have carefully designed my packaging materials to give my customers a safely packaged item, that looks nice, is considerate of the planet's resources and doesn't add excessively to the cost of the item for the customer.

My outer mailing boxes - shown here assembled, but not taped - once they are sealed, they are very rigid and protect the contents well. They are thin enough to be posted as a large letter.

In fact, my current system, of packing pieces in flat hand made envelopes, then putting these securely in rigid box mailers, actually saves money as it ensures they go as large envelopes, not packets, a postage saving on each parcel of £0.76 from the outset - much more difficult to control and predict with padded bag mailers. The boxes themselves cost only a few pennies more than a bubble mailer, so save a worthwhile amount on every item I send out. I further save by making most of my presentation materials myself, which I think is appropriate for the hand crafted experience customers expect and appreciate. The feedback from my customers endorses my approach, the quality of my packaging is mentioned often.

Most of the material in my parcel is paper based, so can be recycled - and some items in themselves contain recycled material. Many of the ribbons I use are re-purposed from other packaging and I have quite a lot of vintage ribbon from a former family business and my own haberdashery shop. I actually only use a small length, per item and think my presentation strikes a good balance between achieving an attractive appearance without using too many wasteful materials - the resulting total weight of the parcel is also a factor when considering postage costs.

My items are wrapped in tissue to protect them in transit and inside a gift envelope. Each piece has a care leaflet outlining the materials used and how to care for them. I include my own made business cards and one of my photo greetings cards in which I always hand write a note. Where appropriate, I also include polishing and storage materials.

I think the product itself also strongly influences your approach - a large piece of glass or ceramics, or a large art canvas clearly has differing considerations from a pair of earrings and direct comparisons clearly can't be made.

But as a jewellery maker, I fully appreciate that nobody needs my items. They're not essentials, they're a luxury purchase - and a luxury in difficult financial times. Whether the customer is buying to wear themselves, or as a gift for someone else, I think their trust in you should be rewarded with the best possible service you can give - across the board - from the quality of your workmanship, communication, speed of service and presentation.
I'm currently making my own full colour business cards as I can just print as many as I need and can vary the designs with what is current in my portfolio.

They want their items to arrive totally safely and in a timely manner, but also to feel suitably pampered by the experience. I love it when a customer says that opening their order felt like Christmas - that's just how I want them to feel. That's how I'd like to feel too.

So I make no apology for making the effort to present my work nicely. I'm proud of my work and take pride in presenting it to someone. I thoroughly appreciate all of my customers and it genuinely gives me great joy to think that it might just put a smile on their face when it arrives.

A selection of typical presentation materials I use when sending out orders.

Gift envelope tutorial to download:

I sell a tutorial on Etsy for an origami gift box and have always included a bonus section within this on how I make my own gift envelopes, as illustrated above. I've spent some time over the years in perfecting my methods to make them as efficient (in both materials usage and wastage-prevention and in time that they take to make) and attractive as possible, so thought I'd pass on this experience. They're incredibly simple to make and only need a suitably heavy paper, scissors, a straight edge (or I use a scoring board and tool) and some suitable glue or double sided tape. I've included some tips on sizes and how to get the best results.

The tutorial has been extracted and expanded on a little from my single bonus page with the box tutorial and is available to download from here. It is 635Kb in size and available as a pdf document. If you click the link, it should open in your browser and you can save it to your hard drive from there. Please do not re-distribute this file (or printed copies of it) without permission or make it available to download anywhere else. Please direct people back to this post, so that they're sure to get the latest version of the tutorial.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The evolution of a design

I talked in my last blog about how designs come about and that I see the design process rather like a tree - ideas branch out and grow and sometimes overlap other ideas and merge with them.

The design process for me is one of evolution, one thought often cannonballs into another and takes you in another direction - often without any conscious intention or control whatsoever - in fact, for me, this process is sometimes so energetic that keeping it under some modicum of control is the tricky part.

The spiral links I'd been working with previously, in a smaller gauge of wire and size, hammered smooth and highly polished. Here worked in Sterling silver for earrings.

It would seem very unlikely for me to ever be heard uttering the words that 'I'm stuck for inspiration' or ideas or 'don't know what to work on'. I must have hundreds of sketches yet to take form and variations of pieces already made waiting for realisation, that my biggest problem is deciding how to prioritise on what I give my time. I spend much of my life in perpetual frustration where I have ideas I want to work on and are spilling out of my mind, but other things I just have to do first.

