Monday, 23 January 2017

Valuing my work: how and why

So lately I've been thinking. A lot. These grey, cold, foggy days have meant much cosying-in and introspection. Sometimes about little things, sometimes about bigger plans. And often - especially during my working day - about business.

I'm not business-minded at all. But I'm slowly learning to be. There have been some tough (and expensive) lessons learned so far, but learning I am. Particularly about the value of the work I produce and my time.

I recently reconsidered the pricing on my commissioned paintings, the watercolour personalised ones. Because - having spoken to several friends and fellow artists - I was charging far too little, to the point where I was paying myself below the minimum wage. Yes, I know I'm doing something I love. But it's also my job, and a job needs to pay the bills.

So here's why handmade costs more: we small creative outfits don't mass-produce things. The customer sees the finished product. They don't see the research, notes, books filled with preliminary sketches. Or the number of hours it takes to draw detailed lettering and studies, the playing with paint colours to get exactly the right shade (all the photos in this post are of 'scrap' work, part of the whole making process). The time spent ordering supplies and carefully packaging finished work. The cost of materials, sourcing and going out to buy them. 

I also spend a lot of time answering queries. Or putting together stock lists, taking additional photographs, emailing back and forth. It's not unusual to put several hours into a single enquiry or potential order, only for the customer to then disappear without so much as an explanation.

Of course, I don't mind if people make enquiries and choose not to buy. It's something I do myself. It's what commerce, retail is all about: choice. And of course I respect that. But these things do eat into my time, and that time is precious as it's when I get to do my work (whilst Joe's at school - attempting anything work-related when he's at home is just not an option). It can also happen during the evenings or at weekends. Family time is just as precious and I need to set boundaries. It's very hard not to get excited when people want to order things, so it's all too easy to enter into dialogue and try to accommodate them when I should have switched off for the night.

Sometimes it's disheartening when you're at a craft market and people baulk at buying a Christmas card priced at £2. But that's another lesson I've learned: choose your markets well. Because by the time you've paid for your table, spent hours making products to sell, transported everything there, built your display (with prices and signage), and packed it all up again at the end of the day... well, more often than not you're lucky if you manage to break even.

I've seen so many hand-made things for sale in the local library or at craft fairs, and the makers mustn't be making any money at all. Beautiful, carefully and intricately-crafted items priced so cheaply. Perhaps it's because we're so used to the whole throwaway society thing where people pay (and expect to pay) next to nothing for their goods. 

Selling through galleries and shops, too: often this is on a sale-or-return basis and a maker will be charged a commission of 30%, often 50%. Understandable, of course - they have overheads to pay - but again this can minimise your profits. It's usually a matter of getting your work out there, getting established, and accepting that you're working for the love of it.

Another example is printmaking: for monoprints I will go out and collect plants, bring them home to identify and press, then weeks later start the printing process. For each saleable print there will be several which don't work. I keep them all anyway, because (silly as it sounds) I get attached. And they get attached - to the walls of my workroom, to the fridge.

You see, that's the thing: we makers put our hearts and souls into what we do. We care about customer service, about people getting what they want. We put in long hours and we have stories. Our work (hopefully) reflects our passion.

I didn't want this post to sound like a big whinge-fest, not at all. I love what I do. After more careers than you can wave a stick at, I've found The One. I'm excited about the future and what it will bring. I find myself writing things down, planning and plotting, late into the night. And I enjoy that. There are so many things I want to try.

But I have to value my work for what it's worth, or other people won't either.

There is definitely a move towards an appreciation for the handmade and the handcrafted. Let's hope it continues and that we can celebrate the makers. 

Friday, 6 January 2017


It's 2017 and I finally have the opportunity to write a little update from Frond & Feather.

It's been a while since I last posted; with the run-up to Christmas being so hectic (especially with school activities) we were all ready for a break. So I decided to do just that. After doing the gift fair I packed away my art equipment and took a bit of a holiday from social media too. 

And now I'm emerging. I have a new built-in desk which, although lovely and spacious and functional, desperately needs painting. I have lots of plans. And I've got a few projects and commissions on the go too.

The one in the pictures was for a 60th birthday in December. A bit removed from my usual subject matter but you have to be prepared to be flexible sometimes...

I'm currently working on an autumnal, woodland-themed one for a new baby. It's the kind of thing I really enjoy - particularly when I can sit downstairs in the warmth, drawing board on my knee. 

But enough about all that.

I write this blog section of the website not just to share what I do, but hopefully to help and encourage any other creative people out there. Frond & Feather is very much a fledgling enterprise and I'm always learning hard lessons. Occasionally I get things right, too.

This year I have to be more business-minded: more organised, more structured, more savvy with finances. And more proactive in terms of promotion and using social media. Much of that stuff makes me wince, admittedly, but if I really want to make a success of this little business I have to stop treating it as a hobby and more as a profession.