A single spiral link in an intermediate size, used as a connector in these leaf themed earrings. I adjusted the wire gauge to give rise to a leaf spiral around the same size as the glass leaves I wanted to use. Antiqued smoothly hammered copper.

I don't think, perhaps beyond the age of about 12, I have ever uttered the words "I'm bored". The concept is totally alien to me. I must have about a million things on my 'to do' list - things I want to work on, things I want to try, things I want to learn, books I want to read, places I want to visit - that life is way, way too short to squander any of it in being bored.

That's how it has been this week design-wise - one idea morphing into another and some ideas I had on the back burner, bubbling away in my subconscious, suddenly gained momentum when brought into contact with some new thought.

I'm still not entirely done with the spiral links I've done a lot of lately. It's such a versatile unit to work with that they take on different guises depending on the size you make them and the finish you give them. This week I went much smaller with them than the links I'd used in bracelets and they come out lovely and delicate and deliciously fluid when worked together and finished and polished to a high degree.

Hammering them smooth and then polishing them gives a reflective, tactile chain that you just want to stroke. They can be used singly as connectors with interest, or collectively as a chain. See photos above.

This was meant to be an experiment to see if the idea I'd sketched would actually work, but I quite like how it turned out as a finished piece in itself, so I finished it off by antiquing. The beads are unakite.

I'd seen some fabulous work in copper this week using lots of wire wrapping - this is something I admire, but perhaps don't have the patience or technique yet to work on anything extensive, but I had some ideas I wanted to work through too - my initial idea was to make a large spiral link, as above, but wrap the bottom open section with beads.

I was trying to ascertain a methodology for attaching beads around the outside of the shape with wire wrapping and wanted to work with balled head pins and came up with this technique, which I worked out on paper first and seeing that there were flaws in my original ideas, they needed working out. The pendant above was the result of that process - the pins needed anchoring in some way to prevent them from being too easily bent away from the master shape they were wrapped around.

This pendant was the next incarnation along my ideas branch. It was made initially as a leaf (soldered and hammered into shape), that I was going to wrap with small green aventurine beads like the round pendant above, but I decided it was going to come out too large with beads as well, so wrapped it with just the ball ended pins and connected the fine chain in the wrapping as I went.

Having suspended it on the chain the way that I have and without the green beads I was intending, it now looks rather more like a heart than a leaf. I'd made the ball pins as a rosy colour and deliberately allowed this to remain as I antiqued and polished the piece.

Continuing along my branch of ideas, these earrings came about after working the heart/leaf without beads, I sketched some shapes that would work well with that particular wrapping technique - it needed smooth round outer curves or straight lines ideally and this shape allowed me to get a 'circle' without soldering, as I wanted to only part wrap the shape and this balanced the bottom detail and intense texture with further interest at the top.

I decided that to balance the round earring, the earwires needed to either be round in shape, which didn't work as nicely as I hoped, or in some other way reflect the details. So I went with a long straight drop earwire, to drop the wide earrings well below the ear and mirrored the wrapping with a wrapped loop rather than an eye to connect the earrings.

After oxidising, I decided to only polish back the wrapped details and leave this highlighted against the darker gunmetal finish of the scroll and I also highlighted the wraps on the earwires too. I think, having taken that particular evolutionary journey this week through these designs, this is the one I like best.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

This week I have mostly been spiralling and coiling

Design is a funny business. As I've written about before, finished designs come about through all manner of routes. Some designs take form through the determination to achieve a particular result or overcome a problem, some just happen because that is where the metal takes you, some pieces end up the way they do because something either went wrong, or didn't work as expected and you're making the best of the change in direction.

Sometimes I simply dream the making of the design (I have one such piece in progress and will blog about it when finished) or I wake up with it fully formed after my subconscious has toiled away on a thorny problem, from the previous day, whilst I slept.

Further to my earlier blog about working extensively with copper, I took the idea of bracelet links I made at that time and made similar links into earrings.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

But one phenomena that does happen for me on a regular basis is the branching out of ideas from one initial thought. You start off working a piece - either on paper, or actually with materials - and as you're working, either another idea occurs to you from the shapes before you, or you change direction from your original idea. I have the mental picture that ideas reside in the shape of a tree - some branches become dead ends and never bear fruit, others keep growing and changing direction - growing to overlap other ideas and sometimes merging.