Last month I ordered The Maker's Yearbook. No, this isn't a sponsored post or even a plug. I thought long and hard about purchasing it but knew deep down that I'd benefit from being part of an online community, from talking to other creatives, from taking a much more structured approach.

I have a lovely new calendar on the wall in my workroom too and I fully intend to use it. Same with my pinboard. 

So, here's a quick list of my intentions for 2017:

Keep a proper track of my finances
Use social media effectively
Get comfortable with marketing, promotions etc.
Regularly add to my online shop
Explore new avenues and opportunities
Improve my photography skills
Manage my time more efficiently
Enjoy working for myself and the freedom it gives me

I have other plans and projects too, both work-related and personal. I'm looking forward to sharing them.

Hope you have a great 2017. And thank you for visiting.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


I've been busy lately, working on a few commissions and preparing for an upcoming Christmas fair. My printmaking has focused on carving out the alphabet in a circus font (pictures will appear soon - I'll explain that shortly). Not something that necessarily fits in with my nature-themed work but I thought the prints would make good gifts for children once they're rendered in bright colours and mounted.

As you can imagine, carving 26 letters into lino took quite a lot of time. But now they're done.

Today I've got a joiner in the house and he's making me a built-in desk and shelves in the workroom. It's a very small, very awkward space as it houses the staircase bulkhead and some very odd boxed-in pipes. So everything's temporarily living in our bedroom.

I closed the door on it all this morning and now (due to a broken handle which should have been fixed months ago) the bedroom door is stuck. I can't get to my cameras, my purse, anything. Hence the lack of photos of my lino-cutting - the images need downloading onto the computer from a camera. Frustrating.

Anyway... I do have some pictures from one of my recent commissions. It was posted off to Ireland last week. I enjoyed drawing and painting it: a spring theme for a birthday. The best bit for me was painting the fritillary . I love doing precise, detailed things.

I'll photograph and share other recent work in a future post. Many of my projects are commissioned for gifts, so I have to check with customers that they're happy for me to publish images. I wouldn't want to risk spoiling any surprises!

I only have a week until the Christmas fair, and there are so many things I'd like to do: line drawings, gift tags, prints, perhaps even some little origami boats. I suspect that once the house is back in order I'll be working late into the night. Fortunately I forget the time when I get absorbed in what I'm doing. Unfortunately it can get very difficult to switch off...

Which reminds me: the Frond & Feather shop. Must add a few more items.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Autumn inspiration

I make no secret of the fact that autumn is my favourite time of year. Granted, flowers for pressing and printing are now going to seed. But there are still lots of stems and grasses to collect. Seed heads too, albeit those which aren't too fleshy or rigid. The dill in the garden is perfect for pressing (and the scent reminds me of my Polish grandma's kitchen).

Ferns work particularly well for print making. They're robust enough to stand up to the brutal process, and they make great shapes. I love that there are so many types to experiment with.

The Himalayan Balsam - thuggish as it is - is now popping seeds out for all it's worth. But once the pink and purple flowers die back we'll be left with more seasonal colours, like the bright orange fungi I spotted growing amongst the moss. It just says 'Halloween' to me.

Of course, there's that point in the year where the air is filled with thistledown. 

And after that: falling leaves. The pavements are full of them at the moment. Despite having a bright and sunny October so far, we've also had some incredibly gusty winds. The sunflowers in the garden have braved it, but the few casualties have been brought into the house and put in stoneware jugs and pots to be admired.

I do love rosehips. Brick-red or deep crimson. They inspired a pen-and-ink illustration last year; maybe I need to bring a few little sprigs indoors to study again.

I'm also planning to sketch conkers, acorns and sycamore keys. And despite all this riot of rich colour all around, I'll be keeping my work simple and monochrome. Which is a bit of a departure from my usual detailed style. Sometimes it's all about exploring new avenues.

My online shop is almost there. I'll admit, I'm wrestling with the admin side of it all. HTML and setting up payment methods etc. is getting the better of me but I'm nearly ready. And I'm excited about sharing some of my work.

In the meantime I'm getting outdoors, enjoying the season and taking photographs.

I don't even mind if the weather takes a turn for the worse. I actually prefer a bit of gloominess for photographic purposes (although I'd like to get my vitamin D levels topped up first in readiness for winter)...

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


Part of this whole making and selling thing is finding ways to get your products out there. Yes, I sell the odd print through a gallery. And I've tried local shops too. The gallery is fine: it's actually very flattering to have my work sold alongside some really incredible art. The shop thing - well, you have to be willing to pay up to (and sometimes over) a 50% commission. Ouch.

I'm currently working on my online shop. It's important to me to get it looking just right, which means well-lit product photography and ease of use for customers. Hopefully that should be up and running within the next few weeks.

So what about the fairs? Art fairs, craft fairs, farmer's markets and so on. 