My figure of 8 links merged with last weeks spiral links in this antiqued copper bracelet. I'd vowed in an earlier blog that I would spend all day Tuesday locked into making things and I did indeed manage that and this was one of the results - although this was not one of the ideas in my head when I switched the light on above my workbench.

I often find that I therefore work in very particular periods of closely associated themes and I very much doubt that I am alone in this. This can arise where the mind gets locked into an idea and others just flow from it, or from a more practical perspective, once you get set up for a particular technique, it's easier to make more of the same, or similar, at the same time. I also often find that it takes a few copies of a component before I get the measurements and technique just right and once I have and am on a roll, it's worth making a few of the same thing once the creative rhythm is established.

My commission necklace had required spiral wrapped beads too, so whilst working them, I used the same technique in this bracelet, inter-spaced with coiled copper links, I'd also used in another commission design. I'd initially tried with a larger gauge of wire, but they came out far too big for the bracelet, but made a good basis for a pair of earrings, featuring lovely spring green serpentine jade ovals:

Earrings to match the bracelet above.

This is just how it was this week. I received a commission for a necklace and earring set based on a design I'd not made for some time - and in a period before I made such meticulous notes on techniques, tools used and measurements, to make returning to past-worked designs that bit easier.

So I had to set about working out how I'd previously made the figure of 8 links at the core of the design - and having done so and got into a rhythm and consequently consistent in my workmanship - I made more than needed and worked these into some brand new pieces - and I'm nowhere near done yet, I still have more ideas in mind to work on - just from one innocuous little hammered figure of 8 link.

I even found myself working it together with the spiral links I'd got locked into last week - the two were of a weight and texture that co-ordinated well, so some pieces show two themes merged into something new.

The antiqued copper bracelet shown was worked entirely from the one gauge of raw copper wire, as shown.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

This week I have mostly been photographing copper

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer. ~ Ansel Adams

Further to my previous blog about all my recent work in copper, which included some work in progress photos, I'm going to cheat a little and just add a brief post here to update my previous comments and show some photographs of those pieces completed.

I showed this bracelet in its raw copper, post-tumbled state in the earlier blog. It has now been deeply oxidised and further tumbled to give it a lustrous glossy warm gunmetal finish, just with hints of copper showing through on proud surfaces.

I've now managed to clear some of my backlog and have got some of those finished pieces photographed and listed for sale, but I still have many to do - and all the design ideas buzzing around my head refuse to budge until they're made too. My mind works overtime with shapes and techniques desperate to take form in metal and I can't wait to get to my tools sometimes and let the ideas break free and see where it takes me.

A single piece teardrop shaped copper pendant, wire wrapped to hold a deep red dyed coral bead in position. I showed a raw copper version of another pendant of this design and they have both now been antiqued to highlight the texture of the wrapping and coiled bail.

I am aiming to treat myself to a whole day of just making things on Tuesday, as I will have a whole day to myself for the first time in a while - so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that nothing crops up over the weekend to change those plans. I will prepare my work area ready the evening before, wash the breakfast pots on Tuesday morning and then allow myself a whole day of just tinkering. I shall plug in my MP3 player, top up the coffee pot and indulge my creative desires. Bliss.

Antiqued copper and rhyolite (sometimes called Rainforest Jasper because of the earthy tones) earrings made before Easter and finally photographed.

One pair in a series of hammered oval earrings with a variety of finishes and metals. I took photographs of these whilst away over Easter, when stuck inside during a heavy downpour and found the forgotten photos with great glee this afternoon.

And sometimes, you see the item in a photograph and realise that it just doesn't work as well as you hoped. I was really happy with this swirled copper ring wrapped with silver - it actually looks really nice in person, but in the photographs, the antiquing looks scruffy and rough and the wrapping looks loose and undisciplined. So I shall have to give it some more attention if it's to look decent in the 'larger-than-life' photographs. It's one of the inherent perils of showing small items of jewellery like this, they end up being shown somewhat larger than they are in reality and it really highlights any shortcomings in your workmanship.


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