Here's what I've learned:

1. It involves a lot of hard work. Listing stock, considering display, finding (and making) props, labelling and pricing, packing everything into boxes, loading the car(s), unloading at the other end, setting up. Then doing it all in reverse when it's time to go home.

2. You can often pay a lot of money for a table which means you're starting at a loss. It's usual to end up just about breaking even by the end of the day.

3. Some people don't want to pay more for hand made items. Others expect to. It can depend on where your market is, the demographic, whether people are actually wanting to buy or simply to browse because they're looking for somewhere to go on a weekend.

4. 'Craft and vintage' fairs don't work that well for craftspeople. Visitors are generally attracted by the prospect of finding vintage items as opposed to hand made goods.

5. If you're not careful you can end up spending a lot of your takings on food and coffee. Especially on a cold day. There's a lot of standing around and temping cakey aromas are everywhere.

Because of this, I've decided that - for me at least - markets and fairs aren't the way to go. It's lovely to meet people and to discuss my work, and to talk to other makers. But the amount of work and expense that goes into them (for me at least) seldom pays off. 


I decided to go along to the Incredible Edible HarFest this year. It's local (the above view from my table shows the road to our house). The pitch was free. And I knew several friends and family were hoping to come along.

Of course, the morning of the event was dark and wet and windy. The gazebo is very flimsy indeed. I wasn't sure anyone would actually bother showing up. But I'd put a lot of work into printmaking, listing stock and all the rest of it. So we got up very early and got on with it.

By lunchtime the sun was out and, even though the gazebo was trying its best to break free, we were enjoying ourselves.

I met some really lovely people, including the ladies in the tent next door (willow crafts) and a fellow Instagrammer Bryony - she takes the most beautiful photographs.

Business was brisk too. It's always interesting to see what people gravitate to. In this case: monoprints. The coloured ones in particular (see below)...

Although that particular example is framed in my house :)

Incredible Edible is a great initiative, encouraging people to grow their own food locally. So it was a good place to sell at. There was live music alongside local producers and charities, craftspeople and the museum where the event was held.

Once the sun was out we even took the walls down. That way the wind blew straight through instead of threatening to launch us skywards.

Best of all, we were packed up again and home by 3.30. And we hadn't succumbed to the temptations of the sausage sandwich stall.

So I broke my own rule (no more markets) on this occasion. And it definitely paid off.

Perhaps I'll still do the (very) odd one...

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Into the woods

The past few weeks have been very busy indeed and I've struggled to find the time to get any work done at all. I've also found myself in that awful rut where I'm not sleeping properly, so between feeling exhausted and taking care of a little one - and failing to do much creative stuff - I'm completely frazzled.

I don't care what people say: in-laws are a wonderful thing. Especially when they offer to babysit and give you a few hours off. Which is what happened yesterday.

We're very fortunate around here in that we have lots of beautiful countryside right on the doorstep. And when I'm in search of green therapy there are plenty of spots I can escape to for a solitary wander.

It's also how I get my inspiration: watching the seasons change, noticing details. Right now I'm planning on collecting grasses, stems and leaves ready to press and preserve. In the lean winter months I'll then have plenty of specimens to use for printmaking.

One place I visit is the reservoir. It was built in Victorian times; you can see the remnants of an abandoned village and follow a track which goes right around the water. There are numerous mysterious little paths which disappear into the trees too.

It's all surrounded by a mixture of deciduous and (planted) evergreen forest. 

Some places are, for me, perfect for exploring at this time of year. The heather's in bloom on the hillsides and there are signs of autumn's approach. 

I haven't quite detected that feel in the air just yet but it's coming. And I do like the damp leaves underfoot and the gold hues creeping into the foliage.

Despite the fact that I'd worn some very unsuitable footwear (Converse which have seen better days) I spotted lots of funghi across a stream, on the floor of the aforementioned deciduous woodland. So I somehow hopped from rock to rock and balanced on a slithery log but got there without landing in any water.

There were so many mushrooms and toadstools. It was fascinating to spot them all.

The textures - rough and dry, shiny and wet. And all different shapes and sizes.

They were growing amongst the dead leaves, on trunks and mossy stumps.

In fact it was such good fun to look at them all, we took Joe back there this morning and found even more (sadly not pictured): huge yellow moons and tiny, dark violet umbrellas.

I'm not sure that mushrooms would be suitable for monoprints but I do think they'd make good subjects for watercolours and illustrations. I'd also love to know more about them. Perhaps I'll keep an eye out for a guide to help me identify them.

 By the time I emerged again from the trees I was feeling so much more serene and relaxed.

As well as the fungi I'd seen a tiny frog, lots of moths and butterflies and of course all that heather. Maybe I'll collect a few stems and experiment with using it for printmaking.

For me, escaping into the woods (or onto the moors) is all it takes to press my 'reset' button. I come away feeling de-stressed and invigorated, refreshed and inspired. I'm looking forward to getting some artwork done, and to sharing it here with you.